In honor of Halloween, I thought I would share a little serial killer trivia with everyone.
And we’ll start with the man that has inspired dozens of books and movies: Ed Gein. Ed Gein inspired the creation of Norman Bates (Psycho), Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs), Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Farmer Vincent (Motel Hell) with good reason. Gein wasn’t just a serial killer; he was a grave robber, suspected necrophile, and did in fact use human skin to create things like lamp shades. He was a farmer who had some mental problems and might have been mentally challenged. His mother was a religious zealot and very domineering. Needless to say, he didn’t grow up easy. It got worse after his mother died (see the plot for Psycho?). However, the serial killer only admitted to two murders (only one of which he was tried for), making his place in serial killer history a bit odd; to be a serial killer, one has to have committed murder at least three times. So either there is more to Ed than we know about or he makes the list just because of his proclivities.
Ted Bundy was the man of the hour after he was caught. It was Ted that gave insight into his twisted mind to any psychologist, psychiatrist, criminologist, detective, or camera crew he could find. Unfortunately, while most people took him at his word, we have since discovered that he was a compulsive liar (which isn’t unusual with psychopaths). Bundy was intelligent, attractive, and charming; which is how he managed to kill at least 30 women. There are at least 2 different accounts of Ted’s life before he became a serial killer, both offered up by Ted. Then, because he could, Ted offered up a few more accounts of life after he became a serial killer. Since they can’t all be true, it’s hard to figure out whether Ted really was an abused and neglected child or if he was just born a monster (however an incident with his aunt when he was just 3 years old paints a pretty vivid picture of him being born to be a serial killer). (Interestingly, Thomas Harris also used Bundy when creating Buffalo Bill. While Gein was building a “Woman Suit” so he could be his mother, Bundy did use the ruse of trying to move heavy objects with broken body parts, such as a broken arm or broken leg, to lure women to their deaths)
John Wayne Gacy, the Killer Clown that terrifies us all, never actually abducted, seduced, enticed, or killed any of his victims while dressed as a clown. Instead, Gacy lead two lives. On one side, he was a charming man who owned a construction company, was willing to hire felons and give them a second chance at life, and dressed as a clown to entertain and brighten the spirits of children in hospitals. On the other side, Gacy liked to prey on adolescent boys, some of whom worked for him at said construction company. Oddly, his demise came because he tended to bury his victims under his own house instead of using his many construction projects as burial sties.
While we are in Chicago, we’ll hit upon HH Holmes. Holmes’ busiest killing period was when the World’s Fair was held in Chicago. He rented rooms to visitors and then killed them for their possessions (this sets him apart from the 3 above named serial killers, as he killed for greed, not sexual gratification). However, Holmes is probably most infamous for his Murder Castle. The house Holmes built was designed specifically to kill people. Rooms had valves that allowed gas into the rooms, there were acid vats in the basement with disposal chutes leading to the vats (think of trash chutes in multiple rooms), and the house was so elegantly designed that Holmes really only had to flip switches and turn knobs to kill and dispose of his victims. His downfall came when he got greedy and started killing people that he knew. No one has a clear understanding of how many victims HH Homes claimed.
Henry Lee Lucas was a serial killer and serial confessor. At one point, the man had confessed to over 200 murders. Some of them were impossible for him to have committed because he was incarcerated at the time. At one point, he was thought to be the most prolific serial killer in American history. Lucas sometimes killed alone and sometimes with a man named Otis Toole. Lucas provided more proof that serial killers were narcissists who mostly wanted the spotlight and notoriety of being a serial killer. His childhood was terrible, his adult life wasn’t much better, and confessing to murder was entertainment to him. His victim of choice: little girls. Once they learned of his false confessions, Lucas fell out of the limelight as America’s Most Prolific Serial Killer and the title went back to Ted Bundy until the capture of Gary Ridgway, The Green River Killer (more on him later).
The Boston Strangler is a confusing mess. Albert DeSalvo was convicted of the Strangler crimes and evidence has proven that he was responsible for at least some of the Strangler killings. Unfortunately, it isn’t as cut and dry as that. There is also evidence to support that he was not responsible for all of the killings associated with the Boston Strangler. For this reason, it is fair to say that at least one serial killer was caught while another went free, possibly more than one. DeSalvo was mentally ill and had a history of assaulting old ladies before the Boston Strangler started killing. However, he did not have a history of assaulting young ladies and evidence suggests that the Boston Strangler’s younger victims were not the work of DeSalvo.
The term serial killer was invented to apply to Charles Manson. However, I have trouble including him on a list of serial killers. He is definitely a psychopath. He definitely killed a few people. But his biggest crime was persuasion. The odd, charismatic cult leader was really good at convincing other people to kill for him and for this reason, I think of him more along the lines of Jim Jones, Carl Drew, and Shoko Ashara (which we will talk about later this month).