Even with the latest CSI technology and wall-to-wall CCTV coverage, some crimes still go unpunished. And nothing, perhaps, chills the bones quite like the thought of a serial killer walking free among us. Sadly, though, over the years many slayers have escaped detection and been left seemingly able to kill at will. Here, then, are ten serial killers who were never caught…
10. The Zodiac Killer
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the San Francisco Bay area was half-terrified, half-fascinated by the sickeningly confident Zodiac Killer. He appeared out of the blue, shooting two teens for no apparent reason before shooting two more. After these first slayings, he even contacted the police and wrote to the local San Francisco Examiner newspaper.
The Zodiac’s letters mocked the investigators and provided them with cryptic clues – one of which was found to read, “I like killing people because it is so much fun.” The killer soon struck again, too, with two more attacks in the fall of 1969 bringing the number of his confirmed victims to five. Furthermore, the letters continued until 1974, when – having confessed to 37 killings – they seemed to stop. And, despite countless theories in movies and books, the Zodiac Killer has never been identified.
9. The Phantom Murderer
The Phantom Murderer terrorized Texarkana, Texas, for ten weeks in 1946. The first victims were attacked on a local lovers’ lane, though they actually survived a brutal battering. The next couple weren’t so lucky: they were found in their car, dead from gunshot wounds.
Hundreds of suspects were subsequently questioned, but the police got no closer to finding their man. The killer struck again, too, shooting another pair of teenagers dead. And then, despite a legendary investigator being on the hunt, he shot and killed a final victim, a 37-year-old farmer. The town braced itself for more violence, but the so-called “Texarkana Moonlight Murders” came to an abrupt halt. Some speculate that the Phantom Murderer was a local student who subsequently killed himself, while others point the finger at a car thief who later died in jail.
8. The Original Night Stalker
The police sketches make him look like an everyday guy. But between 1979 and 1986, the Original Night Stalker was responsible for at least 50 rapes and 12 murders across California. According to investigators, the infamous killer actually started his criminal career as a burglar but gradually became bolder and more twisted. And by the late 1970s, he had developed his distinctive method: breaking into homes, tying up his female victims and attacking them.
Before long, the Night Stalker was bludgeoning his victims to death after tying them up. And, despite him taunting the police and victims with a series of letters and sinister phone calls, the culprit was never identified. The case remains open.
7. The Long Island Serial Killer
In 1996 a couple walking along the beach on Fire Island in New York made a gruesome discovery: a pair of severed female legs wrapped up in plastic. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that police realized they had a serial killer on their hands. And not just any old killer. No, this was one of the most prolific murderers ever to haunt the East Coast.
Following the discovery of a skeleton on Oak Beach in 2010, police combed the area, eventually uncovering the remains of at least ten people. This included eight women who were thought to have been sex workers, a young Asian man and the baby daughter of one of the female victims. Despite a raft of theories, no suspect has ever been named by police. According to some amateur sleuths, however, the killer’s knowledge of the Long Island sands, as well as his attention to detail, suggest that he could be a cop-turned-killer.
6. Oakland County Child Killer
For more than four decades, the relatives of the Oakland County Child Killer’s victims have been unable to get closure. Their personal hell began in February 1976. Between then and March 1977, four children, all aged between ten and 12, were abducted from across south-east Michigan. The young victims were held in captivity for up to 19 days before their bodies were dumped in different parts of Oakland County.
Moreover, despite receiving thousands of tips, police could not nail the suspect. Over the years, a number of men have been named. According to one victim’s family, for example, a convicted pedophile who committed suicide in 1978 was the killer, though county prosecutors continue to suspect two other men, including one who is currently serving life in prison.
5. Charlie Chop-Off
Some serial killers are named after their hunting grounds. A few, however, are immortalized according to how they butchered their victims. Just like Charlie Chop-Off. Between 1972 and 1974, he murdered five black children in Manhattan, New York. His first victim was aged just eight when he was stabbed 38 times, with the killer also mutilating the boy’s genitals.
Police thought they had found their man when Erno Soto was caught trying to abduct a boy in May of 1974. The troubled New Yorker even confessed to the crimes, though he was later judged to be insane. To this day, Soto is believed to be in protective custody, and the Charlie Chop-Off killings are still officially unsolved.
4. The Atlanta Ripper
Just as sinister as his namesake, who stalked London’s back alleys, the Atlanta Ripper is suspected of having killed at least 15 and as many as 21 women in the Georgian city in 1911. It all started with the unexplained killing of a young lady, whose throat was cut just yards from her home. And before long, the victims were piling up, all of them African-Americans in their early 20s.
Many historians have argued that both the press and the police were slow to act, perhaps because of racial prejudice. Eventually, though, a total of six suspects were named by the press, yet none were ever conclusively linked to the killings. Indeed, some speculate that there was no single “ripper.” In any case, fortunately, just as soon as they’d started, the killings stopped, leaving a city traumatized and scratching its head.
3. The Cleveland Torso Murderer
Not even Eliot Ness of “The Untouchables” fame could get to the bottom of these slayings: between 1935 and 1938, the Cleveland Torso Murderer claimed at least 12 victims, and maybe as many as 20. In all cases, the bodies were mutilated – and often decapitated – while the males were frequently castrated. And, while this mutilation made identification impossible in some cases, police soon realized that the killer targeted those on the fringes of society, such as drifters passing through the Ohio city.
Ness and his fellow investigators never got their man, but even today suspicion continues to surround a World War I veteran named Dr. Francis E. Sweeney, who had experience in amputations. Others, meanwhile, claim that the Torso Murderer left Ohio and headed west, possibly even crossing paths with the Black Dahlia.
2. The Doodler
The so-called Doodler got his name because he had a habit of sketching his victims to lure them in before dispatching them. But police never did find out who was behind the slayings that rocked San Francisco’s gay community in the 1970s. In all, 14 men were killed, most of them stabbed repeatedly.
The secretive nature of the gay community – understandable at a time when prejudices still ran high – has been cited as one reason why potential witnesses were wary of coming forward, possibly allowing the Doodler to remain a free man. In fact, one suspect was not charged because witnesses refused to publicly reveal their sexuality.
1. Bible John
The Bible John killings sparked the biggest manhunt Scotland had ever seen. The case? Three women were raped and murdered in Glasgow between 1968 and 1969. All three victims had been to the city’s famous Barrowlands nightclub before their grisly deaths, and police believe this was where they met their murderer. Indeed, the final victim was last seen by her sister in the company of a man the pair had met there. His name? John. And he seemingly had a habit of quoting from the Bible.
Bible John was never conclusively identified. Was it really, as some now believe, convicted Scottish serial killer Peter Tobin? Or even the Yorkshire Ripper? Or could John have moved to the States, leaving his grisly past behind him?