The murderous career of John George Haigh is an object lesson in the importance of forensics in obtaining convictions. Haigh disposed of the bodies of people he killed by dissolving them in baths full of acid – he believed that the police needed a body in order to convict.
He was wrong, of course – although police originally began investigating him based on the items he stole from his victims, an analysis of the residue in his acid bath revealed three human gallstones and part of of denture. Haigh was arrested, and confessed to nine murders although he was convicted of only six. He was hanged in Wandsworth Prison, an execution that caused considerable controversy at the time (for its method – his guilt was not contested).
Sometimes, you really think that these things should have been caught earlier than they were.
Surely, for example, someone in Howard Unruh’s unit, back in World War Two, must have noticed the meticulous notes he kept about each German he killed? And although many men came home with souvenir firearms, not many of them went on to decorate their bedrooms with military paraphernalia, or built shooting ranges in their basements.
Whatever the reason, Howard Unruh’s madness went unnoticed until the morning of September 6, 1949. On this day, Howard loaded his captured luger, left his Camden, New Jersey home, and in only twelve minutes, killed 13 people and wounded 3 more.
A siege developed, but Unruh surrendered to police fairly quickly, and at his trial was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was placed in the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, where he died in 2009. He was 88 years old.
Graham Young was only 14 years old when he was arrested for murder – and the murder in question was that of his stepmother, Molly. He had also been trying to poison his father, sister and a friend of his from school.
Young was convicted on three counts of attempted murder (the murder of his stepmother could not be verified, as she had been cremated) and served nine years in a prison for the mentally unstable. After his release, he poisoned at least another seventy-two people, two of them fatally. He was once again arrested, and this time sentenced to life in prison. He eventually died in Parkhurst prison at the age of 42.
Between October 13, 1972 and Funerary 13, 1973, Herbet Mullin killed a total of 13 people. The last of these, Fred Perez, was an elderly Hispanic gentleman who was unfortunate enough to be working on his garden when Mullin drove by. For no readily apparent reason, Mullins did a u-turn, came back, shot the man, then drove off.
All of this took place in broad daylight, and there were several witnesses, one of whom called the police and gave them the license plate number of Mullin’s car. He was arrested within minutes of this phone call, and readily confessed to all his murders. Herbert Mullin is currently serving life imprisonment for the crimes, after trying and failing to use the insanity defence.
Dean Corll was an American serial killer. Born in 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he served in the military briefly, but was discharged after only ten months when his mother needed medical care.
By 1970, Corll had started murdering young men around his home, mostly hitchhikers whom he hoped would not be missed. Along with two younger accomplices, David Brooks and Elmer Henley, he is known to have killed at least 27 teenaged boys and young men.
Corll’s own death occurred when he lost an argument over possession of a handgun with Henley, who shot the older man six times. Henley then called the police, and confessed to his part in killing Corll, and participating in the murders of others.
Also known as ‘The Kindly Killer’ and ‘The Muswell Hill Murderer’, Dennis Nilsen was 33 years old when he made his first killing, that of Stephen Holmes. Holmes, like most of Nilsen’s victims, was a teenaged male. Nilsen strangled and drowned him, then indulged his necrophiliac tastes by masturbating twice over the body. Unlike his later victims (and while Nilsen was convicted of six murders, his own confession to police lists 15), Holmes was not dissected after his death.
Nilsen would finally be caught in 1983, and sentenced to life imprisonment. It is known that he killed at least 12 people (although he claimed more) and attempted at least seven more murders. At the time of this writing, he remains in HMP Full Sutton, a maximum security prison in Yorkshire.
Andrei Chikatlio, variously known as the Rostov Ripper, the Red Ripper and the Butcher of Rostov, was a Russian-born serial killer who confessed to 56 murders, and was convicted of 52 of them. His first murder was in 1979, a 9 year old girl whom he also raped. Another man was convicted and ultimately executed for the crime.
Chikatlio was finally caught in 1990, after a manhunt that stretched over several months, and was cooperative with police, leading them to the places where he had buried various of his victims. His execution took place only after a lengthy trial and psychiatric evaluation. He was shot behind the ear with a single pistol round, killing him instantly.
John Wayne Gacy was a serial rapist and murderer who lived in Chicago, Illinois. He is known to have raped and murdered at least 33 young men – 26 of whom he buried under his house. Most infamously, he often dressed as a character of his own invention, Pogo the Clown, in order to lure children into his clutches.
Gacy was arrested for his murders on December 20, 1978, and confessed two days later – in fact, he confessed to more murders than there was evidence to confirm. He attempted to plead insanity, but failed to convince the court. On March 13, 1980, he was found guilty of 33 counts of murder and sentenced to death. His execution by lethal injection took place in 1994, after years of appeals failed to overturn his convictions.