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.
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.
A former US Army media and diagnosed schizoid, Gary Heidnik was 43 years old when he committed the first of a series of six kidnappings in Philadelphia, all of which featured assault and rape, two of which ended in murder. The victim, Josefina Rivera, was forced into helping Heidnik with his subsequent crimes – but also later managed to escape and bring the police down on her captor.
The cops found three other women chained in Heidnik’s basement, as well as the remains of the two he had killed. Heidnik was arrested, and although tried and convicted in 1988, he was not executed for his crimes until 1999.
Rather disturbingly, the man now known as Der Metzgermeister (The Master Butcher) is not a simple murderer. Armin Meiwes – now serving a life sentence for killing and devouring Bernd Brandes – did not begin eating his victim without that victim’s consent.
Meiwes and Brandes met through a website called The Cannibal Cafe. Although the website was only intended as an outlet for fantasies, both men wanted to take it further. On March 9, 2001, they did so. With Brandes’ apparent consent, Meiwes amputated his penis, and both men ate portions of it (the remainder Meiwes fed to his dog). While Brandes continued to bleed freely from his wound, he was stabbed several times by Meiwes, and after his death, Meiwes ate approximately 20kg of Brandes’ body over the next few months, before his arrest in December of 2002.
Gary Ridgway is one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. He was convicted of 48 separate counts of murder – but he has confessed to a total of 71, and some authorities believe that he may have murdered more than 90 people, almost all of them women. Favouring strangulation as his method of murder, Ridgway dumped the bodies in forested areas of King County, Washington state or in the Green River – it was the latter which led to him being dubbed the Green River Killer.
The murders took place over a span of about twenty years, beginning in 1982. Although no murders have been confirmed later than 1998, it is believed that Ridgway may have committed more murders between 19998 and his arrest in 2001. Ridgway’s arrest was as a result of DNA evidence gathered in 1987 – he had been a suspect for some of his killings since at least 1983.