Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Most Deadly Serial Killers--and why I could never be one


In response to a bad joke by a standup comedian who said he could never be a child molester because he didn’t have the money to buy an ice cream truck (it might take you a second), I began to reflect on the amount of work and subterfuge serial killers go through to lure, murder, and dispose of human remains. As a crime fiction writer, I can easily invent a serial killer, as I did in my novel CHILDREN OF THE STREET, but in real life, I’m amazed by the lengths to which serial offenders go to commit their dastardly deeds. Looking at some of the most infamous, serial offenders, I rate the level of difficulty (LOD) of their crimes and identify the deterrents that, apart from murder just being morally wrong, would prevent me from making the grade.

Theodore “Ted" Bundy

Bundy on 1978 FBI Most Wanted List
(From “Serial Killers, Time-Life Books)

I must say, I find it annoying when biographies and documentaries describe Mr. Bundy as “handsome, intelligent, and charming.” That's like saying a destructive wildfire is such a pretty color. Bundy confessed to the killings of 37 women, but some believe it might have been as many as 100 (some of these killers lose count). He roamed the states of Washington, Oregon Utah, and Colorado, often in his VW Beetle. He had a degree in psychology and later studied law, although he never got his qualification. He missed a lot of classes because he was out busy killing. It’s said he might have used his knowledge of psychology to his benefit in luring women to their death, but even if that were partially true, I believe he was just a natural conman.

Bundy is a classic example of what famous FBI profiler John E Douglas would call an organized serial killer: careful planning and execution of the murders. Disorganized killers are more opportunity-impulse offenders. Bundy used disguises and appealed to two aspects of human nature: (1) respect for authority: he sometimes pretended to be a cop; and (2) empathy: he would put on a false leg cast and use crutches, feigning difficulty in getting into his car with his intended victim nearby. As soon as she came to “help,” he kidnapped her. His victims were mostly dark-haired co-eds. He raped, strangled, and bludgeoned them, and sometimes had sex with some of the corpses. After Bundy's capture, he used his limited knowledge of the law to defend himself in court during a long, bizarre trial in which he had multiple episodes of histrionics. In a well-known but poorly-explained phenomenon, many young women who fitted the profile of Bundy’s victims, experienced strong sexual attraction to this ruthless killer, particularly while he was “conducting” his defense in court. On January 24, 1989, Bundy was executed with 2000 volts of electricity.

LOD 10

  • Driving around all those states with the present gas prices? I don’t think so.
  • I’m going to feel mighty stupid in those false getups and fake leg casts--I’ve never even dressed for Halloween before.
  • How do you get a screaming, struggling person into a VW Beetle? I don’t think I have that kind of physical strength.
  • I’m not a privileged white male. I’d never get away with it.

Richard “Night-Stalker” Ramirez

LAPD mugshot of serial killer Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez: LAPD mugshot 1984
(Image: Wikipedia/LAPD)

This particularly nasty piece of work was born in El Paso, TX, but operated as a serial offender first in Southern California's San Gabriel Valley (where I’ve lived for decades), and then moved the Bay Area. During those times, I remember the palpable fear generated in my neck of the woods by his nickname, the "Night-Stalker,” and “Valley Intruder.” His MO was to enter homes very late at night via an unlocked window or open screen door and proceed to torture, beat, rape, sodomize, and bludgeon his sleeping, startled victims to death. Unlike Bundy, Ramirez was all over the place with his victims: kids, the elderly, men, women, couples. With a horrific and violent childhood, Ramirez became fascinated by murder and the occult at an early age. He also suffered traumatic brain damage and temporal lobe epilepsy.
His murders were the very definition of overkill. Even after shooting his victims, he proceeded to chop some of them to pieces with a machete. His surviving victims often commented on one aspect: Ramirez’s disgustingly bad teeth and hideous breath. The LAPD made a connection between an eyewitness account, a fingerprint on a car he stole, and his police record. After his picture was released to the public, he was recognized by residents in Boyle Heights, a suburb of Los Angeles, who pursued him and ran him down, very nearly beating him to death in an explosion of vigilante violence. Again, as in Bundy’s case, many women declared their love for Ramirez during his trial. He was sentenced to the gas chamber, but never made it there when he died in 2013 from lymphoma.


  • You need gonads of a kind I don’t have to sneak around neighborhoods at 2 o’clock in the morning breaking into people’s houses. It’s too creepy for my taste.
  • I’m not getting out of bed that late at night for anything. I like sleeping and I have to work in the morning.
  • I brush my teeth frequently. When my would-be victims comment on this, I would probably be so flattered I would say, “Aw, thanks--you’re too kind,” and leave them be to go home to bed.

Dennis Nilsen

Dennis Nilsen, British serial killer
“British Butcher” Dennis Nilsen
(Image: “Serial Killers,” Time-Life Books)

The UK doesn’t have quite the roster of serial murderers as the United States, but they’ve had some pretty horrible ones, e.g. Peter “Yorkshire Ripper” Sutcliffe. Another was Dennis Nilsen, shown above. He was one of those killers to whom, quite unlike Bundy, few people paid that much attention. With spectacles and an unremarkable appearance, he probably never made any significant impact on people in public--the kind of person you see in the supermarket and never give a second thought.

But he was a killer, all right. His MO was to lure young gay men back to his flat, where he would kill them, butcher them and hide them under his floorboards.

Dennis Nilsen flat and plumber Mike Cattran who found the human remains
Nilsen lived on top floor; Mick Cattran (inset)
discovered the human remains in the sewer
(Image: “Serial Killers,” Time-Life Books)

Once the corpses became too decomposed and began to smell, he would bury them in a makeshift cemetery at the bottom of his garden. He burned some of his victims there as well, and no one in the neighborhood thought this was strange? Nilsen's problem was the burgeoning accumulation of bodies. Rather like Jeffrey Dahmer, he engaged in boiling his victims’ parts to make them easier to dismember. His downfall was trying to flush human remains down the toilet, which resulted in blocking up his apartment building’s plumbing, so that a foul stench permeated the place. A plumber had to unblock the toilets, and the source of the blockage was traced to Nilsen’s apartment.

LOD 6 for luring; 10 for disposal

  • The house smelling of anything else but fresh flowers and fragrances? I don’t think so.
  • Block your toilet with human remains? Are you looking to get caught, or are you just an incredibly stupid person?
  • Again, I’d have to be up practically all night with this nonsense. No, thank you.
  • Pulling up floorboards to hide human remains seems like an awful lot of work, and I’m not that handy. And what’s with these floorboards that have enough underlying space to hide people?

Elaborate execution
Many other serial killers had incredibly complex MOs: John Wayne Gacy, the "Killer Clown,” buried his young male victims in the crawlspace of his home, episodically pouring quicklime on them to accelerate decomposition. He killed almost always between 3 AM and 6 AM. Hillside Stranglers Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered their victims before dumping them on Los Angeles Hillsides (LA has quite a panoply of serial offenders.)

The bottom line
My satirical post is really saying that what makes these killers different from the “normal” (I use the word with some caution) world is that their compulsion to murder trumps simple human physiological needs like, um . . . sleep, and easily overcomes normal deterrents like the fear of being caught. In fact, one reason many serial killers elude detection for so long is that they are fearless and are expert at hiding in plain sight, which, as Agatha Christie will tell you, makes mysteries even more difficult to solve.



  1. Very interesting observations on a frightening phenomenon. I'd be interested in your thoughts on David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam aka 44 Caliber Killer, who in 1975-77 terrorized NYC and dominated the media with 6 killings and 9 stabbings. He's still in prison.

  2. SOS was interesting in that he not only killed in these random attacks (more of an opportunity killer)but he raised the stakes by communicating with the cops and media in a taunting fashion. That kept him in the minds of the public and intensified the level of fear. Using a gun from a relatively remote distance from his victims, I considered him one of the most cowardly of killers.

  3. From Annamaria

    BIG distraction:

    Congratulations, Kwei, on the nomination of “Sleep Well, My Lady” for the Sue Grafton Memorial Award!!!

    1. Yes, Sis, I join you in saluting Kwei for yet another well earned honor. Congratulations! Jeff

  4. Congratulations on the nomination. And re the blog, per capita I think we might top the table for serial killer production. But although born here, they goes elsewhere to do their evil deeds. So you could add 'travel' into your deterents!