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Old 02-25-2021, 09:34 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default A Soul Full of Darkness: The Twisted, Horrifying History of the Serial Killer

What makes someone kill? I’ll be damned if I know, and in this journal this is something we will not be investigating. I’m no psychiatrist, or psychologist, or anything else beginning with psy, and I have really no actual interest in finding out what makes these monsters tick. This will be the history of serial killers, from the earliest I can track down right up to, sadly, today. Given that we’re dealing with real people here, who may still have relatives who remember either the victims or the murderers, or we could also be talking about people who survived serial killers, it’s important, I feel, to take this a lot more seriously than I tend to with my other journals. So in respect and deference to the dead - and even the incarcerated, to some degree - I’ll be reining in my usual off-colour humour and making few if any jokes. Well, maybe. We'll see. Sometimes a bit of light among the darkness is what's needed. We'll take it on a case by case basis, almost literally.

What I will be doing will be cataloguing the whole history of men and women who have, down through the decades and even the centuries, found it permissible to kill, and to kill again, and again. I’ll be running a timeline as usual, looking into not only the killers but their victims, the investigation into their crimes, and the men and women who finally brought them to justice, if brought to justice they were. As the logo says, beware if you are squeamish, as there will be no holds barred here, either graphically or in words: to understand the often horrifying nature of some of the killers here it will be necessary to describe in detail mutilations, abuses, tortures and so on, and I won’t be shying from those, and while I won’t be gratuitously putting up gory pictures for the purposes of titillation, where deemed necessary or appropriate I will use crime scene photos and other material available to me.

It should be clear - but I’ll make the point anyway - that I am in no way intending to glamourise or afford celebrity to these people, though in terms of the latter most of them will have attained that anyway during their murder spree, their trial or their execution. I can’t quite approach this with a totally dispassionate eye though either, but will do my best to avoid commenting on or moralising upon any of the crimes. I can’t promise to stick to that - some of them will be very harrowing, I have no doubt, and I may have to speak about them, editorialise as it were, but I will try to keep it brief. (Yeah, some chance, I know...)

Why have I suddenly become interested in serial killers? Blame Karen. She’s always been fascinated by forensics and I've lost count of the amount of times I have had to read her accounts of this murder or that murder, and eventually I just thought it might be an interesting subject to research in depth. I’m not the first to do it here, I know - there's a thread elsewhere here about the subject - but I believe I’m the first to catalogue the whole history in journal form. Probably the first, only, who would attempt such an undertaking but hey, that’s me, and I’m hardly likely to change now.

Robert Ressler (1937-2013)

Before we get into the timeline however, and start plumbing the darkness, let’s look at some of the pioneers who ensured serial killers would be easier to catch, or at least that they could be identified as same.

This is FBI agent Robert Ressler, who is generally credited with the coining of the term serial killer, although he called it serial homicide in a lecture given in 1974 at the Police Academy in Hampshire, UK. Now, I should make it clear that there is disagreement on whether he was the first to use the phrase, and we will be looking at the other candidates shortly. But whether he is responsible or not, he certainly developed and honed the idea of a criminal profiler, so prevalent today in real life and also in crime fiction. Already as a child he was interested in serial killers, and when posted with the US Army to Aschaffenburg in Germany from 1957 to 1962 he solved many crimes as head of a Military Police (MP) unit.

In 1970 he joined the FBI's Behavioural Sciences Unit, which became the model for the department in the TV crime series Criminal Minds, with a slight change of name. He helped set up Vi-CAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which is a database of unsolved homicides cross-referenced with the m.o (Modus Operandi, or method of oepration) of known serial killers, to allow police to identify possible serial killers striking in new territories where their crimes may not be known. Having interviewed thirty-six serial killers himself, Ressler was pretty familiar with their methods, and had worked on the cases of famous (or infamous) murderers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and Richard Chase, known as the Vampire of Sacramento.

Ressler retired from the FBI in 1990, though he continued to consult and help in the cases of serial killers in the UK and South Africa, wrote books on the subject and also lectured at police academies, affording the new recruits his considerable expertise in their continuing fight against crime. He died in 2013 at the age of 76.

Pierce Brooks (1923-1998)

A legendary figure in the LAPD, Brooks set up the NCAVC - The National Centre for the Analysis of Violent Crime - and was instrumental in developing Vi-CAP. He worked on the “Onion Field” case, the kidnapping of two police officers in Hollywood in 1963, and the subsequent killing of one, and was described by his partner, Dan Bowser, as the “closest thing I ever saw to Sherlock Holmes.” Brooks joined the LAPD in 1948 and after serving with vice, narcotics and homicide he petitioned the department in 1958 to buy a computer to help him in his identification of the crimes of serial killers, having inherited the interest from his father, who had scoured the newspapers looking for similar crimes as the ones he had read about, believing “there’s no way this guy only did this once”. Reflecting both the shoestring budget of the LAPD at the time and the cost of computers in the late 1950s, his request was turned down because “they cost half as much as city hall and are half as big”.

By the time computers had become more affordable (and didn’t take up a whole room) he had already retired from the LAPD, but he testified at Congress as to how computers could be used to track and identify crimes and bring serial killers to justice. Like Ressler, he too became a consultant after retiring, offering vital insight and assistance in high-profile cases such as the Green River Killings and the Atlanta child murders.

Others who were instrumental in the creation of the processes by which serial killers could be detected and caught, or who originally used and may have coined the term include

Ernst Gennat (1880-1939)

Director of the Berlin Criminal Police, Gennat was exposed to criminality from an early age, when he lived with his parents in the staff housing of a correctional facility in Berlin. It doesn’t make it clear, but I’m going to assume that this was because his father worked at the facility. Gennat served for thirty years and was acknowledged as one of the most gifted and successful criminologists in Germany. Entering the police service in 1905 he was quickly promoted, and I mean quickly! Two months later he had progressed from detective assistant to criminal detective. Unfortunately, his criticism of the department - which lacked even a basic homicide division - kept him from further advancement until the reorganisation of the force in 1925 , whereupon he established the much-needed homicide division and was promoted to lieutenant inspector.

Under his leadership the new department thrived, and was soon solving almost 95% of crimes. Gennat took on the cases of two of Germany’s most infamous serial killers - coincidentally perhaps, both being identified in their code names as vampires - Peter Kürten, the “Vampire of Dusseldorf” and Fritz Haarman, the “Vampire of Hanover”. It was while writing about the former in his book Die Düsseldorfer Sexualverbrechen that he is said to have coined the term Serienmörder or serial killer. Gennat also developed the science of profiling to an art. He worked under Hitler but remained aloof from the Nazi Party, dying a mere two weeks before the onset of World War II.

We also have Robert Eisler (1882-1949), a polymath and connoisseur of mythology, who wrote a book in 1948 (one year before his death) entitled Man into Wolf: An Anthropological Interpretation of Sadism, Masochism and Lycanthropy, in which he used the term “serial killing”. He was a man who would know about such things, having spent two years in German concentration camps during the war.

Or how about John Brophy, (1899-1965), an Irish writer who used the term in his book The Meaning of Murder 1966.

Whoever coined the phrase originally, it’s generally accepted that it only came into popular use during the Atlanta Child Murders in 1981 when it was used in an article in the New York Times. By the end of the following decade it was a familiar and frightening term in use all across America, and known all over the world.
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Old 03-06-2021, 09:52 AM   #2 (permalink)
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What is a serial killer?

Opinions seem to vary on what exactly constitutes a serial killer, as opposed to a mass murderer or what is known as spree killer, with some versions claiming a serial killer can only be identified as such if he or she has killed three or more people, while others maintain some sort of “cooling-off period” (which is a phrase that has never been satisfactorily defined) must be included. However I’m going to go with the definition given by the FBI, which states that it must be “a series of two or more murders, committed as separate events, usually, but not always, by one offender acting alone”. They also came up with a second, accepted definition which was worked out at a symposium of law enforcement, this of serial murder: “The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s) in separate events.”

This would seem to accurately describe most serial killers, however we do have issues, as we’ll see a lot later, with the likes of Ian Huntley, who “only” killed two girls, and both of them at the same time. So does that make him a serial killer? By any definition, no it does not. But I feel I may need to include him anyway, if only due to my own vivid recollections of the investigation and the reports of the crime. I may make a special section for famous killers who are not necessarily serial killers. Hey, what do you care? It’s my journal. My own personal criterion for a serial killer would be that they have to have killed with their own hands, otherwise how do you not include megalomaniacs such as Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin? But then you run up against Manson, and who could not describe him as a serial killer? Yet he was very clever not to get any literal blood on his hands, having his acolytes carry out the killings. So it’s not a good road to go down for me, and anyway what do I know?

All I will say is that government or state-sanctioned murder can surely not be viewed through the lens of a serial killer, nor can killings that take place at a time of war. I’m not saying bad things aren’t done in wartime, but overall, generally, they’re not described or prosecuted as murder, otherwise every soldier in any army would be a killer, and tried as such. Yes, they are killers, but like Sir Francis Drake identifying as a privateer when really he was a pirate, but with the blessing of the Queen, once your country has supported and even ordered the killings, legally you’re more or less in the clear. Vietnam? Now that’s a whole different quagmire in which I do not intend to place my size sevens!

Of course, no matter how much or little we’re interested in murder and serial killings, through sheer weight of news coverage and the march of history we all know the main ones - Jack the Ripper, The Boston Strangler, The Night Stalker, Son of Sam, The Yorkshire Ripper, Dhamer, Nilsen and of course Manson, but did you know there are reports of serial killers from the time before Christ? Ancient Rome, ancient China, even an Irish one in the fourteenth century, and of course our old friend Countess Bathory, all figure in the annals of crime and murder of much more than just two people down through history. Naturally, they weren’t called serial killers as the term had yet to be invented, but they fulfill the criteria. Speaking of which…

Building the Perfect Beast: Characteristics of a Serial Killer

You’d think the definitions we just read about would be enough to classify a killer as a serial one, wouldn’t you? But no: there are a whole lot of different aspects to serial killers. Not all of them satisfy all the criteria of course, but these are the general expected signs that mark a man or a woman as being one who will kill, kill and kill again until they’re caught or killed.

They don’t have to be crazy, but it helps!

(All right, sorry: I said I wouldn’t be flippant. But I couldn’t resist it…)

Nobody will be surprised to hear that a major factor in many - though not all - serial killers is an unbalanced mind. They may suffer from mental problems, hear voices, have an inability to deal with the world around them, feel paranoid, crave attention and control, engage in predatory behaviour such as stalking or hunting their victims, and experience no sense of guilt, and few emotions. They may not stand out in a crowd, may be quite debonair and charming.

There’s often a history of some sort of abuse, usually by a family member or trusted friend, they may have an unhealthy obsession with body parts, symbolic items that serve as substitutes for body parts, and though not by any means typical, behaviour such as cannibalism, blood-drinking and necrophilia can be part of their makeup. They can be slow developers, both mentally and emotionally as well as sexually, and were often bullied when younger. Some start off their careers by torturing animals, or in somewhat rarer cases, other children. They tend to have low esteem, brought about either by abuse or neglect by one or both parents, may come from broken families, or from families where violence was a factor.

They may have been involved in petty crime when younger, have suffered rejection by one or more lovers (or in some cases merely imagined it when a love interest whom they have not had the courage to approach meets someone else, or perhaps moves away), have been known to be late-age bedwetters, and find it hard to hold down a steady job, leading to many of them becoming drifters or even vagrants. This often assists their attempts to kill, as they can move from state to state or country to country, picking up low-paying, menial jobs as they go and quitting them when it’s time to move on. There is some argument about their perceived intelligence, but generally it seems to be agreed that they tend to have lower than average IQ.

This is of course not always true: as with just about everything to do with serial killers, many break the mould and confound the theories, being settled, respected family men holding down good jobs and able to kill with impunity due to these very characteristics. They are unsuspected because they may be, to use a very overused phrase, pillars of the community, and apart from this lifting them above suspicion, it can also allow them to flourish under the protection (intentional or not) of people in power, who will vouch for them, refuse to suspect them or entertain any doubts that they know the person well enough to know they could not possibly be a killer, and also, of course, seek to protect themselves and their reputations. It can naturally be social and/or business suicide to have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with, and taken the part of someone who is then proven or admits to being a serial killer. I don’t know if it happens in real life (though I guess we’ll find out) but I wouldn’t be too surprised if there were people of “high social standing” who have shielded killers in the full knowledge of what they are, in order to maintain their own reputation.

Signature of a Serial Killer

You hear this all the time in the cop shows - the guy has a signature, and quite often it does seem to be the case. It can help lead to the capture of the killer, or at least to identify his commission of the crime when he sticks to known trademarks. Note: I say he because though there have been female serial killers, they are far less numerous than and comprise a much smaller percentage of the breed than male ones. The way cuts are made, items removed from the body, trophies (discussed further on), type of victim (gender/hair colour/ethnicity/working background etc), type of weapon used, location and so on. Not all exhibit such signs of course, but when a serial killer considers himself a true artist, he may deliberately stick to these tropes, either to goad the authorities, showing them it’s him and there’s nothing they can do about it, or to brag to other killers, essentially showing off his handiwork and autographing it. A horrible thought, but it seems to be the way some do think.

Signatures of course build into a profile, and help investigators to come up with a reasonably accurate idea of who this person is, how he grew up, and most importantly, where he can be expected to strike next, or who his next victim might be. We’ve already discussed profiling in the piece about Robert Ressler and Ernst Gennat, the latter of whom is credited with almost inventing, or at least refining the science, and it’s fair to say that, certainly in the USA, where it seems serial killers proliferate most, any attempt to catch a serial killer begins with, or at least is unlikely to succeed without a proper profile. This tells the detectives, FBI agents or cops what sort of person they’re looking for, gives them a glimpse into the killer’s mindset, and allows them to put that information out on the television networks in the hope that someone may have seen the killer, or at worst, that should they know of or see such a person that they can take the necessary precautions.

Signatures can be dodgy to rely on alone, though, as there are many “copycat killers” who, either out of respect for the killer and wishing to emulate him or in order to throw off the cops will duplicate his signature, though if the serial killer himself is still at large this could I suppose backfire badly, as often they might take offence at someone copying them. Whether all of this happens in real life or just on TV is something I don’t know, and again as I say we’ll find that out as we go along.


There are distinct types of serial killer, distinguished by the way they approach their victims - their motive, in other words.


While this word has a far different and more normal meaning among those who are not serial killers, here it means that the killer believes, or pretends as a defence to have believed, that he was told to kill. The old “voices in the head” or “God told me to” defence.


A serial killer with a clear aim. This could be to, for instance, rid a certain area of a certain type, be it Jews, prostitutes, gays, women etc. In their twisted minds, they can see what they do as a service to society, winnowing out the undesirables.


Hedonism, in case you don’t know, is the idea of surrendering yourself up to pleasure, often without a care for the consequences. But when you’re a serial killer, that pleasure can take some very dark forms indeed. Hedonistic killers are sub-divided into three distinct classes:


Speaks for itself really. A killer who gets off sexually on murder. They are the ones most likely to indulge in torture and domination, keeping their victims alive as long as possible in order to gratify their sexual urges. They’re also the types who are most likely to ejaculate over the corpses, or maybe while the victim is alive. Gross. They would also be the ones least able to control their killing, as the desire for sexual release grows, pushing them to further murders. Because of the closeness needed to their victims in order to get their rocks off, lust killers tend to use weapons that require a close and personal touch, such as knives, garrottes or even hands. They’re unlikely to kill from a distance, which is impersonal and thus does not get them where they want to go.


A thrill killer could also be described perhaps as a hunter killer (nothing to do with Terminator, now!) though not all of them hunt. But they do enjoy the thrill either of the chase, or just in the pain and terror they cause. Unlike lust killers though, they are not too interested in long, slow deaths or torture, preferring to perfect their skill rather than prolong the death of the victim. They tend to select total strangers, though they may have stalked them for some time before launching their attack, and seldom if ever indulge in sex with them.

Comfort or Profit

Simply put, they kill for gain, usually financial. These are the insurance murderers, the ones who tend to use poison and keep to their own family and friends as their victim circle. They often run up debts and need to make a big score in order to pay them off, but sometimes the murder has been well planned in advance. A lot of female killers tend to be comfort killers, as it requires the least exposure, danger and knowledge of weaponry, plus women in general are more trusted for things like ministering to the sick and feeding relatives.

Power or Control

Not too hard to understand. These killers have a need to have power over their victims. They were often abused and in return may abuse their victims, including sexually, though in this case the sex is humiliation and payback for what happened to them - with the victims often playing the role of the abuser or one who knew about it and did nothing to stop it - rather than being motivated by lust. The Power/Control serial killer gets no joy or release from sex, merely using it as a tool to punish and redress what he sees as wrongs perpetrated upon him when younger.

Idolisers/Sensation Seekers

There are also serial killers who, well, kill to be famous. These people love the spotlight, and while they of course don’t want their identity to be known, they enjoy watching and reading about their crimes on the news or in the papers, and laughing at the efforts of the police to catch them. They may also admire, even idolise and try to emulate other killers, and other media figures. They may also enjoy spreading fear through the reports of their exploits.
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Old 03-10-2021, 12:07 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Timeline: 331 BC - 1440 AD

Given many factors, including class divisions, law enforcement, lack of popular press and unsympathetic authorities, you’re not going to find too many reports of serial killers in the time before Christ, although there probably were many more than we now know about. I suppose in some ways, what we would term murder today might not have seemed such a crime back then - slaves could be whipped or beaten to death completely within the law, wives could be abused, even killed, commoners could fall victims to high-class gentlemen looking for sport, and so on. So surely it went on, but was not reported. But some were, at least after the fact.

In every case we will be prefacing the account with the salient details, most of which are self-explanatory, but some may need clarification, so: “Type” refers back to the discussion on what drives killers, and how they are classified - lust/hunter/mission/visionary etc - while “Hunting ground(s)” tells where the killer operated, where he or she killed or stalked their victims. “Caught by” rather obviously refers to either the law enforcement authority or individual(s) who tracked them down and arrested them, or perhaps those who reported them and alerted the relevant authorities. In some cases this may not be a person but an organisation, though given the timeline we're dealing with here there may indeed have been mob justice involved, and in rare cases it may be that the killer turned themselves in.

Epithet is the name the killer either was known by or by which they wished to be known - Jack the Ripper, for instance, was known only as "The Whitechapel Murderer" until the receipt of the letter to Abberline which forever enshrined him as "Jack the Ripper". Some of these, of course, will have no epithets, popular nickname or media nickname, as the advertising and marketing infrastructure was not around so early to create such, and media was something completely unknown, to say nothing of the amount of people who could not even read. But where we have one, or even where one was later assigned by historians, they'll be noted here.

Killer: Unnamed, but part of what was known as The Poison Ring
Epithet: n/a
Type: Comfort (?)
Nationality: Roman
Hunting ground(s): Rome, Italy
Years active: 331 BC
Weapon(s) used: Poison
Signature (if any): n/a
Victims: Believed to be about 90
Survivors: Unsure
Caught by: The intervention of a serving woman
Fate: Died at their own hand

A weird one, this. Seems there were two patrician (noble family) women going around poisoning men. No idea why, but their deaths - about ninety of them before the women were stopped - were apparently believed to be the results of a plague. When the women were challenged that the potion they said was medicinal was poison, then both - both! - seem to have said “Look! We’ll show you it’s harmless!” and drank the bloody thing. Whereupon they died instantly. Can’t figure that one out. If they knew the potion was deadly, why drink it, especially since they weren’t forced or coerced to do so? In the wake of the discovery a whole cabal of poisoners was uncovered, who became known collectively as the “Poison Ring”. They were judged to be mad, which, given what the other two did, would seem a safe diagnosis.

As far as I can see, this Poison Ring is the earliest example of serial killing, and oddly enough, involved a whole lot of people. Serial killers are usually loners, trusting few people and eager to get their own hands dirty with the blood of their victims, so they seldom hand off the killings to anyone else. There have been instances of pairs of serial killers, but they are rare. A whole group? Almost unique.

Perhaps as unique as the next one we’re going to look at.

Killer: Emperor Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus “Caligula”
Epithet: n/a
Type: Lust
Nationality: Roman, duh!
Hunting ground(s): Rome, Italy
Years active: 37 - 41 AD
Weapon(s) used: Everything and anything
Signature (if any): He’s said to have enjoyed gagging his victims so that they were denied their last breath to cry out
Victims: Impossible to tell
Survivors: Same
Caught by: Praetorian Guard
Fate: Assassinated

Here we run up against one of my own personal criteria and see how it fails. You may remember in the introduction I stated that figures like Hitler, Pol Pot etc would not, for me, qualify as serial killers as they operated under state-sponsored murder. However, it must be said that this wasn’t necessarily murder at the behest of, or with the agreement of the state. This was murder ordered by, authorised by and indeed carried out by one man, the emperor, who believed himself a living god, and nobody could deny him. It was, in effect, tantamount to having a serial killer in charge of not only a country but an empire (although Caligula did confine his madness to the capital).

At any rate, Peter Vronsky in his excellent Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers From the Stone Age to the Present, includes him as one of the first ever examples of a serial killer, almost a thousand years before the term was coined, and who am I to argue?

So, let the madness begin!

Who doesn’t know about Caligula? One of the most feared, hated and quite simply mad emperors of ancient Rome, Caligula came to power and initially seemed to be a good ruler, but then in around 37 AD he fell ill, and when he recovered he was never the same. One of the first things he did was to go to the senate, having heard that the senators had prayed to the gods to take them in his place, and demand they kept their promise now that he had been spared. So one by one, they all had to commit suicide. Whether you can count that as part of his victim tally or not I don’t know, but I imagine a serial killer who impels his victims to take their own lives can be blamed for their deaths, so I’d say yes. After all, if they had refused to do as the emperor asked, they surely would have been slain anyway, so they probably just took the easiest and essentially most honourable way out.

When he reinstated the treason trials so hated of his predecessor, Caligula went further, ordering the executioner to keep the condemned alive as long as possible, torturing them and also inviting, read, ordering, their family and friends to come and watch their suffering. He was said to have often quoted the phrase “I can do anything to anybody” and was also to have said at a banquet, laughing evilly, “I have only to give the word and all of your throats would be cut.”

We should keep in mind, as pretty much any historian has noted, that the only accounts we have of Caligula’s life - and therefore his depravities and his many murders - come from second-hand sources who lived a long time after his death. Many of these might be eager, or at least quick to paint him in the worst light possible, yet it seems likely that most of what has been reported is grounded in some sort of truth. I’ve been able to confirm that the story about him making his horse a consul is not true - some sources say it was a stab at another senator (I might as well make my horse a consul you’re so bad etc) and others say he thought about it, might have been going to do it, but inconveniently for him got killed before he could.

Anyway, with all that in mind, we have this account from Seneca the Younger (4 BC - 65 AD) in his essay De Ira (“On Anger”):

Only recently Gaius Caesar slashed with the scourge and tortured . . . both Roman senators and knights, all in one day, and not to extract information but for amusement. He was so impatient of postponing his pleasure—a pleasure so great that his cruelty demanded it without delay—that he decapitated some of his victims by lamplight, as he was strolling with some ladies and senators on the terrace of his mother’s gardens . . . What was ever so unheard of as an execution by night? Though robberies are generally concealed by darkness, the more public punishments are, the more they offer as an admonition and warning. But here also I shall hear the answer, “That which surprises you so much is the daily habit of that beast; for this he lives, for this he loses sleep, for this he burns the midnight oil.” But surely you will find no other man who has commanded that the mouths of all those who were to be executed by his orders should be gagged by inserting a sponge, in order that they might not even have the power to utter a cry. What doomed man was ever before deprived of the breath with which to moan? . . . If no sponges were to be found, he ordered the garments of the poor wretches to be torn up, and their mouths to be stuffed with the strips. What cruelty is this?

What indeed? There are also reports that he slept with his own sister, Julia Drusilla, got her pregnant but then feared the child would overthrow him and so disembowelled her afterwards. Nice. He was certainly famous for his cruelty, and status was no bar to his perversions. Considering himself a living god, there was nobody who could stand against him, but he got his in the end when a party of Praetorian guards murdered him, Julius Caesar-like.
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Old 03-10-2021, 12:20 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Killer: Liu Pengli
Epithet: n/a
Type: Hunter/Thrill
Nationality: Chinese
Hunting ground(s): Jidong, China (about where Shandong is now)
Years active: Second century BC
Weapon(s) used: Unknown
Signature (if any): Other than robbery, unknown if any
Victims: 100 plus
Survivors: Unknown
Caught by: Testimony from the son of a victim to the emperor
Fate: Banished and made a commoner; commuted from death sentence

Surely then one of the earliest, if not the first Thrill Serial Killer, Prince Liu Pengli tended to go out with slaves and known criminals in his gang and attack, rob and murder people, for no other reason than that he enjoyed it. His reign of terror was finally brought to a halt when, as described briefly above, the son of one of the victims went to the emperor and accused him. What evidence was produced is not known, nor how a noble could be accused, but for whatever reason the emperor believed the accuser, or the crime was proven or admitted to, and the court demanded that Liu be executed. But as he was a nephew of the ruler, he instead had his royal titles taken from him and was kicked out of the kingdom. To some extent, maybe, this could have been a fate worse than death, which might have allowed Liu some semblance of honour; but being busted down to a commoner must have been the ultimate humiliation for him.

Killer: Anula of Anuradhapura
Epithet: n/a
Type: Comfort
Nationality: Sri Lankan
Hunting ground(s): The royal palace
Years active: 47 - 42 BC
Weapon(s) used: Poison
Signature (if any):
Victims: 4 known
Survivors: None known
Caught by: King Kutakanna Thisa
Fate: Burned alive

Seems this lady was one of those machiavellian women who preferred being on the throne to being the power behind it. She poisoned her husband of twelve years, King Coranga, repeated the process with his successor and continued like this for about four months before she was deposed, caught and executed for her crimes. No motive is given for her killings, but since she seized power it can be assumed that was the object; this, and the use of poison as her weapon of choice, basically leads me to identify her as a comfort killer.

Killer: Locusta
Epithet: n/a
Type: Contract?
Nationality: Roman
Hunting ground(s): Rome
Years active:
Weapon(s) used: Poison
Signature (if any):
Victims: At least 5, possibly 7 or more
Survivors: Unknown
Caught by: Emperor Glaba
Fate: Executed

The best known and most accomplished poisoner in the empire at the time of Nero, I have my doubts about this one to be honest. It’s in the list, but from what I read Locusta did not kill for any gain other than financial or as ordered by the emperor. She seems to have been a sort of “house poisoner” or official poisoner in Nero’s court, and was ordered by the emperor’s mother, Agrippina, to poison her uncle Claudius, so that her son could ascend the throne. While in the service of Nero she was called upon to get rid of Claudius’s son, Britannicus. When the poison didn’t work quickly enough, Nero took her into a dungeon and whipped her personally until she made it work.

Someone who works like this, under essentially the orders of another, and does not choose their victims, should not, I feel, be categorised as a serial killer, but more of a contact killer, even an executioner operating under the sanction of state, in this case. I would be very dubious about including her. Nevertheless, just in case, there she is.

Killer: Dhu Shanatir
Epithet: n/a
Type: Lust
Nationality: Yemenite
Hunting ground(s): Palace
Years active: 478 - 490
Weapon(s) used: Hands
Signature (if any): Victims were sodomised and thrown out of a window
Victims: 100
Survivors: One known
Caught by: One of his victims, Zara’h
Fate: Stabbed in the arse () and decapitated

Ah, the privileges of power, the power of privilege! Dhu Shanatir ruled Yemen from 478 to 490 and had a propensity for inviting young boys up to the palace for a bit of grub, which turned out to be more a bit of grab, as he poked them and then like toys he was finished with threw them out the window of his palace. No accounts exist as to what happened to the corpses, but you have to imagine the scene, don’t you? “Servant! Another one for the pile! Clean up on aisle six!” and off the slave goes with a wheelbarrow or whatever. Seriously though: this dude is known to have killed at least a hundred young boys before one turned the tables on him, stabbed him in the backside and then lopped off his head, and nicked his kingdom. Fair enough, I say. Oh yeah: Zara’h (who became known as Dhu Nawas) held on to the head, keeping it in the window of what was now his palace. Whether it faced out or not I don’t know, but if it did, it would have been fitting that he spent eternity with his eyes fixed on the spot where he had dumped so many of the pride of the nation’s youth.

Killer: Dame Alice Kyteler
Epithet: n/a
Type: Comfort
Nationality: Irish
Hunting ground(s): Kilkenny
Years active: 1302- - 1324
Weapon(s) used: Poison (maybe)
Signature (if any):
Victims: 3 - 4
Survivors: n/a
Caught by: Kind of hard to say really. There was a trial (she was accused by the children of her last husband - so, her own children basically) and the trial was conducted by the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede
Fate: Legged it to England; fate after that unknown.

The interesting thing about this, apart from it being I guess the first recorded instance of an Irish serial killer, is that Kyteler (of Flemish descent, hence the odd and hardly Irish name, but she was born in Kilkenny) was not so much tried for murder as for witchcraft. As the paranoia about witches grew across Europe, and the Inquisition tightened its grip on its adherents, Ireland was no safe haven for the ungodly. Far from it: from the earliest times, once the Celts had been defeated, the druids banished or killed, Ireland was one of the most Christian countries on Earth, and almost exclusively Catholic. Occupied by the English, Protestantism never caught hold, except in the north, in Ulster, so strong was the Catholic faith. So when the Church said root out witches, that’s just what their footsoldiers did.

Richard de Ledrede, the Bishop of Ossory and known as a “scourge of heresy and witchcraft”, having heard that Kyteler was accused of killing her previous husbands, decided to use her as a basis for a trial for witchcraft, and she was arrested. Some of the antagonism towards her may have been due to the fact that she was quite rich, being a moneylender, and by that token very unpopular; possibly, too, some people hoped to duck out of their debts. After all, if she was found guilty (and we all know the only penalty for a woman “proven” to be or “confessing” to be a witch) then their slate would be wiped clean.

The charges LeDrede brought against Alice Kyteler were:

denying the faith of Christ and the Church
cutting up animals to sacrifice to demons at crossroads
holding secret nocturnal meetings in churches to perform black magic and undermine/overpower the church
using sorcery and potions to control Christians
possession of a familiar, Robin Artison, a lesser demon of Satan
murder of husband

However when he tried to have her arrested, the Bishop found out that Alice had powerful friends, among them the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and he ended up in prison himself! On his release, he was no less determined to prosecute Alice, and renewed his efforts, this time securing her arrest. This time the charges were slightly different:

Committing heresy
Sacrificing to demons
Communing with demons
Magically excommunicating/usurping the church
Making love and hate potions to corrupt Christians
Murdering her past husbands
Engaging in a sexual affair with a demon

He managed to get a confession out of one of Alice’s servants, Petronella de Meath, after torturing her, and she was paraded through the town and then burned at the stake. Alice however escaped from prison and fled to England, and that’s the last that was ever heard of her.

One footnote though, is the “confession” wrung out of Petronella de Meath. You have to imagine most of this was suggested or dictated to her, and she merely confirmed it, either by signing (if she could write) or in some other way. It’s fantastic nonsense, of course, but it got her turned into a living cinder.

On one of these occasions, by the crossroads outside the city, she had made an offering of three cocks to a certain demon whom she called Robert, son of Art (Robertum filium Artis), from the depths of the underworld. She had poured out the cocks' blood, cut the animals into pieces and mixed the intestines with spiders and other black worms like scorpions, with a herb called milfoil as well as with other herbs and horrible worms. She had boiled this mixture in a pot with the brains and clothes of a boy who had died without baptism and with the head of a robber who had been decapitated ... Petronella said she had several times at Alice's instigation and once in her presence, consulted demons and received answers. She had consented to a pact whereby she would be the medium between Alice and the said Robert, her friend. In public, she said that with her own eyes she had seen the aforesaid demon as three shapes (praedictus daemon tertius), in the form of three black men (aethiopum) each carrying an iron rod in the hand. This apparition happened by daylight (de die) before the said Dame Alice, and, while Petronella herself was watching, the apparition had intercourse with Alice. After this disgraceful act, with her own hand she (Alice?) wiped clean the disgusting place with sheets (kanevacio) from her own bed.
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Old 03-19-2021, 05:12 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Killer: Gilles de Rais
Epithet: n/a
Type: Lust
Nationality: French
Hunting ground(s): Champtocé-sur-Loire and Machecoul, France
Years active: 1432 - 1440
Weapon(s) used: Various
Signature (if any):
Victims: Believed to be anything from 100 to 200 (one estimate claims 600)
Caught by: The Bishop of Nantes
Fate: Hanged and burned

In terms, then, of actual sexual serial killers who killed for their own pleasure, it seems we have a candidate for the first, not counting Caligula, who I still think is something of a special case. It was said that Gilles de Rais, a baron in medieval France, consorted with - or tried to consort with - demons and dabbled in the occult, but none of his spells came to anything. Frustrated, he turned to luring children to his castle, where they would be fed and clothed and made a fuss of before being sodomised (yes, this again unfortunately) and then, well. Some were torn open and their intestines ripped out, some were beheaded, some were burned, some were drowned - and, oh dear: it seems some were, ah, interfered with after their deaths.

Although there have been efforts to exonerate him and paint him as a victim of the Catholic Inquisition, I tend to the belief that the stories are, mostly, true. His accomplices, after all, both corroborated them and so far as I can read, they weren’t tortured. They must have known that pleading guilty to aiding this sadistic madman would earn them a spot on the gallows right beside him, as it did, so if there was no truth in it why confess? So let’s just assume then that he was guilty. If he was, then he certainly seems to have amassed the biggest body count up to that point, at least of the killers known. Like I say above, the true number has never been ascertained, and though one estimate does claim he murdered up to 600 children, this seems unlikely, even given his protected status as a noble. So the slightly more conservative figure of 100 - 200 seems more likely. Either way, it’s a damning total.

The man’s sadism seems to have been boundless. Accounts speak of him sitting on the stomachs of children who were dying by his hand or at his command, and laughing as they died; of picking up severed heads and admiring them, and, as mentioned above, of doing things to their dead bodies. He’s also known to have hung up his victims alive and masturbated over them. Nice guy. And these are kids, remember: his victims are said to have ranged in age from six years old to eighteen, mostly boys but not all.

His undoing seems to have come when he captured a cleric in May 1440 and attracted the attention of the Bishop of Nantes, his crimes soon coming to light after his arrest, and within a month he had confessed. He was charged on counts of heresy, sodomy and murder, found guilty - along with his accomplices - and hanged and then burned on October 26. The shame was so great that afterwards his family changed their name. Twice.

Killer: Peter Stumpp
Epithet: “The Werewolf of Bedburg”
Type: ?
Nationality: German
Hunting ground(s): Bedburg, Cologne
Years active: 1564 - 1589
Weapon(s) used: Hands and teeth
Signature (if any):
Victims: 14
Survivors: None
Caught by:?
Fate: Broken on the wheel, beheaded and burned

A supposed real-life werewolf, Peter Stumpp (many other spellings and aliases, but let’s go with this one) confessed to having dabbled in the black arts, having had congress with demons and as a result having received a magic belt which allowed him to shape-shift into the form of a werewolf. In this form he carried out fourteen of the most atrocious murders, mostly children, entailing tearing them apart and eating them. This included two fetuses which were said to have been torn from the bodies of two pregnant women and consumed while their hearts were “hot and raw”. He was said to have killed and eaten his own son, whose brain he consumed, and also confessed to having incest with his own daughter.

Because this was in the sixteenth century, and therefore claims of witchcraft and lycanthropy were readily accepted, we will never know for sure how he killed his victims, but it seems likely he simply tore them apart. As most were children this may not have been too difficult particularly if he was in the grip of a murderous psychosis at the time.

After his trial he was (unsurprisingly) sentenced to death, which included being broken on the wheel - a system that allowed the flesh to be torn from his body while he was yet living - his arms and legs were chopped off to prevent him returning from the grave, then his head was severed and his body burned, his head placed on a pole on top of a monument to warn others against consorting with dark powers.

Killer: Peter Niers
Epithet: n/a
Type: Comfort ?
Nationality: German
Hunting ground(s): France, Germany, Netherlands
Years active: 1566 - 1581
Weapon(s) used: Various
Signature (if any):
Victims: 544 confessed to (under torture)
Survivors: None
Caught by: Townsfolk of Neumarkt
Fate: Broken on the wheel and quartered while still alive

More superstition and acts of magic abound in the oft-told story of Peter Niers, leading member of a band of thieves and robbers who roamed the German countryside, ranging as far as France and the Netherlands. Niers was said to be a powerful magician, and used the fetuses of pregnant women he slew to perform dark arts, which were supposed to confer on him certain powers, including that of invisibility and shape-shifting. Again we’re dealing with the sixteenth century here, where such claims would be taken very seriously, though there are accounts of his using various disguises, which is probably more likely.

As part of a robber band, Niers ranged far and wide but it was in his native Germany he was caught. The story is that he left his literal “bag of tricks” behind him in the tavern, so he hadn’t the magical artifacts needed to allow him to shape-shift, or whatever he did. When he was recognised at the local baths it wasn’t long before he was arrested. Thereafter he was tortured over three days, which is why you kind of have to take his confession with a pinch of salt. But when he did confess he was given a pretty gruesome death: broken on the wheel like our friend the Werewolf of Bedbugs, sorry Bedburg, and then quartered - while still alive!

Killer: Christman Genippertheinga
Epithet: None
Type: Comfort
Nationality: German
Hunting ground(s): Fraßberg, Germany
Years active: 1569 - 1581
Weapon(s) used: Unsure - hands?
Signature (if any):
Victims: 964
Survivors: None; technically, one
Caught by: Betrayed by the woman he had sexually enslaved
Fate: Broken on the wheel

Another feared robber, but one who stayed in the one lair, a cave high up in the hills, which afforded him a good view of the roads leading into the town, Christman Genippertheinga would attack French and German travellers, even killing his own partners if it suited him. He met a young woman shortly after he arrived in the area and menaced her into being his slave, and swearing never to betray him. By him she had six children, all of whom Christman killed, and then hung up from the roof of the cave. It was said that as the wind moved the bodies to and fro he would sing “Dance, der little children, dance; Genippertheinga your father is making the dance for you.”

When the girl finally persuaded him to let her go visit relatives in the town, she, held fast to her oath (which were sacred things in those days; they believed you could go to Hell for breaking one) cried at a stone, and villagers brought her to the mayor, who assured her that her immortal soul would not suffer if she told them what was wrong. When Christman was arrested her howled at her for betraying him, but he admitted to the murders, actually upset that he had not reached his goal of one thousand. It took him nine days to die on the wheel, as the executioner deliberately kept him alive by giving him strong drink, so that he might suffer as much as possible and last as long as they could stretch his agony out for.

There is uncorroborated evidence that Christman may have also been a cannibal, eating his victims (including the hearts of his children) and even force-feeding his slave human flesh, but the story changes on down through the decades and it’s hard to be sure. All we can be sure of is that he was definitely a killer, a serial killer, and a monster.
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Old 04-04-2021, 09:44 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Killer: Gilles Garnier
Epithet: “The Werewolf of Dole”, also “The Hermit of St. Bonnot”
Type: Lust
Nationality: French
Hunting ground(s): Dole, Franche-Comté province
Years active: 1572 - 1574
Weapon(s) used: Hands, teeth
Signature (if any):
Victims: 6 (though the account says he confessed to 4, I count 6 in all)
Survivors: None
Caught by: Villagers
Fate: Burned at the stake

A hermit living in the town of Dole in France, Garnier (sorry, I have to say it: you’re worth it!) got married and found that it was more difficult to procure food for two than one. He said that he met a spirit in a wood one night who gave him the power to change into a werewolf. After this he attacked, ate and killed up to six children from the ages of 9 to 12. He would also tear off flesh or body parts to bring home to his wife. Whether she was aware of where the meat came from, or indeed whether she ate it, is not recorded, nor are even the most minimal details about her.

Some villagers saw him with a child’s body in his arms as they made their way home from the fields one evening, and Garnier was arrested. Again, no details as to whether he was tortured, confessed or made any plea, but he was burned at the stake for the crime of lycanthropy. Whether that included, overrode or ignored murder and cannibalism I don’t know.

Killer: Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed
Epithet: “The Blood Countess” and “Countess Dracula”
Type: Lust
Nationality: Hungarian
Hunting ground(s): Castle of Csejte
Years active: 1585 - 1610
Weapon(s) used: Various
Signature (if any): Torture, mutilation etc
Victims: Anything from 80 to 650
Survivors: About 300
Caught by: Thurzó, Palatine of Hungary
Fate: Imprisoned in her castle until her death in 1614

Having been born into wealth and power, Countess Bathory’s many alleged torture and killings don’t appear to have a cause, other than she was rich and powerful. It may have been her upbringing, but of course there would have to have been an innate sense of sadism there for such a predilection to have grown. While abductions have been mentioned, it’s assumed these were carried out by her servants, and it seems Bathory pretty much stayed in her castle and stalked her victims there - mostly servants, and it seems all female - or had them brought to her, from the surrounding villages. Lurid accounts of her debauchery have passed into popular myth now, and it’s hard to know what’s fact and what is fiction, but she’s accused of beating, burning, freezing and in other ways torturing the young women and girls who worked for her, of bathing in their blood (in an effort to remain young) and of cannibalism.

Much of this, it’s said, could have been a political conspiracy to bring down a powerful woman who had much property, but either way it’s not been conclusively proved on either side. Her servants were quickly executed after having given their evidence, but Bathory was allowed to live, as the scandal of her execution would have been too much for her powerful family to survive. She was imprisoned in her castle, under house arrest, and died there at the age of 54.

Werewolf or Killer?

Before I go on, a brief interlude. It became quite common in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (and even on into the seventeenth) for people to be accused of being, or believe they had been transformed into werewolves. This presents something of a problem to me. If a man is believed, and believes himself to be, a creature such as this, is he then eligible to be counted as a serial killer? If we do that, should we not then start recounting all the lives lost to real wolf attacks (and maybe bears and who knows what else)? Can a supposed werewolf be accused of serial murder?

I debated including such stories as I read them, particularly this one, but as I read it I came across a ruling the court made in this case, which serves to slightly clear up the distinction. Again it’s from Peter Vronsky’s Sons of Cain, and is in fact part of the story of the subject of our next serial killer. He notes: The court essentially ruled that werewolves are not people literally transformed into wolves but people possessed by the Devil to behave as if they were transformed into werewolves. It was the best explanation we had for serial killers back then.

Killer: Jean Grenier
Type: ?
Nationality: French
Hunting ground(s): Coutras, near Bordeaux
Years active: 1603
Weapon(s) used: Hands and teeth
Signature (if any):
Victims: Unknown; by his own testimony at least 4
Survivors: One known of
Caught by: Parents of Marguerite Poirier, an intended victim (and the survivor spoken of above)
Fate: Originally sentenced to death, but due to his age and remorse, and a new, more enlightened understanding of the causes of lycanthropy, commuted to life servitude in a monastery.

Surely the youngest known serial killer we’ve come across so far, Jean Grenier was only thirteen years old when his father kicked him out of the house. The story goes that he vomited up a load of body parts, including human ones, and his stepmother ran away in disgust and would not come back until he had been banished from the house. Wandering alone, filthy and hungry, the boy accosted young girls and told them he was a werewolf, and that he had tasted of human flesh, but that of girls was tastier. He of course frightened them off, but when he attempted to attack one later, in the guise of a werewolf (according to the girl, the abovementioned Marguerite Poirier anyway) she beat him off with a stick, and when she told her parents about the attack the graphic nature of her description, along with the curious deaths and mutilations of children at that time in the area, led the authorities to investigate, and Grenier was arrested.

Far from concealing his crimes, he confessed, telling the court that he had met a dark man in a forest when younger; this man had provided him with the ability to turn into a wolf. He claimed that some of his victims he shared with another wolf, but the court in 1603 no doubt said “Zut alors! This is not ze Dark Ages! This is ze seventeenth century, mon Dieu! We are enlightened people and do not believe in ze werewolf! Sacre bleu!” or something.

And they set out to prove he was not a werewolf.

A sentence of death had been handed down, death by hanging, with the body then to be burned afterwards, but given the age of the child and his unfortunate circumstances, and his confession, rather strenuous lengths seem to have been gone to in order to save his life. They prepared a defence of insanity, showing that the boy could not have been engaged in witchcraft (which was the crime he had been charged with, not murder) as he had been able to take the dress off one of his victims rather than ripping it off her as an animal would do. This proved, according to them, that Grenier merely thought he was a werewolf, was lost in what we would call today a deep psychosis, and therefore, having not actually transformed into an animal could not be accused of witchcraft.

This, by the way, despite Marguerite’s testimony that she had been attacked by a wolf, not a boy. No mention is made of this as contradictory evidence against him. It’s hard to see how the decision was arrived at, but at any rate this was their statement at the end of the trial:

The court, in the end, takes note of the age and the imbecility of this young boy, who is so stupid and so mentally impaired, that children of seven or eight normally show more reasoning than he does. This boy is so malnourished and so undersized that one would not think him ten years old. . . . Here is a young boy abandoned and driven out by his father, who had a stepmother for a mother, who roamed the fields, without a guide and without anyone in the world to look after him, begging for his food, who had no instruction whatsoever in the fear of God, whose nature was corrupted by evil seduction, daily necessities, and despair, all conditions that the Evil Spirit exploited. The court does not want to contribute further to the misery of this young boy, whom the Devil had armed against other children. The court rules after due consideration of all matters, including the inconsistencies of his testimony and other aspects of the trial, to save his soul for God rather than judge it to be lost. Moreover, according to the report of the good monks who began to instruct and encourage him, he is already showing that he abhorred and detested his crimes, as witnessed by his tears and his repentance. The court dismissed and dismisses the appeals and, for the verdict resulting from the trial, condemned and condemns Jean Grenier to be locked up for the remainder of his life in one of the city’s monasteries. He is to serve this monastery for the rest of his life. He is prohibited from ever leaving there under the penalty of hanging or strangling.

Interviewed seven years later, Grenier confessed that he still had an appetite for human flesh, particularly that of little girls, and though he regretted and again confessed to his actions, he still believed that not only was he a werewolf, but that his father had been one too, which sort of makes the story of the man in the forest harder to credit, unless we’re supposed to believe that the stranger was in fact his father. Or had met the same man when he was younger. Grenier was withdrawn and sullen, stupid and slow when interviewed, but he seemed to gain animation when asked about his crimes, and described them in detail. He seemed to believe, however, that he was no longer a werewolf.

It should probably be noted, in the interests of clarity, that the boy spoken of above has nothing to do with the French philosopher of the same name, who lived from 1898-1971.

(Not a werewolf. Or a serial killer.)
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