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This article is written by Yash Singhal from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi. The article deals with the exhaustive study of serial killers in different criminal jurisprudence along with a list of some of the most famous serial killers in the world.

Introduction

Everyone gets fascinated with biographies on serial killers due to the innate personality of each individual that seeks thrill in life. The serial killers are often imagined as some highly dangerous people who are beyond the control of their cognitive faculties or are commanded by the irresistible impulse. The scope of the study of serial killers in every jurisdiction is varied due to different laws in force in every state. 

It is important to know about the aspects related to the psychology of these serial killers and how it is related to the legal aspect of criminology. Some important details about the factors driving the serial killers and types of serial killers would be followed by a list of the world’s most famous serial killers.

Who are serial killers

There is no singular definition of a serial killer accepted across the globe in different paradigms due to uncertain factors associated with the term itself. Every criminal jurisdiction and/or the police department has defined it differently and have been following their own opinions in this regard. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States law enforcement agency and the prime investigation department, has given a terminology in respect to specific conditions for any criminal to be regarded as a serial killer.

Any criminal killing more than three people in more than a month with some cooling period in between as a mode to emotionally stabilise itself. This definition has various uncertain elements that it shall not be the sole basis to regard any normal roadside criminal as a serial killer. This is just one angle to the complexity of the term.

The other definition, proposed by the National Institute of Justice, has provided a closer insight into the sexual needs of the criminal leading to the commission of brutal crimes. This deals with the psychological concept of inherent motive to satisfy the sexual urge through some sadistic action which is beyond the sanction of law and is deemed unlawful in every criminal jurisprudence. It is identified as one of the sexual crimes, but with the optimum amount of brutality and gore that can intimidate any normal person. It is deemed as a consequence of uncontrollable or irresistible sensations to satisfy sexual urges.

This definition has been considered as closest to the yet-to-be clearly explained term but it too has its own limitations. This is based on the assumption that only males can be serial killers with their out-of-control sexual urges while losing out on the possibility of any female serial killer in the society. The stereotypes have eluded the rational perspective over gender-neutral actions either with similar objectives or varied personal gains. It has also failed to take into account any other factor driving any individual to kill numerous people without any hint of guilt.

In case of absence of any legally, socially, culturally and globally accepted norm on the exact definition of the term, it would be safe to enumerate all the elements or factors forcing the individuals to carry out mass killings. 

What drives a serial killer

There are various disciplines with their own theories on what drives a serial killer. A large number of reasons are attached with serial killers becoming as they do over a period of time. The perspectives spread from socio-economic to psychological factors driving a serial killer. A deep insight into each of these opinions would provide a clear enough picture that can be controlled through the manipulated external environment as a mode of deterrence and prevent any individual from walking the same path in future. This is just a presumption that all these factors can, to some extent, be altered as per the benefits/suitability of the concerned individuals.

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Psychological perspective

It has been contended that these serial killers most often indulge in killings without any personal motivation. The most prominent theory in this regard is about the need to make the other people aware of their existence in society. They attribute their popularity in the society with the intensity and brutality of killings. They do not have any personal vengeance or motive to carry out that killing but derive satisfaction from the act itself. 

The greatest example of deriving gratification from criminal acts would be the fictional character of ‘Joker’ from the DC comics universe. The character of Joker may or may not be regarded as a serial killer as such by every individual, but the nature of killing was as gruesome as any serial killer in actual life. He derived his existence from the fear he created in society after defeating their protagonist or messiah of humanity, ‘Batman’, on strategic grounds numerous times. 

The constant cycle of killings by serial killers distinguishes them from any normal criminal. A normal criminal has a motive for its criminal activities, which develops into a malicious intention to commit an illegal act. All of the normal criminals are one-time murderers, whereas, the serial killers hide their insecurity over rejection in society by killing individuals.

The other psychological attribute associated with serial killers is, as stated earlier, the manifestation of sexual urges that are so powerful to break the control capacity of the individual. The person normalises any behaviour that is in furtherance to the achievement of his ultimate goal. This is widely regarded as a driving force behind male serial killers and kept female serial killers out of its ambit. The existence of female serial killers allowed acceptance of other domains of perspectives as well.

Socio-economic perspective

The individuals who have grown up in dire poverty while living in lower strata of the society, in excluded areas of the region, are most often the ones indulging in such gruesome activities. The need to express dissatisfaction with their current situation or a form of revenge from the urban-rich population has driven many individuals to become serial killers. 

The lack of proper education contributes to their inability to separate ‘right’ or socially acceptable behaviour from ‘wrong’ or anything against the acceptable norms. They associate a personal righteous attitude to everything they do, even killing people at regular intervals. The xenophobia they imbibe naturally from their surroundings, against the privileged class, force them to seek extra measures to gather everything they feel they deserve but have been stolen from them and given to others.

The additional details have been provided regarding peer pressure. The individual behaviour is an image of interactions with other people, in cases, the peer group is themselves involved in such activities, it rubs on the identity of the particular individual as well and he walks on the same path to get acceptance in the peer group. The potential criminal mindset is tuned from childhood with continuous transmission of information for a long period of time.

Superiority perspective

It is a widely accepted notion that every individual yearns for superiority of status, position, and/or wealth. The serial killers have always been associated with individuals desirous of power over a majority of the society. These serial killers can go to any extent to achieve the power they deem appropriate for them amongst the society.

They leave behind the socially acceptable norms to quench their insatiable thirst for power. This power is subjective for every offender, as some seek economic power, while some others seek a powerful social position. 

The whole theory has been backed by numerous past incidents of serial killers claiming their involvement in the murders to gather as much power in the society, as possible. 

Types of serial killers

There has been a global consensus on the classification of serial killers into four categories on the basis of objectives of killings. These categories have been adopted as a mode to identify the root cause behind the individual getting engaged in brutal killings of people. Before learning about these four categories, it is paramount to understand the concept of organised and unorganised killers. Organised killers have pre-planned ideas about how they will carry out the killings without getting caught, whereas, the unorganised killings are unpremeditated killings due to some internal or external factors affecting the individual. This theory of organised/unorganised killings was pioneered by the FBI. These four categories identified are as follows:

  1. Thrill-seekers
  2. Mission-oriented
  3. Visionary
  4. Power and control

All of these categories would be explained in some detail. 

Thrill-seekers

These serial killers enjoy every bit of thrill that they seek from outsmarting police and investigation agencies after the commission of murders. They thrive on the media attention to get their opinions through to the general public. They keep records of all their killings in an organised manner but sometimes do not prefer proper planning in advance for some last minute action/thrill in getting away from the investigation. It is observed that thrill-seekers often use weapons or rape their victims before killing them. They follow the method of hiding the corpse to move onto another victim. These serial killers make the public authorities look like a puppet to their crimes.

Mission-oriented

This is the extreme form of xenophobia-related serial killings where the killers believe themselves to be doing society a favour by getting rid of some groups of individuals. They especially target their individuals that are associated with any group they have hateful feelings against. Most common target groups of these killers include young women, drug dealers, prostitutes, or homosexuals. These serial killers fall under the organised killers category due to their pre-planned crime. In normal parlance, it is observed that these killers are easily tracked down due to their specific victim selection of following a selected pattern.

Visionary

This category of serial killers have the illusion of some higher authority ordering them to kill other people. They feel/believe that they are compelled to kill the people according to the orders they receive or they will die. As per the records of the testimony of the past serial killers of this category, these orders are either mandated from God or the Devil. They are the most unorganised serial killers due to immediate need to fulfil the commands of the superior authority, or else they will die, they do not plan anything and just go about killing people. They are easiest to track down due to their lack of organised crime.

Power and control

It is already stated earlier that power is one of the most crucial factors driving serial killers. This category of serial killers enjoys agony, pain, intimidation on their victim’s face. They are the organised killers which is evident in the way they go about killing people as someone who is experienced in the field. They are majorly those that have a history of childhood abuse, that lead them to grow as powerless individuals until they realise they need to establish their power and control over people. They engage in sexual activities with their victims without actual lust. 

Criminal jurisprudence on serial killings

The serial killings have not been identified as a separate offence in most of the criminal jurisprudence due to a particular and exact definition of the term, yet to be achieved. The judicial decisions are based on police investigations on the incidents. It has been observed that these serial killers, over a period of time, specialises in the method of killing without leaving an inch of evidence against them. It all takes down to the mode of carrying out the crime, that often helps the investigating authority to associate different killings with each other and reach a consensus over a single person committing all those murders.

Indian criminal jurisprudence

In India, the status over the concept of serial killings is based on western ideas about the same, as they believe that serial killers only exist in other countries. The Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not have any exclusive provision dealing with the serial killers but restricts itself to the offence of murder.

Penal provision of murder

The offence of murder, the highest form of Penal offence in India, under Section 300 of the Code. The punishment for the offence of murder is provided under Section 302 of the Code.

The offence of murder, according to the section, is defined as any act done with the intention of causing death, or inflicts such bodily injury that the offender knows is likely to cause death, or in a normal course of nature is sufficient to cause death, or it in all likelihood causes death as the offender knows the injury to be imminently dangerous. All these conditions constitute the offence of murder in the penal provision. The punishment for the offence of murder is decided as a death sentence, or life imprisonment, along with fine.

This clause only deals with a single act of murder, whereas, the serial killers have multiple murders in their records. The scope of serial killers is way beyond the penal provisions in India. The maximum punishment awarded for their murders could be a death penalty, for the number of killings being a testament to the fulfilment of ‘rarest of rare doctrine’ provided by judicial pronouncements under the murder clause. 

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980), the doctrine of rarest of the rare case was adopted by the judiciary to distinguish them from any less grave offence of murder. The principle of aggravating and mitigating circumstances leading to the ultimate offence to be valued against each other was provided. The court observed that the death penalty should be an option only in cases where life imprisonment is ‘unquestionably foreclosed’. 

In Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab (1983), the court upheld the decision in the case of Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab. The case was regarding a family dispute in Punjab that escalated into a series of killings across five different villages. The court observed that two questions need to be considered before imposing a death penalty: the punishment of life imprisonment being inadequate for the particular offence, and death sentence being the only alternative, after evaluating maximum applicability of all mitigating factors available in the case. 

The majority judgements in the present times, do not take into account the mitigating factors such as the socio-economic background of the offender, young age or other factors. They just determine a death penalty on the single aggravating factor of ‘brutality of the offence’. The numerous serial killings would fall under the clause of brutal offences and the death penalty is the most likely punishment for guilty serial killers.

Defence of insanity

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 deals with the general defence of unsoundness of mind to protect the accused from prosecution in any offence. It was included in the Code to safeguard an individual on grounds of legal insanity. The insanity clause in penal code has been adopted from McNaughten Rules, which was laid down in the landmark common law case, R v. M’Naghten (1843). There are certain rules enumerated in this case which are weighed in while deciding a case on insanity clauses in India. These rules include:

  • It is presumed that the individual is sane to possess enough degree of reason to be responsible for a crime, until the contrary is proved.
  • The person committing an act must be suffering from a ‘disease of the mind’.
  • If the person is aware of the nature of the crime, then it knows the unlawful character of the act.

These are some principles that need to be satisfied as to prove the legal insanity of the individual in a court of law to avail the general defence of insanity in India. The law does not recognise medical insanity as a defence and hence, has kept most of the psychological disorders out of the context of legal insanity. It is observed that most of the serial killers suffer from antisocial personality disorders such as sociopathy or psychopathy. These disorders are not identified as mental disorders by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the premier association for psychological disorders. Thus, the serial killers do not fall within the scope of the general defence of insanity.

Reforms suggested to Section 84 of IPC

The insanity clause in the Penal Code has been extremely restrictive in its scope with the method used to define insanity, in terms of only legal insanity, has left out a wide array of other aspects that should be included in the section to dispense justice for acts which are beyond the control of an individual. The M’Naghten rules came into existence in 1843 and since the inception of the Indian Penal Code, it has been a part of Indian criminal system. 

The dynamics of psychology as a science dealing with the functions of the mind and soul has changed since then, with the scope of psychological disorders. There are some sensations which render the decision-making capacity of an individual in a way that they either are incapable to understand the consequences of their acts or the irresistible sensations take over their control mechanism. The Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) should be included as a mental condition within the scope of legal insanity.

There are three compartments of the mind- controlling cognition, emotion and will. The section only covers the aspect where the cognitive faculties of an individual are affected. This provision is too narrow considering the complexity of the disorders and their circumstances. This does not provide a case for one’s emotion and the will to be so affected as to render the cognitive faculties control ineffectual. The psychopathic offenders are majorly falling within the lack of emotion part, which must be introduced in the insanity clause provided in the Penal Code.

Psychopathy, defined as a personality disorder, has been characterised by antisocial behaviour, lack of remorse, affected empathy, egocentricity, low frustration tolerance, manipulativeness, violation of social norms, and etc. There have been opinions regarding the inclusion of psychopathy within the scope of insanity by various psychologists. They feel that their behaviours are more influenced by their mental condition than their own will. The conviction of these psychopaths is not going to improve their condition until it is diagnosed and proper treatment is provided. 

These psychopaths intend to harm people without any particular reason and the harm is gruesome. They do not have any human feelings of fear, grief or pain as they are not beyond the control of senses. 

In Accused ‘X’ v. State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court observed that severe mental illness under the ‘International Classification of Disease (ICD)‘ that is accepted under Section 3 of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 includes ‘personality disorders of different kinds’ in its mandate. This provision protects the individual from conviction on grounds of mental condition. Psychopathic disorders are themselves personality disorders which need to be included in the Indian criminal system.

Investigation procedure

There have been arguments in favour of wide investigation powers vested with police to track down serial killers efficiently. The crime records are primary instruments that are necessary for proper details about past crimes and track any connection of present crime with a past crime by comparing two modes of operation. 

The police system in India has long suffered due to the lack of accurate crime records for investigation purposes due to restricted powers of investigation. ‘The rule of law doctrine with police recording crimes and keeping a track, along with meticulous investigation to track the problem are required in India. The serial killers are able to manipulate circumstances.’, observed Dr. Rajat Mitra, a criminal psychologist. 

There have been instances of multiple murders taking place in different areas to evade any sort of pattern in the killings. In such cases, it becomes all the more difficult to catch the serial killer without establishing a connection among all the killings. The police have to rely on the criminal records and some analysis to track down the serial killer and detain them in police custody. 

In some cases, it is observed, that the serial killers collect some souvenirs from or leave an identification mark on the crime scene to firstly, live the experience multiple times afterwards and secondly, enjoys the intimidation that he creates in the society and finally, to openly challenge the police or investigation agencies to catch them in this rat race, if they can. Every serial killer adopts a pattern in the commission of murders as a mode to associate him/her with the offence.

Some landmark cases of serial killings 

In Surendra Koli v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2011), an appeal was heard in the Supreme Court where the court upheld the decision of the High Court while iterating that the appellant was a serial killer and shall be awarded death sentence for falling in the category of ‘rarest of rare’ offence after analysing the facts of the case. The appellant used to lure young girls into his house where he strangulated them to death, had sex with their dead bodies to be later cut down into pieces. He consumed those body pieces with some parts disposed off in the nearby drain. These acts were identified as horrifying and barbaric to the core. The appellant used a similar pattern of killings, which helped the court track his past murders. 

In The Registrar General v. [email protected] [email protected] Shivamogga (2012), the female serial killer by the name of Cyanide Mallika, was convicted by the Karnataka High Court. This serial killer used to befriend these women visiting temples to be later enticing them to come with her to a vacant spot where she administered some poisonous eatables to these women. Thereafter, she used to rob off all the valuable jewellery from these dead bodies. The police, during the investigation, found all the jewellery originally belonging to the deceased, in possession of this serial killer. The court in the instant case awarded life imprisonment to Cyanide Mallika. She had been convicted with the death sentence in two earlier cases, later to be turned into a life sentence.

United States criminal jurisprudence 

The United States of America has proposed a well-structured system to identify and investigate serial killers along with directions from the FBI on steps to be undertaken by the investigation officers while dealing with such offenders and some more provisions to catch all these killers at the earliest.

Investigation of serial killings

In 28 U.S. Code Section 540B, a procedure as to the investigation of serial killings is provided in detail. The power of investigating serial killings is bestowed upon the Attorney General and the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which are in violation of the laws of the state, in cases where the investigation is demanded by the head of the law enforcement agencies.

For the purpose of this section, serial killings are defined as a series of three or more killings having similar/common characteristics as to suggest the possibility of the same person committing each act, beyond a reasonable doubt. The term murder as an offence is constituted under Section 1111 of title 18, United States Code.

Forensic issues in serial murders

Forensic science is a form of expert opinion which is sought by the court of law in various cases to extract more relevant information to either substantiate the facts or prove evidence to be conclusive. It is common to almost every criminal jurisprudence to assist the court in dispensing justice. In the backdrop of technological advancement, a major emphasis is laid on the findings of the forensic labs in criminal cases. 

The main purpose of the forensic experts is to collect all data from the crime scene and pose results from proper analysis to the investigation agencies and the court, if required. The DNA samples testing is a prominent method to identify the offender, through even the smallest of biological material, which can later be compared with the available samples in the database of offenders. The fingerprint identification process on any material found at the crime scene can also be matched with the recorded data to determine if it is the similar offender from the records or a first time offender. 

There have been instances where a series of killings have been carried out in different jurisdictions, with the issue of each law enforcement agency having different jurisdictions. It is possible that all the agencies may not have adequate resources to investigate the matter efficiently. It has also been observed that the evidence is submitted with different laboratories to examine the evidence and present the report. All these pose a problem with the objective system of investigation and hence, this may prevent identification of a serial killer from past records.

The case for forensic evidence viability

In a case, a serial child killer was identified with the use of forensic evidence collected from the crime scenes of three killings. In around 1996-97, in Virginia, three young girls were abducted from their homes, sexually assaulted and killed. The bodies of all three girls were found at different places, with the first body found in a swamp, some distance away from her residence. Some months later, two sisters disappeared from their home after returning from school. Their bodies were found in a river, again miles away from their residence. The evidence confirmed a link between the killings of the first girl, whose body was found in a swamp, with the twins. 

Persistent investigation took place for around 5 years until another young girl was abducted in South Carolina. She escaped the attacker and identified him. The attacker committed suicide after a police chase in Florida. A detailed forensic investigation took place in the attacker’s residence at all the three places (where the crimes were committed) along with his car. The report revealed the linking of all the three murders and the attacker was identified as a serial killer. 

Prosecution in cases of serial killings

The criminal jurisprudence of a country is at stake when the question of prosecution and conviction of serial killers is concerned. The FBI has contended for a system of working where the law enforcement and the prosecutors work together closely to investigate the cases of serial killings. The partnership between the two shall start from the trial and continue till prosecution. 

The investigation agencies, when satisfied with the facts and available evidence, of the serial murders being committed can approach the prosecutor to evaluate the cases for the most efficient presentation in the court. The prosecutor would be aware of all the possible reasonable doubts or questions over the conviction that could be raised in the court, and that they can prepare arguments to tackle those. They can also provide inputs to the investigation agency regarding the use of evidence, forensic laboratory work, witness reports and suspect interviews during trials.

The society could be saved from such serial killers through the method of deterrence which can be achieved only through successful convictions of those committing such gruesome killings without an iota of fear. The police administration or investigation agencies should be in sync with the judicial system to punish those who pose a grave danger to the security of the state and its citizens.

Samuel Little, an American serial killer has been identified as the most prolific convicted serial killer in US history. He made a confession in the custody of the FBI about his involvement in 93 murders. The investigators could only find his links in 60 murders and the FBI claiming his links in over 50 murders. He had killed women across 19 American states. He was convicted for the murder of three women around 1987-89. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2014 without the possibility of parole.

Psychopathy in serial killings 

The opinion regarding psychopathy in the United States is similar to India. The serial killers have to be evaluated on the basis of their mental condition during the case proceedings. It has been observed that all serial killers are separate, in terms of the motivation behind killings and subsequent behaviour at the crime scene. Yet a similarity as to the common traits is present with all serial killers, based on sensation seeking, impulsivity, lack of guilt, and the need for control. These are all symptoms of psychopathic personality disorder.

Dr. Richard Hare proposed modern research to assess tools, evaluate personality traits and behaviours attributable to psychopaths. He, along with his associates, developed the Psychopathy CheckList- Revised (PCL-R) while providing a clinical assessment of an individual’s degree of psychopathy. The method has been devised to analyse the personality traits and delinquent behaviours of an individual.

An observation has been made on the terms of the relation between violence and psychopathic behaviours. It was recorded that not all violent offenders are psychopaths and not all psychopaths are violent offenders. A case of the psychopathic murderer could be identified from the manner of crime, where they are assaulting, raping and then murdering without any fear of consequences. 

The criminal justice system is entrusted with a great responsibility to evaluate the evidence available, in light of the mental condition of the offender before convicting them. The serious conditions, where the psychopath has committed a series of murders, it is advisable to order psychological treatment for them. A person shall not be held liable for any act which was beyond the control of the offender himself.

Most famous serial killers in the world

The serial killers aren’t concentrated in any specific region but are spread all over the world. There have been numerous serial killers in the past that have intimidated the innocent people and escaped the prosecution multiple times. To cover all of the serial killers in a single article is almost impossible, hence, some of the most famous serial killers in the world will be covered extensively. The list of the serial killers are provided hereunder:

Ted Bundy

Arguably the most famous serial killer of all times, Ted Bundy has been recognised as the most handsome serial killer. There have been plenty of records in relation to his life and crimes he committed, all of which is provided on the Netflix show ‘The Ted Bundy tapes’. He was an American murderer, who during the 1970s had terrorised the society.

He used to abduct, assault, rape and then murder young women around the age of 18-21 years. He had the traits to lure women into trusting him. He approached women in public places under impersonation before knocking them unconscious to be taken into an area where he can rape them and strangulate to death. He also used to visit the crime scenes to have sexual intercourse with the corpse of his victims until they would degrade so much that no activity could take place. He had beheaded around 12 victims and kept them as mementos at his residence.

He denied his involvement in either of the killings for quite some time until 1989, when before his execution he confessed to 30 murders across seven states in the 1970s. The actual number is yet not received and is expected to be higher. He escaped jails several times with the police administration failing to detain him from committing more murders. He was an example of the ‘power and control’ type of serial killers.

Trials and execution

Ted Bundy has undergone three trials with his eventual execution on 24 January 1989. He was subjected to police custody every time he was found guilty during a trial, but he was successful in escaping custody on all three occasions. 

First trial

The first trial was for kidnapping in Utah, where he was sentenced to a jail term in Utah State Prison. The investigators at Colorado, dissatisfied with the verdict and believed that they had enough evidence to prove his guilt in a murder case, filed charges against him. 

He was extradited to Colorado, during which he expressed his anguish regarding another trial and made plans to escape custody. He decided to represent himself at the trial for which library access was granted to him. He jumped out of a window while going to the library. The area was placed under high-security police protection and a search was carried out to find him. He was captured eight days later when he tried to leave the town.

He was kept in Garfield County jail awaiting trial, from where he escaped through a suspended ceiling panel. His escape was noticed the next day until when he took a flight to Chicago and later to Florida. He lived a very petty life there with small crimes to subsist himself until he committed severe sexual abuse of four students in 1978. His last victim, Kimberly Leach, was sexually assaulted and strangled in a similar manner as he did during his 1975 arrest. He was caught after a brief scuffle with a policeman while he was stopped for having stolen licence plates.

Second trial

His second trial took place in 1979 in Miami, Florida against the charges related to attacks and murders of four students. Two of the four victims survived and gave their testimony that proved his involvement in the murders, along with dental evidence being conclusive evidence in the matter. He was found guilty and the judge sentenced him to death twice for the murders, by means of the electric chair. He continuously contended his innocence.

Third trial

This trial started in 1980 against the murder of Kimberly Leach. This was the first time he decided against self-representation. His counsel contended the defence of insanity for him. He had lost all the confidence that he once had, while the forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony proving his connection with the crime. The jury convicted him guilty and another sentence of death by electrocution was passed.

Execution

He refused to accept his involvement in the crimes and multiple appeals resulted in stays of execution while keeping him to the electric chair. He finally confessed his crimes to an investigator as committing acts of butchery while giving a count of his victims, somewhere around 26-40. He was executed on 24 January 1989 at 7 am and his body was cremated for his ashes to be spread over the Washington mountain area where he used to dump dead bodies of his victims.

John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy, also known as the killer clown, was an American serial killer who had been suspected of murders of 33 boys and young men in the 1970s. He used to perform as a clown at charitable events and children parties. He got a high amount of international media attention for spreading shockwaves across Chicago. He sometimes used to lure his victims with the promise of construction work or some other perk, later to capture, sexually assault, torture them and eventually strangle them to death with his hands or with rope.

He was forced to undergo a psychological examination after he was convicted in 1968 for sexually assaulting a teenager and was sent to Iowa State Men’s Reformatory.

Childhood

He was born into a blue-collar family with an ordinary childhood. He exhibited a growing inclination towards sadism, which is the theory of extracting pleasure from the pain and sufferings of the others. This inclination resulted in multiple encounters with the law in the 1960s. He had an alcoholic father who used to beat his children with razor straps in cases they were opined to have misbehaved. His father used to abuse and assault his mother as well. His sister gave an account of how the children got susceptible to the regular beatings and how Gacy would not cry. 

He was also alienated at school due to his heart condition which restricted him from playing with other children. His father saw his condition as another failing. He faced issues with his sexuality when he discovered his attraction towards men. The childhood abuse that he went through kept him in the ‘power and control’ category of serial killers.

Conviction and Execution

The dead bodies of 29 missing boys and young men were discovered by police after an intensive search in Gacy’s house after one of his victims, Robert Piest, was reported missing in 1978. He was the one who last saw Piest and suspicion was raised over him knowing about the person’s whereabouts. The bodies were found dumped in Des Plaines River, nearby his house. The smell of the decaying bodies was around his residence for years but he told his wife and other guests that the smell was a result of moisture buildup. 

He confessed to all the accusations and the argumentation was focussed on whether to declare him insane and send him to a state mental facility. He pleaded innocence at the trial by reason of insanity, supported by the testimony of several psychologists. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but this was refused by the jury and he was found guilty of 33 murders. He was imprisoned for around fifteen years in Illinois offering statements to prove his innocence in the murder cases in interviews. He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper, a British serial killer, terrorised England in the 1880s by killing at least five women and mutilating their bodies in unusual ways. The mutilation was done with such precision that only an individual with substantial information of human anatomy can carry out such practice. He was a deranged killer who could not be identified or captured by the investigation agencies. He has been one of the most infamous serial killers in the world.

The number of killings seems much lower than any other serial killer included in the list, but the time when such murders took place when the concept of multiple killings over a period of time was not much recognised or known by the society plays a major role behind his inclusion to the list of most famous serial killers in the world. All the killings in which he was suspected to be involved took place within close proximity, approximately within a mile to each other.

Details about his killings

All his killings took place near the Whitechapel district of London’s East End from August to September 1888. He was also known as the ‘Leather Apron’ and was linked to several other murders around that time. He was characterised as a ‘thrill seeking’ serial killer who wrote letters to the London Metropolitan Police Service as a way to aware the department of future murders. It was his way to taunt the police department and the public officers that failed to capture him. 

He committed several killings in London’s East End, an area for skilled immigrants. The area was known for its crimes due to the prostitutes there were subjected to physical attacks often by the customers. The instances of butchered killings got famous in and around the area and it was observed that some sociopathic and hateful individual could carry out such acts, much above the comprehension of a normal citizen. 

He used a knife to not only kill but mutilate and cut open the body for removal of organs of women, such as kidneys and uteruses. The brutality of his crime raised serious fear among the female community.

Identity unknown

The name ‘Jack the Ripper’ came into existence from the content of one of his letters, which is not an ascertained fact but speculations have been made about this. There have been multiple investigations and reports claiming evidence of the gruesome and brutal killer’s identity, yet there is no detail about his name or the motive behind the killings. 

The controversy surrounding his real identity is still a topic of investigation by the authorities to answer some queries of the citizens. The police department is still working to trace the background behind the letters they received, which are suspected to be sent by Jack the Ripper. The saying that the gravest of dangers are not from the known people but the strangers that stay within the society unidentified was brought to life by him. The legacy has continued ever since his existence and his story has inspired many novels and literary pieces.

Raman Raghav

Raman Raghav, the most notorious serial killer in the history of Indian criminal system, has been often regarded as India’s very own Jack the Ripper. This name is not unknown due to a movie, Raman Raghav 2.0, based on his story has provided his biography in detail. He has been accused of murdering over 40 people in the night in Mumbai. He has terrorised Mumbai into submission, with no police officer able to control the rising crimes committed by him.

He was a psychopath who killed people for pleasure until he got maximum satisfaction. In 1968, Mumbai police noticed a series of murders to instantly realise the existence of a serial killer in the area. The slum dwellers, the poor in dilapidated huts, and pavements were all targeted and people were killed with their skulls bashed in with a hard and blunt instrument. 

A similar instance was observed in 1965-66 in eastern Mumbai, where 19 people were attacked. He was charged under robbery and murder in the criminal records but the charge of murder could never be proved. The fingerprints were recovered from the crime scenes to be sent to forensic experts for proper analysis. The result of the report showed matched recovered fingerprints with his fingerprints. There were theories circulating the area about a serial killer with superhuman ability to turn into an animal. 

Arrest

He was arrested in a non-violent manner by a former police officer. The officer was waiting for a bus when he saw a man walking in his direction, who resembled Raman Raghav. The officer was carrying his photograph which helped him confirm his identity. He asked him to sit in his jeep to which the killer showed no resistance or reluctance. The killer’s fingerprints were matched and he was arrested. He had no remorse and confessed his killings and narrated the divine orders he received from God to kill those people, to the former police officer. He is an example of a ‘visionary’ type of serial killer. 

Trial and conviction

He did not answer questions while being in custody for a long time, until he got his demand fulfilled for dishes of chicken to consume. He gave detailed information about the weapon he used to commit murders while explaining his mode of operation. The defence made an application contending the incapability of the accused to defend himself on grounds of unsoundness of mind. The counsel pleaded general defence under unsoundness of mind and that the accused was unaware of the nature of his acts.

He confessed to committing 41 murders and took the police to all the locations he operated in and the place where he hid his weapon. The Police Surgeon, Mumbai, the expert authority on the opinion of whether he was insane or not, where the surgeon opined that the accused neither suffered from psychosis nor was mentally retarded. He had a sound memory with average intelligence. Also, it was observed that he was aware of the nature and purpose of his acts. He was able to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him. 

The medical opinion on the subject rendered all other contentions from the defence counsel regarding unsoundness of mind as futile. The accused pleaded guilty for the charge of murder in a trial court and was awarded a death sentence. He declined to appeal to the High Court. The High Court ordered the Surgeon to constitute a panel of three psychiatrists to determine whether the accuser suffered from unsoundness of mind and also whether he was incapable of making his defence. 

The Panel interviewed the accused for some two hours. His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment in light of his incurable mental illness. He was provided a treatment at the Centre Institute of Mental Health and Research. The High Court took the decision to reduce the sentence when the reports of the panel of psychiatrists examined him and found that he could never be cured. In 1995, he died at Sassoon Hospital from kidney failure.

Zodiac Killer

The Zodiac Killer, another infamous serial killer, who got recognition from numerous books and movies, especially David Fincher directed the movie, Zodiac (2007). He was bereft of any actual identity and had a self proclaimed title of the ‘Zodiac Killer’, who was linked to at least five murders in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. This is just an estimated number according to the reports and he might have been responsible for more murders. The Zodiac Killer claimed 37 murders committed by him in letters to the newspapers, investigators agree on only seven confirmed victims, out of which two survived. 

He, similarly to Jack the Ripper, taunted police authorities and made threats through letters. These letters were sent to the area newspapers from 1969 to 1974 until this abruptly stopped. There were regular investigations but no one was ever arrested for the crimes and the case remained open. He was also a ‘thrill seeking’ serial killer who would go to any extent to have thrills in life.

Newspaper letters

In 1969, three of the leading newspaper companies- the San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Chronicle and Vallejo Times Herald received an identical letter from the killer without a return address. The letters contained confidential information of the Zodiac Killer’s murders that only the killer could have known completely. The killer made a threatening command to get the letter published on the front page of the newspaper or dire consequences for the companies. 

The letters had a similar symbol consisting of a circle with a cross through it. This symbol eventually got famous as the Zodiac Killer’s symbol. He also used a unique formation of letters as his symbol that were each accompanied by one part of a three part cipher that he claimed contained his identity. A high school teacher was able to decode the cipher that read “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal for all.”

The San Francisco Chronicle received another letter claiming the crime that was committed three days prior to the date the letter was received. The letter gave details about the murder and contained a bloody scrap of the victim’s shirt. The letter was a warning with signals towards shooting a school bus tyre and putting the lives of children at stake.

Zodiac Killer sketch 

The real identity of the killer remained unknown but a sketch was made and circulated by the police department after some witnesses provided details about the bodily features of the person they saw leaving the crime scene. The police collected evidence and investigated numerous suspects, still, the real killer was never caught.

Popular theory on Zodiac Killer

There is a theory that surfaced in the United States of America, regarding the Zodiac Killer changing his ways and stopped killing people. There were no official reports of any Zodiac victim since 1969. It is an established fact that serial killers operate under irresistible compulsions, but under extreme circumstances, they can refrain from murder.

There was a report by the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime that states a phenomenon where serial killers may stop, in case, something changes in their lives. It is said that he might have learnt a lesson from his last instance where he almost was caught that scared him and he chose a safer path ahead. These are just assumptions based on facts but no conclusive proof is available to present the truth. 

Conclusion

The serial killers are distinct from one-time criminals in a number of ways. It takes a deeper analysis and investigation from the part of the police and other competent authorities to find connections or links among several murders on the basis of a pattern of killing or the evidence found on the crime scenes. The role of forensic science is substantial in providing expert opinion on the evidence found. There have been various types of serial killers identified by the FBI. There is different criminal jurisprudence for every country in regard to serial killers with a common consensus on including psychopathy within the scope of insanity and hence, legal protection for those suffering from it. There have been several serial killers in the past and maybe an equal number of them would be out there roaming in the world.

References


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