When the Golden State Killer (AKA The East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker) was identified as 72-year-old US Navy veteran and former cop Joseph James DeAngelo in April last year and charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, it neatly tied up one of the world’s most famous unsolved serial killer cases.
But, disturbingly, there are hundreds of other serial killer murders that have never been solved, meaning the culprits either lived out the rest of their days having got away with terrible crimes — or, even creepier, are still out there somewhere just LIVING THEIR LIVES.
As a co-host of PEDESTRIAN.TV‘s unsolved mysteries podcast All Aussie Mystery Hour, I’m especially interested in all things true crime, so I rounded up a few of the world’s worst offenders, currently only known by their zesty nicknames.
Remember that by definition a serial killer is someone who murders at least 3 people over the space of at least a month with significant time between the kills.
Jack the Ripper, UK
Arguably the world’s most famous person who got away with murder, Jack the Ripper killed 5 sex workers — Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly — in the Whitechapel area of London between August 31 and November 9, 1888. The perpetrator cut his victims’ throats before mutilating their abdomens with such skill that police were led to believe he was a surgeon or someone with deep knowledge of human anatomy.
The nickname “Jack the Ripper” came from a letter sent to London’s Central News Agency on 27 September, 1888. While police and media received many letters claiming to be from the killer, several were believed to be genuine due to details about the murders that weren’t made public.
The identity of Jack the Ripper has mystified so many for so long that there’s now a term, “ripperology”, that refers to the study of the unsolved cases. Best-selling US crime author Patricia Cornwell famously claimed to have spent USD$7 million of her own money “solving” the case for a book she entitled Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She believes that Walter Richard Sickert, a German-born English painter who based several of his artworks on the cases, was indeed the killer. But Sickert’s involvement was unable to be conclusively proven, and to this day Jack’s true identity remains a mystery.
The Zodiac Killer, USA
The UK has Jack the Ripper, the US has the Zodiac Killer. On a murderous rampage throughout the Californian Bay Area cities of Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco in 1968-69, he killed five people — David Faraday, Betty Lou Jensen, Darlene Ferrin, Cecelia Shepard and Paul Stine — as well as wounding Ferrin’s boyfriend Michael Mageau and Shepard’s companion Bryan Hartnell. The Zodiac is also suspected of being the perpetrator of four other murders in 1963, 1966 and 1970, though they were never confirmed.
The killer sent series of letters to the Vallejo Times Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, and The San Francisco Examiner, with the first received by the newspapers on August 1, 1969. In the letter he included a code which was cracked a week later, spelling out:
I like killing people because it is so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forrest because man is the most dangeroue anamal of all to kill something gives me the most thrilling experence it is even better than getting your rocks off with a girl the best part of it is thae when I die I will be reborn in paradice and thei have killed will become my slaves I will not give you my name because you will try to sloi down or atop my collectiog of slaves for my afterlife ebeorietemethhpiti
In a later note, the man said “This is the Zodiac speaking”, earning himself the famous nickname. He continued to send letters throughout 1970 and sporadically until 1974.
But police were never able to nail a suspect for the murders, and the identity of the Zodiac Killer has remained unsolved. Detectives hope that DNA samples taken from the envelopes that contained the letters may one day help close the case — just like the Golden State Killer investigation, which was broken open by a genealogy testing company which provided a partial match through a relative of DeAngelo who sent their DNA in for testing.
The Family Murders, Australia
What’s that? Australia? Yep, we do have serial killers here you know. Not as many as the USA (who have the most recorded serial killers in the world, yikes), but folks, we got ’em. Ivan Milat is probably our most well-known, but one of Australia’s most notorious unsolved cases is that of Adelaide‘s The Family Murders.
Between 1979 and 1983, the bodies of Alan Barnes, 16, Neil Muir, 25, Peter Stogneff, 14, Mark Langley, 18, and Richard Kelvin, 15, were discovered. All of them had suffered horrific sexual abuse, some showed evidence of torture, some were cut into pieces, some had been drugged, and all of the bodies were dumped in various locations around the Adelaide region. Some of the men were thought to have been held captive for weeks prior to their death.
Forensic evidence linked hair and fibres found on the body of Kelvin to Adelaide accountant Bevan Spencer Von Einem, who was tried and convicted of the 1983 murder of the 15-year-old in 1984. He was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 24 years (later extended to 36 years). Einem was also tried for the murders of Barnes and Langley, but the cases were dropped because of inadmissible evidence.
Police had strong evidence pointing to the involvement of accomplices, including a high-profile businessman, a doctor, a former male sex worker and the brother of an Olympic sportsman, but were unable to convict any of them. All the men’s names were suppressed, but after a police detective interviewed on 60 Minutes said that cops were attempting “to break up the happy family”, the group’s nickname “The Family” was born.
The murders of Barnes, Muir, Stogneff and Langley remain unsolved to this day.
Highway Of Tears Murders, Canada
In a remote part of British Columbia, Canada, on a 724km stretch of Yellowhead Highway 16, dozens of women have vanished or been found murdered since 1969. The rural highway has 23 Indigenous communities bordering it, and with a relatively low socio-economic status as well as limited public transport, many people in the area turn to hitch-hiking to get around.
The exact number of victims is disputed, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (known as RCMP) have the official number recorded as 18, including 11 unsolved murders, 5 missing women and 2 solved murders. Of that total, 10 of these women were Indigenous. It’s believed that one or more serial killers operating on the Highway of Tears are responsible for the murders.
Indigenous groups also believe 9 other local cases are related, including 1 unsolved murder and 8 missing women.
In 2005, RCMP launched an investigation into Highway of Tears cases from 1969-2006, called Project E-Pana. During this investigation they solved the murder of Colleen MacMillen, 16, who was killed in 1974 by now-deceased US serial killer Bobby Jack Fowler. They also believe he was responsible for the unsolved murders of Gale Weys, 19, and Pamela Darlington, 19, but were unable to conclusively prove it. E-Pana investigators also charged Garry Taylor Handlen for the murder of Monica Jack, 12, in 1978.
The other 11 murders and 5 missing persons cases remain open.
The Monster of Florence, Italy
Kinda like The Zodiac, the Monster of Florence targeted couples in a killing spree that spanned from 1968 – 1985. The murderer/s killed between 14-16 people (the actual number is disputed) by shooting, stabbing and in most cases, sexually mutilating the female victims.
After the first victims Barbara Locci and her lover Antonio Lo Bianco were killed, her husband Stefano Mele was charged with their murders. He spent 6 years in jail, but was exonerated when the Monster struck again in 1974, killing Pasquale Gentilcore and his girlfriend Stefania Pettini. Bullets found at the crime scene matched those found at the Locci/Lo Bianco scene.
Another local man, Pietro Pacciani, was charged with all of the murders in 1994, but in 1996 he was released on appeal. His friends Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti were subsequently tried and convicted. Police believed the men were involved in a satanic sect operating in Florence’s seedy underworld, with policeman Michele Giuttari telling the UK’s Telegraph:
There are certainly ritualistic aspects, which seem to have a relevance: the fact that the same weapon was always used; the fact that the female bodies were never touched by a hand, but only by a blade — even the clothes were cut away with a knife; the fact that the tombs of the victims have frequently been defaced and commemorative crosses vandalised. All these things make an investigator curious.
In fact, many believe that Vanni and Lotti aren’t responsible for all the crimes, and that a larger group was at work. Giuttari adds:
What really impeded the investigation for decades was the idea that we were looking for a single, isolated serial killer. The change in our philosophy meant we looked instead for a group, a team of killers. Because it’s obvious from the evidence that a different hand committed different crimes.
Though two men are in prison, there is still an anti-Monster task force in operation, investigating the heinous crimes.
If you’re super interested in true crime and unsolved mysteries, you’ll probably be pretty keen on Pedestrian’s All Aussie Mystery Hour podcast. Subscribe on iTunes HERE, or on Spotify HERE. Or, you can just listen / download below.