One of the scariest things about serial killers is that these vicious predators can sometimes hide in plain sight, seamlessly blending in with the rest of society. Others, like Charles Manson, are flamboyantly psychotic brutes – ferocious blood lust-driven beasts – who often attain the infamy and notoriety of a rock star. Who are the Charles Mansons of this century? Here are several 21st century butchers who have followed in his bloody footsteps.
The Green River Killer
The Pacific Northwest was caught in a vise-grip of terror when 54 year-old Washington State resident Gary Ridgway, aka the Green River Killer, embarked on a murderous rampage. Frumpy looking and bespectacled, Ridgway led a double life – a married man and father who’d held the same job for 30 years – and a monster who’d been slaughtering women for two decades. When he was finally caught, he’d raped, choked and killed 48 women, including numerous teens as young as age 15. He was dubbed the Green River Killer after his first five victims were found in Washington State’s Green River.
Why did he do it? Ridgway believed he was helping police by ridding the streets of prostitutes. He viewed hookers as a disease, and he believed he had the cure. Intensely misogynistic, he chose prostitutes as his victims because he hated them and didn’t want to pay for sex. They were society’s throwaways, and he thought he could kill as many of them as he wanted to and avoid capture.
One-third of his victims were African-American girls and women, and the majority were under age 22. Ridgway regarded killing prostitutes as a career – he was proud of what he did, and believed he was extremely good at it. Although he initially confessed to 48 murders, he later admitted killing 60 prostitutes, giving him the dubious honor of the United States’ most prolific serial killer.
The Beltway Snipers
In 2002, Washington, DC and surrounding areas were transformed into one enormous firing range, and mass hysteria erupted, as anyone could be a potential target. Gas stations and shopping center parking lots were no longer safe. During three weeks in October, seemingly random sniper attacks were rampant along the Capital Beltway, and in Maryland and Virginia along Interstate 95. Ten people were killed and three were critically injured, including a 13 year-old boy.
At first, it was thought that the killer was a caucasian man with military experience, who drove a white truck or van. Later, it was revealed that two people were responsible for the carnage – a man, John Allen Muhammad and a minor, Lee Boyd Malvo. One picked the victim while the other pulled the trigger. Boyd Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Muhammad was sentenced to death and was executed by lethal injection in 2009. His chilling goals had been to kill six white people a day for 30 days to create widespread alarm, to shoot a pregnant woman in the abdomen, and to kill a Baltimore police officer.
The Suffolk Strangler/Ipswich Ripper
Panic ran rampant through Ipswich, Suffolk, England when a serial killer cut a bloody swath through the area in 2006. Five prostitutes were murdered, and the terrified survivors still had to work the streets to earn a living, while risking an attack from the Suffolk Strangler, also called the Ipswich Ripper. The police launched a huge investigation that even included officers from other jurisdictions.
Two months after the search for the killer began, police arrested forklift driver Steven Wright. His murders were often compared to those committed by Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, who murdered 13 women and attacked seven others from 1975 to 1981. Eerily, Wright lived in the red light district that was his killing ground. His youngest victim was 19, and one of his victims was three months pregnant. Wright was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Israel Keyes took such pleasure in killing that he traveled thousands of miles to commit murder. He crisscrossed the US, even venturing into Mexico and Canada, to perform his grisly crimes. Linked to 11 killings – and believed to have committed many more – Keyes admitted that he hunted and killed total strangers for the sheer thrill of it. He preyed upon victims at campgrounds, rural areas, parks and cemeteries. He financed his killing sprees by robbing victims or banks.
Meticulous about his crimes, he buried so-called “murder kits” around the country for use in future slayings. These kits contained money, weapons, silencers and tools to dispose of bodies. Keyes was so ruthlessly coldblooded that after kidnapping and killing his final victim in 2012 he went on a Caribbean cruise. He also studied the methods of other serial killers, particularly Ted Bundy.
Committing suicide in his jail cell, Keyes left a disturbing note. Part of it reads, “You may have been free, you loved loving your lie, fate had its own scheme, crushed like a bug you still die.” He also wrote about, “the nervous laugh as it burst like a pulse of blood from your throat. There will be no more laughter there.”
The Dark Knight Killer
In Aurora, Colorado, 25 year-old James Eagan Holmes turned a pleasant midnight screening of the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises,” into a harrowing bloodbath that ranks as the worst mass killing in the US. Coldly and methodically, he entered the theater and tossed two tear gas grenades. Then he began randomly ripping into the audience with heavy-duty weapons – a 12-gauge Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle, and a Glock 22 handgun.
He’d carefully planned this crime two months before committing it. He’d also bought his weapons legally and carefully dressed himself in tactical gear. This was no spur-of-the-moment meltdown.
When Holmes had finished his rampage, 12 people were dead and 59 were injured, some seriously. He was immediately apprehended outside the theater. Why did an honors student with a degree in neuroscience commit such a heinous massacre? Only Holmes knows for sure – and he’s not telling.
Serial killers take murder taken to hellish extremes. Some, like Charles Manson, fit our image of the serial killer as evil incarnate. Others are charming, educated, well-spoken, have families and a steady job. And the scariest part – they may live right next door.