5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught
5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

Patrick Lynch - September 21, 2016

According to the FBI, approximately 150 people are killed by serial killers in the United States annually. This represents a little over 1% of homicides in the U.S. which seems rather low and suggests there are not quite as many serial killers around as you thought. If you believed what you saw on TV, you would be scared to go outside your front door for fear of a Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy torturing you to death!

If you look at the preponderance of television shows based around killing and serial murderers (Dexter, the CSI Series, Hannibal and countless others), it’s clear that the general public has a guilty fascination with the grisly and macabre. Are we drawn in by the sickness of the minds that commit these horrific crimes or confused by the way in which these monsters can seemingly carry on ‘normal’ lives after perpetrating their bloody deeds?

There are a number of famous serial killers throughout history. Along with the two mentioned above, there is Gary Ridgeway (Green River Killer), Jeffrey Dahmer, Pedro Lopez and Dennis Nielsen among others. However, in this article, I want to focus on those who were never brought to justice for their crimes. In many cases, these killers may well have been accredited with more murders than they actually committed so the figures mentioned below are purely police estimates. I’ve also elected to ignore well-known serial killers such as the Zodiac and Jack the Ripper cases and focus on ones you may not be familiar with.

1 – The Atlanta Ripper (15-21 Victims)

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

The city of Atlanta was to be gripped by a brief reign of terror in the early 20th century when a killer, dubbed ‘the Atlanta Ripper’, brutally murdered at least 15 African-American women. The killings began in 1911 and it is believed the ripper may have killed at least 21 women although police couldn’t definitively tie the additional killings to the Ripper.

At that time, the state of Georgia was one of several states eager to disenfranchise black people with regulations such as ‘Poll Tax’. Segregation was actually the law rather than merely a part of life and race relations were strained to say the least. For example, the local black baseball team was not allowed to place within 2 blocks of the white baseball team! On 22 September 1906, a white mob descended on downtown Atlanta after being outraged by unsubstantiated reports of black men attacking white women. The mob went wild and as many as 40 black Atlanta residents lay dead after several days of terror.

Atlanta’s population reached 150,000 by 1911 and white residents were keen to keep black people out of their neighborhoods. This background is crucial to the case because initially at least, no one seemed to care when the brutal murders of African-American women started. It is now assumed that Belle Walker was the first victim of the Atlanta Ripper. She was discovered with her throat cut in late May 1911. Newspapers had a mostly white readership so news of the killing was only found on page 7 of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Addie Watts was killed two weeks later and the media began speculating on the possibility of a serial killer in Atlanta who they compared to notorious UK butcher ‘Jack the Ripper‘. After five killings, the Ripper finally made front-page news. It seemed the Atlanta Ripper chose his victims on a Saturday night. Mary Yeldell avoided becoming victim #8 on 8 July 1911 as her friend W.M Selcer heard the screaming woman and came to her aid with a revolver. He described the assailant as a “negro man, tall, black and well-built, and moving with a cat-like tread.” Unfortunately, the attacker successfully fled the scene.

Still, the killings continued and included the particularly gruesome slaying of Sadie Holley who was almost decapitated. Although police patrols were increased, the random nature of the attacks meant they came no closer to finding the Ripper. The 100% white Atlanta Police Department was criticized for incompetence by various city councilmen. The deep-seated racism of the times was best summed up by the statements of local magistrate Nash Broyles who claimed the killings were perpetrated by different men as in his opinion “there are at least 1,000 negro men in Atlanta today who stand ready to cut the throats of their wives at the slightest provocation. He also said the killings happened on Saturday night because it was the night when the black man “tanks up.”

Suspects including Todd Henderson and Henry Huff were arrested but initially released without charge. Huff was eventually indicted along with a man called John Daniel but the murders continued regardless. Despite further murders happening in 1912, it was reported that a grand jury claimed the Atlanta Ripper was a myth without explaining how it came to this conclusion. A 20th victim was found with her throat cut in the Spring of 1912 and in April 1912, a man called Charlie Owens was sentenced to life in prison for one of the murders; although the story didn’t say which murder he was convicted of.

On 10 August 1912, Henry Brown, also known as Lawton Brown, was arrested for murdering Eva Florence in November 1911. He revealed seemingly intimate details of the Ripper crimes and the police believed they had their man. Yet a witness called John Rutherford later testified that the confession was beaten out of Brown by the police. Brown was acquitted on 18 October. In the end, no one was ever definitively identified as the Atlanta Ripper. Unreliable newspaper reporting and police records along with hysteria over a serial killer mean we don’t even know how many people the Ripper actually killed.

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

2 – The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run (12-20 Victims)

Also known as the Cleveland Torso Murderer, this unidentified serial killer butchered at least 12 people in the Cleveland area in the 1930s. Peter Merylo was the lead Cleveland detective at the time and he believed the Mad Butcher was the same man responsible for up to 13 murders in Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh in the 1920s.

Officially, the Cleveland Torso Murderer claimed his first victim in 1935. The decapitated and castrated corpse of Edward Andrassy was found by two teenage boys where the E.49th Street hits a dead end and goes into Kingsbury Run in September. The body was naked barring a pair of socks and it was also drained of blood and clean. However, another body was found by police nearby which had also been decapitated and castrated. The corpse belonged to a man approximately 40 years of age who was never identified. This body had remained uncovered for weeks and possibly predated the murder of Andrassy.

Interestingly, the second victim was covered in a preservative that had also been discovered on a decapitated female victim found in the shores of Lake Erie in September 1934. The head was never located and it is possible that the killer was the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run although this was not proven. The legendary Eliot Ness was the Safety Director of Cleveland at this time but even he failed to uncover the identity of the killer.

The Mad Butcher became bolder as the years went by and in 1936, a basket containing the body parts of Florence Polillo was found in several baskets outside a manufacturing building in Cleveland. Further decapitated bodies were found in the area over the next couple of years and in 1938, the killer dumped the torso of a woman in a location where she could be seen from the window of Ness’ office window. Ness was irate and on 18 August 1938, he led a team to Kingsbury Run on a detailed search and ultimately burned the shanty towns of the area to the ground. Although this draconian measure was widely condemned, it did seem to stop the killings. Frank Dolezal was arrested for two of the murders in 1939 but he died before standing trial.

Writer James Badal claims to have solved the mystery and suggests the killer was a man named Francis E. Sweeney, a deranged doctor who committed himself to a psychiatric hospital in 1938. Ness is said to have interrogated Sweeney and believed the doctor was the Mad Butcher. Sweeney allegedly sent postcards to Ness from the hospital and taunted him over his failure to close the case. Badal says he has an excellent circumstantial case but acknowledges that Sweeney probably wouldn’t have been found guilty if this evidence was presented to a court in the late 1930s.

Badal also claims that Dolezal, the other suspect, was murdered by his jailers. As for Ness, he never recovered from the case. The tactics he used to try and catch the Mad Butcher hurt his political career as seen in his failure to become Mayor of Cleveland.

3 – The Doodler (6-14 victims)

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

While the Zodiac killer garnered far more attention, the Doodler apparently had more victims and also operated in California. Also known as the Black Doodler (he was believed to be African-American), this serial killer operated in San Francisco’s gay community and killed up to 14 people from January 1974 to September 1975. He was given his nickname due to his penchant for drawing sketches of his victims prior to the sexual encounters and subsequent attacks.

To say The Doodler case is shrouded in mystery is an understatement; it is difficult to even find the names of all his victims. What is known is that the first victim was Gerald Cavanaugh, a 49-year-old Canadian-born male who moved to San Francisco. The body of the mattress factory worker was found on 27 January 1974 at the water’s edge of Ocean Beach. According to the coroner, Cavanaugh was conscious at the time of the murder and had tried to fend off his assailant. Self-defense wounds were found on the body. Aside from what I mentioned above, little is known about the victim other than he was a Catholic who had never married. Indeed, he was originally unidentified and called ‘John Doe #7′.

It appears as if The Doodler caught the eye of patrons of Castro bar, a well-known haunt for homosexuals in the city. He would flatter his victims by drawing caricatures of them and on a number of occasions; men would leave the bar with The Doodler and go to a more secluded spot where they were murdered.

The next known victim was Joseph ‘Jae’ Stevens who worked as a ‘female impersonator’. His body was found off the walking path of Spreckels Lake (which was quite a distance from the Castro bar) on 25 June 1974. He had been stabbed in the lungs and stomach. The other named victims were Klaus Christmann, Frederick Capin and Harald Gullberg. Gullberg’s body was found on 4 June 1975 about two weeks after he had been murdered. There is some doubt as to whether he was even a Doodler victim.

There are several issues when it comes to this case. The most pertinent was probably the reluctance of the men who survived attacks from The Doodler (there were allegedly at least three survivors) to come forward for fear of being ‘outed’. A number of victims were seemingly closeted gay men. Even the first openly gay man to elected to public office in the city (and state of California), Harvey Milk, expressed sympathy for the men who would not speak to the police for this reason. As the victims were drag queens, sadomasochists and upper-middle-class men, police initially believed that there were three different killers.

It is said there were several suspects including at least one prime suspect who had been identified by survivors. Yet because these men refused to come forward for fear of being ostracized by society, (homosexuality had been classed as a ‘disorder’ at this time) no action was taken. In the end, no one was ever arrested or charged for the murders.

A sketch was released and it was believed The Doodler was an African-American male who was between 5ft 10 and 6ft tall and 18-21 years of age. He was said to have worn a Navy-type watch cap and possessed above-average intelligence. There is also a belief that he was an art student. For all we know, The Doodler could still be alive and living in San Francisco!

4 – The Axeman of New Orleans (6+ victims)

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

This serial killer operated in the city of New Orleans from May 1918 until October 1919. He is believed to have killed 6-7 people and injured another 6-7. Most of the victims were Italian-American including the first two who were killed on 22 May 1918. It appears as if his targets were women as men were only attacked if they got in the way of his plans.

Grocer Joseph Maggio and his wife were slaughtered in their apartment. The police found a blood-stained axe at the scene and noticed that a panel on the rear door had been chiseled out. They later learned that there had been more murders of Italian grocers from 1911 including cases where a door had been chiseled out and an axe used as the weapon.

Harriet Lowe and Louis Besumer were the next victims but survived a brutal axe attack. The next victims also survived but Joseph Romano was not so lucky and his body was discovered on 10 August 1918. An attack on the Cortimiglia family on 10 March 1919 resulted in the death of 2-year-old Mary Cortimiglia. Her parents, Rosie and Charles survived. As an aside, Rosie falsely accused two men of the crime but later backtracked and the men were released after being found guilty!

Panic spread when details of a letter sent to local newspapers was released. The letter began with “Hell, March 13, 1919” and “Esteemed Mortal.” The writer said he was fond of jazz music and was planning to “pass over New Orleans” on 19 March. He announced that he would stay away from any establishments that played jazz music but people who did not play jazz would “get the axe.” The city resonated with jazz on the night of the 19th and there were no attacks.

However, the Axeman did strike several more times. Steve Boca and Sarah Laumann survived separate attacks but Mike Pepitone was found dead by his wife on 27 October 1919 in what was apparently the last of the attacks.

No one knows for sure why the attacks suddenly stopped but according to crime writer, Colin Wilson, it could be because the killer was Joseph Momfre who was shot dead by Pepitone’s widow in December 1920 in Los Angeles. However, there are no records supporting this version of events although it could be a case of a misspelled surname. Momfre could be ‘Mumre’ or ‘Mumfre’.

Intriguingly, there is evidence that the prime suspect in a 1912 murder was called ‘Mumfre’. The thing is, while this individual attacked an Italian couple (just like the Axeman), he used a gun which is a very different modus operandi.

5 – Jack the Stripper (6-8 Victims)

5 Lesser Known Serial Killers that Were Never Caught

This is the nickname given to the perpetrator of the Hammersmith Nudes murders in London in 1964 and 1965. As is the case with a lot of serial killers, especially those who remain at large, there is some dispute as to the exact number of victims. Police are confident that this killer was responsible for at least 6 deaths in the Hammersmith area but believe he may also have murdered two others. He generally preyed on prostitutes just like his infamous 19th century namesake.

The first definite victim was Hannah Tailford who was found on 2 February 1964. Her almost naked body was discovered floating by the River Thames. The only item of clothing she was wearing was a pair of stockings rolled to her ankles and her underwear was found in her mouth. In addition, some of her front teeth were missing.

The other victims were Irene Lockwood, Helen Barthelemy, Mary Flemming, Frances Brown and Bridget O’Hara. All of these women had been strangled and stripped with several of their front teeth missing. On the final four victims, flecks of paint were found on their bodies. This gave police the idea that the killer worked at a motor car manufacturer. O’Hara was found on 16 February 1965 and is the last known victim of Jack the Stripper. The other possible victims were Elizabeth Frigg who was found on 17 June 1959 and Gwynneth Rees who was discovered on 8 November 1963. Both women were strangled, found near the River Thames and Rees had several of her front teeth missing.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Du Rose of Scotland Yard led the manhunt for the killer and interviewed an estimated 7,000 people from the area. Du Rose announced that the police were closing in as a means of trying to get Jack the Stripper to either reveal himself or make a mistake. He falsely claimed that the police had narrowed the list down to 20 suspects in a news conference and later said there were only 3 prime suspects left. While the killer did not strike again after the first conference, no one was ever charged with the Hammersmith Nudes murders.

There were a substantial number of possible suspects that have been named throughout the years. One of the most famous was boxer Freddie Mills who was found dead in his car in July 1965. It was ruled a suicide but Mills’ family and friends believe he was murdered. Another theory is that convicted murderer Harold Jones was Jack the Stripper. Jones killed two young girls in 1921 but escaped the death penalty because he was only a teenager himself. He was released in 1947 and lived in the area at the time of the killings.

Du Rose himself believed Mungo Ireland was the killer. During an interview with the BBC in 1970, he referred to a man called ‘Big John’ as his prime suspect in the case. In a book, Du Rose also revealed that the suspect had committed suicide before he could be captured. Ireland was a security guard who worked on the Heron Trading Estate where Bridget O’ Hara’s body was discovered. The police believed the killer was a night watchman since the murders seemed to take place between 11 pm and 1 am with the bodies dumped at 5 am. Ireland’s 10 pm-6 am shift fitted in perfectly with this time frame.

Ireland committed suicide by gassing himself in his car on 3 March 1965. His suicide note said that he couldn’t stick it any longer and he would be found in the garage.


Sources For Further Reading:

Scientific American – 5 Myths about Serial Killers and Why They Persist

Live Science – How Many Uncaptured Serial Killers Are Out There?

Ranker – 17 Gruesome Facts About The Atlanta Ripper

Vocal Media – The Deadly Atlanta Ripper

Medium – The Unsolved Atlanta Ripper Case

Mental Floss – The Cleveland Torso Murderer: The Scariest Serial Killer You’ve Never Heard Of

The Line Up – A Butcher Stalks the Streets: Who Was the Cleveland Torso Murderer?

Case Western Reserve University – Torso Murders

Cleveland – James Badal Tracks Cleveland’s Torso Killer To His Lost Lair

SF Chronicle – The Doodler: No One Knew What He Looked Like

SF Times – The Doodler: The Murderer That Loved to Draw His Victims

Grunge – The Doodler: The Truth About The Unidentified Serial Killer

Express Digest – We’ve Got The Doodler! Investigator Says He’s Identified Serial Killer Who Killed Five In Mid-70s

Ranker – 13 Grisly Facts About the Axeman of New Orleans

Thought Catalog – 25 Blood-Chilling Facts About The ‘Axeman Of New Orleans’ That’ll Make You Scream

Molten Sulfur Blog – The Axeman’s Letter

The Guardian – Boxing Hero Freddie Mills ‘Murdered Eight Women’

History Collection – 10 Lesser-Known Serial Killers You Probably Haven’t Heard Of