If you’re ever hoping to keep yourself awake late at night, just think about the fact that not all serial killers get caught. In fact, some of the most terrifying serial killers of all time remain unidentified.
Case in point: the murderers below, who despite a concerted effort by police, were never apprehended. From the infamous Zodiac Killer who taunted the media with baffling clues about his crimes to the Cleveland Torso Murderer who beheaded and dismembered his victims, take look at these chilling serial killers who were never caught.
1. Redhead Murderer, or the Bible Belt Strangler
Where: Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee
How Many: 6-11
The Redhead Murders were a string of killings committed along the Bible Belt in the United States in the 1980s. All of the victims, many of whom were never identified, had red or reddish hair. Many of their bodies were dumped on major highways in the United States, leading investigators to believe that the victims were engaged in either hitchhiking or sex work.
The first murder linked to the killer occurred in 1983 near Littleton, West Virginia. A pair of senior citizens stumbled upon the body along one of the area’s highways. Investigators were unable to identify the woman, and furthermore couldn’t pin down a suspect. More victims, many sporting red hair, began to spring up in neighboring states throughout the 80s.
The last known victim was Elizabeth Lamotte whose body was found in 1985 in Greeneville, Tennessee with evidence of a stab wound and severe blunt-force trauma. Of the presumed victims, only four have been identified. Police interviewed two suspects in connection with the murders, but the true identity of the killer was never discovered.
2. Zodiac Killer
Where: Northern California
How Many: 5 Confirmed Killed, 2 Injured
The Zodiac Killer transfixed the nation throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, due both to the brutality of his crimes and the way in which he toyed with authorities and the media. He sent numerous letters and cryptograms to the press, daring the public to crack his puzzles and catch him. Of the encrypted messages, just one was deciphered, by a history professor and his wife. Chillingly, it revealed that the Zodiac killed in order to collect slaves for his afterlife.
The Zodiac Killer claimed responsibility for 37 murders. However, investigators agree on only seven confirmed attacks: a cab driver and three different sets of male-female couples. Of the seven attacks, two men survived, bringing the Zodiac’s official body count to five.
A number of books and films about the killer’s crimes have been released over the years. Some of these works examine the case, while others, such as Gary L. Stewart’s The Most Dangerous Animal of All, purport to solve it. Nevertheless, officially, the killer’s identity remains unknown.
3. Alphabet Murders
Where: Rochester, NY
How Many: 3
In the early 1970s, three young girls were raped, then strangled around Rochester, New York. Other than the manner of their death, the girls had one thing in common: Their names were alliterative.
The girls’ bodies were left in towns that started with the same letter as their names. Carmen Colon was dumped in Churchville, Michelle Maenza in Macedon, and Wanda Walkowicz in Webster.
A similar modus operandi was observed in California serial killer Joseph Naso, who murdered (a different) Carmen Colon, Pamela Parsons, Roxene Roggasch, and Tracy Tofoya. A reference in Naso’s journal to the death of a girl in the Buffalo woods led investigators to test Naso’s DNA against DNA found at the Rochester crime scenes. The DNA was not a match.
Kenneth Bianchi, who went on to commit the Hillside Strangler murders with his cousin, Angelo Buono, Jr., was also suspected of the Alphabet murders. A native of Rochester, Bianchi was living in Rochester at the time of the slayings, though he has proclaimed his innocence. No suspect has ever been arrested in connection with the Alphabet murders.
4. Highway of Tears Murders
Where: Highway 16, British Columbia
How Many: 16-40+
A shocking number of young women have disappeared or been murdered along a desolate stretch of highway in British Columbia. The cases date back to 1969, and the sheer number of victims coupled with this length of time have led investigators to conclude that the Highway of Tears murders are the work of multiple killers.
Many of the victims are First Nations women, leading locals to contend that racism played a part in the attacks as well as the lack of progress made in each case. Although it's likely that some, or even many, of these women were killed by different people, it is believed that a large number of the murders can be traced to one killer. Royal Canadian police have suspected American killer Bobby Jack Fowler as being responsible for killing anywhere from 10 to 20 of the victims. A Canadian serial killer, Cody Legebokoff, was convicted of one of the Highway of Tears murders.
Despite this progress, the police do not believe that they will ever solve all 40+ of the murders that have occurred along this stretch of highway. In many of the cases, too much time has passed. In others, there is simply not enough evidence to charge suspects.
5. Freeway Phantom
Where: Washington, D.C.
How Many: 6
In 1971, a killer began haunting the Northeast neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Six young black girls, between the ages of 10 and 18, were murdered within a year and a half of each other. Victims were abducted while walking to the store, to school, their job, or home. The killer would rape and strangle each victim before dumping the bodies along the highway.
The second-to-last victim was found with a note. It read: “This is tantamount to my insensitivity to people especially women. I will admit the others when you catch me if you can!” It was signed “Free-way Phantom”.
Police suspected an area gang in the string of attacks, yet no convictions were made. Since then, the case files have been lost, making solving the case nearly impossible today.
6. Long Island Serial Killer
Where: Long Island, NY
When: 1996-2010, possibly up to 2013
How Many: 10-16
The Long Island serial killer, also known as LISK and the Craigslist Ripper, killed at least 10 women and dumped their bodies along the Ocean Parkway in Long Island through the late 90s and 2000s. Many of the women targeted by the Long Island serial killer were sex workers, who advertised their services on Craigslist. Authorities believe the killer contacted these women on Craigslist, arranged a meet-up, then raped and murdered each victim.
John Bittrolf, convicted of the murder of two sex workers in the early 1990s, is a suspect in at least one of the LISK killings. Another notable suspect was James Burke. Burke, the former police chief of Suffolk County, had previously hired one of the victims. During the course of the investigation, it was revealed that Burke had during his time as police chief obstructed an FBI probe into the Long Island serial killer case. He was convicted of obstruction and the assault of a man who stole personal items from his vehicle. Burke has never been charged in connection with the actual killings, but he pled guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice in February 2016. He was released from jail in late 2018.
7. Colonial Parkway Killer
How Many: 8
In the late 1980s, Virginian couples were targeted and attacked by a killer along the Colonial Parkway. Three couples were found dead–a fourth couple's bodies were never found, although their car and some of their clothing was discovered. The fourth couple is presumed dead.
The three couples and all four cars were found along the Colonial Parkway, usually only a few days after they went missing. In all cases, there were no signs of attempted robbery or sexual assault. A few theories about the killer have been proposed, including that the perpetrator was a police officer, or posed as one to mislead the victims. A retired Milwaukee detective, Steve Spingola, believes that the killings were committed by different killers–though a family member of one of the victims is suspicious of Spingola’s conclusion and asserts that he merely sought to profit from covering the case. The murders remain under investigation to this day.
8. Servant Girl Annihilator
Where: Austin, TX
How Many: 8
In the late 1800s, Austin fell prey to a crazed murderer with an axe. Seven women and one man were killed by the Servant Girl Annihilator, while six more women and two more men were brutally attacked. The killer would attack in the dead of night. He dragged most of his victims outside before brutalizing them with an axe. The killer tore across Austin for just under a year. Then, just like that, the attacks ceased.
An 1885 article in The New York Times claimed that upwards of 400 men were interrogated in connection with the attacks, yet no one was ever charged. Numerous suspects have surfaced in the years since. One familiar name on the suspect list? Jack the Ripper. In her book Jack the Ripper: The American Connection, author Shirley Harrison asserts that Jack the Ripper honed his brutal craft in America before initiating his reign of terror in London’s Whitechapel neighborhood.
9. Bible John
Where: Glasgow, Scotland
How Many: 3
During the late 1960s in Glasgow, Scotland, three brunette women between the ages of 25 and 32 were murdered after visiting a music and dance venue known as the Barrowland Ballroom. After leaving the club with the unknown man, the victims were then beaten, raped, and killed. Witnesses who saw the victims before their disappearance claimed that the man the women left with would often quote from the Bible–leading to his memorable nickname.
Bible John’s brief sermons in the club centered on adultery and other sections from the Bible. His first victim, 25-year-old Patricia Docker, was found naked in the doorway of a garage in South Glasgow. Her body had shown extreme blunt force trauma, as well as signs of strangulation. Bible John would later employ these same methods in killing two other victims, Jemima McDonald and Helen Puttock.
Bible John was never apprehended, and his identity remains unknown. A convicted serial killer and rapist named Peter Tobin was suspected of being responsible for the murders, but he was never charged in the Bible John case.
10. The Cleveland Torso Murderer
Where: Cleveland, Ohio
How many: 12-20
The Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) was a Great Depression-era serial killer who terrorized Cleveland, Ohio between 1935 and 1938. The killer beheaded and dismembered multiple male and female victims, often dumping their bodies in the impoverished Cleveland neighborhood known as Kingsbury Run. The official number of victims attributed to the Cleveland Torso Murderer is twelve, although some researchers suggest the total body count may be as high as twenty.
The killer preyed upon drifters and the working poor living in the makeshift homes of the Kingsbury Run area. As a result, many of the Torso Murderer's victims remain unidentified. The first confirmed Torso Murderer victims were discovered on September 23, 1935. They were Edward Andrassy and an unidentified male. Andrassy's body was found some 30 feet away from the remains of the unidentified male. Both were castrated, with their heads missing. The heads were eventually recovered. More grisly slayings of mutilation followed suit. A number of the bodies were discovered long after the killings had occurred, further complicating efforts to track down and stop the murderer.
Authorities suspected Dr. Francis E. Sweeney of being the culprit, but they didn’t have enough evidence to convict him. Another man, Cleveland resident Frank Dolezal, was arrested in August 1939 as a suspect in the slaying of Torso victim Florence Polillo—only to die under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. In 2010, researchers from Cuyahoga Community College released evidence that cleared Dolezal’s name. To this day, the Cleveland Torso Murderer case remains unsolved.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons