Some of the most horrific true crime stories come from serial criminals—killers, rapists, arsonists. But there are some crimes with behavior so bizarre, so unsettling, that they could prevent you from sleeping ever again. While many of these legendary tales get overshadowed by more infamous cases, these six terrible true crime cases of years past will remind you that horror comes in all different, terrible shapes and sizes.
1. The Unicorn Killer
As an adolescent, Ira Einhorn gave himself the nickname of “The Unicorn”: the English translation of his German surname. The killer was an environmental activist and part of the anti-war movement when he murdered his ex-girlfriend, Holly Maddux.
Maddux disappeared in early September 1977 after stopping by Einhorn’s Philadelphia apartment to collect her things following their break-up. Several weeks after Maddux’s death, police questioned her ex-boyfriend about her whereabouts, to which he stated she had disappeared on her way to the neighborhood co-op. Eighteen months later, after neighbors began reporting a rancid smell, police found Maddux’s body stuffed in a trunk in Einhorn’s closet. Several days before Einhorn was supposed to stand trial, he fled to Europe.
As Einhorn had already been arraigned, the court was able to try, convict, and sentence him in absentia. Despite this fact, Einhorn managed to remain in France for 23 years, even getting married while craftily evading extradition. The U.S. government was finally able to bring him back to the states and re-convict him in 2002. Einhorn is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
2. Issei Sagawa
This cannibal became a local celebrity after signing himself out of a Japanese mental institution in 1986. Issei Sagawa came from a wealthy family and had exhibited cannibalistic urges from an early age, even engaging in beastiality. At 23, he made his first attempt at eating human flesh, breaking into a woman’s house to cut off some of her flesh. He was caught and charged with attempted rape.
Later, he would move to France to earn his Ph.D in literature. It would be then, at the age of 32, that Sagawa would kill and eat his classmate Renée Hartevelt. He admitted to luring the 25-year-old Dutch woman to his apartment under the guise of working on poetry. He said he chose her for her beauty and health—two things he believed he lacked. After shooting her in the neck, he ate various parts of her body over the course of two days. He then attempted to dump her body (including two suitcases of her dismembered body parts) into a lake in the Bois de Boulogne, but was caught in the act.
After being held for two years in police custody, Sagawa was deemed legally insane in French court and was ordered to be held indefinitely in a mental health institution. After being deported to Japan, he was declared sane by Japanese psychologists and so was able to sign himself out of care.
3. The Granny Killer
An English-born Australian serial killer, John Wayne Glover was known for praying on elderly women, including the widow of artist Will Ashton. Over the span of 14 months, between 1989 and 1990, Glover murdered six elderly women after brutally attacking them. At times, he used simply his fists to attack his victims; with others, he used objects like hammers, his victims’ pantyhose, and other instruments.
Many of his victims were simply women he saw walking past him on the street with whom he struck up casual conversation. In addition to attacking and murdering those six women, Glover was also accused of molesting and sexually assaulting several other elderly women.
At his trial, a psychologist noted that while Glover was sane, he had a severe personality disorder, which may or may not have been connected to his turbulent relationships with his mother and mother-in-law. After being found guilty and sentenced to prison, Glover killed himself in 2005. Days before he died, he handed his last visitor a picture he had drawn featuring two trees and the number 9. Supposedly, nine is the true number of murders Glover was responsible for, not merely the six for which he was convicted.
4. New Orleans' Axeman
This American serial killer was active in the greater New Orleans area between 1918 and 1919. The majority of the murderer’s victims were from the Italian immigrant community and were killed with an axe that belonged to them. The killer would access his victims’ homes by removing a panel on their backdoor, then enter and murder them with either a straight razor or an axe. The brutal serial killer attacked at least 12 people total, most of whom were women.
In March 1919, the unidentified killer sent a deranged letter from “Hell,” where he described himself as “invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell.” In the letter, the Axeman stated the date and time of his next planned murder and suggested that the only way to stop him was to play jazz music. In response, the entire city was filled its buildings and streets with the music’s sound that night, and no one was murdered. The axe murderer would strike three more times before his activity eventually ceased. Today, the story of the Axeman has been repopularized thanks to the character in American Horror Story: Coven.
Related: The Axeman of New Orleans Murders
5. The Girl in the Box
Twenty-year-old Colleen Stan was on her way to a friend’s birthday in northern California when her soon-to-be captor Cameron Hooker and wife Janice picked up the hitchhiker. Stan would spend much of the next seven years trapped in a box that let in no light, sound or fresh air, convinced by the Hookers that a mysterious and dangerous organization would kill her and her family if she didn’t comply.
Under an agreement between Janice and Cameron, and eventually through a forcibly signed contract with Stan, the young woman was to be a sex slave for Cameron, though no penetration initially occurred. When Stan was let out of her box—where she spent up to 23 hours a day, eating cold food scraps and using a bedpan—she was tortured and raped using various objects. Several years into captivity, a brainwashed Stan was allowed to visit her family once and even got a job. But when Cameron said he wanted Stan to be his second wife, the entire horrifying situation fell apart. Stan eventually got on a bus and fled to her family, while Janice turned her husband in, receiving immunity for her full cooperation.
6. The Eyeball Killer
This Texas murderer and diagnosed psychopath killed at least one woman, with two more suspected murders to his name. Adopted from an orphanage, Charles Albright was cared for by his very protective adoptive parents. His mother was a school teacher and helped accelerate his learning so far that he entered college in his teens.
Despite being so bright, he was also known for partaking in criminal behavior, arrested first for aggravated assault at the age of 13. His murderous roots, however, lied in a childhood interest. After Albright received a shotgun at a young age, he used it to kill small animals. He would then stuff them with the help of his mother, appeasing his interest in taxidermy.
After failing to complete pre-med training at both North Texas University and Arkansas State Teachers College, he would be sent to jail for theft, molestation, and eventually the murder of three sex workers, all of whose bodies were left nearly or completely nude out on a city street. He shot all three victims in the head and removed their eyes with surgical-like precision.
Featured photo: Isai Ramos / Unsplash