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 infamous serial killers of all time remain unidentified. Case and point: the murderers below, who despite a concerted effort by police, were never apprehended.
1. Redhead Murderer
Where: Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee
How Many: 6-11
The Redhead Murders were a string of killings committed along major highways throughout the United States, primarily in the 1980s. The first killing definitively tied to the Redhead Murders occured in 1983, although some believe that a killing in 1978 is connected to the case. Of the six victims police are certain were killed by the same person, only one has been identified, leading many to believe that the killer targeted not just redheads, but redheads who were engaged in either hitchhiking or sex work. Two suspects were interviewed in connection to the murders, yet the killer was never identified.
2. Zodiac Killer
Where: Northern California
When: 1960s and 1970s
How Many: 5 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 claimed responsibility for 37 murders. However, investigators agree upon seven attacks in total: 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. Since then, the Alphabet murders have remained unsolved.
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. 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 lapsed. 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, which were supposed to be maintained by the detective in charge of the investigation, have been lost, making solving the case nearly impossible today.
6. Long Island Killer
Where: Long Island, NY
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 prostitutes in the early 1990s, is a suspect in at least one of the LISK killings. Another notable suspect was James Burke. Burke is the former police chief of Suffolk County, who had previously used the services of one of the victims. During the course of the investigation, it was revealed that Burke had obstructed an FBI probe into the Long Island killer case during his time as police chief. He was convicted of obstruction and the beating of a man who stole personal items from his vehicle. Burke has never been charged in connection with the actual killings.
7. Colonial Parkway Killer
How Many: 8
Four couples were targeted and attacked by the Colonial Parkway Killer in the late 1980s. Although the bodies of only three couples were found, the fourth couple is presumed dead as well.
Each of the couples and their cars were found along the Colonial Parkway, often after their bodies had had a chance to decompose. 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 active 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 to 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.