Murder. A heinous crime, yet one that people tend to be extremely fascinated by. If you like true crime, take a look at 10 of the most gruesome murders the state of New York has ever seen–some may date all the way back to the 1800s, but all of them are horrible.
1. NY's First Known Female Serial Killer
In the 1890s, this was the nickname given to Lizzie Halliday, New York’s first known female serial killer. She was also the first woman to ever be sentenced to death by the electric chair—although that sentence was never carried out.
Lizzie immigrated to the States as a child. As she got older, she showed a propensity for what would be later called “spells of insanity.” Halliday committed at least four murders, including those of two women she was old friends with and her sixth husband who she stabbed, shot, and mutilated. Yes, sixth. Of the previous five, she is suspected of killing at least two and attempting to kill another with arsenic.
She also had a love of burning things. In 1888, she burned down the saloon of the two “old friends” that she would later murder. She also burned both the barn and house of her sixth husband who she would later murder.
Apprehended and sentenced to death by electrocution, the governor of New York commuted her sentence and instead institutionalized her for being mentally insane. She was sent to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where she would live out the rest of her life. While there, she attacked and killed a nurse, stabbing her 200 times with a pair of scissors.
2. 400 Year Sentence
Arohn Kee was a serial murderer and rapist who had a sick penchant for forced sodomy of teenage girls who lived in several different Harlem housing projects. He took his first victim in 1991.
All told, Kee raped and murdered by strangulation three girls over the course of eight years: Paola Illera, 13; Johalis Castro, 19; and Rasheeda Washington, 18. Kee burned Castro’s body beyond all recognition—she could only be identified by her ankle bracelet. During this time, he also raped and sodomized four other teenage girls.
Once arrested, Kee conducted an incredible rant in court where he claimed he was the victim of a massive conspiracy involving DNA swapping. He was convicted as a result of the massive DNA evidence and the testimony of the rape victims he hadn’t killed and, in 2001, was sentenced to three life sentences for the murders and 400 years for the rapes.
From prison, Kee later made twenty five x seven inch “rape cards” which depicted handwritten accounts of his crimes and the things he had said to his victims including “Say, ‘I love it’,” “Be quiet and take it like a woman,” and “Act like you love me.”
3. No Parole in Sight
Described by some completely oblivious individual as a “devoted” mother, Schenectady, NY resident Marybeth Tinning is suspected of being a serial child murderer. Unlike many other cases of child murder, all these children were her own.
From 1975 to 1985, Tinning gave birth to or adopted a total of nine babies, boys and girls. None of these children lived past their fifth birthday: Most died within a few months of being born. Tinning was a regular in Schenectady hospital trauma centers where she would bring her dying offspring in a panic, saying they weren’t breathing. Hospitals consistently declared the cause of death as being Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) but no one ever thought that nine dead children from SIDS in one family was a statistical impossibility.
Tinning’s ultimate motivation for these murders, according to investigators, was to garner sympathy and attention. They believe that after each baby’s death, Tinning got a kind of emotional high from the attention she received. Tinning's third child, Jennifer, died (naturally) of meningitis just a few days after her birth. The first of the Tinning children to die, it seems that the response to Jennifer's death sparked something dark in her mother.
Tinning was finally investigated after a call to the police from the hospital where she took her ninth child, three-month-old Tami Lynne, after she claimed she found Tami unconscious in her crib with blood coming out of her mouth. Once arrested, Tinning admitted to the murder and confessed that she’d also been slowly poisoning her husband.
Despite ample circumstantial evidence in the form of eight dead children, Tinning was only charged with the death of Tami Lynne. She was found guilty and remains in prison where she has been denied parole four times because she continues “to demonstrate no insight into her crime.”
4. The Happy Land Club
On March 25th, 1990, Julio Gonzalez went to see his ex-girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, at the Happy Land club in the Bronx where she worked as a coat check girl. The club had previously been shut down for code violations. Lydia had recently broken up with Gonzalez. When he arrived, he had been drinking. Predictably, the brief meeting turned into an argument before bouncers tossed him from the club.
What happened next was not so predictable. Having vowed to Lydia that “Tomorrow you’re not going to work here any more. I told you and I swear it,” Gonzalez went and purchased gasoline in a jug, brought it back to Happy Land, doused the place, including the stairs, lit it, and left.
The venue had sealed all the exits except the main entrance in order to prevent people entering for free. All told, 87 people burned to death in the Happy Land club. Lydia, presumably the main object of Gonzalez’s rage, did not succumb to the fire but was actually the first to notice it and leave. She claims that she warned others but no one heard her.
So exhausted was he from burning 87 people alive that Gonzalez went straight home and went to sleep. Police found him, still asleep, the next afternoon. He was sentenced to 25 years to life and died of a heart attack while still in prison in 2016.
5. Innocent Until Proven Guilty
By all accounts, Waneta Hoyt was a good mother who’d simply had a string of bad luck ... over and over and over again. From 1965 to 1971, Waneta had five children and, one by one, they all seemingly succumbed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). No one gave it a second thought until 1995 when authorities from a neighboring county began looking at SIDS deaths in the area again with the idea that some of them might be murder.
Hoyt confessed to the murders by suffocation when faced with authorities and was tried and sentenced to 75 years to life. She died in 1998 of pancreatic cancer while still appealing her sentence. Since she died before her appeal could be heard, New York state officially exonerated her.
6. Few Last Words
Martha Beck had a harrowing upbringing. Not only was she burdened with an overbearing a brutal mother but she was relentlessly teased in school and, far worse, by the age of 10, she had already suffered rape at the hands of her own brother.
Raymond Fernandez, soon to become Beck’s partner in crime, was a brain damaged former British intelligence agent who had a pattern of answering “lonely hearts ads” and then fleecing the women who placed them for everything they were worth. In 1947, he answered an ad placed by single mother of two, Martha Beck.
Beck was obsessed with a need for male acceptance. After spending only a short time with Fernandez, she abandoned both of her children in Florida and moved to New York to live with him. Even when Fernandez confessed that he was a scam artist and possibly a murderer, Beck wasn’t dismayed. She began posing as Fernandez’s sister to help facilitate the scam.
Only two years later, catching Fernandez in bed with one of his marks, Janet Fay, Beck smashed Fay’s head in with a hammer. Fernandez finished the job by strangling her to death. The couple then fled New York for Michigan and moved in with a widow and her daughter. Beck’s temper got the best of her once again, and she choked the young girl, although she did not kill her. Fernandez then shot the mother, reasoning she would be suspicious of her daughter's bruising. Later, Beck drowned the daughter when she would not stop crying.
Eventually arrested, both were executed in the electric chair in New York in March 1951. Their last words were of their love for one another.
“I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?” – Raymond Fernandez.
“My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean […] Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond….” – Martha Beck
7. Anywhere From Six to 100
By all accounts the most accomplished murderer on this list, Richard Kuklinksi was an Italian mob contract killer known as the ‘Iceman’. Kuklinski froze the bodies of his victims in an industrial cooler in order to hide the time of their murder. This is only one of the supposed origins for Kuklinski's nickname. Kuklinski seemed to revel in changing the story as well, later even telling others that he helped kill Jimmy Hoffa, which he then recanted.
Kuklinkski was very thorough and intelligent. Once, he killed a man, apparently accidentally, but still took the precaution of cutting off all the man’s fingers and removing all of his teeth by hand, ensuring that when he disposed of the body, the man would never be able to be identified.
All told, Kuklinksi killed between six and 100 people between 1949 and 1986. And although Kuklinski appears to have been the kind of man who would exaggerate, tales of Kuklinski’s willingness to murder for as little as making him “feel bad about something” are ubiquitous. Murdering his first victim at age 13, Kuklinksi has been described by New York authorities as one of the most dangerous criminals in the state’s entire history.
Kuklinski died in prison in 2006.
8. Low Self Esteem
Richard Angelo should have been one of the good ones. An EMT at Good Samaritan Hospital in Long Island, NY, Angelo had been an Eagle Scout and a volunteer fireman. His background appeared to show a man who cared deeply about others. This was not the case.
Feeling unappreciated in his job as a nurse, Angelo began inducing emergencies at the Good Samaritan. He would inject patietns with paralytic agents Pavulon and Anectine so that he could be the one that would save them. Initially, this strategy worked and Angelo received the praise he sought from his co-workers and the patients he had “saved.”
However, 25 of the 37 patients Angelo tried this on did not survive the experience. What’s more, people began to notice a pattern of emergencies during Angelo’s shift, causing the staff to become suspicious. This all came to a head when one patient, seeing that Angelo was injecting him with something, managed to hit their ‘call’ button notifying the nursing staff to his plight. The contents Angelo was attempting to administer were analyzed and he was found out. Later, police discovered these same paralyzing agents in Angelo’s home.
When interviewed by authorities regarding the murders, Angelo claimed he did it because he suffered from low self-esteem.
“I wanted to create a situation where I would cause the patient to have some respiratory distress or some problem, and through my intervention or suggested intervention or whatever, come out looking like I knew what I was doing. I had no confidence in myself. I felt very inadequate.”
Angelo was sentenced to 61 years in prison. He remains there today.
9. Political in Nature
This controversial politically-charged murder still stirs up debate today.
A member of the leftist domestic terror group the Weather Underground (WU), Kathy Boudin was first arrested in 1970 after prematurely setting off a nail bomb she and another WU member were building, which was ultimately intended to be used against U.S. soldiers at Fort Dixon, New Jersey. Released on bond, Boudin skipped town only to reappear eleven years later working as a getaway truck driver with the Black Liberation Army in the robbery of an armored car carrying 1.6 million dollars.
The U-Haul getaway truck was spotted, and two officers pulled it over. However, they were expecting to be confronted with the African-American men who had just been spotted robbing the armed car, not (white, female) Boudin. Police officers later testified that Boudin exited the vehicle with her hands up and implored them to lower their weapons even as two more officers arrived. Boudin maintained that she stayed silent.
Regardless, at no time did she warn them that there were six men armed with automatic weapons in the back of the U-Haul. As a result, when the robbers leapt from the back of the truck and opened fire on the officers they were caught completely unawares, and two were killed.
Boudin, trying to escape on foot, was quickly nabbed as were most of the other robbers, although two were shot and killed. Boudin was later tried along with the other members of the robbery crew. Boudin received by far the lightest sentence of 25 years to life. Her attorney was able to arrange a plea bargain of one count of felony murder and one count of felony robbery.
Boudin was paroled in 2003 and has since been an adjunct professor at Columbia University and a scholar in-residence at the NYU School of Law. She is well known for her AIDS activism and scholarly work in education both during her sentence and since her release from prison.
10. We Hope He Is Dead
Another serial killer who preyed solely on women, Joel Rifkin is responsible for the murder and dismemberment of 17 women he claimed were prostitutes. He was the most prolific serial killer in New York’s 20th century.
Rifkin came from a fairly normal background. Articles on his life indicate that he was teased heavily in school where he performed poorly due to learning disabilities. Around this time, he began having fantasies of killing women. Later, once out of school, he was unable to hold down a job. At some point, he began soliciting prostitutes while developing a fascination with serial killers who murdered prostitutes, even going so far as to collect newspaper clippings on the topic.
In 1989 and 1990, Rifkin murdered two women, whose bodies he then dismembered and threw into Manhattan's East River. Their remains were never discovered. In 1991, Rifkin began killing more frequently. Over the next two years, he killed 15 women, usually disposing of their bodies in a container of some kind which he would then threw into a body of water.
Rifkin was finally caught during a routine traffic stop when officers attempted to pull him over for not displaying any tags. Rifkin didn’t stop. When he missed a turn and wrecked his car, officers discovered that he was towing the body of his latest victim. Rifkin was convicted of nine counts of second degree murder in 1994. His first chance for parole is 2194.