Serial Killer Characteristics

September 2, 2008

The FBI has created a  list of different characteristics to identify serial killers.  In order to be classified a serial killer, murderers  must have 15 out of 21 of the characteristics; they must be methodical with their killings, killing three or more people over a period of time, spanning at least 30 days.  It’s fascinating to peek into the minds of serial killers, who are the most abhorrent examples of human kind.

 

Charles Starkweather and Elmer Wayne Henley represent opposing sides of the serial killer spectrum.

 

Charles grew up being bullied and teased because of a birth defect (bowed legs) and speech impediment. Abuse and alienation are typical precursors to the violent acts of these men and women, however, they are not always present.  Conversely, not all abused or alienated children become killers.  Charles also had a need to control others and be powerful.  According to a high school friend, Bob Von Busch “He could be mean as hell, cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he was, better looking, or better dressed, he’d try to take the poor bastard down to his size.”

 

84% of American serial killers are caucasian, 90% are male and 86% are heterosexual. 

 

When Charles was 18 years old, he began dating 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate  He quit school and took a job near Caril.  He was poor worker, considered slow and unintelligent.  The pair proved to be a deadly combination. Starkweather went to visit Caril and while she was out,  he argued with and shot her mother and stepfather. Once Caril arrived home, Starkweather strangled, and stabbed her two-year-old sister. He hid the bodies behind the house. The two stayed in the house for six more days, turning people away with a note taped to the door that read: “Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue.”

 

Caril Ann’s grandmother called the police and the two murderers became fugitives, embarking on a killing spree across Nebraska and into Wyoming.  They were eventually apprehended, but left ten bodies in their wake. It is likely that Charles would have killed no matter what provocation, however, fueled by an ill fated romance, he became a notorious spree killer, classified as a serial killer because of a robbery and murder which occurred weeks earlier.

 

The pair’s story has inspired authors, including Stephen King who incorporated many variations on Starkweather in his work. The character The Kid, who appears in the complete and uncut edition of The Stand, is meant to be a reincarnated Charles Starkweather.  Starkweather also inspired the films The Sadist, Badlands, Starkweather, Murder in the Heartland , The Frighteners and Natural Born Killers.

 

84% of American killers are Caucasian and 89% of their victims are white. 16% of serial killers are black.

 

Unlike Charles,  Dean Corll was methodical and meticulous.  He was killed by an accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley, aged 17.   Henley confessed to the rape and murder of twenty seven young boys and admits he recruited the victims for Corll.  Henley explained that he and another boy, David Brooks, procured boys for Corll to rape and murder for a finder’s fee of $200.

 

Serial killers tend to be intelligent with IQ’s in the “bright normal” range, however, they often do poorly in school, are unable to hold down jobs and often work as unskilled laborers.

 

Corll did not present many of the characteristics identified by the FBI. He had an unremarkable childhood, marred only by the divorce of his parents. He did well in school and was described as well behaved and polite.  Corll was drafted into the military and  discharged a year later so he could return home to help his mother.  She owned a candy business, which gave Corll access to children (he handed out samples and was known as the Candy Man.)

 

Many serial killers engage in sadistic activity at a young age, torturing animals or abusing younger children.  24% kill their first victim while in their thirties, 44% start in their twenties and 26% start in their teens.

 

Corll’s death left many questions unanswered.  Many families will never know for certain if their son was a victim to Corll or some other predator prowling the streets.  In all likelihood, Henley and Brooks would have branched out on their own given the chance.  Thankfully,  both were found guilty of murder for their participation in the crimes and are serving 99 years in prison.  Brooks was sentenced to 99 years – opposed to the six consecutive 99-year terms Henley received. Henley became eligible for parole in 1983.

 

More Statistics

The USA has 76% of the world’s serial killers. California leads the US with the most Serial Homicide cases, followed by Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida.  Maine has the lowest occurences (none) while Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Delaware and Vermont have each had only one case of serial murder.

Europe in second, has 17%.  Of these, 28% are from England, 27% from Germany and 13% from France.

65% of victims are female.

 

How to Write

True Crime Stories

 How Serial Killers Work

 

 


Herb Baumeister

December 29, 2007

In 1993, a number of missing person cases involving young men went unsolved. Roger Allan Goodlet disappeared on July 22, 1994.  Goodlet’s mother contacted the police, but unsatisfied with their response, she hired a private investigator.  Soon Goodlet’s face appeared on flyers throughout the area.  Finally, the community and media began to ask questions about the young men who frequented the gay night clubs in the area and their disappearances. Days after Goodlet’s disappearance, Stephen Hale was the eighth man to vanish.  Police turned to the FBI Behavioral Science Unit for help.  The profile indicated the perpetrator was a white male, mid 30s, bisexual with a mid to high level IQ.  The profile would only be useful if the received information on a possible suspect.   

One potential witness came forward. Mark Goodyear told police about an odd encounter he had with a man who was a regular patron of the bars in the area.  When Goodyear and the man discussed the missing person flyer, the man seemed to feign concern. Despite Goodyear’s suspicions, he agreed to accompany the man home, where they engaged in erotic asphyxiation foreplay.  Goodyear was shaken by the encounter and reported the incident to police, but he was unable to pinpoint the location.   The man continued to contact Goodyear. During their phone conversations, the man admitted to accidents or bad nights, but he never confessed to murder.  By August 1995, ten men had vanished.   Goodyear spotted the man in a bar and took down his license plate number, which belonged to Herb Baumeister.   

Unlike most characters in true crime stories, Herb and Julie Baumeister lived a seemingly idyllic life. The meet while attending Indiana University and married after Julie’s graduation in 1971.  They founded a prosperous business, the Sav-A-Lot Thrift Stores, their children attended private schools and to all appearances they had achieved the American dream. 

Herb Baumeister serial killer 

Police didn’t have any evidence to tie Beaumeister to the crimes, so they questioned him and asked to search his home. Unable to obtain a search warrant, Police conducted a search from the air using an infrared camera in the hopes of locating graves. The search was unsuccessful. Julie couldn’t believe Herb was involved; however, the stress of financial hardship and the accusations damaged the couple’s marriage. Julie filed for divorce and feared Herb would flee with her children.  She decided to give police permission to search the property. 

The police found a burial ground behind the house. Bones, teeth and skulls were strewn on the ground.  Some of the bones were burned and broken; others were whole, large pieces. There were seven left metacarpal bones discovered, indicating at least seven victims. Despite the gruesome discovery, Herb Baumeister was not taken into custody.  Herb Baumeister committed suicide on July 4th, 1996.  He left a suicide note but made no mention of his crimes.  Witnesses came forward and confirmed Baumeister’s habit of bringing men home for sexual encounters.  Police speculated that Baumeister may have killed 50-60 people, beginning as earlier as 1980.  The I-70 murders were eerily similar. 

It seems inconceivable that Julie would not know about Herb’s activities. She did know that in 1972, Herb spent two months in a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with compulsive personality disorder.  Police did not consider Julie an accomplice because she was gone each night a victim was taken to the home. 


Rosemary and Frederick West – Murder on Cromwell Street

December 29, 2007

Infamous serial killers, Rosemary and Frederick West, were married in 1972 and bought a house on Cromwell Street.  They saw in each other a reflection of their own damaged soul.  Frederick had a history of sexually molesting young girls and many believed Rosemary had incestuous relationships with her father.  

Frederick was married before meeting Rosemary and he maintained custody of a step daughter, Charmaine.  After the birth of their first child, Heather, Frederick was sent to jail for robbery and Rosemary was left to care for the children. 

 

 

 

 

Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie West 

 Charmaine, Heather and Ann Marie 

 In a fit of rage, Rosemary killed Charmaine. Authorities believe Frederick then killed Rena, his first wife and Anna McFall, a babysitter, to cover up Charmaine’s disappearance There are no true crime stories more tragic than those involving innocent children.

The murder of Frederick’s step daughter cemented the couple’s willingness to go to any lengths to pleasure or protect one another.  One of their first victims was a nanny for the couple, who was repeatedly raped.  She reported the crime, but decided to not go through a lengthy trail.  Over the next 15 years, the Wests would kill 9 girls.

 

Fred and Rose West 

Frederick and Maryann West  

Two of the couple’s children, Stephen and Mae West, were interviewed for a documentary, Notorious: Deadly Secrets of Cromwell Street (December 2007). They claimed they never knew their parents were bringing girls home and killing them. The children knew their home life was abnormal and they endured physical and sexual abuse.  The couple was very open about sex.  Fredrick considered his daughters property and at his disposal for sexual gratification.   Rosemary advertised as a prostitute to keep a regular stream of men coming in and out of the house.  Frederick eavesdropped on his wife having sex with other men through hidden microphones in the ceilings.    Stephen did remember his father “finding” jewelry and purses which he brought home and gifted to Rosemary and the children.   

The couple’s final victim was their 16-year-old daughter, Heather.  Heather was desperate to escape the abuse of home and threatened to run away. One day she disappeared from the home, and Frederick told the children she had gone for a job.

 

 

 

 

Heather West

Heather West

In1992, Frederick was arrested for raping a minor.  At the time, five of the eight West children were taken into custody by the state.  Case workers overheard the children discussing the murder of their eldest sister.    On February 24, 1994, police searched the West property and found implements of torture and decapitated bodies.  Once Fred was confronted with the evidence of his crimes, he admitted to murdering Heather and several other girls.

According to Janet Leach, a volunteer who was appointed to witness police interviews,  “Fred said that there were two other bodies in shallow graves in the woods but there was no way they would ever be found.  He said there were 20 other bodies not in one place but spread around and he would give police one a year.  He told me the truth about the girls in the cellar and what happened to them so I don’t see why he would lie about other bodies.”

 

Frederick West committed suicide while awaiting trail. Rosemary faced justice alone and was found guilty of 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison.


The Night Stalker – Richard Ramirez

December 27, 2007

The Night Stalker terrified Southern California residents in 1985.  Cloaked in darkness and hidden in shadows, the night stalker exploited the night. He hunted freely, breaking into homes and killing without mercy. 

Sgt Frank Salerno was involved in the investigation.  The night stalker would sneak into homes through windows. kill any male occupants before sexually assaulting female occupants. His first known victim was a 79 year old woman who lived alone.  He removed a screen to her apartment and silently entered. He brutally attacked her, stabbing her multiple times in the torso.  One key piece of evidence was found on her body, a fingerprint. At the time, there was no computerized or centralized fingerprint database so the evidence would only be valuable when or if the perpetrator was caught. 

The sheriff’s office collected bullet casings from crime scenes and were able to match the grooves, thus confirming their fears of a serial killer operating in the area.   The Night Stalker also left a pentagram at the scene, declaring his allegiance to Satan.  He believed he was the lone instrument of Satan, a private emissary deserving of a special position in life and death.  

The Night Stalker took the eyes of some victims.   Paranoid psychotics are often fascinated with the eyes, because within the eyes of their victims, for a moment, they see themselves.   

Richard Ramirez was born in 1960, the fifth child of devoted, deeply religious parents.  He had a loving mother but his father was extremely strict, often unleashing violent punishments.  Richard suffered accidental but traumatic head injuries in childhood and had epileptic attacks which proved disruptive in his life.  It is possible Richard was sexually assaulted by a pedophile. 

His cousin Mike, taught Richard to kill at a young age. Mike returned from Vietnam with a box full of trophies of murders he committed during war and recounted the experiences to Richard. Richard was also a witness when Mike murdered his wife. After the murder, Richard’s behavior changed dramatically, including drug use, dropping out of school and odd sleeping habits. Richard was groomed to be a killer. 

He raped and killed: the young and the old; the weak and the infirmed.  He believed he was immune to punishment.  The more violent and vile his acts, the more publicized his crimes became and the gory details made headlines across the country.  True crime stories captivate and titillate audiences.  His victims were completely random, including victim profiles and cities. It wasn’t until a witness took down the license plate of a car leaving a crime scene that police got a break in the case.  A fingerprint taken from the vehicle matched a fingerprint taken from Ramirez years earlier when he was arrested for car theft.  Finally police were able to identify The Night Stalker. 

Ramirez attempted escape, but was recognized by a crowd, chased and eventually captured.   A six month killing spree was over. Richard Ramirez avoided prosecution for several years and never showed remorse for his crime. Ramirez flaunted his devotion to Satan and relished the opportunity to relive his crimes.  Groupies came to court dressed in black and courted his attention. 

Richard Ramirez The Night Stalker

 Ramirez was convicted of 14 murders and received 19 death sentences.  He remains on death row in San Quentin. The victims continue to wait for justice to be served.


Joel Rifkin

December 27, 2007

Joel Rifkin often solicited prostitutes from Manhattan’s lower East Side, known as the Stroll.  Over a four year period, he killed seventeen prostitutes, dismembering and disposing of their bodies.  His crimes went unreported and the victims’ disappearances unnoticed. Trooper Sean Ruane noticed a vehicle with no license plate. When he attempted to pull the vehicle over, the driver fled, and a high speed chase ensued. The driver was Joel Rifkin and he was transporting the body of Tiffany Brescinani. 

Rifkin was cooperative with authorities and admitted to strangling Bresciani.  After killing her, he stored the body for three days before attempting to dispose of it. Detectives were amazed with his detached demeanor and eventual confession.  Rifkin directed detectives to burial sites of two bodies.  

Joel Rifkin with police officers 

Police interrogated Rifkin for twelve hours and he was able to recall details of each murder, dating back to 1989.  Rifkin lived with his mother and sister during his crime spree. Police searched his room and found personal belongings from the victims: id, underwear, jewelry, which helped Rifkin to remember and relive his crimes. He also collected news clippings of other serial killers. 

He became the most prolific killer in New York State history.

 Joel was adopted and raised in a loving family. He was tormented in school so he developed strategies to escape abuse and avoid people.  As he became more isolated, his rich fantasy life eventually overpowered his real life.   He sought out a prostitute to lose his virginity. His first sexual experience fulfilled his need to be in control and eliminated the possibility of rejection. In 1986, Rifkin’s father Ben was diagnosed with cancer and committed suicide months later.  With his father’s death, Rifkin turned to prostitutes with greater frequency, considering it his “drug of choice”.  

In February 1989 Rifkin committed his first murder, bludgeoning a prostitute and strangling her.  After the murder, he went to bed and slept and only contemplated the problem of removing her body hours later. Using an exacto knife, he dismembered her body to remove it from the home. He drove around and discarded the body parts at various locations.  

He returned to his regular routine and vowed to never kill again, but the urge never left him. He killed again and with greater frequency.  He killed most of his victims in his home, after having sex with the girls he would beat them and strangle them. The bodies were kept in the basement until he could discard them.  He considered the women objects and never thought of the families they left behind. He grew more and more bold; even propping a dead body in the passenger seat of his car and stopping for gas.  

Rifkin pled not guilty by reason of insanity and his lawyers fought the submission of his confession, claiming it was coerced.  The prosecution provided evidence of Rifkin’s cunning and deception to prove he was sane at the time the crimes were committed, and aware they were wrong.  The defense claimed he was a paranoid schizophrenic and unable to control his actions.  Rifkin was disinterested and detached during the trail, often falling asleep during the testimony.   He was found guilty and sentenced to over 200 years in prison.  

He didn’t fully grasp the impact of his actions until the events of 9/11 when families desperately sought missing people.  He realized the consequences of his actions but he isn’t able to guarantee he wouldn’t kill again if given the opportunity.  


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.