Spree Killers

January 23, 2008

Spree killers target innocent bystanders, thrilling in the destruction of the public’s well being. Their acts of violence are motivated by revenge or a misguided need to be noticed.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire at a popular café.  He killed 35 people and wounded 19 others in a single day.  Bryant was a troubled and tormented youth, lashing out in anger.   He lashed out in defense against bullying and was diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild retardation.  As a young adult he became isolated and desperate sought companionship, striking up conversations with random women.  His attempts were thwarted and he became angry at society in general and planned revenge.    After the shootings, Bryant fled to a nearby inn and was surrounded by police.  He set the inn on fire and was badly burned.  He recovered from his injuries and was sentenced to 35 life sentences after pleading guilty to murder.  

Martin Bryant

Social exclusion seems to be a common indicator in spree killers. Test subjects were tested to see the impact of social isolation and rejection.   After being rejected, subjects were asked to fill in blanks on several words.  Rejected subjects repeatedly choose violent words. 

On August 1st 1966, Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then packed a footlocker full of weapons and drove to the University of Austin.  From a clock tower on the college’s campus Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others.  Whitman was raised in a physically abusive home. He left home at 15, joining the Army and was sent to the University of Texas on scholarship.  He married but struggled to overcome the violence of this past.   He was court martialed after a violent public outburst and his scholarship revoked.  He is ashamed of his behavior, but unable to control them. He wrote about his struggles in his journal and confessed his desire to kill bystanders from the clock tower to a psychiatrist.  After the attack, an autopsy was performed and a tumor was discovered.  

Charles Whitman

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can cause impulsive behaviors, fits of rage or inappropriate emotions.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that regulates fear and anger.  Those with borderline personality disorder have heightened activity in the amygdala, which may inhibit an individual’s ability to control their rage.

  

19 year old Charles Starkweather and his 14 year old accomplice, Carol Fugate embarked on a killing spree after Starkweather killed Carol’s parents.  They claimed 10 victims, lashing out at any one who crossed their path.  Starkweather was an outcast at school, bullied and teased, he fantasized about revenge. Carol and Charles had a passionate affair and planned to marry, but her family stood in their way, so they were eliminated.  Starkweather shot Carol’s mother, stepfather and 2 year old sister then took their blood lust on the road.   They killed seven more people before they were apprehended. Carol Fugate claimed she was a hostage but both were convicted.

Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate

Spree killers are becoming more deadly and methodical, attacking at schools, malls or other crowded public places.  Understanding the motives and traits will hopefully help law enforcement prevent tragic blood shed in the future.  


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.