Thanks to modern day policing methods, most murders are solved, particularly when more than one victim is involved. DNA testing, surveillance and the ease in which information can be shared has made it extremely difficult for murderers to walk freely. However, this is not always the case.
Occasionally, even the most heinous of villains are never caught, due to botched policing, a lack of witnesses, zero evidence, or just through the sheer luck of the killers themselves. In some cases, the serial killers have even been able to elude arrest by feeding false information to authorities or news media. This list takes a look at the most infamous of these criminals, the killers that were able to commit multiple murders and got away with it.
Many of these killers proved to be so prolific, that they've had books and movies based on their crimes, inspiriting continued debate regarding their true identities. For many on this list, there's still time for them to meet justice. However, this doesn't change the fact that the majority may well be walking the streets right now. Please take note that that there is some disturbing content on this list, that might not be suitable for the faint of heart or easily spooked. You've been warned.
9. The Vending Machine Killer
Number of victims: 12
Period of killings: April 30, 1985 - November 17, 1985
The 'Vending Machine Killer' is a proposed serial killer, infamous in Japan for the Paraquat murders that took place in 1985. The first victim of the Paraquat murders died on the 30th April in Fukuyama, after consuming a beverage laced with the poisonous herbicide paraquat. Following the first murder, eleven more were killed in the same way, between the 11th of September and 17th of November.
The poisoned drinks weren't located inside the machines themselves, but found on top of or next to them. It has been hypothesised that at least one of the murders was committed by a copy cat killer, as one case saw the drink laced with the equally poisonous herbicide diquat. Fortunately, the killings stopped following the twelfth murder, after signs with warnings not to consume any drinks found nearby were posted on all vending machines. However, the case remains unsolved, and the culprit has never been identified.
8. The Smiley Face Murderer(s)
Country: United States
Number of victims: 40+ (estimated)
Period of killings: 90's - 00's
The Smiley Face Killings refers to the deaths of a high number of young males that drowned in several states across the course of around a decade. The cases have never been proven to be the works of a serial killer or gang of murderers. In fact, the official conclusion for the cases is that the victims died of accidental drowning. However, it has been theorised by two retired detectives, named Anthony Duarte and Kevin Gannon, that the incidents were far from accidental.
The theory is that the alleged murders are linked by the similar characteristics of the victims, as well as the unsettling presence of disturbing smiley face graffiti near the locations of at least twelve of the cases. The males involved with the incidents were all of college-age and generally fit the profile of being athletic, popular and white. The smiley face graffiti varied slightly in each case, though each appeared more ominous than the last. In one of the most damning pieces of evidence, a red smiley face with devil's horns was found next to a note that read "Evil Happy Smiley Face Man".
Duarte told police that this indicated the killer was still at large, and actively taunting the police. Duarte and Gannon's theory wasn't accepted by the FBI though, who denied that there was enough evidence to support the claims. Instead, the official statement is that the majority of the forty or so of the deaths were "alcohol-related drownings".
7. The Long Island Serial Killer
Country: United States
Number of victims: 10-14
Period of killings: 1996 onwards
The Long Island serial killer is one of the most prolific unidentified killers in New York's history, with up to 14 deaths to their name over the course of almost two decades. Each victim was connected to the sex trade in some way. Police have officially confirmed that they believe one person is responsible for ten of the murders, and that they are almost certainly a resident of Long Island. Most of the victims appeared to have died in particularly violent circumstances, dumped or buried to be discovered up to a decade after their death.
Because many of the remains weren't discovered until years later, police had a tough time identifying several of the victims. One corpse was identified to be a young Asian male wearing women's clothes, while another case emerged to be a female prostitute and her toddler daughter. The Long Island murders have been highly controversial, and lawsuits have been filed against police by the relations of at least one of the victims.
The killer is still very much at large, and the corpse of a potential victim named Natasha Jugo was discovered only last year.
6. The Freeway Phantom
Country: United States
Number of victims: 6
Period of killings: April 25, 1971 - September 5, 1972
The Freeway Phantom was a serial killer active during the 70's, who abducted, raped and murdered six females over the course of two years. Each victim was African-American, aged between 10 and 18. The killer strangled all of their victims, beginning with 13-year old Carol Spinks, who was abducted on the way home from buying groceries. Her body was discovered six days after, next to the busy Interstate 295.
The corpse of 16-year old Darlenia Johnson was discovered under three months later, only 15 feet from where Spinks was found, confirming police fears that they were dealing with a serial killer. It was with their fifth victim that the Freeway Phantom communicated to the police. The body of Brenda Woodward, aged 18, was discovered strangled and stabbed with a note in the pocket of a coat covering her. The note read:
This is tantamount to my insensititivity to people especially women. I will admit the others when you catch me if you can! Free-way Phantom
Police deduced that the note was actually written by Woodward herself, on the instruction of her killer. This mirrors one of the Freeway Phantom's earlier victims, who phoned her parents with incorrect details of her location, presumably to buy the killer more time. There have been a number of suspects involved in the Freeway Phantom case, many with a history of violence against women. However, no tangible evidence was found in relation to the murders, leaving the Freeway Phantom's identity an ongoing mystery.
5. The West Mesa Bone Collector
Country: United States
Number of victims: 11+
Period of killings: 2003-2009 (estimated) In 2009, the remains of 11 women were discovered in the desert of West Mesa in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Referred to as the Wes Mesa murders, authorities believe that the killings were the work of a single serial killer. The discovery was made after a woman walking her dog discovered a human bone while in the West Mesa of Albuquerque and reported it to the police. The following investigation resulted in the discovery of 11 women's bodies and a fetus buried in the local area.
Detectives believe that the murders were connected to the infamous West Mesa Bone Collector, a serial killer suspected of being involved in several different cases. No potential DNA of the killer has ever been found, nor have any witnesses come forwards. As such, despite a few violent individuals being connected to the West Mesa area, there has never been an official suspect with regards to the Bone Collector's identity.
4. The Monster Of Florence
Number of victims: 16
Period of killings: August 21, 1968 - September 8, 1985
The Monster of Florence, known in Italy as Il Mostro, is the suspected serial killer behind 16 murders that took place in Florence over the course of nearly twenty years. The killings were primarily of young couples, and the incidents were linked by the similarity of the murders and same gun used. The subject of several books and films, the Monster of Florence murders are marked by a series of arrests and convictions that were strongly criticised by the media.
On more than one occasion, a suspect was charged with being the killer, until being exonerated following another killing. The murders themselves all followed a similar pattern. Couples were stalked at night, before being shot and stabbed to death. The first murder was of Antonio Lo Bianco, aged 29, and Barbara Locci, aged 32, who were both shot by a .22 Beretta. The husband of Locci was initially charged with the murder, spending six years in jail, but was released after further couples were murdered using the same gun. The final murder occurred in 1985, after Jean Michel Kraveichvili and Nadine Mauriot were killed on a camping trip in Italy.
Shot and stabbed while in their tent, Jean Michel was killed while trying to escape, while Mauriot's corpse was heavily mutilated. The murderer sent a gloating note to the state prosecutor, which was received shortly after the discovery of the corpses. Despite all of the arrests associated with the case, the general consensus is that the real Monster of Florence has never been found. Many witnesses have stated that the murdered couples said they had been harassed by an "unpleasant", "weird" man shortly before the killings took place, but no conclusive evidence has ever been found for the serial killer's identity.
3. The Doodler
Country: United States
Number of victims: 14 plus 3 survivors
Period of killings: January, 1974 - September, 1975 The Doodler, or Black Doodler as he was sometimes referred to, was responsible for 14 killings in under two years. The killer targeted members of San Francisco's gay community, often meeting with his victims at gay nightclubs and bars. The Doodler was named as such because of his habit of sketching each of his victims before killing them. He would draw out a picture of his targets, then give it to them as a means to initiate a conversation.
This would often lead to them leaving with the Doodler, before engaging in sex and being stabbed to death. There were three survivors of the Doodler's assaults, which resulted in the apprehension of a murder suspect. Frustratingly, due to social stigma at the time, all three survivors refused to testify, as they didn't want to come out as gay. This resulted in the suspect walking freely, his identity never revealed.
2. The Stoneman
Number of victims: 13+
Period of killings: 1985 - 1989 One of the most chilling cases on this list, the Stoneman has grown to be one of the most infamous serial killers in India's history. The Stoneman has been blamed for two sets of incidents, in which the victim's head would be crushed by a single, large stone while they slept. The murders began in 1985 in Bombay, where homeless people sleeping on the streets were targeted.
After six murders, police began to suspect it was the work of a serial killer, due to the same pattern of the victims' heads being crushed while asleep. However, due to the common situations of the victims, it was very difficult for the authorities to gather any leads or witnesses. In 1987, a homeless waiter was able to survive an attack by the Stoneman, and came to the police.
Unfortunately, the waiter was unable to reliably recall what his assailant looked like. Not long after, in 1988, the killings abruptly ended. One year later though, a familiar terror began to emerge in the city of Calcutta. Once again, homeless people were being targeted, with a total of twelve murders in six months, killed by having their heads crushed. No conclusive link was made between the Calcutta and Bombay murders, but the similarity between victims and killing methods imply that the killer was either familiar with the original murders, or the Stoneman himself.
The Calcutta murders ended only six months after they began, indicating the end of the Stoneman's spree. Disturbingly though, incidents have recently cropped up in Guwahati that strongly resemble the original Stoneman murders, almost 25 years after the original incident.
1. The Zodiac Killer
Country: United States
Number of victims: 5 - 37
Period of killings: December 20, 1968 - October 11, 1969
One of the most famous serial killers of all time, the Zodiac Killer terrorised San Francisco residents for the better part of a year. The Zodiac Killer case was as fascinating as it was horrifying, due to the killer's habit of toying with police and reported. The Zodiac Killer was confirmed to have murdered at least 5 people during his killing spree, though he has claimed the number was actually 37. He was famous for the intricate ciphers he would send to newspapers and police, which would often contain very creepy messages and occasionally threats once solved. One of the most famous messages was translated to read the following:
LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND ALL THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE. EBEORIETEMETHHPITI
The Zodiac Killer would also hide hints and clues of what he'd do next in his letters, although they'd often prove to be false. For example, in the following letter he claimed that his next target would be a school bus filled with children, though this never came to fruition:
This is the Zodiac speaking. I am the murderer of the taxi driver over by Washington St + Maple St last night, to prove this here is a blood stained piece of his shirt. I am the same man who did in the people in the north bay area. The S.F. Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motorcicles seeing who could make the most noise. The car drivers should have just parked their cars and sat there quietly waiting for me to come out of cover. School children make nice targets, I think I shall wipe out a school bus some morning. Just shoot out the front tire + then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.
The symbol of the Zodiac Killer has become almost as famous as the murderer himself, with its simple design of a circle over a cross. Many have attempted or even claimed to have solved the mystery of who the Zodiac Killer is, but none have been proven to be true. The Zodiac's puzzles, cryptograms and riddles have continued to be put under scrutiny to this very day, and the police case file has been open since 1969, but no conclusive evidence has ever been brought forwards. The subject of a number of popular films and books, the case of the unidentified Zodiac Killer continues to mesmerise and disgust people even now.