8 Terrifying Active Serial Killers (We Can't Find)
The podcast-listening public loves an unsolved murder—your Zodiacs, your Jack the Rippers, and so on—but those guys are old news. It's the ones you haven't heard of that you have to watch out for, because these guys could be still kicking. And stabbing, and strangling, etc. Guys like …
The Long Island Serial Killer
In the middle of the night on May 2, 2010, 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert called 911 from Oak Beach near Long Island, insisting someone was chasing and trying to kill her. She banged on doors screaming for help and was never heard from again. After months of searching the area, police finally found the body of a young woman near Gilgo Beach along the Ocean Parkway—but it wasn't Gilbert. Upon further examination, three more bodies turned up, and the police had a whole new problem on their hands.
Within a few months, police found the remains of a total of 16 people in the area, at least 10 of whom appeared to have been killed by the same person. Some had been missing since as early as 1996, and body parts of two of them had been found years earlier in the same city 45 miles away. Gilbert wasn't found until December 2011, and officially, she stumbled into a marsh and drowned, which somehow led to injuries consistent with strangulation and being found face up.
Whatever the case, there was no denying that a serial killer was on the loose and had been for more than a decade. Two of the victims' loved ones even received phone calls in 2007 and 2009 from someone claiming to know what happened to them, but police couldn't trace them. Gilbert's mother also received a phone call from a man who claimed to know where she was, but he later denied making the call (though his phone records proved otherwise) and police ruled him out as a suspect. He was one of many suspects who have come and gone, including a police chief who shut the FBI out of the investigation. None of them could be conclusively linked to the deaths.
In 2020, the new police chief released an image of a belt they believed was handled by the killer bearing the initials HM or WH, so if you see William H. Macy … aw hell, we can't even joke about William H. Macy being anything other than a national treasure.
The Chicago Strangler
Officially, the Chicago Strangler doesn't exist. Police say there's no evidence that the at least 55 mostly Black women who have been found strangled to death since 2001 were killed by the same person ... except all the ways in which the deaths are really, really similar. Almost all were killed outside or in abandoned buildings (strange if the murderer was known to them) and left in alleys, dumpsters, and other semi-public places, plotting a neat line clean across the city. In fact, it was these similarities that first algorithmically alerted the Murder Accountability Project, who brought it to the local authorities' attention that, according to math, they had a serial killer on their hands.
Those authorities remain skeptical, however. Once public pressure forced them to cobble together a task force and actually review the DNA evidence, they found that none of the 21 total samples obtained from all the victims matched each other or anyone in the FBI database. That doesn't relegate the Strangler to the realm of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, though; in fact, the founder of the Murder Accountability Project insists it's super weird that there wasn't more DNA evidence, suggesting we simply have a very careful killer. Or killers. The police also let it slip that they have confidential evidence suggesting at least two or three serial killers working under the Strangler M.O. Fun!
The Texas Killing Fields
The 50 miles of barren wasteland from Houston to Galveston along the I-45 freeway is a sort of lovers' lane for murderers. Since 1971, 30 bodies, almost entirely young women and girls, have been found in this weedy expanse, the last as recently as 2006. They're clearly not all victims of serial killers, as two cases have been successfully prosecuted as isolated incidents, but like the nearby gulf, they tend to come in waves.
At least two clusters of murders, authorities believe, seem to be linked. In the mid-'80s, four young women and teenage girls turned up in the Fields, apparently killed by the same person. Aaaand that's pretty much all that's been figured out in the intervening decades. In 2013, one guy confessed to killing one of them, but his story keeps changing and he's already serving multiple life sentences for other crimes, so no one is too bothered about investigating.
In 1998, another guy confessed to killing six of the girls found in the Fields in the early '70s, but that was apparently not enough evidence to charge him. Police apparently hated charging him: He was previously arrested twelve times for sexual assault, but nothing ever stuck. To be fair, he was serving a 70-year sentence at the time of his confession … for murdering a guy who tried to stop him.
The West Mesa Bone Collector
Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a strange place: All that turquoise, chemistry, desert mass graves, etc. Okay, to be fair, there's (presumably) only the one mass grave in the desert, found in 2009 after a local's dog brought her a human bone in a disturbing game of fetch. It contained the remains of 11 women and girls, all of whom disappeared from the area between 2001 and 2005.
That was, unfortunately, pretty much all it contained; developers had recently descended upon the site, probably shaking loose the bone found by the dog but thoroughly contaminating any other evidence that might lead to the person that's become known as the West Mesa Bone Collector. All police had to go by were eerie satellite photos of tire tracks and fresh graves that, really, the satellite should have reported. What do we even pay them for?
But police do have some leads. One is a man who lived nearby, on land connected to the mass grave via dirt trails, who was shot dead by the boyfriend of a woman he'd lured to his home and strangled right around the time the murders stopped. So that doesn't look great. Another is a convicted rapist with connections to many of the victims and a suspicious amount of women's clothing and jewelry in his home. That means that, best-case scenario, the killer is dead or already serving a 90-year prison sentence.
It could also be someone totally off the police's radar. In 2010, they identified two women who might have information about the case, but they've yet to come forward, likely because of their own comparatively minor legal troubles. That seems like an easy enough problem to solve, but our gavels are made of squeaky plastic, so cops don't listen to us.
The Eastbound Strangler
On November 20, 2006, two women out and about in Atlantic City were doing something that is none of our business behind the Golden Key Hotel when they came upon a woman's body in a drainage ditch. This being Atlantic City, that doesn't even qualify as a particularly bad night, but after police showed up, they discovered three other bodies in the ditch about 60 feet apart, all women, all placed facedown with their heads turned to the east, all fully dressed but with no shoes or socks. In other words, some seriously creepy shit.
- Line from the pilot of CSI: Atlantic City
Police first turned their attention to a handyman who'd been living in the hotel after his own girlfriend called them with her suspicions, but she was apparently out to set a record in passive-aggression. He was definitely a shady dude—police found hidden cameras that had recorded his girlfriend's teenage daughter undressing—but there appeared to be no link between him and the murders. Another local woman named a man who allegedly confessed to her that he'd killed people around the time of the murders, but he was never charged either. Again, it's Atlantic City. Just assume any dude who talks to you is a murderer.
The Rainbow Maniac
Tragically but perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the victims of these serial killers were sex workers, likely because it's a safer-than-average bet that a sex worker's disappearance won't be noticed for a while. Practicality doesn't always drive a serial killer's choice of target, though. Sometimes, pure, blind hate does the job just fine. That certainly appears to be the case with the Rainbow Maniac, unless he somehow had unrelated beef with every one of the 13 gay men he killed in São Paulo from 2007 to 2009.
Brazil, and especially São Paulo, is in a weird place when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community: The city government funds one of the largest pride parades in the world, but the country has been named the deadliest place in the world for gay and transgender people, one of whom is murdered every day there.
That might suggest the Rainbow Maniac's victims just pulled the unlucky number that day, but they were almost all killed in the same way and all found in the same park that's known as a cruising hot spot—basically, exactly where you'd go if you were a serial killer targeting gay men. That was the scenario described by one witness who claimed to have seen retired policeman Jairo Francisco Franco prowling for the park for decidedly unsexy reasons after another witness fingered him (again, not in the fun way) as the killer in a 2008 incident. A jury acquitted Franco in 2011, but to be fair, the trial did last an entire day.
The Jeff Davis 8
When women's bodies began popping up in the swamps and canals of Jefferson Davis Parish, Louisiana, between 2005 and 2008, it seemed to be more of the same, as far as serial killers go. They were all involved in the local drug trade and/or sex work, the ones whose cause of death could be determined appeared to have been asphyxiated, etc.
The weird thing is that they all knew each other, and despite what '90s teen slasher films might lead you to believe, that's uncommon for serial killers, even in such an isolated location. They were also all (there's reason to believe) police informants. At least one had a long rap sheet of charges that kept getting mysteriously dropped, and many of them also told their families they were police informants, so there's that.
That might suggest a Departed-esque scenario of snitches getting stitches, but all signs seem to point to either the cops themselves or a fellow informant. It's unclear why either would target the women, but some theorize they all witnessed the death of a drug dealer at the hands of police during a raid gone wrong. If that's the case, it's again unclear why they were picked off over the course of years, but it's also possible the police simply covered up the murders to protect a better-connected informant, and they certainly seem to have done everything possible to botch the investigation. That's why their families suspect that, although every agency involved in the investigation blames a serial killer, the cops are behind the deaths in one way or another. In the language of the internet, por que no los dos?
Unlike most of these cases, we know damn well who the so-called "Monster of the Andes" was who was killing little girls all over Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. We know because Pedro Lopez freely admitted to it in 1980 after he was caught in an attempted kidnapping. In for a penny, in for a pound, right? He actually confessed to so many murders—110—that police initially didn't believe him, so he led them to the bodies of 53 of his victims. (You'd think they'd concede after, like, 37.) He later confessed to 240 more, but he'd apparently misplaced those ones, because he was only convicted of the 110 they could prove.
Lopez was tried in Ecuador and given the maximum sentence allowed by the country: a whopping 16 years. He was even given time off for good behavior and released after serving just 14 in a psychiatric hospital on the pinkie promise that he'd pay $50 bail and follow the rules.
Currently, nobody knows where he is. He could be behind you right now. In fact, if anyone has seen him since 1998, they ain't telling. Oh, and in 2002, Colombian police identified a new murder that they're pretty sure was Lopez's work. Sleep tight!
Top image: Wxstorm/Wikimedia Commons