5 Horrible Mistakes That Let Serial Killers Go Free
Pop culture loves stories about criminal masterminds because they're comforting. It's nice to think that it takes a meticulous genius to evade our competent, dedicated law enforcement. But the truth about how actual serial killers get away with the crimes is, well, less reassuring. For example ...
Ted Bundy Was Reported To Police By His Girlfriend At Least Twice
The world has for some reason decided to make Ted Bundy famous again, with a documentary series and a feature film on Netflix. (OK, maybe it's just Netflix doing it?) Known as a charming, Hollywood-handsome serial killer, he was in actuality an average-looking strangler who'd rape his victims' corpses until they were too rotten to hold up to the rigors. Even his escape attempts (previously featured on Cracked) are more due to the Naked Gun! handling of his case than any wiliness on his part.
If only someone close to him had come forward before he racked up dozens of victims. Someone bold enough to risk everything to call the police and tell them what they knew. Oh, what's that? Someone totally did? And they were ignored?
Elizabeth Kloepfer, who was dating Bundy at the time, was starting to get a little weirded out by his behavior. She got the sinking feeling that his collection of knives and women's stockings wasn't for a drag episode of Iron Chef. Talking with her girlfriends in Seattle, they started piecing together what information they had more than a year before Bundy would be arrested for the first time.
She called the police hotline, pointing out all of the alarming ways her beau matched their suspect. They were looking for a man named Ted, her boyfriend was named Ted. Their Ted drove a VW, her Ted drove a VW. Their Ted had allegedly bludgeoned a woman with a fake cast and another with crutches, her Ted had recently acquired stolen cast-making material and crutches. He spent lots of time he couldn't account for out at night and slept during the day, and had receipts in his car indicating secret road trips. Her BF even resembled the police composite printed onto flyers. Either he was the guy, or the real guy was trying like hell to frame him.
Kloepfer shared all this information with the police while she and Ted were still sharing the same bed and shakily building a life together. Her tip would be lumped in with all the other random tips the police were getting at the time, and ultimately ignored. (The friend insists that they were dismissed because they had said Ted's VW was "tan," and the Ted the cops wanted drove a "bronze" Beetle. There have to be millions of creepy Teds in America driving some similar shade of Beetle, you fool!).
Still, Kloepfer tried again. Ted had moved to Utah, and women started going missing there too. And again, police were looking for a man named Ted who drove a Volkswagen Bug. If you're trying to map out this criminal conspiracy, imagine a bulletin board with a bunch of pieces of red yarn all pointing to Ted Bundy. She called the police again in November and was interviewed, and according to some sources, she tried again a month later. She was told that police had already looked into Bundy and cleared him.
Bundy would finally get arrested in August of 1975, then escape multiple times (in one case, insisting on acting as his own attorney and then escaping from the window of the law library) and continue murdering until 1978. Kloepfer, by the way, continued dating Bundy after his arrest, and even sat with his family at his 1976 trial. You have to think that at that point, even Bundy himself was alarmed by how easy this all was.
Related: The 11 Creepiest Unsolved Crimes No One Can Explain: Part 1
Ed Kemper Was So Beloved By The Cops That They Didn't Believe His Confession
Edmund Kemper was a Sasquatch-sized creep hunting in the streets and hills of early 1970s Santa Cruz, aka the "murder capital of the world." Santa Cruz, a teensy beach town of 32,000 during that era, had at least two serial killers and a mass murderer all stalking its hippiefied Surfin' USA streets at the same time. It was so bad that the town would inspire the fictional vampire haunt of Santa Carla in The Lost Boys.
Kemper grew up in a Harry Potter-like existence, if instead of being a tiny English orphan under the stairs who discovers he's a wizard, he'd been a Hagridpotamus of a child whose mother locked him in the cellar, where he murdered the family cat. He was then shipped off to live with his grandparents, both of whom he shot dead when he was 15. Instead of the magical halls and haunted toilets of Hogwarts, Kemper ended up in the antiseptic wards (and most likely haunted toilets) of Atascadero State Hospital.
At Atascadero, Kemper put on his best Martin Prince routine, and soon found himself aiding in the assessments of the other patients -- something that taught him all the right answers to give whenever he had to face an assessment of his own. By age 21, he was released back into his mother's custody -- cue Psycho theme music -- and she had his record sealed. Kemper wanted to be a cop, but there was a problem. No, not the fact that he'd murdered his grandparents (again, sealed records). At 6'9", he was too big. They apparently didn't make uniforms in size Xtra Lurch.
So he did the next best thing any fanboy does: pretended to be normal and hung around with the police. He drank with them and listened to their off-duty stories at cop bars, using his knowledge of psychology to keep down any crazy vibes. Suffice to say that while all this was going on, Ed was also killing co-eds. During this time, he was informed by his cop buddies that they had no idea who the killer was, and had nothing to go on.
Kemper's behavior escalated to full-on butchery and mutilation, all under the nose of the police he was hanging out with, until his murderous run ended with him killing his mother and her best friend. Kemper says he had sex with his mother's severed head. When he was through with his "work," he drove to Pueblo Colorado and, having heard nothing on the radio about the murders, called the Santa Cruz police to turn himself in. Of course, the cops knew better. Their ol' buddy Ed couldn't possibly be the killer. What a joker. Click. Dial tone.
That was it. They didn't follow up, they didn't do anything. The only thing that prevented any future victims is that instead of simply continuing his murder spree, Kemper persisted, calling back several hours later (this time asking to talk to an officer he personally knew). He told them he'd just murdered his mother, and that they could go look at it if they thought this was all some kind of sad cry for attention. In a lot of serial killer stories, it's the determination of a dogged man that brings justice. In Ed's case, that man was him.
Related: These Unsolved Murders Will Make You Scared Of The Dark
Richard Ramirez Was Twice Stopped By Traffic Cops Who Let Him Get Away
Richard Ramirez, aka "The Night Stalker," terrorized Los Angeles during the bad old days of the neon 1980s. He'd break into people's homes, where he'd alternate between shooting, stabbing, raping, butchering, and robbing his victims. The LSD addict believed in a literal Satan and had a habit of drawing pentagrams. In other words, he wasn't exactly the "walk unseen among the sheep" type.
Ramirez was in the middle of his murder frenzy -- infamously leaving pentagrams on victims and crime scenes -- when in June 1985 he tried and failed to break into one house, then was thwarted by a girl who managed to fight him off and escape. A witness called 911, and Ramirez took off in a stolen Toyota.
He ran a red light, which caught the attention of motorcycle traffic cop John Stavros, who pulled him over. While the cop was writing up the ticket, a call came over the radio for a Mexican man resembling Ramirez, who was wanted for attempted abduction and driving a stolen Toyota. While the light didn't click on for Stavros, it certainly did for Ramirez. This is the conversation that reportedly ensued:
"Hey," Stavros said after Ramirez told him he had left his wallet and ID at home, "you're not that guy killing people in their homes are you?"
"No way, man," Ramirez replied. "When are you guys going to catch that motherfucker?"
"We'll get him," Stavros said.
"Hope so -- I got a wife, you know," Ramirez lied.
"You sure you're not him?"
"Hey man, it's not me. C'mon here."
When the officer returned to his motorcycle, Ramirez drew a pentagram on the hood of the Toyota, said a prayer to Satan, and hopped the guard rail, running off into the night. Even after this, no one made the connection between "attempted rapist/murderer who'd just stolen a Toyota" and "guy who fits that description who happens to be driving a stolen Toyota at the exact same time" and "shady character drawing pentagrams while we're hunting for a killer who draws pentagrams." As a result, Stavros simply had the car impounded instead of checked for evidence.
This is where this tale careens straight into tragedy. What eventually got Ramirez caught was a single fingerprint captured in the last car he stole and thought he had wiped down. This particular car would not only have been covered in prints, but contained other evidence, including a card for an upcoming appointment Ramirez had made with a dentist (he had notoriously horrific teeth). If the cops had found it and staked out the dentist's office, they'd have caught him.
Instead, Ramirez racked up at least six more murders, among a host of other nonfatal shootings, rapes, beatings, and burglaries. He wouldn't go down until August 31 of that year, even though five days before, he was pulled over a second time for traffic violations and again set free. Police Chief Daryl Gates said the officers weren't to blame, because the real Ramirez didn't look anything like his composite drawing from witnesses. That had to have been reassuring for the citizens to hear. All that protects them from the world's monsters is the questionable memory and drawing skills of a couple of strangers. Sleep tight!
Related: The 11 Creepiest Unsolved Crimes No One Can Explain (Part 2)
A Bungled Investigation Let Gary Ridgway Kill For Almost Two Decades
Looking like a Mr. Feeny cosplayer, Gary Ridgway currently holds the record for the most officially recognized homicides of any serial killer in U.S. history -- a feat that becomes far less impressive when you discover this is far more because of a botched investigation than any Lecter-like genius on Ridgway's part.
The whole thing was a bungled nightmare from the start. It took police forever to even start investigating, because they kind of didn't treat the murder of sex workers as a crime, and they hated having to work with their pimps. It would take two years and a whole lot of bodies before they put a task force together to catch the "Green River Killer."
The cops first suspected Ridgway in the early '80s, due to his constant proximity to various sex working trawling grounds and the fact that he was the last male seen with some of the victims. Lacking the evidence to put him away, they figured he'd buckle under the pressure of a lie detector test. After all, it's not like you'd have to be some kind of skilled liar in order to spend years living a double life as a serial killer. Most sources claim that Ridgway passed that test, although some say that at best, he got an incomplete.
Regardless, at this point, the lead detective became convinced that a cab driver, Melvyn Foster, was the culprit and reoriented the task force away from Ridgeway. Foster had given rides to several of the murdered women (not a weird coincidence, since he worked their neighborhood), and had actually called to tell the police what he knew about each of them. The lead detective, Dave Reichert, seemingly decided that the only possible explanation for Foster coming forward was that he himself was the killer.
Foster took it in stride until, after repeated house searches and interrogations, he thought the police were overstepping their authority and said so publicly. Reichert continued to focus on Foster while Ridgway went on killing, until the task force threw up their hands and walked away once it became clear Foster was innocent and no other suspects panned out (including the infamous and well-publicized arrest of a fur trapper named Bill McLean).
The only reason Ridgway was ever caught was that DNA testing technology came around in the 1990s and they had a saliva sample from him that they'd taken in 1987. The crime lab had it tested in 2001, finally linking his spit to the semen found at earlier crime scenes, 18 years after he was first suspected. Ridgway went on to confess to 48 murders in a plea deal (though in some interviews, he claimed it was as many as 71). Reichert, for his part, took credit for the capture, wrote a book about the whole thing, and parlayed it into a seven-term congressional career.
Related: 8 Unsolved Crimes That Were Clearly Committed By Satan
The Police Brought A Jeffrey Dahmer Victim Back to His Murder Apartment
Jeffrey Dahmer was a unique specimen, defying all accepted serial killer psychology. He was an up-close killer and a sex killer, a strangler and a stabber, a mutilator and a cannibal. He stalked the gay scene of 1980s Milwaukee, preying on a subset of that subset, inviting predominantly black men back to a swinging bachelor-murderin' pad that smelled like a Juggalo's armpit.
Dahmer was trying, as far as anyone can tell, to create a zombie sex lover -- someone who could fulfill his needs but had no will of their own. Think Lars And The Real Girl, if Lars was into men, and instead of buying a rubber sex doll, he drilled holes into the skulls of those men and poured acid in their brains.
In 1991, 14-year-old Laotian refugee Konerak Sinthasomphone was found shambling around nude, drugged, and bleeding near Dahmer's apartment by some neighborhood women. The women called 911 to get the boy help. Arriving at the scene, two cops, John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish, believed Dahmer over the women when he arrived on the scene and claimed the boy was his 19-year-old lover who'd had a fight with him and gotten blotto.
In reality, Dahmer had injected the boy's brain with hydrochloric acid, and the boy had no odor of alcohol on his breath. If the cops had done something as simple as ask Dahmer for his ID, they'd have seen he was on probation for child molestation (of Sinthasomphone's older brother, of all people) in 1988. Instead they took the boy back to Dahmer's lair.
There they claimed nothing was amiss, aside from a strong odor of rotting meat, which it turned out was due to the corpse in Dahmer's bedroom. They never checked the boy for injuries, and called off the ambulance that was on the way (paramedics would obviously have found the hole drilled in his head), saying it wasn't needed. They told Dahmer to take good care of the kid, and cracked wise about the incident over the radio. What a delightful anecdote they'd have for the boys back at the station!
Dahmer would kill Sinthasomphone 30 minutes later. He would go on to kill at least four more men before getting caught.
He may not have the highest numbers of the members of this list, but in terms of a cannibal serial killer convincing the police to act as his own Instacart, Dahmer takes first place. Eventually, after the horrifying story went public, the officers were let go. Until they appealed the decision and got reinstated, that is. Eventually, Balcerzak was voted president of the Milwaukee Police Association.
Andrew McRae has books and ebooks available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He can also be found on Instagram and Facebook, as well as writing for Lewtonbus.
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