Serial killers are a subject of gruesome interest for many people around the world, with numerous popular documentaries focused on detailing some of the worst the world has ever seen. More often than not however, our interest in their spine-chilling behaviour diminishes just before they get caught, when they get messy. Notorious for being hard to track down, these sly individuals will go to any length to avoid capture—but that can also lead to their downfall in the most bizarre and hilarious ways.
So grab some popcorn, dim the lights and get comfortable as we list off the 15 funniest ways that serial killers have been caught.
Dennis Lynn Rader—known as the BTK killer—was an American serial killer active between 1974 and 1991 who murdered ten people in Wichita and Park City, Kansas. He would send gruesome letters to the police and newspapers detailing the horrific nature of his crimes. Towards the end of his reign of terror, Rader started to send care packages to the police, but quickly realised this was an inefficient means of contact. This is where his cockiness got the better of him. He asked the police if floppy disks could be traced and, naturally, the police told him with a big wink that they were completely safe. They then proceeded to track the disk to where it was last used—Rader’s church, under an account with his own name. Tough luck, buddy.
Terrorising Los Angeles between 1984 and 2007, the Grim Sleeper—real name Lonnie David Franklin Jr—killed over ten people and was responsible for one attempted murder. He got his nickname after taking a 14-year break from killing between 1988 and 2002. Police had the DNA of the killer but couldn’t trace it to anyone until 2008 when a young man was arrested on weapons charges. When he was entered into the database, it just so happened that he was a relative of the mysterious murderer they so desperately needed to catch. Thanks to a slice of pizza found in a rubbish bin, police were able to narrow down their search to the boy’s father, the real Grim Sleeper. See what happens when you sleep on the job?
Another serial killer, another DNA debacle. Joseph James DeAngelo Jr—-known as the Golden State Killer—commited 13 murders, 50 rapes and over 120 burglaries across California between 1974 and 1986. His nickname was coined by crime writer Michelle McNamara who heightened awareness of the case in 2013 through her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer. Investigators eventually traced DeAngelo Jr after decades of dead ends when they decided to check through genealogy websites and found a member of DeAngelo Jr’s family. Naturally, this led to the capture of the Golden State Killer. That’ll teach you to not post everything about yourself online, eh?
Imagine thinking you were the cream of the crop of serial killers, having gotten away with countless cases of murder—among many other horrific crimes—only to be outed by a group of grannies.
Well, that’s what happened to Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker. Ramirez was out of town when he was initially identified. When the prolific serial killer entered a convenience store, a group of elderly ladies pointed at him and began shouting ‘El Matador’. Ramirez noticed his face on the front of a newspaper and immediately tried to flee, only to be followed by the angry pensioners. This chase picked up momentum as more and more furious locals joined in, and by the time the police showed up many were giving him the beating he deserved. Talk about a citizen’s arrest!
We’ve all been there. You park up and pop to the shop just to get some milk and by the time you’ve come back, boom, you’ve got a parking ticket. Leaves you frustrated, right? Not as frustrated as the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz. The killer who pleaded guilty to eight shootings was caught when, during one of his murders, a witness heard the gunshot and then saw Berkowitz holding the gun. He fled in his Ford Galaxie and it could have ended there, however the witness recalled seeing a parking ticket on the Son of Sam’s car. Police checked their record, found the offending car—and its owner—and promptly arrested Berkowitz. For once, a parking ticket came in handy.
Remember those old Looney Tunes cartoons you watched as a kid? Bugs Bunny would always outfox Elmer Fudd’s plans to catch him and it would leave us all in stitches. Now imagine Elmer Fudd is Eric Edgar Cooke—the Night Caller—and the police are Bugs Bunny. You can see where this is going. In 1963, Perth, Western Australia, police found a rifle discarded in a bush which they were certain belonged to Cooke. They replaced it with a replica, tied a nearly invisible fishing line to it and waited in a makeshift hide for him to come back and retrieve it. 17 days later, Cooke appeared and was arrested. That’s all, folks.
Remember back in 2019 when Netflix released its documentary Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and everyone decided that he was attractive? Yeah, what a weird time to be alive. Turns out that the smooth-talking serial killer wasn’t as smart as he liked to think. After escaping prison for the upteenth time, Bundy stole a car and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was over before it had even begun. A police officer noticed the car being driven erratically and ran the plates, discovered it was stolen and pulled Bundy over. The crafty criminal continued to try it on by giving the officer a fake ID and for two days they thought they had someone completely different before Bundy pulled a Scooby-Doo and revealed his true identity.
Everyone knows the name Jeffery Dahmer. If not because of his notoriety as a serial killer and cannibal, then at least from the popular Ke$ha song. It seems however that Dahmer bit off more than he could chew with his last would-be victim, Tracy Edwards. Edwards somehow managed to get in Dahmer’s good books as the two spent a rather peculiar night in the cannibal’s apartment watching The Exorcist III with Edwards handcuffed so as not to try anything funny. But try something funny he did as when asking if he could use the bathroom, Dahmer agreed and removed the handcuffs. Edwards took this smallest of opportunities to give the Milwaukee Cannibal a hefty whack and fled the apartment through the unlocked front door.
We’re taking a trip back to the 1920s with this one. Albert Fish was a prolific child murderer of the time who commited a minimum of three murders, but was suspected of many more. Fish felt unstoppable, which is probably why he got cocky and decided to send an anonymous letter to his last victim’s parents, describing in gory detail what he had done to her. This letter is what would lead police straight to him. The envelope Fish had used was that of a private chauffeur company. A janitor who worked for the company and lived in the rooms prior to Fish had taken some stationary home and left it in the residence when he had moved. Upon following the lead, police found Fish had checked out days before, but a trap was set, Fish was lured back, and police arrested him. Like shooting fish in a barrel.
With all the controversy surrounding police at the moment, not many of us want to talk to them, let alone be friends with them. But Ed Kemper had other ideas. The Co-ed Killer took the old saying “keep your friends close but your enemies closer” a little too seriously it seems. He hung out in bars frequented by police and became so friendly with them they even gave him his own nickname, ‘Big Ed’. His ruse was so convincing that even after confessing to being the Co-ed Killer, his police chums thought it was all just a big prank. It wasn’t until he divulged information that only the killer would know that they believed him and took him in. A true member of the Prank Patrol.
Everyone knows you should only flush bog roll down the toilet. Dennis Nilsen, however, didn’t get the memo. Convicted of 15 murders, residents of the apartment block he lived in, and even Nilsen himself, filed complaints of clogged and stinky drains. It seems Nilsen had forgotten about all the body parts he had flushed down there…
Good manners cost nothing. But it appears Geovanni Borjas couldn’t afford them. Police were sure he was linked to some cold case murders they were looking into but needed his DNA to confirm it. So they just followed him around until he spat on the pavement and collected the evidence. Case closed.
With the invention of dating apps, it’s become easier than ever for serial killers to select their victims. It does however leave you with a rather big digital trail as Drayton found out when he was arrested for holding women he had met on a dating site captive. Police soon connected him to a whole host of other victims, not a difficult feat mind you, as they were all in his Tinder history. Swipe game weak.
Credit card fraud has devastating consequences for the people being defrauded, but little did Israel Keyes know that using his last victim’s card—at a public ATM no less—would grant him a one way ticket to the slammer. CCTV footage, common at most ATMs, helped identify the killer. Card declined.
We all know Herbie, the lovable sentient Volkswagen (VW) beetle. But when Charles Manson and some of his ‘family’—they weren’t real family, just crazy followers in his cult—were arrested for a spate of VW beetle thefts which they planned to convert into dune buggies (what is this, Mad Max?) the police discovered something far more sinister. At the same time, the authorities had been investigating a group of high profile murders, and it wasn’t until Susan Atkins, one of Manson’s followers, bragged about tasting one of the victim’s blood that they put two and two together.
“Warning: don’t meet up with this person on Facebook Marketplace, you could get robbed!” read a news update posted by CW39 Houston on 16 April 2021. In the article, the Houston Police Department warned citizens to be on the lookout for Shawnne Williams, who was accused of robbing six different people after meeting them on the platform.
The same month, 54 year-old Denise Williams responded to a listing on Facebook Marketplace about a “cheap refrigerator” in hopes of gifting one to her boyfriend. But when she got to the apartment of the seller, identified as 26 year-old Joshua Gorgone, she was stabbed multiple times—later passing away due to massive blood loss. In May, more transactions and meetups on the platform turned lethal—with reports of at least 13 murders since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic alone.
According to The Sun, these reports include the case of Melissa Miller, who was shot to death by a buyer who showed up at her apartment to “check out” a computer she had listed on Marketplace. In June, 26 year-old Kyle Craig was robbed and shot multiple times when he took a big sum of money to a buyer-seller meetup arranged on the platform. Additionally, teenagers Charlie Perez and Enrique Gonzale were reportedly lured into Englewood, Chicago, for a meetup—where they were shot dead by the buyer who had supposedly expressed interest in Perez’s father’s Honda Civic.
Violent acts like these aren’t unique to Facebook. Who can forget the era of Philip Markoff, aka the ‘Craigslist Killer’ who allegedly met all his victims through ads placed on the advertisements site Craigslist? Male escort and porn actor Luka Magnotta, who reportedly met his victim Lin Jun on the same platform, is definitely not out of the loop in this case. One major reason for concern here, however, is reports finding Facebook Marketplace to be larger than Craigslist in the US—housing more than 1 billion users worldwide.
It doesn’t end there. Apart from these violent crimes, a new report by ProPublica details a string of scams on the platform involving everything from work visas and vaccine cards to male enhancement products and Brazilian rainforest land. Fraudsters here are targeting both buyers and sellers—resulting in financial losses, hacked Facebook accounts and stolen personal information.
“Since the start of the pandemic, criminals across America have exploited Marketplace to commit armed robberies and, in 13 instances identified by ProPublica, homicide,” the non-profit newsroom wrote in the report, adding how the profile of Denise Williams’ killer remained online with active listings until ProPublica contacted Facebook.
Facebook Marketplace was launched in 2016 after the social media giant witnessed the popularity of local Facebook groups dedicated to trading and selling various items. Facebook therefore created the service as a dedicated hub where people could post items for sale and connect with interested buyers—usually living in the same area to complete the transaction effortlessly.
Hitting 1 billion users a month this spring, Marketplace is undoubtedly a business success. However, this growth has partly been built on the company’s assurances about the safety of its platform in the first place. “Marketplace lets you see what real people in your own community are selling,” Facebook assures. “You can see their public Facebook profile, mutual friends and seller ratings so you can feel confident in your purchase.”
This confidence may be misguided. Although Facebook claims to protect users through a mix of automated systems and human reviews, the ProPublica investigation—based on internal corporate documents, interviews and law enforcement records—reveals how those safeguards fail to protect buyers and sellers from scam listings, fake accounts and even violent crimes.
“Marketplace’s first line of defense consists of software that scans each listing for signs of fraud or other suspicious signals before it goes live,” the report reads. “But Marketplace workers said these detection services frequently fail to ban obvious scams and listings that violate Facebook’s commerce policies.” The investigation also found how these automated systems sometimes even block legitimate consumers from using the platform.
According to ProPublica, such flaws reflect Facebook’s approach to overseeing its platform as a whole. “It launches and scales new products rapidly—thanks to an unrivaled user base of roughly 3 billion people—and then leans heavily on automated systems, low-paid contractors and a smaller number of full-time Facebook employees to enforce its rules.” This approach has essentially fostered misinformation on the networking site, with Facebook groups becoming “hotbeds of violent speech and radicalisation.” This, in turn, has enabled scammers to earn millions by placing ads that rip off users.
Then there is the entire case of boosting such advertisements. While Facebook doesn’t take a cut of the sales happening on Marketplace, it does allow users to pay and “boost” a listing in order to increase its visibility. Although the platform claims to invest heavily in ad review and refund advertisers whose accounts were compromised and used to buy ads, ProPublica noted the case of Reeves, a Louisiana-based IT consultant who tracks Marketplace scams.
According to the consultant, Facebook is profiting from bogus vehicle and real estate ads. This criticism stems from his chat with real estate agents and others whose accounts were hacked and used to post advertisements on Marketplace. “Facebook is an accessory by accepting money for scam ads,” he added.
When ProPublica reached out to Facebook, the tech giant claimed how “all online marketplaces face challenges, and ours is no exception, which is why we’re always working to prevent new ways to scam and defraud people.” Facebook also added how “any suggestion that we aren’t trying to solve these complex problems or protect people who use Marketplace is not only false but misunderstands our entire approach to safety.”
Although Facebook has a plethora of areas it needs to improve upon, all these moves would essentially slow down its growth—which is a goal the platform is touting at the moment. ProPublica additionally noted how the company recently told its investors that Facebook Marketplace is one of its most “promising new sources of revenue.”
While Facebook allegedly continues to work on ways to prevent such fraud and violent crime on Marketplace, let’s address some personal measures you could take to stay safe on the platform. For starters, take your time and thoroughly investigate the seller’s profile for telltale signs of a scammer before buying something off Marketplace. A key aspect to look out for is the date the Facebook account was created. Brand new accounts, in this case, are a red flag. A quick reverse image search of their profile picture will also help you strengthen your research.
Next is to avoid meeting up with a potential buyer or seller at their house for the transaction. Instead, suggest public spaces as the ideal meetup spot. According to CNET, many police stations also have “exchange spots” in their parking lots to facilitate such activity. Even if your local station doesn’t have a designated exchange area, meeting in the parking lot of police stations, in clear view of security cameras, is the safest way to meet any stranger. You can even bring a friend along to double your safety or share your location with someone you trust all the while. If the other person suggests a spot, make sure to look it up and snoop around before agreeing to meet them there.
Another tip is to avoid carrying huge sums of money in cash. At the same time, be cautious of buyers and sellers who insist on communicating or receiving payments outside of Facebook’s official channels. Always make sure to engage in such transactions where their correspondence can be monitored—be it while making the deal virtually or meeting up physically. And if they ever show signs of flakiness, back out. With new e-commerce and thrifting platforms surfacing everyday as we speak, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for elsewhere anyways.