A great number of serial killers are psychopaths and sociopaths, according to experts. With psychopathy and sociopathy comes a high level of charm. Take a look at 7 serial killers that charmed their way into politics, onto national television and into women's hearts.
1. H.H. Holmes
H.H. Holmes, also known as Herman Webster Mudgett and Dr. Henry H. Holmes, is one of the first documented serial killers. He confessed to 27 murders between 1888 and 1894, but it is believed that he could have killed up to 200 people.
His charm led to him being a successful con artist. He purchased a drugstore with funds obtained by mortgaging the store's fixtures and stock, and according to Biography, the previous owner mysteriously disappeared. Holmes made money there by selling water that he claimed could cure the sick.
Holmes soon purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore, where he built a three-story, block-long building, that according to Biography, was called the “Murder Castle.” Some of its rooms had gas jets to asphyxiate victims. There were also trapdoors and chutes, according to reports, so that he could move the bodies down to the basement. He disposed the bodies in a kiln located in the basement. Some of his victims were lured to the “Murder Castle” with the promise of potential employment. But, most of his victims were women whom he seduced, according to Biography. Mudgett also repeatedly got engaged to women - and then they would go missing.
2. John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy, also known as the “Killer Clown” sexually assaulted, tortured and killed at least 33 young men (some of which were teens) between 1972 and 1978. Not only was he married with kids, but he was a successful business contractor.
Gacy was well known and respected in his suburban community, according to Psychology Today. He became involved in local politics and was named Junior Chamber of Commerce “Man of the Year.” He even escorted President Jimmy Carter’s wife on one of her visits to Chicago. During charitable services at fundraising events such as parades and children's parties, Gacy would dress up as "Pogo the Clown.” Gacy painted self-portraits of himself as the clown. He was thought of as an all-around family man - a lover of children. All the while, he was burying the bodies of his victims in the crawl space of his own home.
3. Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, attracted a large following of female admirers after his crimes. He killed 14 people within a short span between 1984 and 1985. He used a variety of weapons to kill his victims that ranged from guns to knives to tire irons and hammers. Ramirez wasn’t picky about age or gender either. His victims ranged from age 9 to 79, and he killed both men and women. During his spree, he nearly paralyzed Los Angeles with fear.
One of his admirers, Doreen Lioy, wrote him nearly 75 letters during his incarceration, according to CNN. She described him as funny and charming. In 1996, they were married in prison.
Ramirez often smiled for the cameras at his trial and when he was convicted, he was heard to say, “No big deal. Death always comes with the territory. I’ll see you in Disneyland.”
4. Rodney Alcala
He was so likeable, he charmed his way onto national television in 1978 in the midst of his killings. According to Rolling Stone, Alcala had already murdered four people and raped an 8-year-old before winning as Bachelor #1 on an episode of The Dating Game. The bachelorette actually declined the date after selecting him because she found him creepy. It’s actually shocking that he got on the show in the first place, because although his serial killing was still a secret, his child rape was not. He was convicted in 1972 for the rape of the 8-year-old, for which he served some time. The FBI even added Alcala to its list of 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list in early 1971 - before his game show appearance.
Alcala’s body count is unknown, but police estimate that he may have killed as many as 130 women between 1971 and 1979. There are still over 100 photographs of unidentified women who may have been his victims. His photos have been released, and many news outlets, including NBC, have asked the public if they can ID anyone photographed. Many of the females photographed are children.
The Dating Show host introduced Alcala as a “successful photographer” and authorities believe that Alcala used charm and his above-average intelligence to get women to let him take their picture.
5. Robert Hansen
[Anchorage Police Department]
Hansen was a charming, soft-spoken Alaskan baker who followed in his father's baking footsteps. Hansen was married and was well-loved by neighbors and residents in Anchorage, according to the Line Up. And, he excelled at hunting - in more ways than one. He murdered at least 17 between 1971 and 1983, but police estimate that number may be higher. He hunted his victims down in the woods with a Ruger Mini-14 and other weapons. According to reports, he also raped and sexually assaulted over 30 women. People who knew him before the murders thought of him as “mild-mannered Bob the Baker,” according to Alaska Dispatch News.
Hansen was caught after a 17-year-old managed to escape one of his attacks. The victim told police that he offered her money in exchange for oral sex. According to the Line Up, she got in his car, where he pulled a gun on her. Hansen drove her home to torture and rape her, chaining her by neck to a post in his basement. A 2013 film The Frozen Ground is based on the events. Hansen is played by John Cusack.
6. Jeffrey Dahmer
Known as the “Cannibal Killer,” Dahmer killed 17 people between 1978 and 1991. He murdered his first victim (18-year-old hitchhiker whom he'd lured home for a drink), a few weeks after graduating high school. Despite being considered an outcast in school, he did charm his high school classmates and became a class clown of sorts. He staged pranks to amuse them, which according to various reports, became known around school as "Doing a Dahmer.” Pranks included him knocking over items while simulating epileptic seizures or cerebral palsy.
Dahmer was reported to eat some of his later victims, most of whom he lured home from gay bars. He also preserved some of their body parts. According to Biography, he tried to eat one of his victim’s thighs and filleted their heart. He also kept skulls and genitals and Polaroid photographs of dismembered victims.
Dahmer even seemed to charm clinical psychologist Samuel Friedman, a court-appointed mental health professional, who testified independently of prosecution or defense. He described Dahmer as "amiable, pleasant to be with, courteous, with a sense of humor, conventionally handsome, and charming in manner. He was, and still is, a bright young man."
Dahmer's fellow inmates weren’t charmed by him, though. One of them beat him to death in 1994.
7. Ted Bundy
[Salt Lake County Jail]
When people think of charming serial killers, they typically think of Ted Bundy. He confessed to having killed over 30 women between 1973 and 1978, but his actual body count is unknown. It is reported that he severed the heads of about a dozen of his victims. His modus operandi: fake an injury and ask women in parking lots for help getting into his Volkswagen, according to People. Anyone generous enough to help would be hit with a crowbar and driven to an isolated place - where he murdered them. There, he often had sex with their corpse. It isn’t difficult to see why women would have been charmed by his scheme: he appeared non-threatening, especially when he was faking an injury - and he was considered handsome. Sometimes, he would approach his victims by impersonating a police officer, according to People.
According to Biography, his charm made him something of a celebrity during his trial, and his case inspired many novels and films.
According to the Telegraph, Bundy received hundreds of letters, including marriage proposals, from female fans while on trial and in prison. A woman also married him in 1979, while he was trial for multiple homicides.