Oxygen Digital is kicking off its first-ever themed month in June with Crimes of the '80s. We'll explore big trends (drug cartels), sensational cases ("The Preppy Killer"), the decade's most lethal and infamous serial killers (The Night Stalker, The Grim Sleeper) and more.
Some say that the '80s was the peak for serial killers and the public’s fascination with them.
"It does seem the golden age of serial murderers is probably past," said Harold Schechter, a professor who studies crime at Queens College of the City University of New York in a Slate report. That article suggested that serial murders peaked in the '80s and have been declining ever since. Studies have shown that before the '60s, only a dozen or so serial killers were reported — although it's possible less communication and coordination by law enforcement between states resulted in reporting that wasn't as strong. The number of serial killers exceeded 200 in the '80s. By the '90s, the number of cases dropped to 141 and again to 61 by the 2000s. Here are 8 of the most lethal serial killings of the decade.
1. Larry Eyler
Also known as the Highway Murderer and the Interstate Killer, Eyler is believed to have killed between 19 and 23 people from 1982 to 1984. He was convicted and sentenced to death in Illinois for the 1984 murder and dismemberment of a 15-year-old. Eyler confessed to 21 further homicides of young men and boys he had committed between 1982 and 1984 in five separate states before he died. After his death, Eyler’s defense attorney released his list of victims. The list revealed the 17 names whom Eyler had confessed to murdering. Four of them were murdered by an accomplice, later revealed to be Robert David Little, a college professor.
A 1990 book Freed to Kill explored Eyler's possible connection to multiple murders and missing young men in Indiana and Illinois. The book influenced the re-opening of several missing person cases.
2. Joseph Christopher
[Eerie County Sheriffs Department]
This serial killer is also known as the .22-Caliber Killer or the Midtown Slasher. He gained notoriety for a series of murders, estimated at a dozen, in the early 1980s. In addition to killing at least 12, he wounded numerous others. Almost all his victims were African-American.
Lethal is definitely an adjective for this one! He killed a lot of people in very short period of times. Christopher’s killing spree began in September of 1980 when he committed four murders in the space of just 36 hours. Those four killings were committed with a .22 caliber sawed-off rifle, which led to the nickname .22-Caliber Killer. He committed two more murders the next month by bludgeoning his victims to death. After the bludgeoning, he cut out their hearts.
In December of 1980, Christopher stabbed four people to death in Manhattan. He then stabbed a man to death in Buffalo, New York and another in Rochester, NY, also both in December.
3. Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker 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.
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. Doug Clark and Carol Bundy
[Los Angeles Police Department]
Douglas Daniel Clark and his accomplice Carol M. Bundy were known as the "Sunset Strip Killers." They were convicted of a series of killings in Los Angeles. The two murdered seven people in 1980 alone.
The pair met at a bar in 1980 and moved in together almost immediately. Soon, Clark began bringing prostitutes home for threesomes. At the same time, Clark began eyeing the couple’s 11-year-old neighbor. Bundy helped him lure the girl back to their apartment, where they coerced her playing sexual games. They also photographed her inappropriately. But sexually abusing the child got old for Clark, who began sharing his fantasies of killing women during sex with Bundy.
By June of 1980, Clark picked up two teenage girls on the Sunset Strip. He killed them and raped their corpses. Bundy was apparently disturbed enough to call the police, she didn’t revealed Clark's identity. Two weeks later, Clark killed two more: a pair of prostitutes and he brought one of their decapitated heads home. Bundy would put makeup on the head before indulging in necrophilia with it.
Bundy was also guilty of decapitation. She was having a fling with a local singer named John Murray and Bundy accidently told him details of her and Clark’s sexual and murderous activities. Worried that Murray would go to the police, Bundy shot him in the head before decapitating him.
5. Jeffrey Dahmer
Known as the Cannibal Killer, Dahmer killed 17 people between 1978 and 1991. Most of his victims were killed during the 1980s.
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. He even filleted one victim’s heart. In addition to eating some of the people he killed, he kept skulls and genitals.
6. Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole
Toole was convicted of six murders and Lucas was convicted of 11, but the lovers confessed to hundreds more. The two also confessed to cannibalism.
Lucas had been raised by an abusive mother who allegedly forced him to copulate with dead animals. He stabbed her to death in 1960, which resulted in some jail time. Lucas met Toole at a soup kitchen in 1976 and the pair soon began a sexual relationship. Together they began abducting, raping, and murdering people while drifting around the country. Many of their alleged murders took place in the early ‘80s. Their killing spree inspired the 1986 film Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Toole confessed to the 1981 murder of Adam Walsh, son of "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh. Lucas confessed to hundreds of murders, and was eventually convicted of 11 homicides, including the death of Frieda Powell, Toole's young niece. By 1986 he “helped” clear 213 unsolved cases.
7. Connecticut River Valley Killer
This 1980s serial killer was never caught. However, police believe that his murders have stopped. The Connecticut River Valley Killer is believed to have killed seven women in the Connecticut River Valley which spans from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Three of the murder victims were hitchhiking and were abducted before being killed. Another victim was doing yard work. Two victims were alone on a road when they were slain. Another, was photographing birds in a Wetland Preserve. The majority of the women suffered multiple knife wounds. Authorities believed the killer’s last murder was in 1987. The mysterious murderer may have struck again though in 1988: a woman was dragged from her vehicle and attacked while sitting in her car at a gas station. She was stabbed 27 times but survived. In fact, she was able to drive away from the scene!
7. Lonnie David Franklin Jr.
Also known as the Grim Sleeper, Franklin is responsible for killing 10 - 25 or more victims. Most of his killings took place in the mid-’80s. He was dubbed the Grim Sleeper because he apparently took a 14-year-hiatus from killing: from 1988 to 2002.
Following the deaths of several women in south Los Angeles in 1980s, community members banned together to form the "Black Women Count" movement. This group pressured police into acknowledging the deaths as serial killings. The group also pushed police to form a task force to find the killer. Soon after, police determined that the crimes were committed by a person labeled the Southside Slayer, which authorities announced to the public in 1985.
Franklin wasn’t caught until 2007 when a murdered woman was matched through DNA analysis to at least 11 unsolved murders in Los Angeles.