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Crime News Serial Killers

Serial Killers Who Were Married While They Murdered

Some carry bigger secrets in their marriage than others, like stowing bodies in the family home's crawlspace.

By Christina Coulter
Serial Killers that Charmed Their Victims

Before they were apprehended, many serial killers maintained relationships with their children, communities and even entirely unsuspecting romantic partners.

Many of these women — notably, notorious killer Ted Bundy's longtime girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall, who stayed with him even after Salt Lake City victim Carol DaRonch positively identified him as her attacker (Bundy and Kendall didn't make this list because they were never married) — could not believe that their partners were guilty of the atrocities they were accused of, even after evidence against them continued to mount. 

Decades after she had broken off her five-year relationship with Bundy, who confessed to killing 30 victims in the 1970s, Kendall told Vanity Fair in 2020 that she was disgusted by the obvious affection she still had for her ex while rereading her 1981 memoir "The Phantom Prince." 

“I still viewed him as the Ted that I thought I knew, because I just couldn’t wrap my head around what they were saying he had done. And so many years later, after much counseling, praying, and growing, I’ve accepted that he is who he was accused of being," she told the outlet. "

I still have moments where I get confused."

RELATED: After Sherri Papini Admitted To Her Kidnapping Hoax, What Happened To Her Husband?

Psychopaths are capable of a high level of cognitive flexibility, allowing them to compartmentalize, and for the parts of themselves capable of violence to coexist with their familial and social roles. BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) Killer Dennis Rader, who murdered at least 10 in Wichita, Kansas between 1974 and 1991, described that compartmentalization as "cubing" — treating his personalities as multiple sides of a cube that he could turn to face outward at will. When he showed one side, like his "family man" or "church leader" personality, the others hovered in wait.

For more on serial killer romances, check out Oxygen's "Living with a Serial Killer."

1. "BTK" Killer Dennis Rader

Dennis Rader G

Dennis Rader, 77, who is currently serving a life sentence at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, tortured and murdered at least 10 people, including two children, over a 27-year period. Before his sexually-driven killing spree began, Rader kept his violent urges toward women to fantasy, only carrying out his first killing six years into his marriage with Paula Dietz. 

From the outside, Rader appeared to live a normal life — he was a Cub Scout leader and was elected as the President of the Christ Lutheran Church council in Wichita (Rader was ultimately apprehended in 2004 after metadata from a boasting letter to the Wichita Eagle was traced back to a computer at that church.)

Rader even managed to space out his killings. After his first strike in January of 1974, when he strangled married couple Joseph and Julia Otero, their 9-year-old son and their 11-year-old daughter in their own home, he laid in wait for three months before acting again. His first son, Brian, had been born just six weeks earlier. 

After killing Kathryn Bright in April of 1974, stabbing her three times in the stomach, Rader was inactive for three years. And after killing three women over the course of 1977, he took a break from killing when his daughter was born, waiting to strike again in 1985 and earning a degree in Administrative Justice from Wichita State University in 1979. 

Evidence of Rader's predilection for torture and murder was never far from his unsuspecting wife. When he was arrested in 2005, the killer admitted to a mountain of evidence hidden under the floorboards of his family's home, including photos of Rader wearing victims' clothing and a chilling female mask. 

At one point, Dietz happened upon a chilling poem written by her husband about one of his victims, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. 

Rader managed to convince her that the poem — entitled "Shirley Locks" and written about his sixth victim, Shirley Vian Relford — was an assignment for one of his Wichita State University courses. 

“It scared, scared her,” Rader told police, according to the Journal-World. “She said, ‘Well, what’s these?’ I said, ‘Well, we are working drafts because we are doing this BTK thing, whatever, you know, at school.'”

Rader had sent countless taunting letters to the press over his period of activity, coining the nickname "BTK" himself.

In an interview with ABC News, Rader's daughter, Kerri Rawson, described speaking with her mother after FBI agents informed her family of the accusations against Rader in February of 2005. It came as a total shock when authorities told Rader's family that their father and husband was the elusive killer.

"You could just hear [my mother] break... just utter grief and loss," Rawson recalled. 

Dietz was granted an emergency divorce from Rader in July of 2005 and moved away from Kansas, according to the Wichita Eagle

2. Robert Hansen

Robert Hansen

Killer Robert Hansen, who confessed to abducting, raping and murdering 17 women in Alaska between 1971 and 1983, told his wife that he'd gotten a pilot's license and small plane for big game hunting in the Alaskan wilderness. In reality, he flew sex workers to remote areas of the wilderness after days of torture, stripping them naked then hunting them like animals. 

He even brought would-be victim Cindy Paulson, who ultimately escaped, leading to his arrest, to his family home, where he tied her to a post and raped her for several hours. In a police interview with Alaskan State Trooper Sgt. Glenn Flothe after her escape, Paulson said that she had the feeling that other people lived in the house, recalling women's clothing, toys and dogs wandering around the premises. At the time, Hansen's wife and children were away in Arkansas.

His wife, Darla Marie Hansen, stood by her husband throughout several run-ins with the law. At one point, he was arrested for stealing a chainsaw from a hardware store, according to biographical author Leland Hale, and at another he was caught filing a fraudulent insurance claim to get money to open his bakery. 

Hansen was arrested twice in 1971, according to Hale — once for attempting to kidnap a woman at gunpoint from her apartment in South Anchorage, and again for raping an unidentified sex worker. Although the second charge was dropped in a plea bargain, Hansen was charged with five years for the robbery, serving six months in prison before joining a work-release program. During that time, Darla "visited him in jail, kids in tow, though even Bob knew it was profoundly humiliating for her. Stayed with him though he was verbally abusive to her and the children," according to Hale. 

Darla, Hale wrote, was deeply religious and thought she could help him, that "getting Bob to attend church would guide him toward a path of righteousness." However, to her knowledge, that did not go beyond soliciting prostitutes in the wee hours of the night - she was unaware her husband was a killer until his conviction. 

When Hansen was convicted in 1983, Darla divorced him and moved with their two children to Arkansas.

3. "Golden State Killer" Joseph DeAngelo 

Joseph James Deangelo Ap

One of California's most infamous serial killers, Joseph DeAngelo, committed at least 51 rapes, 13 murders and 120 residential burglaries between 1974 and 1986. In 2018, then 72-year-old DeAngelo was arrested for eight counts of first-degree murder after one of his family members submitted their DNA to a genetic genealogy company. 

Sharon Huddle, a family law attorney, married DeAngelo in 1973, the year he joined the Exeter Police Department. The pair were married for 40 years before she split with DeAngelo in 1991, but their divorce was never finalized. 

On the surface, DeAngelo was an upstanding man. He earned several medals for his service in Vietnam, where he lost one of his fingers, and was even profiled as a promising new hire to the police department by the Sacramento Bee. He met Huddle while she was studying family law at California State Sacramento and he studied Criminal Justice.

By the time his first daughter was born in 1981, DeAngelo had already carried out at least 50 rapes as the "East Area Rapist" and robbed about 100 homes as the "Visalia Ransacker." He and his wife went on to have two more children.

Not much is known about Huddle, and she has only produced one public statement since her estranged husband's arrest. 

“My thoughts and prayers are for the victims and their families," she said in a statement issued through the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department in 2018. 

"The press has relentlessly pursued interviews of me. I will not be giving any interviews for the foreseeable future. I ask the press to please respect my privacy and that of my children."

4. Mikhail Popkov 

Mikhail Popkov

Russian serial killer and necrophile Mikhail "The Werewolf" Popkov, a former police officer-turned-killer, was convicted of 22 murders and two attempted murders in 2015, and another 59 killings in 2018. He has confessed to 83 total murders since his arrest in 2012, and yet, his wife Elena Popkov has stalwartly refused to believe that her husband is a killer. 

"We have been married for 28 years," she told the Siberian Times in 2015. "If I suspected something wrong, of course, I would divorce him. If he were to be released right now, I would not say a word and we would continue to live together."

"I love him, I support him," she continued. "He did not cause me any harm for all these years. I felt safe with him."

However, Elena and her daughter with Popkov, Ekaterina, moved from their town of Angarsk, where "The Werewolf" carried out his murders, because they found it too difficult to continue to live there after her husband's crimes were publicized. 

Popkov allegedly attacked his victims with axes, knives and screwdrivers. He beheaded at least one woman, and carved out another's heart. 

He told investigators that he carried out his years-long reign of terror to "cleanse" the streets of prostitutes, according to the Siberian Times, and even said he was enraged into action after finding two condoms in his home, suspecting that his wife was cheating on him. 

However, the outlet claimed, the contraceptives had just been used by guests. 

5. John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy G

In 1972, John Wayne Gacy married Carole Hoff, a divorcee with two young daughters. He also began his years-long killing spree of boys and men that same year, brutally torturing and raping his victims. Twenty-six of his 33 victims' corpses were recovered in the crawlspace of the Des Plaines, Illinois home that Gacy shared with his wife, three more had been buried in their backyard, and he confessed to discarding another four in the Des Plaines River. 

Gacy had been convicted of the sodomy of a teenage boy in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1968 and served 18 months of a 10-year prison sentence. It is unclear whether Hoff was aware of the prior conviction. 

But three years after their marriage, in 1975, Gacy told his wife that he was bisexual, and that Mother's Day of that year would be the "last time" they made love, according to Tim Cahill's "Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer." After watching Gacy bring teenage boys back to their home and discovering gay pornography, Hoff asked for a divorce, which was finalized in 1976. 

Whenever Hoff complained of the smell coming from their crawlspace, according to Cahill's book, he would tell her that rodents had died underneath the house.

6. "The Butcher of Rostov" Andrei Chikatilo

Andrei Chikatilo

Andrei Chikatilo, another Soviet serial killer, murdered at least 56 women and children between 1978 and 1990 in the Russian SFSR and the Uzbek SSR. After confessing to eating parts of his victims' bodies after his conviction in 1992, he became known as the "Rostov Ripper" and the "Butcher of Rostov" among local media. 

In 1963, Chikatilo's family arranged his marriage to Feodosia Odnacheva. The murderer said in later interviews, according to "The Killer Department: Detective Viktor Burakov's Eight-year Hunt for the Most Savage Serial Killer of our Times," that he was unable to maintain an erection with his wife, although he found her "very attractive." He conceived their daughter by manually inserting his semen into his wife with his hands, he said. 

Chikatilo went on to rape and assault other women and children. During his first-documented murder in 1978, he lured 9-year-old Yelena Zakotnova to a dilapidated hut and confessed to ejaculating while he stabbed the child to death. Often, when he was unable to maintain an erection, the killer would imitate performing intercourse while stabbing his victims. 

During Chikatilo's trial, he was made to stand behind a metal cage for his own protection against enraged onlookers. He was sentenced to death by a single gunshot to the head in 1994; it is unclear whether Odnacheva was ever granted a divorce. 

7. "Green River Killer" Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway G 2

Judith Mawson, the previously-unsuspecting wife of notorious killer Gary Leon Ridgway, told People Magazine after his conviction that her husband "made me smile every day." 

"I had the perfect husband, perfect life. I absolutely adored him."

Mawson recalled how she was swept off her feet by Ridgway when they met in a bar in 1985. They were soon married and stayed together for 16 years up until his arrest.

After Ridgway was arrested in 2001, when four women's deaths were linked to him via DNA evidence, he confessed to 71 murders. Ultimately, he was convicted of 49, and avoided the death penalty by sharing the locations of his still-missing victims. 

"I was crying 'no, it can't be him,'" Mawson told People. "Then I found out that he'd had the carpets removed because he'd killed women on them and there were bloodstains. He'd had sex with some of them on the bed and killed them." 

"I look back and think, 'was my life real with him or did he just use me?'"

In 2007, Mawson went on to write "Green River Serial Killer: Biography of an Unsuspecting Wife."

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