Oxygen Insider Exclusive!

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive videos, breaking news, sweepstakes, and more!

Sign Up for Free to View
Crime News Halloween

From The Zodiac Killer To John Wayne Gacy: 5 Creepy Murderers Who Wore Costumes

Some dressed as clowns, others imitated iconic movie characters.

By Gina Tron

Murderers are terrifying enough on their own — but some choose to take it to the next level by wearing creepy costumes while committing their crimes. 

Why do killers do such a thing? 

First off, Tim Pilleri, one of the two hosts behind the true crime-based Crawlspace Podcast, said it's important to remember that it is truly a rare phenomenon.

"It's highly unusual for a killer to wear a costume or mask," he told Oxygen.com. "It's nearly unheard of in true crime. It's something that's much more common in movies and pop culture, and I think the reason for that is it's not logistical. Imagine trying to hit a baseball with a Michael Myers mask on. It makes things harder, even though a mask or costume might scare a would-be victim even more than an unmasked face."

However, just because it's rare doesn't mean it doesn't happen. Pilleri's co-host, Lance Reenstierna, told Oxgyen.com that aside from using costumes to conceal one's likeness and to instill fear and intimidation, there are numerous reasons for why a person committing a crime as horrible as murder would want to wear a costume.

"A reason I always gravitate towards is that a psychopath has no real sense of his or her self," he said. "In a sense, their actual faces are the mask."

 With that in mind, here are some of the most horrifying costumes worn by killers.

1. Clowns

On a May morning in 1990, Marlene Warren answered her front door in an upscale Florida suburb to find a clown in an orange wig, red nose, and white face paint handing her carnations and foil balloons.

“How pretty!” she exclaimed. The clown then pulled a gun, shot Warren in the face, and drove away. She died two days later.

In 2017 (almost three decades later), authorities say they have arrested the clown: a woman who was said to be having an affair with Warren’s husband and, years after the killing, married him. Detectives said advances in DNA technology, combined with evidence gathered decades ago, show Sheila Keen-Warren, now 54, was the killer.

And then, of course, there’s serial killer John Wayne Gacy (pictured) who also dressed up like a clown. Gacy was nicknamed “the Killer Clown” during his murder trial, where he was sentenced to death for sexually assaulting and murdering 33 boys and men in the '70s. The nickname stemmed from his side job: dressing up as Pogo the Clown for children's parties and at a charity event entertaining hospitalized children, serial killer expert Peter Vronksy told Oxygen.com. (Vronsky has a Ph.D. in criminal justice history and is the author of several books about serial killers, including "Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers From the Stone Age to the Present.") He said although Gacy wore a clown outfit for children, he didn't actually ever wear it while killing.

 "It’s a myth," he said. "Gacy never killed wearing a clown costume." 

2. The Zodiac 

It is believed that the Zodiac Killer is responsible for five brutal murders between 1968 and 1969, though he claimed to have killed 37 people in his letters. Victims were found in Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa, and San Francisco, California. Police initially believed the slayings were random, but local newspapers later received coded letters and ciphers from someone calling themselves the “Zodiac Killer,” who took credit for the murders and demanded press attention.

But did you know he also wore a getup? The killer did wear a costume — at least during one of the killings. Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Ann Shepard, a young couple, were having a picnic on an isolated lake about 20 miles north of Napa when they were approached by the Zodiac Killer, who was wearing a dark blue hood with large slits for his eyes. On the front of his hood the Zodiac symbol was drawn in white paint, reported the Tuscaloosa News. Shephard died after the Zodiac Killer attacked, but Hartnell survived being stabbed six times.

Vronsky told Oxygen.com that he "probably wore it for the same reason we wear costumes, to be someone other than who we think we are."

Jack Rosewood, author of “The Big Book of Serial Killers: 150 Serial Killer Files of the World's Worst Murderers,” told Oxygen.com that in addition to trying to disguise himself, he likely did it for the attention as he was known for toying for the media. 

"By using a costume, he could disguise himself as well as draw more attention by being different," Rosewood said. "It's possible that he saw himself as a character, kind of like a superhero (rather villain in this case). It's hard to know, but that's my two cents." 

3. Santa Claus

A man believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at a crowded nightclub in Istanbul during the 2017 New Year’s celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding close to 70 others.

The attacker, who was armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club before entering and firing on people partying inside.

Uzbekistan-born Abdulkadir Masharipov was arrested in mid-January. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS) claimed credit for his actions. He is awaiting trial.

4. Jason Vorhees

A man wearing all black and a white Jason Voorhees hockey mask allegedly shot three people in South Jackson, Mississippi in September, one fatally. Roddrick Raheem Jones allegedly dressed up as the "Friday the 13th" villain before opening fire at an apartment building, according to the Clarion Ledger. Aspiring rapper Kendrick Hughes, 30, died in the shooting.

Earlier this year, Jones escaped prison, but was later found by authorities.

5. Scream Killer

A man wearing the Ghostface mask sported by the killers in the 1990s film series "Scream" murdered 19-year-old Anthony Seaberry on a Brooklyn street on Halloween 2013. The teen was shot in the head, according to the New York Daily News. The ghost-faced killer escaped, and the murder remains unsolved.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Photo: Public Domain]