Fox’s new show "Prodigal Son" follows a criminal psychologist as he tries to catch a copycat killer, a riveting plotline on its own — but there's more to the story than that. Malcolm Bright (played by Tom Payne) is not just a disgraced former FBI profiler who now works for the NYPD as he tries to hunt down the copycat: He's the son of a killer himself.
The copycat's killer is mimicking none other than Bright's father Martin Whitly (played by Michael Sheen), who killed more than 23 people while living a double life as a dad and cardiothoracic surgeon. The copycat has been mimicking four of the murders that the elder Whitly, dubbed “The Surgeon,” committed before him. Much to Bright's dismay, his serial killer dad is eager to help him.
While the show is obviously a work of fiction, copycat killings are not. Sometimes people just lack creativity and they end up copying others.... and that applies to murderers, too.
Here are a few unoriginal killers who emulated the “work" of criminals before them.
Jack the Ripper Copycat
While Jack the Ripper was never actually formally identified and caught, he remains one of the world’s most notorious murderers. He killed at least five sex workers in London 1888; their throats were cut and their bodies mutilated in a way that led experts to believe that he may have been a surgeon.
He’s one of the most written-about true crime subjects in history, his murders and possible identity spawning dozens and dozens of books and films.
He also spawned multiple copycat killers, the most infamous among them being Derek Brown, who had sick aspirations of being the next Jack the Ripper.
In 2008, he was found guilty of the murders of Xiao Mei Guo, 29, and Bonnie Barrett, 24, both of whom he picked up and killed in London, the Guardian reported at the time. Both were young mothers and Barrett was a sex worker, like many of the original killer’s victims.
Much like the Ripper, he butchered their bodies, according to the Telegraph. Investigators believe he wanted to emulate Jack the Ripper, pointing to his own DIY murder kit which included a bow saw, a steam cleaner, some waterproof sheeting, and a book about murderers that he borrowed from the local library.
Zodiac Killer Copycat
Similar to Jack the Ripper is the Zodiac Killer, another infamous and unsolved serial murderer. In the late 1960s and early ‘70s, the unidentified killer terrorized Northern California by taunting the media about the five brutal murders he committed in the area. His letters and ciphers were signed with a symbol: a circle with a cross through it.
Decades after the Zodiac’s reign of terror, he inspired a serial killer over in New York City. Heriberto Seda killed three people and wounded another from 1990 to 1993, the New York Times reported in 1998. He was obsessed with astrology and, like the Zodiac, sent ciphers to taunt police and the media. In his letters, he indicated he was choosing victims based on their zodiac signs, writing he would only strike when certain stars were visible in the sky.
Unlike the Zodiac, Seda did, of course, get caught. He shot his own sister, which led to his arrest, the New York Post reported at the time.
Not only did he mimic the Zodiac but police at one point thought he could actually be the Zodiac himself and that perhaps he moved from the West Coast to the East Coast, according to the book “Sleep My Little Dead: The True Story of the Zodiac Killer,” which is based on Seda.
Dexter Morgan is a blood splatter expert who's also a serial killer, but don't worry, he's more complex that that: He only kills other serial killers. Of course, Morgan's not a real serial killer — he’s the protagonist of the show “Dexter” — but one real killer was apparently inspired by his plotline.
Mark Twitchell is one of Canada’s more notorious murderers in recent history for the disturbing way he weaved fiction with non-fiction. The aspiring filmmaker had made a short movie called "House of Cards" about a male killer who “poses as a female on an Internet dating site, lures a married man into a garage where the film was being done," a detective told ABC News in 2008. "That male is knocked unconscious and duct taped to a chair. Info about his bank accounts and passwords on his computer are all solicited from him before he is decapitated and his body cut up."
And that’s pretty much what Twitchell did to John Brian Altinger. Twitchell lured Altinger to a garage in Edmonton after posing as a woman looking for a date on PlentyOfFish; he then killed and dismembered him.
Twitchell was not only obsessed with the show “Dexter;" he ran a “Dexter” Facebook fan page where he wrote about the murder as if he was Dexter himself.
Steve Lillebuen, a reporter who covered the case for the Edmonton Journal before writing a book on the subject entitled “The Devil's Cinema,” told the St. Albert Today, "The people who were reading his Facebook page were thinking it was just a Dexter fan and were not realizing his posts were actually referring to real life incidents. So there was a lot of, was it real, was it fake, and where is that line?"
Twitchell was subsequently found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
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