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It Was Just ‘One Deadly Mistake’ — Criminals Caught By An Incriminating Blunder

One incriminating blunder can mean the difference between getting away with murder and getting put behind bars.

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'One Deadly Mistake' Premieres Saturday, January 16th at 9PM ET/PT
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When you commit a crime, there are 50 ways to get caught, a Texas district attorney tells producers of the soon-to-launch Oxygen series “One Deadly Mistake.”

But in the end, all it takes is a key error to land a criminal behind bars.

The new show, premiering on Saturday, January 16 at 9/8c on Oxygen, offers living proof of that. The series covers brutal homicides that could have gone unsolved had the killer not made a single blunder that came to light through dogged detective work. 

Common mistakes killers made in cases covered in “One Deadly Mistake” are: believing no one is watching them (they probably are), being repetitive, getting sloppy about details, and leaving a telltale clue behind. Here, four other killers made the same fatal flubs as the criminals featured in the show and ended up behind bars.

The murderer: Arthur Shawcross

Arthur Shawcross G

The key error: Thinking no one is watching them.

The case: Beginning in 1988, serial killer Shawcross murdered 11 women in upstate New York in less than a two-year span. But the serial murderer’s shocking spree came to an end in January 1990 — when he was spotted engaging in very incriminating behavior by police. State troopers in a surveillance helicopter saw him masturbating in his car in view of a dead body, according to a 2014 New York Daily News report. He was sentenced to 250 years for 10 murders in Monroe County. He got another life sentence for a killing in another jurisdiction.

The murderer: Henri Landru

Note

The key error: Following the same M.O. “Humans are creatures of habit,” an investigator tells producers in an upcoming episode of “One Deadly Mistake.” “Killers are creatures of habit. They’ll kill the same way … Why? Because it works.” 

The case: Landru, a French serial killer nicknamed the “Bluebeard of Gambais,” murdered at least 10 women at his country home in the village of Gambais between 1915 and 1919, Radio France International reported in 2018. Landru, who killed wealthy women in order to steal their money, made a critical error thanks to his money-hoarding ways: He would only purchase the women one-way tickets to his estate where he committed the murders — but buy a round-trip ticket for himself, according to the outlet. Tried for murder in 1921, he was executed in 1922. 

The murderer: Joel Rifkin 

The key error: Missing a small but game-changing detail.

The case: Called “Joel the Ripper,” serial killer Rifkin targeted women in New York and Long Island during his four-year killing spree that began in 1989 and claimed the lives of up to 17 victims. Rifkin was caught when police tried to pull him over for driving without license plates — a detail that is bound to attract attention. After police troopers spotted the plate falling off his truck, they tried to initiate a traffic stop, which led to a high-speed chase and Rifkin crashing into a pole, according to a 2018 Newsday article. Police then observed a rank odor coming from Rifkin’s car. It was the decaying body of his last victim. Rifkin was sentenced to 203 years in prison.

The murderer: Dennis Rader

Who Is The BTK Killer Dennis Rader?

The key error: Leaving your name in plain sight.

The case: Between 1974 and 1991, Dennis Rader, a former ADT Security Services employee, murdered 10 people in the Wichita, Kansas area. He became known as BTK, an acronym for his M.O. — bind, torture, kill — and inspired the series “Mindhunter.” Rader was captured in 2005 after he sent a floppy disk which contained metadata from a deleted document that tied him to the murders to a TV station as part of his habit of taunting local media. Rader pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and received 10 consecutive life sentences.

For more killers caught by one fatal error, watch “One Deadly Mistake,” airing Saturday, Jan. 16 at 9/8c on Oxygen.

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