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It seems like if there is any place that's a hotbed for serial killer activity in the United States, it would have to be California, right? Some of the most infamous killers of all time were active there, including the Zodiac Killer, the Toolbox Killers, The Golden State Killer, the Night Stalker, the Hillside Stranglers ... the list goes on and on.
But there is another region in the United States that's been the hunting grounds of many serial killers: the Midwest. Just consider Anthony Sowell, the subject of the new Oxygen special "Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler," airing on Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen. Sowell, nicknamed the Cleveland Strangler, is currently on death row after he terrorized the Ohio city from 2007 to 2009, killing and raping 11 women in the area before keeping their bodies in his homes.
And Sowell is just one of many Midwestern murderers. Here are some of the most notable:
John Wayne Gacy
One of the most prolific serial killers in the United States, John Wayne Gacy resided in the Chicago area and seemed to be a solid member of the community and a family man. He even acted as a clown for children's birthday parties. However, Gacy actually was responsible for murdering 33 boys and young men between 1972 and 1978, burying most of the bodies in the crawlspace under his house.
Gacy would lure in his victims in all sorts of ways: offering money for sex, pretending to be a police officer, volunteering drugs, and so on. He would then rape and torture them before murdering them. He was caught after a witness saw him talking with his final victim, a 15-year-old boy named Robert Piest. Gacy had already served prison time for sexually assaulting a teen boy, so police zeroed in on him. He was arrested in December 1978, convicted of 33 murders, and sentenced to death. He died by lethal injection in May 1994.
H.H Holmes is up there with Jack the Ripper as one of the most famous serial killers in history. Holmes, a physician whose real name was Herman Webster Mudgett, eventually confessed to murdering 27 people, although it's possible he killed as many as 200, the Associated Press reported in 2017. What also made Holmes infamous was his house of horrors nicknamed the "Murder Castle."
The Chicago house, which was three stories high and about a block long, included gas jets that released into rooms to asphyxiate victims as well as trap doors, chutes, and more. H.H. Holmes lured his victims into his home during the 1893 Chicago's World Fair. Eventually, the killing of his business partner led to his capture and he was executed by hanging in 1896, according to the outlet.
Herbert Baumeister was never convicted of murder, but it's believed he killed 11 gay men in the Indianapolis area in the early 1990s. Baumeister was married and had children, but he would often spend his free time cruising the city's gay bars, IN Magazine reported in 2013. When men started going missing from the area, investigators were on high alert for a suspect. One man tipped them off in 1992, saying a person had tried to kill him during sex. However, the name given by the attacker appeared to be fake, so police couldn't track down the suspect.
Three years later, that victim saw his assailant and managed to write down his license plate number. It belonged to Herbert Baumeister, according to the outlet. Baumeister initially refused to let police search his property, but when he was out of town his wife, Julie, who had suspicions of her own, let them in. 11 bodies were eventually discovered at his home.
Before police could question Baumeister, he was found dead by suicide in his car on July 3, 1995. He left behind a suicide note, but never mentioned the killings in them, according to the outlet.
Rader seemed to be a respectable, church-going family man, and his capture only came about because of a silly mistake on his part. Rader delighted in taunting media and police with messages, and after over a decade of silence and no murders, he resumed his communications after seeing an article about the 30th anniversary of his first killings. He asked police if they could trace him from a floppy disc. They lied and said no, so Rader sent one -- which promptly led to his arrest.
Rader eventually confessed to killing 10 people and was handed down 10 consecutive life sentences. His daughter Kerri Rawson recently spoke at CrimeCon 2021 and revealed she obtained a no-contact order against him after he cyberstalked her.
“He has letters and he has phone access so he has his fan club that [...] like to print off screenshots of my social media and photos of me and what I'm doing," Rawson said.
The Weepy-Voiced Killer
One of the most chilling killers to roam Minnesota actually often called the police on himself.
"Will you find me? … I can't stop myself. I keep killing somebody," he wept in one high-pitched phone call made to authorities. He made others after his attacks and murders, always in the same distinctive voice, which gave him his moniker "The Weepy-Voiced Killer."
The murderer, who stalked the Twin Cities area, killed three women and attacked another two who managed to survive his brutal assaults. An ice pick was typically his weapon of choice. The killer was eventually identified as a devout Catholic named Paul Michael Stephani, who was caught after authorities recognized his voice when he called for medical help, The Associated Press reported in 1997.
In 1982, he was sentenced to 40 years for stabbing Barbara Simons to death and 18 years for stabbing Denise Williams with a screwdriver. Years later, after he discovered he had terminal cancer, he confessed to two more murders and the other attack. Stephani died in prison in 1998.
Andre Crawford terrorized the city of Chicago from 1993 to 1998. In total, he killed and raped 11 women, often taking their shoes as a souvenir.
After one woman, Claudia Robinson, survived an encounter with him by playing dead, police had a description of their suspect and were able to create a sketch of him, which they distributed throughout the Chicago neighborhood where the murders were happening.
It eventually paid off when witnesses came forward and suggested Crawford, who had previously served time for offenses related to drugs and sexual assault, may be their man. He was arrested in January 2000, and was convicted in 2009 after DNA linked him to the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison and ultimately died from liver cancer in 2017, two days before his 55th birthday.
For more on killers like these, watch "Snapped Notorious: The Cleveland Strangler," airing on Saturday, July 24 at 9/8c on Oxygen.
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