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Doctor, teacher, clown: how cruel maniacs pretended to be ordinary people for years

Lifehacker invites you to recall the most inventive serial killers in history, who for years managed to hide from punishment and pretend to be quite respectable people.

Photo: Shutterstock

1. Henry Holmes

His real name is Herman Mudgett. Born in 1861 into a Methodist family, he graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine, but never became a doctor. Instead, he dedicated his life to insurance fraud. Mudgett entered into insurance contracts for non-existent persons, then stole bodies from the anatomical theater, faked accidents and received money. In 1886, he moved to Chicago and, under the name of Henry Holmes, got a job at a pharmacy, whose owner soon died of cancer. Holmes immediately offered his widow to buy out the business. She agreed, but received no money. Soon, she disappeared altogether - allegedly moved to relatives in California.

Meanwhile, Holmes began a large-scale construction project. He decided to build a hotel opposite the pharmacy with shops on the ground floor. For the builders, this idea turned into a real nightmare. The customer constantly changed plans and drawings, endlessly fought with contractors and fired one team after another. As a result, only Holmes knew how the building was arranged, and could understand the maze of corridors with dead ends and staircases that did not lead anywhere. During the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, he rented out rooms to tourists. He later insured the building and tried to set fire to it, but the insurers suspected fraud. Holmes had to flee the city.

Soon he conceived another scam according to a proven scheme: insurance for a figurehead, an ownerless corpse, payments. In 1894, Holmes was briefly imprisoned, where he became friends with Marion Hedgepet. Holmes shared his plan with a cellmate and asked a trusted lawyer to advise him. For this he promised him $ 500. Hedgeet received no money and, in revenge, told the prison authorities about Holmes' plans. It turned out that shortly before being taken into custody, Holmes took out insurance for his assistant Benjamin Pitzel, and then killed him and the children.

Unraveling the Pitzel murder case, the detectives got to the main secret of Mr. Holmes. The Chicago hotel turned out to be a three-story death factory with a rack, gas chambers, an oven, containers of acid and quicklime - they were needed to get rid of bodies. Many of the tourists who found lodging here during the World's Fair remained in the basement of the terrible hotel. How many people killed Holmes is unknown. He confessed to 27 murders, but the victims could have been more than 200. In 1896, Henry Holmes was sentenced to be hanged.

2. Anatoly Slivko

In Nevinnomyssk, Anatoly Slivko was considered a real star. Honored teacher, drummer of communist labor, master of sports in mountain tourism, he also organized a children's tourist club - a positive person from all sides. In fact, he was a cruel and cold-blooded killer.

For the first time, strange inclinations appeared in Anatoly Slivko in 1961. He witnessed a road accident: a drunk motorcycle rider crashed into a crowd of pioneers, one child was killed. The sight of a bloody body in a school uniform, a pioneer tie and brand new black boots suddenly excited Slivko. Time after time, he replayed the sight in his head and looked for a way to re-experience the same strong emotions.

From books on medicine, Slivko learned about retrograde amnesia: after a short-term hanging, everything connected with this experience is supposedly erased from the victim's memory. So he began his perverse experiments: he dressed up boys in pioneer uniforms, hung them from a tree until they fainted, enjoyed the sight, and then revived the children. All this Slivko recorded on an amateur movie camera and reviewed the terrible shots.

He looked for victims among the members of his travel club, inviting them to take part either in the filming of a film about pioneers and fascists, or in a medical experiment - for example, he said that he was studying the limits of human capabilities. The boys were flattered by the teacher's trust. To prevent the children from spilling out, Slivko took receipts from them about their voluntary participation in the experiment.

Slivko committed his first murder in 1964. After another suspension, a 15-year-old teenager died. Slivko got scared, chopped up the body and threw it into the river. After that, he began to kill on purpose.

On the trail of the maniac only in 1985, thanks to the insistence of the assistant prosecutor Tamara Langueva, who was investigating the disappearance of a teenager who attended the Slivko tourist club. Langueva decided to question the members of the club in detail and found out about the experiments of its head. By that time, the blood of seven schoolchildren was on the hands of the boy idol, and more than 40 teenagers took part in the experiments. Slivko had no chance to divert suspicions from himself: during a search in the backroom of the club, they found a pioneer uniform, shoes of dead children, as well as photographs and film with frames of experiments. By the verdict of the court, Anatoly Slivko was shot in 1989.

On the subject: The most active serial killer in US history: FBI revealed details of crimes

3. Jack Unterweger

Since his youth, the Austrian Johan (later he changed his name) Unterweger was at odds with the law - he stole and raped prostitutes. He committed the first murder in 1974 - strangled an 18-year-old girl whom he met in a bar. He was found in hot pursuit and was soon sentenced to life imprisonment with the right to be released after 15 years.

In prison, Unterweger became interested in reading, and then he himself began to write. For the prison magazine, he wrote stories and plays, even wrote an autobiography, in which he tried to figure out how he became a murderer. His works were noticed by literary critics, and Austrian intellectuals organized a campaign for the release of Unterweger. They believed that he fully realized his guilt and rethought life.

In 1990, Unterweger was released famous: the re-educated criminal was vying with each other to be called on radio and television. In the same year, the bodies of women began to be found in Austria. The crimes were united by handwriting: the victims were prostitutes and all of them were strangled - in stockings or bras. Similar crimes took place in Czechoslovakia, where Unterweger went shortly after his release, and in the United States, where he went on the instructions of an Austrian magazine. Evidence also spoke in favor of his involvement in the atrocities. Red threads were found on the body of one of the victims - the same scarf was later found on Unterweger. And in his car they found the hair of one of the murdered women.

In 1992, Unterweger was detained, and two years later a trial was held. Jack was charged with 11 murders, but the jury found only nine of them proven. This was enough to sentence him to life, this time without the right to leave early. Unterweger hanged himself in his cell a few hours after the verdict was announced.

4. Harold Shipman

He is Doctor Death. Shipman had every chance to build a successful career: as a child, he pleased his parents with academic success, and he received the profession of a doctor at the University of Leeds without any problems. Shipman opened a private practice. Things were going well, except for the fact that sometimes his patients died. As it turned out, the doctor himself was involved in these deaths.

Shipman began killing in 1984. The first victim was an elderly woman who called a doctor at home. Shipman gave her a lethal injection, told her that it was a pain reliever, and watched the old woman die. The next day, he once again looked at her and stated her "natural" death. To cover their tracks, the doctor recommended that relatives cremate the body of the deceased.

Then he acted according to the same scenario: he gave the patients injections, explained death by natural causes, sent messages of condolences to loved ones, and grabbed various trinkets from the victims' houses as a keepsake. The killer was ruined by greed: one of Shipman's patients drew up a will in favor of a good doctor. Her daughter became suspicious. Firstly, not long before her death, the old woman was healthy, and secondly, the document was written with many mistakes. Finally, the witnesses, whose signatures were under the will, stated that they had not signed anything of the kind. After exhumation, it turned out that the elderly woman had died from an overdose of diamorphine.

In 2000, Shipman was found guilty of 15 murders and sentenced to life in prison. Perhaps the doctor is responsible for much more deaths - investigators assumed that he was involved in more than 200 murders. In 2004, the day before his 58th birthday, Shipman hanged himself in a cell.

5. Mikhail Popkov

In terms of the number of victims, the "Angarsk maniac" Mikhail Popkov surpassed both Andrei Chikatilo and Alexander Pichushkin, who worked in Bitsevsky Park. He acted with impunity in the Irkutsk region from 1992 to 2010. According to Popkov, one of the reasons that prompted him to murder was his wife's betrayal. He believed that a woman should be a faithful keeper of the hearth, and those who behave differently deserve death.

The crimes were based on approximately the same scheme. In the evenings Popkov would taxi, and when a woman got into the car, he started a conversation with her. At the end of the route, he offered her a drink. If she agreed, then she signed herself a death warrant. Popkov drank with the victim, raped and killed her.

For 20 years Popkov was literally under the noses of investigators. He committed the first murders when he was still working as an operational duty officer at a police station. Then he left the authorities, got a job in a private security company, was engaged in driving cars, moonlighted as a driver, and continued to kill.

Popkov left no trace. In addition, on duty, he was aware of the details of the investigation, even went to the places of his own crimes. Only one thing Popkov did not take into account. During the time that has passed since the beginning of his adventures, technologies have stepped forward: genetic examination of traces of biological materials on the bodies of victims helped to find the criminal. Mikhail Popkov was charged with 22 murders. After the announcement of the verdict, he admitted that there are much more victims - over 80. "Angarsk maniac" was sentenced to two life sentences.

On the subject: Georgia serial rapist tries to become a policeman in department looking for him

6. John Gacy

Only one thing could be said about John Gacy - life was good. By the age of 25, he was a promising member of the Democratic Party, ran three fast food restaurants that belonged to his father-in-law, and raised two children. But in 1967, John found himself at the center of a scandal: he invited a teenager to his home and raped him. Gacy was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but released after 18 months for exemplary behavior. By this time, his wife filed for divorce and took the children.

Gacy started life from scratch: he married again, became involved in politics and opened his own construction company. But behind the mask of a respectable businessman was a cruel murderer and rapist. He committed the first murder in 1972. The victim was a 16-year-old boy whom Gacy met by chance and invited him home to spend the night. In the morning, he allegedly saw a guest standing in the doorway of the bedroom with a knife, and decided that the teenager wanted to attack him. A scuffle ensued: Gacy killed the young man and hid the body in the basement of his house. He admitted that at the moment of the murder he experienced incredibly strong sensations and wanted to experience them again.

Gacy killed from 1972 to 1978. At the same time, he led an active social life - he worked as a clown on holidays and organized large-scale city events. At one of these events, he even met with the wife of US President Jimmy Carter - Rosalyn Carter. There is a photograph of her shaking Gacy's hand. A few months after that, he was arrested. Gacy was suspected of involvement in the disappearance of a 15-year-old teenager - he was the last person the young man was seen with.

At Gacy's house, the police smelled the characteristic smell of decay. It turned out that the basement became a cemetery for 26 young people. Gacy hid one body each in the backyard, in the garage and under the dining room floor, and threw four more corpses into the local river. For 33 proven murders, the maniac, who later became the prototype of the clown Pennywise, was sentenced to death.

7. Alexander Berlizov

In the early 1970s, a maniac turned up in Dnepropetrovsk, killing single women at night. About three thousand police officers were sent to look for him. They were given local warriors to help them, but they still could not find him. The maniac seemed to know in advance the plans of the police. And so it was. The killer Alexander Berlizov was one of these vigilantes and, in fact, was looking for himself - of course, unsuccessfully.

The perpetrator acted in the dark: he attacked women, strangled them, and when the victims lost consciousness, he raped them. He killed those who came to their senses. One of the women managed to escape: she woke up, but did not give herself away and remembered what the attacker looked like. The detectives, together with the victim, began to comb the crowded places of the city - suddenly she would see a maniac in a crowd of passers-by. The calculation was justified: the woman recognized the attacker when she was traveling in the tram with the policeman. The offender managed to escape, but the policeman helped to make a composite of the suspect.

The person in this image looked very much like Alexander Berlizov, who worked at the local Yuzhmash plant. He was in good standing in the city, the prosecutor even refused to authorize his arrest. Nobody could believe that a Komsomol leader and an employee of a regime enterprise could be a rapist. Nevertheless, there was strong evidence in favor of this version. At one of the crime scenes, they found prints of scarce shoes - Berlizov wore the same.

Berlizov's house was searched. A trophy warehouse was found in the maniac's home - he took small things from the victims, like a mirror or lipstick. In total, Berlizov committed nine murders and 42 rapes. For this he was sentenced to death.

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8. Zodiac

In late 1968, California was shocked by the news of a double murder. On the evening of December 20, 17-year-old David Faraday and 16-year-old Betty Jensen went on their first date. Towards nightfall, their bodies were found in the parking lot: David was shot in his car, Betty tried to escape, but she was shot five times in the back.

On July 4, 1969, a similar story happened. Darlene Ferrin and Michael Majo decided to take a car ride, stopped in a secluded place. There the killer overtook them. Ferrin died, but Majo survived and told what happened. They parked in the parking lot and another car pulled up next to them. A man with a flashlight came out and fired at the lovers' car five times. Hearing Majo groan, he fired two more shots and left.

On the night of July 5, an unknown person called the police department of the town of Vallejo near the crime scene and said that the attack on Ferrin and Majo, and at the same time the murder of Faraday and Jensen, were his work. Soon, almost identical letters arrived at the offices of three California newspapers. Their author claimed that he was the same killer, and demanded that these messages be published, otherwise he would kill 12 more people. His demand was met. In a new letter, he identified himself as the Zodiac and shared details of the recent attacks. According to the police, only a real criminal could know such details.

On September 27, 1969, the Zodiac attacked another pair of lovers. For the massacre of Brian Hartnell and Cecilia Shepard, he chose a knife instead of a firearm. The young man survived, the girl died from her injuries, and on the door of Hartnell's car they found a message from the killer with the dates of the previous attacks and the signature - a crossed-out circle. The Zodiac used the same sign in his letters. The last victim of the maniac is considered the taxi driver Paul Stein, who was killed on October 11, 1969. Zodiac sent a piece of Stine's bloody shirt to the newspaper along with another letter. Messages from the maniac came to the editorial office until 1974. Then the Zodiac fell silent.

Apparently, he knew a lot about cryptography. The letters contained cipher text. The author claimed that these fragments contained important information about him: as soon as the police figure out the code, they would go on the trail of the criminal. Some of the messages were never deciphered, although in December 2020, enthusiasts were able to read one of the letters of the Zodiac. However, this did not help to establish his identity. Who the Zodiac really was - remains a mystery to this day.

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