Alabama’s Most Dashing Delinquents

A Rogue’s Gallery of Ravishing Rascals

Let’s be honest: who doesn’t love a great mug shot? Posters of Frank Sinatra’s face as a rakish young man in lockup adorn countless college dorm room walls, charming us all even eighty years after it was taken. There’s just something about that defiant look—a look that, for some curious reason, the criminals of Alabama have worn all too well.

In their book Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits, & Bushwhackers, authors Kelly Kazek and Wil Elrick offer a GQ-worthy tour of some of the foulest criminals ever to grace the Yellowhammer State. Feast your eyes, dear readers—but remember, you can look, but don’t touch!

An image of the body of Rube Burrow.
Rube Burrow’s body was displayed in this coffin following his death. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers.

Rube Burrow (ca. 1854-1890), moonshiner, train robber, failed farmer, murderer, prison escapee, and more. A famously sweet talker, he once persuaded prison guards to untie his hands so he could retrieve a smuggled gun from a sack of snacks. Killed in a shootout (where else?), his body was displayed in his coffin following his death.

An image of Lewis Powell. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lewis Powell (1844-1865), who was hanged for taking part in the conspiracy to kill President Lincoln, shown handcuffed aboard the monitor gunboat USS Saugus.

An image of outlaw Jesse James.
Jesse James. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jesse James (1847-1882). The one and only, the former Confederate militiaman turned outlaw and bank robber, whose name is now legend. Leader with his older brother Frank of the James-Younger gang, which terrorized several Southern states, James and his cohort were active in Alabama from around 1875-1881.

An etching of Albert Parsons.
An etching of Albert Parsons. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Etching of Albert Parsons (1848-1887), born in Montgomery, Alabama. A prominent early Socialist who played a major role in advocating for the eight-hour workday, during his years in Chicago he was arrested and hanged for his part in the conspiracy surrounding the deadly Haymarket Tragedy in 1886. Sadly, his superb moustache perished that same day.

An image of John Wesley Hardin.
John Wesley Hardin. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895), Texas outlaw who during one of his many periods running from the feds spent eighteen-months on the lam in Alabama. Gambler, robber, recurring convict, murderer of over 30 men. Once killed a man for snoring.

An image of Dan Bogan.
Dan Bogan. Image sourced from Alabama Scoundrels: Outlaws, Pirates, Bandits & Bushwhackers, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Dan Bogan (1860-????), murderer, serial jailbreaker, occasional cowboy and cattle rustler, who evaded law enforcement from Wyoming to Louisiana. Famously disappeared sometime after 1887 down to South America, taking his savvy sartorial style with him.

For more handsome hunks who were hung for their misdeeds, be sure to check out Alabama Scoundrels. There’s more where that came from—we promise!

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Cryptic Classifieds: Codes between Cops and Criminals

May 1992, Morris Township, northern New Jersey. What would normally be a sunny late-spring is instead a season chilled and overshadowed with the news of a heinous crime. In late April, Sidney Reso, an executive at Exxon, was kidnapped from his own driveway early one morning by unknown assailants and held for a ransom of $18.5 million.

The next few weeks would see a delicate dance of encounters between local and federal law enforcement, Reso’s family, and the kidnappers, who left cryptic messages in envelopes scattered around the area, messages that contained instructions for the ransom payment. These envelopes appeared taped to telephone poles, on guardrails at shopping malls, and in metal mailboxes that police officers were sure would explode. Communication was sporadic, but steady, as law enforcement worked to ensure Reso’s return.

Absent nearly all of the digital tools that law enforcement enjoy today to track criminals, detectives had to rely on other methods. Easily the most interesting was a series of classified ads placed in area newspapers. Like a set of coded messages exchanged between spies, these ads became a key means of communication in the case.

The first one came with the initial ransom note. The kidnappers told police to place an ad in the Star-Ledger Pets column with a cellular telephone number, unusual given that cell phones were new technology and rare at the time.

A newspaper ad from the FBI cryptically asking to speak to kidnappers.
Ad placed in paper to communicate with kidnappers. Image sourced from Mystery, Millions & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso, courtesy of the New York Times Classifieds.

The kidnappers would later call this number to leave further instructions, but never stay long enough on it for it to be traced. Another ad came days later: having had some miscommunication with the kidnappers in the previous weeks, and desperate to learn whether Reso was still in good health, investigators claimed through this ad their readiness to pay the ransom.

A newspaper ad responding to the kidnappers.
Another cryptic ad. Image sourced from Mystery, Millions & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso, courtesy of the New York Times Classifieds.

The next came a month later, in mid-June, when the FBI placed an ad in the Florida real estate section of the New York Times. Seeking to determine whether Reso was still alive, investigators asked the kidnappers to provide proof.

A newspaper ad from the FBI cryptically asking for proof of life.
The FBI asks cryptically for proof of life. Image sourced from Mystery, Millions & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso, courtesy of the New York Times Classifieds.

The last ad placed was an attempt not long after to let the kidnappers know that certain other messages were not received.

A newspaper ad from the FBI directed towards the kidnappers.
The FBI tells kidnappers it didn’t receive their correspondence. Image sourced from Mystery, Millions & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso, courtesy of the New York Times Classifieds.

Sadly, though law enforcement would not discover this until June 19—after they finally apprehended suspects Arthur and Jackie Seale in the parking lot of a rental-car agency—Reso had actually died within days of initial abduction. The Seales had planned to keep him alive, but the poorly-constructed wooden chamber they used to transport him had led to Reso suffering fatal complications from carbon dioxide poisoning. For weeks, the kidnappers had lied to police, leading them to believe they were in possession of living leverage. Instead, all they had was a corpse.

More to the story can be found in John E. O’Rourke’s detailed history of the crime, Mystery, Millions, & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso. For now, however, ask yourself: will you ever be able to read the classified ads in your local paper ever again? Or will you always wonder what else is being communicated, what other, secret messages are being conveyed?

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The Myth(s) of the Mad Madame Lalaurie

You can still see them out there every day. The clusters of people on the sidewalk, gathered in front of a large house on the eastern side of the French Quarter, listening to their black-caped tour guide. He waves his hands, gestures dramatically, lowers his voice in hushed tones. The people are rapt, hanging on every word. They stay in front of this house longer than any other: at the end of his tale, he collects his tips, moves on to the next willing victims.

Thanks to its colorful, often sordid history, New Orleans remains home to a vibrant tourism industry whose visitors search daily for the darkest stories in its closets. Easily one of the most famous stories concerns the “Mad Madame” Delphine MacCarthy LaLaurie, the beautiful French aristocrat from the 19th century who was discovered to have imprisoned, tortured, and murdered dozens of slaves. Numerous legends surround her life, her misdeeds, and even her death, many of which are repeated verbatim today.

One of the few attempts to put a face to Madame Lalaurie, the Musée Conti Historical Wax Museum in New Orleans shows Madame and her faithful servant beating starved slaves. Image sourced from Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans’ Most Famous Murderess Revealed, courtesy by Victoria Cosner Love.

But how much of it is true? Did she really chain her slaves to an upstairs attic wall? Did she really, along with her deranged physician husband, break and re-set the bones of a slave woman to make her scuttle across the floor like a crab? Did she really cover enslaved men in honey just to watch ants and roaches devour them alive? Did she really—one can only hope—serve as a godmother to a ‘devil baby’ given to her by none other than voodoo queen Marie Laveau?

Passionate about local history, authors Victoria Cosner Love and Lorelei Shannon set out to investigate the myths, and separate fact from fiction over the span of nearly 200 years. In their book Mad Madame LaLaurie: New Orleans’ Most Famous Murderess Exposed, they take a hard look at each part of the story, examining each new detail afresh. Beginning at the beginning—with what we know about LaLaurie’s birth and upbringing, and concluding not merely with her flight from the Crescent City after her misdeeds were discovered, but with how she lived out her days thereafter—Love and Shannon cover every inch of this legendary lady’s life.

Along the way, one of their chief aims is to debunk the lies, the embellishments, and the sensationalizing that surrounds her. Take, for instance, a plaque that was ‘discovered’ in one of New Orleans’ historic cemeteries, St. Louis No. 1. This plaque, found in 1964 near a family tomb associated with the madame’s forbears, purported to record the date (1842) and place (Paris) of LaLaurie’s death. Unfortunately, Love and Shannon point out, this plaque is none other than a clever hoax, as LaLaurie appears in legal documents in 1850, arguing before none other than the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The Times-Picayune ran an article recounting the discovery of the Lalaurie plaque. Image sourced from Mad Madame LaLaurie: New Orleans’ Most Famous Murderess Revealed.

Such ‘discoveries’ are, of course, tantalizing, and the cleverer the hoax, the better, right? Except when the desire for a good story outpaces the commitment to a good fact—and as Love and Shannon record, as many questions still persist, there are plenty of actual facts to go on in the LaLaurie case. Helpfully, they provide a long list of facts and myths in their book, as well as a carefully-researched chronology and genealogy, to help readers interested in the case come better equipped to explore this darkened corner of the Crescent City’s past.

If you or someone you know is planning to visit the LaLaurie mansion anytime soon, it’s required reading (plus the images of the devil baby are, as New Orleanians say, lagniappe). Just don’t show it to your tour guide—he might chain you to that attic wall himself!

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The Architecture of Vice: The Maceo Family of Galveston

Building Criminal Empires in Galveston, Texas

In the Lone Star State, Texans have always prided themselves on their resourcefulness and resilience, topped off with a dash of down-home humor. It’s just a part of the culture, as much as sweet tea in Georgia or fishing boats in Maine. But the same sensibility that has informed the honest, hard-working oilmen, ranchers, and cowhands over the years has also been present in many of the folks with less-than-savory occupations, namely, the gamblers, the crooks, and the thieves.

As T. Nicole Boatman, Scott H. Belshaw, and Richard B. McCaslin have detailed in their book Galveston’s Maceo Family Empire: Bootlegging and the Balinese Room, for decades one name stood out as running Texas’ most famous Gulf Coast resort town. Salvatore (“Sam”) and Rosario (“Rose”) Maceo, two brothers from a large clan of Sicilian immigrants to Texas, rose to prominence within a short time of their arrival in Galveston, displacing rival gangs in the area and working as bootleggers, fixers, and drug smugglers during the heyday of Prohibition. For years they managed to elude the local authorities, often leveraging one creative trick of the trade: architecture.

The Maceo brothers had long understood the value of a good venue: alongside their many other properties, their flagship nightclub, the Hollywood Dinner Club, had served as an upscale speakeasy and gambling hall for years. Raking in cash hand over fist, the Maceos had used the Hollywood as a headquarters both for meeting and greeting, and for wheeling and dealing—in this case, literally.

A rendition of the Hollywood dinner club.
The Hollywood Dinner Club was the Maceos’ first club. Later, the Texas Rangers located over $1 million in gambling paraphernalia at the club. Image source from Galveston’s Maceo Family Empire: Bootlegging and the Balinese Room, courtesy of the Rosenberg Library.

But word travels fast in Texas, and as law enforcement began to crack down, the Maceos knew they needed to step up their game. Converting one of their other properties into a new headquarters, the Balinese Room became the premier entertainment venue in Galveston: a place where drinking and gambling flowed nonstop, and where national celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were known to perform. Boatman’s team describes how the Balinese Room had some sneaky built-in safeguards to keep even the famous Texas Rangers from being able to show up unannounced:

“The Balinese room was built at the end of a pier that stretched many feet out from the coast. … the club’s design allowed savvy workers to hide any trace of illegal activities prior to the officials’ arrival in the gambling hall. Texas Ranger Ed Gooding explained, the ‘entrance was through doors fitted with electric locks at the sea wall. A lady was stationed in a booth at the entrance, and she would be smiling very sweetly. All the while, she was standing on a buzzer, warning the occupants that the Rangers were on their way.’ This system allowed employees to quickly hide the gambling paraphernalia and any other evidence of foul play. All that was left in view were games such as ‘dominoes, pool, bridge, or checkers’ and staff and customers ‘acting as innocent as newborn babies.’” An impregnable castle of vice: what good ol’ boy, Sicilian-born or not, wouldn’t be proud of such ingenuity? Not to say the Maceos didn’t have other insurance policies in place: apparently certain judges who had ordered such raids were also known to pick up the phone and call the venue ahead of time, just in case Balinese Room staff needed a little extra time to prepare. What the price tag for such ‘judicial activism’ was, unfortunately, history does not record.

Am image of the Balinese Room memorial marker.
A small memorial on the Seawall is all that remains of the infamous Balinese Room after being destroyed by Hurricane Ike. Image sourced from Galveston’s Maceo Family Empire: Bootlegging and the Balinese Room, courtesy of Amanda Belshaw.

The Maceo criminal empire declined starting in the 1950s, as Sam and Rose passed on, and few members of their remaining family proved as skillful in running the business as they had. Sadly, however, this once-celebrated building which graced Galveston Island for so long also met its end in 2008—at the hands not of the Texas Rangers, but of Hurricane Ike. Today, all that remains of the Balinese Room is part of the pier.

What would Sam and Rose have had to say, had they seen the loss of their beloved club? Probably not much at all—knowing them, they’d just start building the next one!

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The Burger Chef Murders of Indianapolis: What really happened?


As heard on the My Favorite Murder Podcast: The Baddest of them All: The Burger Chef Murders

That Friday night in 1978 should have been like any other for the four crew members closing down the Burger Chef in Speedway, Indiana. After serving customers and locking the doors, they began their regular cleanup to prepare for the following day, knowing nothing of the Burger Chef murders that has just taken place. 

Then something went horribly wrong.

*  * *

News of the abductions—of Daniel Davis, Jayne Friedt, Mark Flemmonds, and Ruth Ellen Shelton—had yet to hit the media when Burger Chef crew members arrived on Saturday to start their shift. Officers at the scene told them there had been a burglary at the restaurant overnight but little else about what may have occurred. Investigators were still unsure as to what exactly happened.

“We screwed it up from the beginning”

So they permitted the employees to finish cleaning the store so that they could open for business as usual. In the process of readying the restaurant for the lunch rush, every surface was wiped down and the remaining garbage was removed. There were no photos taken of the original crime scene, and the store was never dusted for fingerprints. Detectives realized their mistake and returned to the store later in the day to reconstruct the scene from memory, but it was too late. The best chance of finding any forensic evidence had passed. 

“We screwed it up from the beginning,” said retired Speedway police officer Buddy Ellwanger. 

Protocol for how to handle The Burger Chef Murders is not covered in the employee manual
This illustration from a Burger Chef employee manual showed one style of their 1970s uniforms

The wait–and the hunt–begins

John and Rachel, the parents of Ruth Ellen, received a call to alert them of their daughter’s disappearance. Their other two children were asleep, and the couple didn’t have the heart to wake them with the awful news. As they sat by the phone waiting for the police to call with more information, Rachel reached for her Bible and began to pray for her daughter’s safety.

“I found a number of scriptures to stand on. I read a while and I prayed a while. . . I asked the Lord to put His arms around her. I said, ‘God is still in control,’” Rachel wrote in her diary. Time passed as Rachel sat alone, and at one point, John took her hand and reminded her that Ruth Ellen was their spunky girl who would break away and call home if it were at all possible for her to do so. 

But that call never came.

The Burger Chef Murders in Indiana - Buy the Book

By Saturday afternoon, Ruth Ellen and the others were still missing, and the Sheltons knew it was only a matter of time before the newspapers, television and radio stations picked up the story of the Burger Chef murders. They knew they had to call family and friends to tell them what had happened before they heard about it on the evening news. Loved ones, shocked by the turn of events, gathered at John and Rachel’s home to sit with them and pray for Ruth Ellen’s safe return. Saturday night segued into Sunday morning.

We got very little sleep,” Rachel wrote in her diary.

None of the families were sleeping very well. As Robert Flemmonds awaited word about his son, he was haunted by a conversation he had with Mark while watching television one night.

The program featured a kidnap scene, which prompted Mark to tell his father that if he were ever captured, he’d find a way to escape.

“I wouldn’t lay still and die,” Mark said. 

He said he would break away, bobbing and weaving as he ran in order to be a harder target to hit. It was the kind of statement that gave Robert hope that he would see his child again and buoyed his spirits when he was tired.

If the families of the four crew members were exhausted by then, so, too, were the officers searching high and low for the kids. The case was their top priority, and as the first reports of the kidnapping appeared in the Indianapolis News and on WIBC 1070, authorities encouraged anyone with information pertaining to the incident to come forward.

It was a plea that would garner their first solid lead in the case. 

The Burger Chef building that, as of today, is currently abandoned.
Today, the former Burger Chef on Crawfordsville Road in Speedway is an empty storefront, but over the years, it has been an auto parts store and a Cash$Land store

For more on the Burger Chef murders, check out Julie Young’s new book, The Burger Chef Murders in Indiana.

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Charles Bowles, Detroit’s Worst Mayor Ever

Klan-Approved, Voter-Recalled

How bad, really, can you be? America has had its fair share of terrible leaders, from corrupt Congressmen to brothel-frequenting senators to arrogant governors who have claimed the only way they can lose an election is to be ‘caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.’ But in the annals of elected deadbeats, Detroit, Michigan, may well take the cake.

In the book Wicked Detroit, author Mickey Lyons tells the story of one Charles Bowles, who started his career in public life as a young litigator (surprise, surprise). Ambitious, greedy for office, unscrupulous in his legal practice, his first campaign was as a write-in candidate for a special mayoral election in 1924.

While some Detroiters knew of Bowles already, they were about to learn a whole lot more. In the 1924 campaign, none other than the Ku Klux Klan—a genuine presence in the upper Midwest, arising in reaction to the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South—endorsed the young upstart. Bowles, ever the savvy candidate, denied his own membership but willingly accepted the votes of any Klan sympathizers who backed his platform. Their support of his candidacy was so great that shortly before the election, thousands of Klansmen disrupted speaking engagements of Bowles’ opponents, overwhelming even the riot police sent to disperse them.

Charles Bowles, 1930. Image sourced from Wicked Detroit, courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection.

Bowles lost that first race by a mere 10,000 votes. The following year, during the regular election, Bowles garnered even more support from the KKK, who went so far as to march through downtown in white hoods and cloaks, and burn crosses across the city. He lost that race too, by about 30,000 votes, as Detroit breathed a sigh of relief. But Bowles was not done. After a stint in the local judiciary, where he showed breathtaking favoritism and misjudgment, he returned in 1929 for another go at the top of City Hall.

As Lyons records, running against his old opponent, Joseph Smith, Bowles ran a sophisticated ‘whisper camapign’ to discredit Smith and stir racial resentment among the electorate. He also, brazenly, announced the endorsement of other candidates who had given no such thing, and who had to scramble to undo the damage done by Bowles’ lies. Yet the damage was done: even after identifying fraudulent votes (including 192 ballots cast by the dead), officials declared Bowles the winner of the 1929 contest by 7800 votes.

Immediately he set to work, consolidating law enforcement under his corrupt silken glove, and allowing illegal gambling to flourish across the city so long as local casino bosses regularly came to visit him at City Hall. Ignoring the presence of organized crime so long as it benefited his operations, Bowles furthermore refused to engage with the public or the press on any matters at all.

Things could have continued (and worsened) but for the efforts of one justice-minded individual, police commissioner Harold Emmons. It took Emmons’ launching a surprise series of raids on illegal gambling houses while Bowles was away on vacation to call attention to the extent of corruption in Detroit. In retaliation, Bowles swiftly fired Emmons, and replaced him with a chosen crony. But by this time the people of Detroit had had enough.

With Emmons publicly taking a stand against Bowles, and providing incriminating evidence of Bowles’ graft, conspiracy, and collusion with organized crime, a recall campaign kicked into gear. As Lyons notes, within two days, the recall effort had raised tens of thousands of dollars (no small feat in 1930, the first full year of the Great Depression), and by the end of the campaign, Bowles had been ousted by over 30,000 votes.

He had lasted barely seven months in office. Unsurprisingly, the disgraced mayor called the entire recall a fraud, a conspiracy, and sought for the rest of his life to regain public office. He failed on every count. Lyons tells the end of the story well:

“Bowles spent the rest of his life chasing the fame and power of his glory days, to no avail. He ran for Congress in 1932 and 1934 and lost. A bar owner placed an ad in his name for the 1943 mayoral race as a prank. Bowles ran for his old office, recorder’s court justice, in 1945 and again in 1950 and was soundly defeated. He never again held public office. After his wife, Ruth, died in 1937, Bowles remarried in 1940, and his second wife divorced him three years later, denouncing him as a bitter, abusive man. Charles Bowles died on June 29, 1957. In his will, he left the entirety of his estate to an educational trust for his five grandchildren. His ex-wife received two broken lamps.”

That bad. The answer is: that bad.

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Which State has Produced the Most Serial Killers?

One of the most compelling sources of contemporary horror is the phenomenon of serial killers. From true crime to horror fiction, as a nation, we obsess over these terrifying, fascinating figures.
Just look at some of the most iconic horror movie franchise villains – Halloween’s Michael Myers, Anthony Hopkins’ unforgettable Hannibal Lecter, or the true crime-inspired Leatherface. These sorts of human monsters appear everywhere in our cultural fiction.
It’s not just this genre of movies that captures our imagination. Our fascination also embraces the real thing. Whether we want to learn about the details of their crimes, delve into the bleak question of their psychological makeup, determine how so many go unnoticed and uncaught, or puzzle at the strange cases of killers who become ghoulish media spectacles, we can’t get enough of them.
Even a figure as frightening, mysterious, and frankly bizarre as a serial killer has an origin story. Although serial killers have existed in most countries around the globe, a great many of them come from the United States. Here, we explore the states that have produced the highest number of these criminals throughout history and explore any commonalities and contributing factors.

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Despite the stereotypes perpetuated in movies, serial murderers do not have a great deal in common with each other. Their preferred victims, motives for killing, modus operandi, and the locations all vary greatly. In fact, the only thing serial killers really have in common is that their propensity for aberrant behavior.

A photo showing criminal mugshots of a man.

Intelligence also doesn’t seem to be a factor. Intelligence quotients of a sample of 252 serial murderers ranged from 54 to 186. The IQ of a typical serial killer is slightly below average at 86.

While financial gain accounts for approximately one-third of all serial murders, the victims come from all walks of life. Prostitutes and hitchhikers are the most vulnerable because of their frequent interactions with strangers. Interestingly enough, home invasion is the most common circumstance surrounding the crime patterns. 

According to FBI data, serial murderers happen more frequently in certain states. They define a serial killing as at least two murders committed on separate occasions. Based on their research, the following states have produced the highest number of real-life serial killers.

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1. Alaska

Proportional to its population, Alaska is, without a doubt, the most popular state among serial killers, with 15.65 serial killings per one million inhabitants. A total of 51 serial murders took place in Alaska between 1900 and 2014, with more than half of those occurring between 1980 and 1990.
The activities of serial killers spiked in the 1980s, and Alaska led the nation in serial killer murders during this decade. Experts have suggested a number of theories to account for why Alaska produces and houses so many serial killers.

Some experts point to environmental factors as a major influence. Extended winter nights for much of the year have a profound psychological impact on many people, although the most frequent symptom of seasonal affective disorder is severe depression.

A quote related to Alaskan murders: "he size and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness may also be an appealing factor. The seclusion provides opportunities to prey on vulnerable individuals and offers many remote locations to dispose of evidence."

Of course, for a serial murderer, the cover of darkness also provides a perfect opportunity to target a victim. The size and isolation of the Alaskan wilderness may also be an appealing factor. The seclusion provides opportunities to prey on vulnerable individuals and offers many remote locations to dispose of evidence.

Experts highlight the nature of the workforce as another important factor. The logging, construction, and oil industries that drive Alaska’s economy results in a high number of seasonal workers. The largely male population, in turn, contributes to a high number of sex workers in the state. Serial killers often target sex workers, both in Alaska and elsewhere in America.

The total number of sex worker victims by serial killers surpasses 850 nationwide. Experts suggest isolation and frequent interactions with strangers make them more susceptible. In a similar vein, around 325 serial murders have been linked to hitchhiking.

Alaska also has one of the highest rates of violent crimes in the country. In 2015, FBI statistics reported that Alaska had 730.2 violent crimes per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 372.6 per 100,000. The environmental factors in Alaska play some part in this, however many experts believe the lack of law enforcement services in isolated regions of the state also drive up this statistic.

A Washington Post study claims at least 75 Native American-Alaskan villages have no law enforcement at all. In the case of a crime, they must rely on Alaska State Troopers, who may take hours to respond to the call. Sometimes, evidence becomes lost or removed, and solving crimes becomes much more difficult when the scene isn’t documented properly. Many serial killers remain at large due to compromised police work.

2. Nevada

After Alaska, Nevada has the second highest rate of serial killings in the United States – among its 12.19 per million inhabitants. There have been 98 serial murders since 1900, with 33 committed in the 1980s.

Like Alaska, Nevada has one of the highest violent crime rates in the country according to FBI statistics. Many believe that the historic ties to organized crime contribute to the excessive levels of violent crime. The rise of Nevada as a gambling destination could explain the jump in serial killings in the 1980s.

Finally, the high numbers of tourists – in many cases, desperate individuals down on their luck– create a pool of ideal victims for anyone looking to commit a nefarious act. 


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3. Florida

A photo of a person walking through a misty tunnel of trees.

Showtime’s Dexter – the popular long-running TV series about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers – portrayed Miami as a hotbed of serial predators. Florida actually does seem to attract serial killers with a rate of 9.92 serial murders per million inhabitants.

The total number of serial murders committed in the state is 778, with 247 of those murders taking place in the 1980s. As in other states, the ‘80s marked the deadliest period in Florida’s history for serial killings. In fact, Florida has the third highest number of total individual serial cases in the country, with 112 separate cases.
It’s not clear exactly why Florida is such an active state for serial murderers. Like Alaska and Nevada, Florida is an extremely violent state in general, with 5.8 murders per 100,000 reported by the FBI in 2014.

Florida also stands out in the popular imagination due to its so-called “celebrity” serial killers. Ted Bundy, one of the most famous American serial predators of the 20th century, was sentenced to the death penalty for the murder of several women in the state in 1978. Ted had also killed many others in several different states. In addition, Aileen Wuornos – the subject of the 2003 film Monster – killed seven men in Florida from 1989-1990.

You May Also Like: “Bad Blood: The Murder of Athalia Ponsell Lindsley”


4. California

Although it doesn’t have the same proportion of serial killers per capita as some of the other states on the list, California earned a place among the most lethal states associated with serial killings.

During the “serial killer decade” of the 1980s, the chilling criminals in the State of California committed roughly a fifth of the 2,670 serial murders nationwide. Today, the total number of serial killings stands at 1,507 or 7.81 deaths per million inhabitants. Overall, California has seen a total of 128 cases of serial killing – the second highest number in the country.

A graphic about California's "Serial Killer Decade," where California accounted for 1/5 of all serial murders nationwide.

California also stands out in terms of the notoriety of its murderers and the individual cases associated with the killers. Many books and movies have chronicled the terrifying activities of Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker. Patrick Kearney, William Bonin and Randy Steven Kraft – three separate murderers who were all classed together as the Freeway Killer –  became media sensations when the grisly details of their actions came to light.

The infamous Manson Family conducted their reign of terror in the Golden State. The Zodiac Killer murders, one of the most famous unsolved serial murder cases in American history, also took place in California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even today, his identity remains unknown.

Read More: “What Happens When The Dead Begin To Speak?: Cracking the Tina Faelz Cold Case”

View Books on California Crime


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5. Washington

A photo of a person's hands behind glass.

The data reveals a total of 277 known serial killings took place in Washington State, with 95 individual serial cases.

Like other states on this list, a number of notorious serial killers caught the attention of the nation. Robert Lee Yates, a former prison guard and later a helicopter pilot for the United States Army, murdered 16 women between 1975-1988.

Another particularly infamous case in Washington State is Gary Ridgway, aka the Green River Killer. His conviction for the murders of 49 women in the 1980s and 1990s gives him the chilling distinction of having the most confirmed murders of any American serial killer.

You May Also Like: “Seattle’s Lost Serial Killer Gary Gene Grant”


6. Oregon

Compared to other states, Oregon has a relatively low rate of violent crime per capita. In fact, with 232 violent incidents reported per year for every 100,000 citizens, it is overall one of the least violent states in the country.

However, while statistics show Oregon as a generally peaceful place to live, serial killings occur with more frequency per capita in this state than almost anywhere else in the nation. Serial killings occur in Oregon at the rate of 7.36 serial murders per million residents.

There’s another distinction for murders committed in Oregon. While a great majority of serial murderers use firearms, there is a high rate of strangulations in this state, with a total of 52 people who died in this manner.


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7. Louisiana

Louisiana is known for many things: food, Mardi Gras, jazz music – and serial killers. The total number of serial killings in the state stands at 276 or 7.35 per million inhabitants.

From 1989 to 2014, Louisiana averaged 13.7 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, more than double the national average of 6.6. A number of factors combined to result in this rate of homicide. Louisiana has some interesting tales that fit well with the city’s traditions of witchcraft, voodoo, and general paranormal activity.

A photo of willow trees hanging over the Louisiana Bayou.

The Axeman of New Orleans, as named by the press in the early 20th century, terrorized the city from 1910-1919, breaking into houses and murdering people in their sleep with an axe.

The series of attacks culminated in a letter to Louisiana newspapers, supposedly from the Axeman himself, claiming he was of otherworldly origin — a “spirit and a demon from the hottest hell.”

The letter also stated that another victim would be murdered at 12:15 A.M on the night of March 19th, 1919 but provided the caveat that the murderer would pass by any home where the residents played jazz.

On the night of the 19th, the residents of New Orleans packed every home and dance hall with jazz bands, and the night passed with no murders. He committed his final murder in October, 1919 before disappearing into the night. No one ever learned the terrifying Axeman’s true identity.  


It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why people find serial killers so fascinating, but there is a strange allure in exploring the dark pathologies of the human mind. It’s similar to the reason why we enjoy tales of true crime.

The United States has produced a large number of serial killers, ranging from the brutal to the prolific. Though you can pinpoint certain regions as having a higher instance of serial murderers, they seem to happen all over the country.

Even today, the mystery and horror surrounding serial killers remains extremely powerful for many people. From sunny Florida to the rainy pacific northwest, it’s fascinating to study the places they committed their crimes and the towns that had no idea that a killer was among them.

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Buried Treasure on Long Island


What Captain Kidd Left Behind

Who doesn’t love a good pirate? Whether it’s Blackbeard with his smoking hair and glowing eyes, or the Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet whose own crew ditched him on a desert island (next time, Stede, pay them), have pirates ever failed to capture the public imagination?

While piracy along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, along the Carolinas and the Virginia coastline, often hoards much of the limelight, there’s far more to the story in American history. The privateers of the golden age of exploration operated up and down the Atlantic coastline from Massachussetts to Florida, including, as author Kerriann Flanagan Brosky has chronicled in her book Historic Crimes of Long Island: Misdeeds from the 1600s to the 1950s, right at the edge of New York’s very own Long Island. As Brosky details, none other than the infamous Captain Kidd ended up on East Hampton’s shores, bringing with him—you guessed it—a buried treasure fit for a king.

Born to a modest, middle-class upbringing in Scotland, William Kidd was already an experienced sailor by his mid-twenties. Having traveled to the colony of New York (and married a young lady he met there), the raging colonial wars of the time combined with his desire to fight the French on behalf of the English crown led him to pursue a commission for privateering. As Brosky puts it, “by 1696, Captain William Kidd was once again on the high seas, this time on a new and very impressive 124-foot sailing vessel called the Adventure Galley. The ship contained thirty-four cannons, twenty-three oars, and a 150-man crew. Kidd and his men were told to set sail to the East Indies via the Indian Ocean, where there were an abundance of French ships, pirates, and commerce.”

Except there were none. After two years of fruitless searching, his men rebelled, and in one altercation Kidd accidentally killed a crewman. What’s worse, once they finally did find a ship worth capturing, it turned out to be captained by a fellow Englishman—something Kidd, locked in his cabin by his mutineers, only found out after the fact.

An image of a receipt detailing the treasures of Captain Kidd.
A receipt given to John Gardiner listing Captain Kidd’s treasures. Image courtesy of the East Hampton Library, Long Island Collection.

Fast forward several years, to when Kidd is hiding out in the Caribbean, on the run from the crown for murder and piracy. Sailing to New York in a new vessel, laden with treasure from his illegal capture, he aims to appeal to one Lord Bellomont, one of the original sponsors of his prior voyage, for clemency. En route, he stops on Gardiner’s Island to bury his treasure—about $30,000 worth—before meeting his patron. For safety’s sake, legend has it he also made deposits at other points and buried treasure on Long Island in multiple places, including the Setauket, Oyster Bay, and the ‘Money Ponds’ near Montauk Lighthouse, as an insurance policy.

Unfortunately for Kidd, he had no idea that the Gardiners of Gardiner’s Island had already tipped Lord Bellomont on to his presence. With such a rich quarry in hand, Bellomont laid a trap for Kidd, and after receiving him promptly had him thrown in a Boston jail. After rendition to London and trial, Kidd’s story ends on the gallows, as Brosky records, but the story of the treasure lives on. Dug up on Gardiner’s Island were no less than “bars of silver, rubies, diamonds, bags of gold dust, pieces of eight, porringers, and candlesticks, just to name a few,” with a historical marker now indicating the spot.

An image of the spot where the treasure of Captain Kidd was once buried.
This historical marker on Gardiner’s Island indicates where Captain Kidd once buried his treasure. Image courtesy of the East Hampton Historical Society.

But that was just the first haul that Kidd buried. Those other spots along the Long Island coast, near Montauk, Sekauket, and the rest? Suffice to say that there are still more historical markers waiting to be placed: so if you see a little glint along the shoreline, whatever you do, mark that spot with an X, and don’t tell a living soul what you have found.

An image of the Historic Crimes of Long Island book cover.

Could hypnosis have cracked the Burger Chef murders?

You Are Feeling Very Sleepy

What do you do when you run out of leads? When, in the middle of an investigation, all your evidence has been exhausted, everything new turns up a dead-end, and your witnesses have nothing left to add? Do you wonder…can hypnosis crack crimes?

This was the situation faced by Marion County, Indiana, law enforcement in the late 1970s as they sought to determine who had kidnapped and murdered four employees at a local Burger Chef restaurant in Speedway, Indiana. This week marks the thirty-ninth anniversary of the ‘Burger Chef Murders’: a horrific crime that resulted in the bodies of Daniel Davis, Jayne Friedt, Mark Flemmonds, and Ruth Ellen Shelton being found in local woods, shot and stabbed in a seeming execution-style slaying. Whether random act of violence, robbery gone wrong, or drug deal turned sour, no one knew: every lead to that point had turned up dry, frustrating investigators, the families of the victims, and the community at large.

Can hypnosis crack crimes like the Burger Chef murders?
Rear view of a Burger Chef restaurant in Cookville, Tennessee, showing the kind of door Brian Kring would have found ajar when he stopped by the Crawfordsville Road store just after midnight on November 18, 1978. Image courtesy of Kyle Brown’s Burger Chef Memories website.

Every lead except one. The night of the crime, a teenage couple heading home had encountered two men near the parking lot of the restaurant. These two men—both shabbily dressed, one bearded, the other clean-shaven—had approached the couple to warn them that the area wasn’t safe at night due to vandalism. Heeding this advice, the couple hurried on, and didn’t think anything of it.

At least, until days later, when the sorrowful news had broken, and spread throughout the community. Wondering just whom they had met that night, this same couple went to the Marion County Sheriff’s Department to report the encounter. Virgil Vandagriff, a sergeant, questioned them, but given competing descriptions of the alleged vagrants at first, the sergeant decided to try a new technique: one that had not been widely used in this setting before. They wondered…can hypnosis crack crimes? Julie Young, author of The Burger Chef Murders in Indiana, writes:

Can Hypnosis Crack Crimes?

“Vandagriff spent approximately three hours with the young couple trying to extract as much information from their subconscious as possible. He had the teens fix their gaze on an object in the room and relax their minds and bodies and then gently asked probing questions about the men they encountered. He said a person often registers information in their brain that they cannot bring to a conscious level out of fear, tension or simply trying too hard to remember every detail. ‘Hypnosis creates a state of mind where you can pull that information to the surface,’ he said.”

Remarkably, despite their previous disagreement, by the time the hypnosis session was complete, the teens had produced “virtually identical” descriptions of the two men, down to weight, age, clothing, and hairstyle. While these descriptions proved enormously helpful in producing sketches, they did not necessarily mean the men were guilty—only that anyone matching that description would be a person of interest to the Sheriff’s Department.

An image showing a bridge near downtown Indianapolis, where the murder weapon may have been dropped.
The bridge near downtown Indianapolis where Donald Ray Forrester claimed to have tossed the gun that killed Ruth Ellen Shelton and Daniel Davis. Courtesy of Vincent Johnson.

Though over time, many individuals in the Marion County area who matched that description were found and interviewed, some with extremely high levels of suspicion, unfortunately this new technique didn’t prove to be the magic bullet that investigators had hoped for. As Young details, the murderers were never found, and the case remains one of the most notorious unsolved crimes ever committed in Indiana.

Hypnosis has enjoyed a mixed career in law enforcement since then, and it’s still not widely used in investigations. There is one interesting wrinkle, though. Months later, Donald Ray Forrester, the chief suspect in the case was himself subjected to hypnosis by law enforcement, in order to recall where he buried certain pieces of evidence. For that story, however, you’ll have to read Young’s book: provided, of course, you don’t start feeling very sleepy yourself…

An image of the Burger Chef Murders in Indiana book cover.

Running Rum in Chicago Heights

Where to Hide the Booze?

It’s a fair question: where should you hide the booze, during the era of America’s “Great Mistake?” To evade federal officers and pesky raids—in the event your local law enforcement couldn’t be bought off—bootleggers during Prohibition had to come up with some creative strategies. Author Matthew Luzi, in his book The Boys in Chicago Heights, delves into this history of sneaky drinking and running rum in Chicago Heights.

As demand for alcohol immediately outpaced supply following the Volstead Act of 1919, local manufacturers had to come up with swift solutions to slake the thirsty throats of the populace. According to Luzi, bootleggers in the Chicago Heights, IL, area employed three different fermentation methods: one that took seven days, one that took three, and one that took all of eighteen hours. Luzi:

“The seven-day method was a natural fermentation process that produced between thirty and forty thousand gallons. These operations were very large and required two shifts of men working day and night. Due to their size, these stills were operated on farms or in warehouses. In some instances, stills of this size were placed in the basement of a house with holes cut through the first and second floors to accommodate the still.” Noting that the three-day method could be staged in a garage and used a chemical process to accelerate the fermentation, Luzi records the last variant as the most mobile. “The sixteen-hour method,” he writes, “…could be operated anywhere, and the alcohol produced was commonly referred to as ‘bathtub gin.’”

Joe Martino's Saloon and Poolroom in Chicago Heights.
Joe Martino’s Saloon and Poolroom located on the East Side of Chicago Heights at the intersection of Sixteenth Street and Lowe on the East Side. On November 30, 1928, Martino was found shot to death just to the right of the entrance where the plate glass window would have been. This photo was taken in the late 1980s shortly before the building was demolished. The terra cotta cornice above the entrance was inscribed: J. Martino.

But you did have to be careful, as the process created a considerable amount of excess heat. During the winter, Luzi writes, when snow covered the roofs of houses and warehouses across the Midwest, those annoying federal agents were known to conduct flyovers to see whether the roofs of any buildings might suspiciously lack any snow. Little wonder that sales of white roof paint increased during that time, right?

Unfortunately, it seems there was no way to protect against the ‘smell test,’ in which the Fed would walk through areas known for bootlegging activity and see whether they could detect the colorful odors of the fermentation process. Perhaps this is why so many rumrunners set up their stills on their farms—they weren’t just secluded from urban areas, but the barnyard aromas would mask the gases given off by the yeast. Nor was there any protection from rival gangs: after all, bootlegging (and its first cousin, illegal gambling) were big business in those years, and profit-sharing wasn’t very high on most gangsters’ lists.

This photo was taken in the backyard of the Emery home at Twenty-sixth Street and Chicago Road in Chicago Heights in the autumn of 1928. Copies of the photo have circulated for years. An original has surfaced recently in the possession of Dominic Roberto’s relatives. Front row, left to right: Frank LaPorte, Vera Emery, Al Capone, Willie Heeney and Jim Emery. Back row, left to right: Rocco DeGrazia, Louis ‘Little New York’ Campagna, Claude ‘Screwy’ Maddox, Nick Circella and Sam Costello. Image courtesy of the collection of Michael Roberts.

Other methods — apart from simply bribing the cops, as most of the Chicago Heights crime families preferred to do — cropped up during the fourteen long years of Prohibition, as Luzi records in his history. But for amateur ‘spirit handlers’ of the present, these details are worth remembering — just in case America ever makes a similar mistake again.

Buy the book on running rum in Chicago Heights