The scariest thing about serial killers and other murderers is that they’re capable of blending in perfectly with the rest of society. Once the blood’s washed off their hands, there’s no telling them from you or me. Here are ten terrifying tales of cold-blooded killers that hid in plain sight for years and even decades. (You might want to lock the doors before you go to bed tonight.)
For years, his neighbors in one of Anchorage, Alaska’s nicest suburbs knew Israel Keyes as a hard-working handyman who did nice work at a good price. What they didn’t know was that he was addicted to the thrills he got from murder. His trail of carnage started in Washington State in the early 1990s, where he claimed four victims, then to New York, Vermont and finally Alaska. Keyes was notorious for targeting only complete strangers and planning his murders years in advance, but when he broke his own self-imposed rules to kidnap and kill Anchorage barista Amanda Koenig, the trap sprang closed on him. He was picked up in Texas after using Koenig’s debit card and extradited back to Alaska, where he killed himself in prison.
We don’t have the full last name of the perpetrator of this crime due to an odd quirk in the Dutch justice system, but his story is so shocking it demands to be shared. In 1999, the small town of Veenklooster was shocked at the brutal slaying of 16 year old Marianne Vaatstra, who was found strangled and raped with her throat slit by the side of a country road. Police got DNA samples from a cigarette lighter but only got authorization to conduct an area-wide DNA sweep in 2013. The perpetrator, amazingly, lived on his dairy farm less than five miles from the scene of the crime. He had kept the secret for thirteen years, ostensibly to protect his children, but eventually the truth came out.
You know you’ve made it as a serial killer when they give you a nickname. Dennis Rader was dubbed the “BTK Killer” for his routine of extinguishing his victims – first binding them, then torturing them, then killing. He started killing people in the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas in 1974 and continued for over fifteen years, claiming his last victim in 1991. Most shocking was Rader’s day job during this time – he worked as a home security specialist, installing alarm systems in the houses of people terrified of being the BTK Killer’s next victim. Amazingly enough, he was also married to his wife for 34 years without her having any suspicions about his lethal hobby.
One of the longest escapes from justice in American criminal history comes in the case of Frank Dryman, who dodged the hangman’s noose in 1951 and managed to live under an assumed name for decades. Dryman was found guilty of the murder of café owner Clarence Pellett and sentenced to life in prison. After his parole, he skipped out on his parole officer and moved to Arizona City, changing his name to Victor Houston and working as a sign painter. It wasn’t until Pellett’s grandson got interested in the case and hired a private detective to track him down that justice was served, and Dryman is now back in the clink on a life sentence.
After you escape from prison, things don’t get easier, but somehow George Wright made it work. After being put away for murdering a motel employee during a robbery in 1962, Wright spent eight years of his sentence at Leesburg State Prison before simply walking out and escaping. From there, he hijacked a plane (disguised as a priest with a gun in a hollowed-out bible) and flew to Algeria. He spent the next 41 years traveling freely around Africa and Europe, at one point even hanging out with America’s ambassador to Guinea-Bissau. He was eventually arrested in Portugal, where he had been living for twenty years and running a barbecue chicken restaurant.
Robert Charles Johnson
The circumstances that led Robert Charles Johnson to murder a man in 1972 are unclear – he claims that while hitchhiking in Colorado, he was picked up by a man who made unwanted sexual advances and then pulled a gun, which he wrestled away and used to kill the man in self-defense – but the next thirty years of his life were even weirder. After pleading guilty to murder, a guard at Canon City’s Fremont Prison helped him escape. He moved in with his parents and eventually got a job as a river guide, living under the radar as Robert Fargo. When his case was re-opened in 2005, it was only a matter of time before police tracked him down, and he’s currently back in jail on a life sentence.
When Chicago police were faced with the presence of a serial killer claiming victims all over the South Side, they had no idea that the murderer was actually helping with his own investigation. Andre Crawford was a member of Operation Safe Passage, a community group that volunteered to watch over the city streets at night. When he wasn’t on duty, Crawford would hit the streets looking for women willing to trade sex for drugs. He would then take them to vacant buildings, kill them and have sex with their corpses. His reign of terror lasted for six years before a tip from a neighborhood woman brought him to justice.
It’s not just serial killers that lay low and blend in amongst their victims. Marko Boskic was a member of the Serbian militia that carried out the massacre of over 7,500 Muslims in the town of Srebrenica in 1995. To escape prosecution for war crimes, Boskic fled the country and ended up settling in Boston in 2000, where he had the gall to turn to a Serbian expatriate community partially composed of the families of his victims. They helped him get a job, an apartment and a driver’s license, and when he was arrested by FBI agents in 2004 were shocked and horrified.
One of the creepiest criminals to ever lurk among us was David Russell Williams, the “creepy Colonel.” Over the course of his 23 year career in the Canadian Forces, he received numerous awards and commendations, and was put in charge of the country’s largest military airbase. Unfortunately, Williams also had a bit of a secret – starting in 2007, he made repeated break-ins to neighborhood houses to steal underwear, sexually assault women and eventually murder them. In a hidden location in the house he shared with his wife, Williams had built a carefully-maintained fetish library of his ill-gotten lingerie. After he was taken into custody, he tried to kill himself by stuffing a cardboard toilet paper roll down his throat.
Next: 10 Celebrities Who Have Killed People
What better way for a murderer to hid in plain sight than as a police officer? Serhiy Tkach worked for the Russian and Ukranian police departments from 1980 to 2005, and simultaneously raped and murdered as many as 100 young women. A real-life Dexter without the moral code, Tkach killed for sick pleasure and used his knowledge of criminal investigations to hide his tracks, even pinning some of his killings on other people. His co-workers finally brought him in in 2005, and he gleefully confessed to an insane number of crimes.