Some murderers aren’t content to just kill their victims. No, for these warped minds and sick amoralists, death is not enough.
In this list, we pull back the rotten coffin lid covering some of the most horrendous torture murders in modern history. In each one of the cases covered here, the murderer or murderers took a perverse pleasure in sexually and emotionally humiliating their victims. They also spent hours, days, and even weeks reducing their victims to mere pulp and sinew. These sadistic crimes show without censor the true horror of the human animal.
Do not read this list if you cannot stomach extreme violence. You have been warned.
10 The Murder Of Pai Hsiao-Yen
The kidnapping and murder of 17-year-old Pai Hsiao-yen came close to causing a full-scale political crisis in Taiwan. On the morning of April 14, 1997, Pai went missing after leaving that day for school. Later, Pai’s family received a chilling ransom note demanding $5 million USD. The note also included pictures of a partially nude and partially bound Hsiao-yen. Pieces of her fingers were also sent to her grieving family.
Pai Hsiao-yen was no ordinary teenager. Her mother was the Taiwanese actress Pai Bing-bing. Her father was Japanese manga writer Ikki Kajiwara, who created such popular manga titles as Tiger Mask and Ashita no Joe. Ikki died in 1987, thus leaving Bing-bing to raise her daughter alone.
Irresponsible journalists made the situation even worse for the famous single mother. Before the kidnapping situation was resolved (namely, before a decision could be made about the ransom payment), several newspapers and television stations rushed to print stories about the kidnapping. It would be later revealed that several ransom drop-offs had to be aborted because the kidnappers saw police and television reporters trailing not too far behind Bing-bing. In short, the Taiwanese news media did not fully respect the 12-day media blackout on the case, and the fact that they camped out outside of the Pai family home made it obvious to the kidnappers that the police had been informed of the ransom note.
Eleven days after the abduction, police caught three alleged accomplices following a series of shoot-outs. However, the ringleaders of the crime managed to escape justice for the time being. Fifteen days after the kidnapping, Hsiao-yen’s mutilated body was found in a drainage ditch just outside of Taipei. Barbells had been used to weigh down her body and keep it underwater. Medical examiner Yang Jih-sung found that Hsaio-yen’s corpse had been decomposing for at least five days by the time it was discovered. Hsiao-yen had been repeatedly raped and had died after being strangled by one or more of her kidnappers. Rather than redeem themselves, journalists in Taiwan doubled down on their salacious coverage, and several newspapers featured images of the victim’s mutilated body on their front pages.
The three main suspects in the case—Chen Chin-hsing (pictured above), Lin Chung-sheng, and Kao Tien-min—were on the loose on the island for seven months. In June 1997, the group kidnapped a Taipei city councilor. Two months later, they kidnapped a local businessman. All throughout this crime spree, Chen committed several rapes targeting single women living alone in Taipei. The case came to a dramatic head when, on August 19, the three men engaged in a shoot-out with police that resulted in the death of one officer and Lin’s suicide. On October 23, 1997, Chen and Kao murdered a plastic surgeon, raped and murdered his wife, and raped and murdered a nurse after forcing the doctor to perform plastic surgery on their faces. Once again, even though the two were cornered by 1,000 police officers backed up by soldiers, they managed to escape.
Kao would meet his maker in November 1997, as he killed himself during a siege with police. Chen would be the last man caught. On November 18, 1997, Chen entered the home of South African military attache Colonel E.G.M. Alexander and took him and his family hostage. The standoff lasted for 24 hours, and, after receiving permission to address the media, Chen admitted to participating in the rape and murder of Pai Hsiao-yen. Chen was executed by firing squad in October 1999.
9 The Murder Of Jourdan Bobbish And Jacob Kudla
During the cruel summer of 2012, scrap hunters in Detroit came across two decomposing bodies. Twenty-five-year-old Fredrick Young and his friend came upon the bodies on July 27, 2012, on the east side of the city. The bodies belonged to two teenagers from Westland, Michigan—Jourdan Bobbish, 17, and Jacob Kudla, 18. Investigators later learned that five days before their bodies were discovered, Bobbish and Kudla had journeyed to Detroit in order to purchase drugs. Rather than receiving drugs, both men were forced to strip down to their underwear and were shot execution-style.
Young and his friend, 24-year-old Felando Hunter (pictured above), would later be charged with the murders. Two eyewitnesses, Brandon Hall and his girlfriend Stephany Seawright, told detectives that they saw Young and Hunter force the two teenagers to strip down and enter the trunk of a car. From there, both Bobbish and Kudla were seen at a house with Young, Hunter, Seawright, and Hall. At some point, following a discussion about narcotics, Young and Hunter forced both teens to their knees, robbed them, and then struck both in the back of the head with a hunting rifle.
Later, at the trial of Felando Hunter, Hunter’s friend, 27-year-old Demerious Cunningham, testified that Hunter had described to him how he had driven around Detroit with Bobbish and Kudla in the trunk of his car. Once the “perfect spot” was found, Hunter pulled both teens out of the trunk and shot them.
The murder of Bobbish and Kudla would have never made it out of Detroit if not for the courtroom antics of Hunter. During his trial, Hunter addressed the court, voiced his support for Black Lives Matter, and said: “Hands up, Don’t Shoot!” in reference to the then-current case of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Rather than apologize to the Bobbish and Kudla families seated behind him, Hunter apologized to the Brown family and denounced the “cold-blooded” death of their son.
8 The Murder Of Jennifer Daugherty
Jennifer Daugherty never bothered anyone. The 30-year-old lived an unassuming life in the small town of Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania, which is approximately 72 kilometers (45 mi) southeast of Pittsburgh. Daugherty was mentally disabled and, as a result, did not have many friends. Tragically, the people she did consider “friends” wound up torturing her for 36 hours and subjecting her to one of the most gruesome deaths in American history.
According to suspect Melvin Knight, who was 20 years old when Daugherty’s body was found stuffed in a trash can inside the parking lot of Greensburg Salem Middle School on February 11, 2010, the ordeal began when Daugherty began playfully flirting with 23-year-old Ricky Smyrnes. This did not go over well with Ricky’s girlfriend, 17-year-old Angela Marinucci. Also offended was Knight’s pregnant girlfriend, 20-year-old Amber Meidinger. Meidinger lashed out at Daugherty first by smashing her head against the wall. This act of violence begat more violence, as Marinucci and Smyrnes hit Daugherty with a crutch while Meidinger kicked and stomped on Daugherty’s stomach.
The wounded Daugherty was bound with Christmas decorations and forced to ingest vegetable oil, various cooking spices, urine, feces, laundry detergent, and several medications. The group, which was at some point enlarged thanks to the presence of 36-year-old Robert Loren Masters Jr. and 27-year-old Peggy Darlene Miller, forced Daugherty to write a suicide note before they shaved her head. Daugherty eventually died after several people in the group took turns stabbing her.
The callousness of the suspects shocked Westmoreland County investigators. During his taped confession, Knight told detectives that at one point, he asked Jennifer if she wanted to die. When she answered in the negative, Knight asked her: “Well, why are you letting us do this?” While listening to this and other portions of his confession that recounted how he and Smyrnes stabbed Daugherty in the chest, Knight laughed out loud in court. Beginning in August 2011, sentences were handed down to the “Greensburg 6.” Marinucci was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Knight was convicted of first- and second-degree murder, along with kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. He received the death penalty. Knight appealed his sentence several times, but his punishment was finally upheld in 2019.
Smyrnes was also given the death penalty, while Meidinger, Masters, and Miller received lengthy prison sentences ranging from 30 to 80 years.
7 The Murder Of Iana Kasian
Life imitated art for graphic novelist and film producer Blake Leibel. Unfortunately for the beautiful Ukrainian-born model Iana Kasian, Leibel had written a gruesome murder story years before he actually carried one out. His victim was none other than Kasian herself.
Labeled a “Toronto trustafarian” by the Toronto Sun newspaper, Leibel came from a background swimming in wealth and privilege. The Leibel family specialized in real estate, and growing up, Blake had pretty much everything he could ever want. Leibel’s string of good fortune continued when he met and fell in love with Kasian. Kasian was the rare combination of beauty and brains, for she was not only a model but also had a law degree and had previously worked for the Ukrainian State Fiscal Service.
The relationship between Leibel and Kasian began to sour when the engaged couple had their first child. According to homicide investigators, Kasian’s doting on the couple’s daughter infuriated Leibel, who thought that Kasian was neglecting him. Leibel’s paranoid rage first burned his mother-in-law, Olga. When the older woman arrived in Los Angeles, Leibel reportedly barred the woman from being present at the birth of her granddaughter.
Just a few weeks after the birth of his daughter, Leibel decided that Kasian, 30, had to die. On May 26, 2016, Los Angeles police officers engaged in a tense standoff with Leibel at the couple’s apartment on the 8500 block of Holloway Drive in West Hollywood. Once inside the apartment, police officers found that Leibel had barricaded all of the doorways and had locked himself in the same room as his wife’s corpse. Word quickly got out that the crime scene was beyond ghastly. The full horror would not come out until the autopsy and subsequent trial.
Iana Kasian was found naked and dead on a blood-soaked mattress that contained a Mickey Mouse comforter. Her blood was found throughout the room—on the curtains, on the bed’s headboard, and on a nearby lamp. A piece of her skin was also found in the bedding. Leibel had used either a razor or a paring knife (plus his bare hands) to rip apart Kasian’s scalp. Crime scene photos also showed that Leibel had severed one of Kasian’s ears. Ultimately, Kasian died due to extreme blood loss, with the majority of her blood coating the West Hollywood apartment. Worst of all, Kasian was alive for the majority of this torture.
Blake Leibel was convicted of first-degree murder, torture, and aggravated mayhem. Six days after his conviction, on June 26, 2018, Leibel was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Back in 2010, Leibel had co-written a graphic novel called Syndrome. The cover of this now-infamous work features a child’s doll with a partially removed scalp. Inside, Syndrome includes grotesque scenes of exsanguination and murder.
6 The Murder Of Stephanie Roper
During the early morning hours of April 3, 1982, Stephanie Roper, 22, was just another undergraduate at Maryland’s Frostburg State University. On that night, her car broke down on a rural stretch of highway in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Two men stopped and offered to help her. These men were 26-year-old Jack Ronald Jones and 17-year-old Jerry Lee Beatty. The men told Roper that they’d take her to a friend’s house. Instead, as soon as Roper entered their vehicle, the men pulled out firearms and drove her to an abandoned house in St. Mary’s County.
Here, in this house of horrors, Jones and Beatty beat and raped Roper without mercy. During this prolonged torture session, one of the criminals blurted out his confederate’s first name. Afraid that Roper would be able to identify them, Jones and Beatty decided to kill her. A heavy logging chain was used to fracture Roper’s skull, and then Jones fired the fatal shot the killed the college coed. To keep their dark deed secret, Jones and Beatty severed Roper’s hands and burned her body to ashes.
It did not take the authorities long to arrest the two ex-cons, as Beatty made it easy by bragging about his exploits. Both men were charged with felony murder, rape, and kidnapping. Both were convicted and given two concurrent life sentences with the possibility of parole after 12 years. As of this writing, both men remain behind bars.
While Roper’s last words were recounted during the trial by Beatty (the frightened coed begged for her life and tried to talk her way into an early release), more people would rather remember Roper’s final diary entry, which read: “Every person can make a difference, and every person should try.” In 2002, Roper’s name was lent to the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting crime victims and their families in the Old Line State.
5 The Murder Of Kelly Anne Bates
The murder of 17-year-old Kelly Anne Bates was so horrific that it reportedly gave jurors post-traumatic stress disorder. On April 16, 1996, Bates finally died after experiencing four weeks of incessant torture. Her torturer was also her lover, 48-year-old James Patterson Smith. Smith ended Bates’s short life by drowning her in a bathtub.
Smith and Bates should have never been in a relationship. It all began when the much older man began “grooming” Bates when she was just 14 years old. Bates’s friends began noticing that their once-active friend had grown withdrawn. Bates stopped bathing and began spending all of her time on the couch. Finally, in November 1995, Bates moved in with Smith at the man’s house located on Furnival Road in Gorton, Greater Manchester, England. Bates’s parents, who had only recently met Smith, did not like the idea at all. Besides the vast age difference, the Bates family wasn’t too happy that Smith was unemployed and seemingly uninterested in finding work. The family’s worries grew when, on the rare times that Kelly Anne visited them, they noticed bruises and abrasions all over her arms.
Little did the Bates family know that Smith had a history of abusing women. Smith’s ex-wife would later speak of traumatic and frequent abuse, while one of Smith’s ex-lovers was almost killed by him when she was just 15 years old. However, what Smith did to Bates was unprecedented. After he went to the Gorton Police Station to confess to accidentally killing Bates following an argument, investigators entered the home. A pathologist would later give all the gory details: Bates’s corpse contained more than 150 injuries, she had been starved for weeks, and she had been frequently tied to a radiator by her hair. Smith had used a hot iron to brand Bates, while also alternating between strangling and stabbing the teenage girl. Smith stabbed Bates in the legs, torso, and mouth. He also used pruning shears and other gardening implements to mutilate Bates’s face, scalp, and genitals. At least five days before drowning Bates in the bathtub, Smith gouged out both of her eyes.
Amazingly, despite all evidence to the contrary, Smith tried to defend himself by declaring that he was the real victim. Specifically, he said that Bates constantly taunted him and did everything in her power to make him look bad. The jury at his trial did not buy it, and Smith was sentenced to life imprisonment.
4 The Hello Kitty Murder
Something supernatural was in the air in Hong Kong in May 1999. A 14-year-old girl entered a police station in order to tell the officers that she was being haunted. Specifically, the young girl said that it was the ghost of a woman who had been bound with electrical wire and tortured to death. The girl further admitted that she had played a role in the murder. When the police entered the girl’s flat in the rough Kowloon district, they found a large Hello Kitty doll that seemed “off.” Inside the doll’s head was another head—the skull of a murdered woman.
The murder victim was later identified as a nightclub hostess named Fan Man-yee. Fan apparently owed thousands of dollars to local gangsters. So, in order to collect on the debt, three men abducted her and held her in apartment. Here, Fan was tortured for over a month. A girlfriend of one of the three men would later tell detectives that Fan was beaten every single day.
While Fan’s head was found, the rest of her body was never recovered. Although all three men were charged and convicted of manslaughter, the judge in the case decided to give all three life sentences, owing to the gruesomeness of the crime and the lack of contrition on the part of the defendants.
3 The Murder Of Channon Christian And Christopher Newsom
Twenty-one-year-old Channon Christian and her boyfriend, 23-year-old Christopher Newsom, were minding their own business on January 6, 2007. The pair were abducted from the Washington Ridge apartment complex in Knoxville, Tennessee. At some point, they were approached by an ex-con named Lemaricus Davidson. On the night in question, Davidson, a known drug dealer who was on parole at the time, was in a foul mood. Daphne Sutton, his girlfriend, had just ended their relationship. On top of that, Davidson was broke and needed a car.
Davidson decided to carjack Christian and Newsom. Robbing right alongside him were Letalvis Cobbins of Kentucky (Davidson’s brother), mutual friend George Thomas, and Thomas’s girlfriend Vanessa Coleman. None of the group had jobs, and, indeed, most were homeless. What started out as a plot to get a car and some easy money turned into a horror show.
Hours after Christian and Newsom disappeared, Newsom’s body was found near railroad tracks along Chipman Street in East Knoxville. Newsom had been raped several times with a foreign object before being shot execution-style. Newsom’s corpse also made it clear that he had been subjected to torture prior to his death. He was found with a sock stuffed in his mouth, his ankles bound with his own belt, his hands tied behind his back, and a sweatshirt tied around his throat with a shoestring. Forensic evidence ultimately showed that Newsom’s killers had forced him to walk barefoot along the railroad tracks before shooting him from behind. These shots paralyzed Newsom but did not kill him. The killing blow came from a .22-caliber gun that was fired at point-blank range. The final act of desecration saw the killers set Newsom’s body ablaze.
While all of this was happening to Newsom, Christian was being held captive in a small, dirty house on Chipman Street. For 24 hours, Christian was raped orally, vaginally, and rectally. Christian had her genitals mutilated, and during a botched attempt to hide evidence, Christian was forced to ingest bleach. Christian’s last moments of life saw her wrapped in garbage bags and stuffed inside a trash can. It took minutes for her to suffocate to death.
Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas were all convicted of murder and rape. Davidson received a death sentence, Cobbins got life without parole, and Thomas received life with the possibility of parole after 120 years. Eric Boyd was tried and convicted of harboring Davidson. Eleven years after this conviction, Boyd will face a Knox County jury on charges of murder. Prosecutors believe that he fully participated in the crime.
The case, despite being 12 years old, remains controversial. Specifically, many online commentators argued that the case received very little media attention outside of Knoxville because of racial issues. (The victims were white; all of the killers were black.) On May 27, 2007, several white nationalist groups rallied in Knoxville in order to protest the crime. Newsom’s family also told the media that they believed that the murders were racially motivated. In response, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. pointed out that black and Latino crime victims are more likely to go unreported and unnoticed. Pitts further told “white Americans who feel [ . . . ] victimized” to “Cry me a river.” For their part, the Knoxville chapter of the NAACP supported giving the death penalty to the killers.
2 The Murder Of Sylvia Likens
The 1965 murder of Sylvia Likens (pictured left above) is without question the most famous torture murder of the 20th century. The tragedy began when 16-year-old Sylvia and her handicapped sister Jenny were entrusted to the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Sylvia’s parents had the idea that they could make money by operating concession stands at carnivals throughout Indiana and Florida. Rather than take their daughters on the road with them, they left them behind in Indianapolis.
Initially, both girls jumped at the chance to live in the Baniszewski house. After all, Sylvia and Jenny were friends with some of the other girls who lived at the house. As for Gertrude, she was a miserable and miserly woman who made her pitiful income by doing laundry for her neighbors. Gertrude charged the Likens family $20 a week. Lester Likens told Gertrude to “straighten his daughters out.” Gertrude, a survivor of multiple divorces and abusive husbands, took this command to the nth degree.
After a peaceful two weeks, Gertrude began accusing Sylvia of stealing food, skipping school, not contributing enough money to the house, and having sexual intercourse with boys. Gertrude constantly shamed Sylvia in front of the other teenagers who hung around the house. Paula Baniszewski and her brother John used Sylvia for karate practice, would throw her head into the walls without reason, and frequently put out their cigarettes on her bruised flesh. Two neighborhood boys, Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs, also came to the house just to beat up poor Sylvia. Coy’s favorite thing to do was to use his judo background to pick up Sylvia and throw her down on the concrete floor of the house’s basement. As for Hobbs, he took pleasure in branding Sylvia with heated needles.
Gertrude not only encouraged this behavior, but her torture of Sylvia was often the cruelest. One day, in order to shame Sylvia for having had sex with a boy years before, Gertrude forced Sylvia to stand naked in front of John, Jenny, Paula, and a boy named Randy Lepper. Gertrude then ordered Sylvia to insert a Pepsi bottle into her vagina.
On October 26, 1965, after being starved, beaten, and having salt and urine rubbed on her festering wounds, Sylvia Likens died. Hobbs called the police and claimed that Sylvia’s death was an accident. Hobbs would eventually confess to everything. John, Gertrude, Paula, Hobbs, and Hubbard were all tried together in 1966. Gertrude was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Paula was also given a life sentence, while the others were all convicted of manslaughter.
John Baniszewski, Coy Hubbard, and Richard Hobbs were all paroled in 1968. Paula was freed in 1973. Gertrude was set free in 1985. John, who became a born-again Christian, is the only one of the group to admit that he “got off too easy.”
1 The Murder Of Junko Furuta
It is believed that as many as 100 people knew about what was going on with Junko Furuta, yet they all did nothing.
Junko Furuta was a 16-year-old schoolgirl who attended high school in her hometown of Misato in the Saitama Prefecture of Japan. By all accounts, she was a strait-laced young girl who did not drink, did not smoke, and rarely went to parties. She was also pretty. A lot of boys had a crush on Furuta. One of those boys was Hiroshi Miyano, a school bully who was already a low-level member of the Yakuza.
On November 25, 1988, Junko was kidnapped by four boys—Miyano, Nobuharu Minato, Kamisaku Jo (aka Ogura Jo), and Yasushi Watanabe. The boys took Furuta to a house in the Ayase district of Tokyo. The boys knew that the house would be empty, which is exactly what they wanted.
For 44 days, the boys raped, sodomized, and brutalized Furuta. At their trials, the boys claimed that they invited other gangsters to come over and rape Furuta. Each claimed that they raped her 400 times apiece. The teenage gangsters also dropped weights on her body, burned her with cigarettes, placed lit fireworks in her mouth, ears, and anus, forced hot light bulbs into her vagina, and eventually removed her nipples with a pair of pliers. Despite all of this, and despite being forced to eat cockroaches and drink her own urine, Furuta came close to escaping at least once.
On January 4, 1989, Furuta died when she was set on fire by the four teenagers. Furuta’s smoldering corpse was wrapped in blankets and placed into a concrete-filled oil drum. This drum was left to rot at Tokyo’s Wakase Park. Several weeks later, on January 23, 1989, Miyano and Jo were arrested for gang-raping a 19-year-old girl whom they had kidnapped back in December 1988. Miyano would eventually break down in front of interrogating officers and tell them where to find Furuta’s body.
In 1990, Hiroshi Miyano was sentenced to 20 years in prison. After being released, Miyano was again arrested in 2013, this time for fraud. Nobuharu Minato was sentenced to five to nine years, Yasushi Watanabe received five to seven years, and Kamisaku Jo spent eight years in a juvenile center. In 2004, Jo returned to the world of the Yakuza, which saw him arrested once again after he was accused of assaulting 27-year-old Takatoshi Isono.
The torture of Junko Furuta was well-known in the neighborhood, but people, including the parents of the killers, kept silent because they were afraid of their own children.
Benjamin Welton is a journalist based in Boston.