Imagine the pressure of being a detective on the hunt for a crazed serial killer. You know it’s only a matter of time before the murderer strikes again and more innocent lives are claimed. You’re working around the clock; piecing together certain clues, witness statements, and crime scene evidence. Then, the sinister serial killer finally slips up—it could be the smallest error—but you’ve finally caught your suspect. This has been a reality for many detectives over the years as they have witnessed first-hand that even the most calculating of humans are still capable of grave errors.
See Also: 10 Common Misconceptions About Serial Killers
Before we had DNA, blood and fibre analysis; the game of cat and mouse was a lot more complicated. These following manhunts all came to an end because these psychopaths simply weren’t as smart as they’d like to think.
10 Dennis Rader
Between the years of 1974 and 1991, serial killer Dennis “BTK Killer” Rader was at large. He took the lives of ten people in Sedgwick County, Kansas. There was no mistaking his evil as his nickname was short for ‘Bind, Torture, Kill’. Wichita Police tried to chase down the BTK Killer for years all whilst he enjoyed taunting them with letters detailing his sinister crimes.
Then BTK asked the police if he sent a floppy disc, would they be able to trace it? When police advised they wouldn’t, BTK sent the disc and this was immediately traced back to him. The manhunt had finally come to an end in 2005. Police Lieutenant Ken Landwehr revealed, “Him sending that disk is what cracked the case. If he had just quit (killing) and kept his mouth shut, we might never have connected the dots.”
Through his handsome looks and charisma, Ted Bundy was able to lure his female victims to their death. In 1975, Bundy was driving his Volkswagen Beetle through the suburbs in Salt Lake City during the early hours of the morning when a patrol officer signaled for him to pull over. Panicked, Bundy sped off. Even though he had already killed 25 women in four different states, Bundy was wanted for no crimes and had he stopped the car when asked—he would have just been sent on his way.
When the officer finally managed to pull the car over, he was already suspicious and noticed the seat on the passenger’s side of the vehicle had been completely removed. (Later it was discovered this was where Bundy hid his victims out of view). Inside the car, the officer also found a crowbar, a large box of garbage bags, an ice pick, a flashlight, a pair of gloves, torn sheeting, a knitted ski mask, a pair of handcuffs, and a mask made from pantyhose. The officer had just caught out one of the most dangerous serial killers that ever lived.
8 Luis Garavito
Luis Garavito claimed the lives of at least 138 victims, however, it’s believed the actual victim count could be as many as 400. The Colombian born serial killer would target male victims aged between six and sixteen years old who came from improvised backgrounds. He won their trust by promising them odd jobs in exchange for money or small gifts. Once the young and vulnerable boys were lured away, they were subjected to prolonged torture and eventually killed.
In 1997, a mass grave site was discovered uncovering the bodies of the lost boys—police knew they were now on the hunt for a serial killer. Garavito was arrested two years later for attempted rape and he became a prime suspect. Following an eye exam, they discovered Garavito’s rare eye condition matched perfectly with a pair of glasses which had been dropped at the mass grave site. Recovering the lost property allowed them to capture the most wanted serial killer in Colombia.
7 Joel Rifkin
Between the years of 1989–1993, Joel Rifkin killed 17 young women in New York City and Long Island, although the actual victim count is still unknown. The sinister serial killer was known to dismember the bodies of his victims, many of whom were sex workers, including the removal of their fingertips and teeth. The brutal slayings could have continued for longer if only he would have properly checked his pickup truck.
During the summer of 1993, Rifkin was driving down Southern State Parkway in New York without a license plate—he instantly caught the attention of the police. Following a high-speed chase, which ended with Rifkin colliding directly into a pole outside a courthouse, police detected a foul smell coming from the truck. They discovered the body of 22-year-old Tiffany Bresciani who was the then-girlfriend of Dave Rubinstein of the 80s punk rock band Reagan Youth. Sentenced to life in prison, his first possible parole date is in 2197.
6 Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen is often referred to as “The British Jeffrey Dahmer” as he murdered and dismembered at least 12 young men between 1978 and 1983 in London. Nilsen would meet his victims in a local bar and then invite them back to his home for a drink—they were then strangled to death. The crazed killer then had a strict ritual after the killings; he would strip and bathe the bodies, then dispose of them either at a bonfire or flushing the remains down the toilet.
Nilsen’s crimes went undetected until he complained about the blocked drains at his property and called out a plumber to take a look. When the plumber removed the drain cover, he noticed a flesh-like blockage which included bones. When Nilsen returned back to his house that day, the police were already there waiting for him. Further inspection of his home uncovered three bodies and bones from at least eight bodies were also discovered at his previous address.
5 Israel Keyes
Serial killer Israel Keyes took the lives of at least three known victims, however, the actual victim count could be eight or more as he moved between Washington, New York, New Jersey and Alaska. 18-year Samantha Koenig was kidnapped by Keyes from the coffee booth where she worked as a waitress and he murdered her the following day. He took a photo of her body alongside a four-day-old newspaper to make it appear she was still alive and demanded a $30,000 ransom to be paid to Koenig’s debit card.
His surprising error came when he headed to an ATM to withdraw the ransom and was immediately tracked through CCTV then arrested. In custody, Keyes confessed to murdering three victims and even offered to reveal where two more bodies were buried in exchange for a cigar. Before he stood trial, he wrote a two-page suicide note before slashing his wrists and hanging himself. Investigators will now never know the true length of the bloody trail he left behind.
4 Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey “The Milwaukee Cannibal” Dahmer confessed to killing 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. It’s haunting to think how much higher that kill count could have been if he had an air freshener in his apartment. When Dahmer invited 32-year-old Tracy Edwards back to his apartment to pose for nude photographs in exchange for $100, the young man became spooked by a foul-smelling odor coming from a blue 57-gallon drum in the corner of the room.
Edwards, who had just been handcuffed by Dahmer, asked to take a bathroom break, which was granted and he was able to hit him over the head and escape. Edwards managed to escape and flag down two Milwaukee police officers explaining to them what the “freak” had just done. Police officers headed to Dahmer’s apartment to investigate and they noticed there were several Polaroids of dismembered human bodies. They also found body parts—including a human head—in the fridge. When Dahmer was arrested, he uttered, “For what I did I should be dead”.
3 David Berkowitz
David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz terrified the public when he killed eight people with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver in eight separate shooting attacks between 1976 and 1977 in New York City and surrounding areas. Berkowitz became part of the biggest police manhunt in the history of New York City as he taunted them with sinister letters about his crimes. Knowing that the FBI on his trail makes things even more unbelievable that the serial killer was caught out by a parking ticket.
After Berkowitz killed a 20-year-old couple in a borough of Brooklyn, one witness said she noticed a young man around 2.30am when she was out walking her dog. She recalled he was holding his arm stiffly as if he was carrying something up his sleeve and also that a police officer had tagged an illegally parked car close to the site of the murder. Detectives traced the parking ticket to a 1970 Ford Galaxie registered in Berkowitz’s name. When he was arrested, Berkowitz turned to the police and said, “I guess this is the end of the trail.”
2 Albert Fish
Born in 1870, serial killer Albert Fish was known under many nicknames including the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire and The Boogey Man. Fish was executed by electric chair for the brutal slaying of 10-year-old Grace Budd and two others. It’s unknown how many more victims he could have claimed before he was caught out by an envelope that contained a very cruel letter.
Fish wrote to Budd’s mother, detailing exactly how he butchered and cannibalized her young daughter. “It took me 9 days to eat her entire body,” the serial killer taunted. The letter was delivered in an envelope with an emblem representing “New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association”. The police managed to trace the envelope back to a rooming house that Fish had moved out a few days earlier but he was expected back to collect a check. When he returned, the police pounced and were finally able to catch the sinister child killer.
1 Andrei Chikatilo
Ukrainian-born Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed the Butcher of Rostov, is known for the assault, murder, and mutilation of at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. The trial of mutilated bodies left no question that a crazed serial killer was on the loose. Uniformed police were placed at rail stations in Rostov Oblast in order to deter any murderer looking to strike. There were also several undercover agents instructed to question anyone who appeared suspicious. Altogether, more than 360 police were manning the stations during the manhunt.
In November 1990, Chikatilo was washing his hands and face in a well at a nearby station when he was approached by an agent. Chikatilo had not washed his face properly and a red smear was left on his cheek and his name was noted. When the body of his 36th victim was discovered in the woodlands nearby, Chikatilo was arrested and four years later, executed for his crimes by a single gunshot.