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Most serial killers and murderers have really obvious nicknames; such as Myra Hindley & Ian Brady who were dubbed "The Moor's Murderers" (having murdered their victims on the Yorkshire Moors), John George Haigh aka "Acid Bath Murderer" (having dissolved his victim in an acid bath) and Harold Shipman aka "Doctor Death" (as he was a doctor... who dealt in death)...
...but sometimes a ripper is dubbed The Ripper even though he rarely ripped, The Strangler even though more often than not they shot, and The Cannibal even though (yes, they may have nibbled on a few choice morsels of leg, tongue or - if the mood took them - winkle, but) most days their cooking pot contained little more than cauliflower cheese. Nicknames are often dreamed up by bored tabloid editors looking for a way to lure in a fresh audience for a salacious story, which is always easier to do if they give a faceless killer an grisly yet headline grabbing nom-de-plume. So, what following is a compilation of serial killers (some who are currently incarcerated and others who are still on the loose) and the reason behind their infamous nicknames.
Dennis Nilsen aka "The Kindly Killer": Always with an eye for a pretty young thing, Nilsen would often invite back homeless young boys to his flat, for a warm meal, a place to stay, a chat, a drink and - if desired - a little bit of nookie. But he never killed out of spite, hatred or to fulfil a sadistic blood-lust, Nilsen - who was abandoned at birth by a wayward father, ignored by his mother and rejected by his true love who he nicknamed "Twinkle" - killed in a drunken rage as he (rightly, being little than a meal-ticket to them) believed that these new beaus would leave him by dusk, and Nilsen wanted them all to stay... forever. Of course, he also shared a romantic bath with the boys, but - more often than not - this was after he'd killed them.
John Wayne Gacy aka "The Killer Clown": When he wasn't working as a builder, plasterer or manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken (yum), John Wayne Gacy - the sadistic rapist, strangler and murderer of 33 young men & boys, many of whom he buried in a one-foot crawl space under his house, until the smell of the liquefying corpses got so dreadful it was impossible to disguise the carnage - also worked as a family entertainer, raising funds for children's charities dressed as the ever-lovable "Pogo the Clown". And if you weren't scared by clowns before...?
Ed Gein aka "The Mad Butcher": As the inspiration for Robert Bloch's book Psycho, bachelor Ed Gein had an unhealthy obsession with necrophilia, grave-robbery and taxidermy. After the death of his beloved mother (whose corpse he'd sleep with), Gein wanted to fashion himself a "woman suit" and wear it, so when the Police raided his Wisconsin farmstead, they found a gutted corpse, a waste-bin made of human skin, skulls used as bowls, a corset cut from a female torso, leggings make from leg-skin, face masks fashioned from actual faces, a head in a box, a heart in a bag, nine vulvae in a shoe-box, four noses, a belt stitched from human nipples, a pair of lips on a window blind's drawstring and a lampshade made from the stretched skin of a female face.
Rodney Alcala aka "The Dating Game Killer": Rodney Alcala is currently awaiting execution on Death Row (San Quentin, California) for the rape and murder of 7 women, although it has been speculated that he may have murdered as many as 50 women. And yet, in the midst of his killing spree, having already been convicted of rape and registered as a sex offender, Rodney Alcala appeared as a contestant on the US TV show The Dating Game. Even more shockingly he won the episode and his prize was to go on a date with contestant Cheryl Bradshaw, but - lucky for her - she refused to go as she found him "too creepy". See the actual The Dating Game footage here.
Stephen Griffiths aka "The Crossbow Cannibal": Between June 2009 and April 2010, Stephen Griffiths murdered three local prostitutes in Bradford, and disposed of the body parts of the two victims in the River Aire. Dubbed “The Crossbow Cannibal”, Griffith called himself this (against his lawyer's wishes) when he was asked at his trial by the judge for his name, although there’s no evidence that he ate any part of his victims, although he did own a crossbow.
Henri Desire Landru aka "The Ladykiller": Although hardly a stud or hottie, 43 year old Landru posted adverts in the lonely hearts section of Parisian newspapers to meet a like-minded "widow" for friendship, love and (maybe) even marriage, and with this all occurring during World War One, Landru had his pick. Between 1914-19, he assumed the role of a sensitive lover, lured ten grieving widows to their deaths, stripped them of their assets and burned their bodies in the oven, all the while corresponding with each women using a different alias, so even the Police were baffled.
Colin Ireland aka "The Gay Slayer": "The Gay Slayer" was a heterosexual married man who preyed on homosexuals at the notorious Coleherne pub (Earls Court), where you could pick up men with specific sexual desires - passive men into sadomasochism- by the distinctive colour of handkerchief they wore, which made finding the perfect victim easier. Ireland – who always carried a murder kit and a full change of clothes with him – would spend the night in his dead victim’s flat to avoid suspicion having already scrubbed it of any forensic evidence.
Unknown aka "The Doodler": From 24th January 1974 to 4th June 1975, five gay men from the San Francisco area were stabbed to death, all in remote locations around the bay, having picked up their killer first in a bar for the purposes of sex... but before they were murdered, their attacker had a habit of sketching his victim first. Although The Doodler is possibly responsible for 14 deaths and 3 attempted murders, many witnesses refused to come forward to the Police as "being gay" was still considered a crime in 1970's America. Read more.
Dennis Rader aka "The BTK Killer": Between 1974-91, American serial-killer Dennis Rader murdered ten victims in Sedgwick County (Kansas), by torturing and strangling them with a belt, rope, panties or nylon stockings, a grisly calling-card of "The BTK Killer" which stands for "Bind, Torture and Kill". Keen to antagonise his Police pursuers, Rader sent numerous letters to news outlets describing the murders in detail, but was arrested in 25th February 2005 whilst driving near his home, when asked by an officer, "Mister Rader, do you know why you're going downtown?" he replied, "Oh, I have suspicions why". Rader currently serving ten consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas.
Robert Maudsley aka "Hannibal the Cannibal" - Whilst serving a life sentence for the 1978 murder of a sadistic paedophile and child-rapist, Robert Maudsley killed fellow prisoner Bill Roberts who he stabbed in the head, impaling his brain. Dubbed “Hannibal the Cannibal” by tabloid hacks, Maudsley supposedly ate Robert’s brain using the knife as a scoop... but this fact was entirely made up by the press. Maudsley is currently serving a whole life sentence in solitary confinement at Wakefield Prison in a 5.5m by 4.5m glass cage.
Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka aka "The Barbie & Ken Killers" - Dubbed so, as no-one could believe that this (supposedly) perfect couple could be killers. Between 4th May 1987 and 27th December 1992, Karla encouraged Paul's sadistic sexual desires and together they’d stalk, assault, abduct, drug, rape, torture and murder at least 20 young women in the Scarborough area of Toronto (Canada)… although the true victim count is estimated to be as many as 100+. Paul is eligible for parole this year. Karla agreed a plea-bargain and served just 12 years, having claimed she was an “unwilling accomplice”, even though there is footage of Karla performing oral sex on their victims. Karla Homolka is now living with her children in Châteauguay, Quebec. Read more.
Unknown aka "Charlie Chop-Off": 9th March 1972 to 7th August 1973, a sadist affectionately known as "Charlie Chop-Off" - because of his fondness for mutilating the penis of his victims - brutally stabbed and severed the penises of either 5 or 7 young black children in the Manhattan area of New York. Although Erno Solo (a serial child abductor) confessed to being "Charlie Chop-Off", he was deemed unfit to stand trail, and was sent back to the mental asylum. Read more.
Peter Tobin aka (possibly) "Bible John": 22nd February 1968 to 31st October 1969, three women were raped and strangled having met "John" at the Barrowland Ballroom (Glasgow). One of his victim's sisters Jean described "John" as "well-dressed, tall, slim, with reddish hair, who was polite, well-spoken" and quoted from the Bible on the taxi ride home, hence his nickname of "Bible John". Unusually, these killings have uncanny similarities to those of the Scottish serial killer Peter Tobin who lived in Glasgow at the time, but this has never been proven. Read more.
Graham Young aka "The Teacup Poisoner" - In 1962 chemistry-obsessive Graham Young poisoned three family members at their Neasden home using antimony (a poison which causes vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and also death) for which he was transferred to Broadmoor Psychiatric Hospital with a “personality disorder”. But in 1971, having been declared mentally fit, Young was released and began work at Hadland Laboratories (Bovington, Herts) where he would poison a further 70 people – spiking their tea with antimony – two of whom died. Graham Young died in 1990 at HMP Parkhurst having suffered a heart attack. Watch a documentary here.
Ray Fernandez & Martha Beck aka "The Lonely Hearts Killers": From 1947-49, convicted fraudster Raymond Fernandez and his lover Martha Beck killed 20+ women they’d met in lonely hearts adverts. Posing as his sister, Martha chaperoned Raymond as they lured hopefuls to his Long Island apartment, and conned money out of them, having made them believe they were in love with a much younger man. But Martha had an awful temper and – in fits of jealousy, witnessing the couples kissing, or worse – would smash the “lonely hearts” over the head with a hammer, strangle them, drown them... and even their children. Both were executed by electric chair at the infamous Sing Sing prison (Ossining, New York). Read more.
John Cooper aka "The Bullseye Killer" - Burglar John Cooper got his nickname having chillingly appeared on ITV game-show Bullseye, the same year that he would tie-up, rob and brutally murderer two holidaymakers in the Pembrokeshire area. Cooper is currently serving a whole life tariff in HMP Wakefield, having also raped and sexually assaulted a 15 and a 16 year old girl. See The Bullseye's Killers TV appearance.
Of course, almost every serial killer gains a nickname at some point, that's how they gain such notoriety in the newspapers, so if you're still hungry for more, here's a few you may enjoy.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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