As a true crime fanatic, I absolutely love learning more about serial killers. In fact, my guests and I once dedicated an entire miniseries to them on True Crime & Chill, named 'Killing Season.' However, you might be surprised to learn that there's actually at least one serial killer from each state (Yes, even that state you're thinking of). In the following list that I'll present below (and again in parts two through five), there are some names you may know and others that you'll likely be learning about for the first time. Let's dig in:
1. Alabama: Thomas Warren Whisenhant
Thomas Whisenhant was a serial killer from rural Mobile County, Alabama. Although his kill total (3) isn't quite as prolific as other serial killers on this list, the torture he put his victims through was brutal enough for inclusion. Whisenhant murdered 3 women over the course of 18 months between 1975 and 1976. One of his victims, Cheryl Lynn Payton, was kidnapped from the convenience store where she worked and taken to a nearby, secluded, wooded area. There, she was raped in his truck and then shot point blank in the head. Whisenhant returned Cheryl's body to the woods, sliced her abdomen open and cut off a large portion of one of her breasts. Whisenhant was observed at the scene, so he fled and was later captured. Whisenhant confessed to killing Cheryl Lynn Payton, as well as the murders of Venora Hyatt and Patricia Hitt. Whisenhant was sentenced to death and was executed in Alabama in 2010; he declined his final words and requested his final meal to be chicken leg quarters, French Fries, American cheese, an orange drink, coffee and chocolate pudding.
2. Alaska: Robert Christian Hansen (The Butcher Baker)
Alaska may be a state that many people wouldn't expect to have a serial killer, but Robert Hansen proved to be an extremely brutal one. Hansen murdered 17-21 victims between 1980 and 1983 in Anchorage, Alaska. On the surface, people believed Hansen to be a nice, ordinary family man; in reality, he was the exact opposite. Hansen would routinely hire prostitutes for their services before kidnapping and raping them. Afterwards, he used his private plane to fly his victims out to his remote cabin in Knik River Valley, let them loose in the woods and hunt and torture them for sport. In 1983, Cindy Paulson was able to escape and contact authorities, who later arrested Hansen. While searching his home, investigators found "souvenirs" of Hansen's victims, such as jewelry and body parts. Hansen was found guilty and sentenced to 461 years in prison in 1984; he died while imprisoned in 2014.
3. Arizona: Douglas Edward Gretzler
For Gretzler, a night that began with a home invasion and robbery turned into a murder that then spun into a horrible crime spree. In 1973, Gretzler and an accomplice broke into Michael and Patricia Sandberg's home in Tucson, Arizona. Gretzler bound and gagged the Sandbergs and let Michael lie in his bed while Patricia was bound to her living room couch. Gretzler first shot Michael in the head, then firing at Patricia; Gretzler's accomplice then shot Patricia as well. After the Sandbergs were murdered, Gretzler and his accomplice stole their credit cards, checks, camera and their car before fleeing to California. During this time, Gretzler murdered nine more people. Police apprehended Gretzler and his accomplice, Willie Steelman, charging them both with first-degree murder; Gretzler admitted to murdering 17 people in total. In 1998, as Gretzler was set to be executed, he apologized to all his victims' families in front of about 3 dozen spectators. Gretzler said, "From the bottom of my soul, I am so deeply sorry and have been for years for murdering Patricia and Michael Sandberg. Though I am being executed for that crime, I apologize to all 17 victims and their families."
4. Arkansas: The Phantom Killer (Texarkana Moonlight Murders)
In 1946, a mysterious serial killer terrorized a small town in the Texarkana area for approximately 10 weeks. The attacks began in February 1946, where Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey were attacked in their car; the pair ultimately survived. Three weeks later, the Phantom Killer had its first victims when Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were killed in their car. Exactly three weeks later, another couple was murdered. Another three weeks after that, Virgil Starks was murdered and his wife, Katie, was severely wounded. These murders terrified the town, as everything was shut down at night while citizens stayed heavily armed indoors -- very few people left their homes. On May 3rd, 1946, the murders abruptly stopped and never continued; authorities had suspects, but the Phantom Killer was never identified.
5. California: Ed Kemper (The Co-Ed Killer)
California is no stranger to serial killers, as I've mentioned a few on my True Crime & Chill miniseries 'The Killing Season.' However, Ed Kemper was possibly the most brutal of them all. At 15 years old, Kemper murdered his Grandparents and spent just TWO (!) years in prison for it. During his first incarceration, Ed created a friendship with his psychologist and eventually became his assistant. Eventually, Ed convinced doctors that he was mentally fit and reformed, even managing to persuade his doctors to keep his juvenile records sealed forever. Kemper was released into his mother's care; she kept him locked in a basement out of fear that Ed would molest his sisters. Kemper had a horrible relationship with his mother and felt like killing her was something that he just had to do. Kemper eventually murdered 6 female hitchhikers, along with his mother and her friend. After his mother's death, Kemper decapitated her, used her head as a dartboard and screamed at the severed head. Some people have argued that Ed Kemper is the inspiration behind Norman Bates and 'Psycho.'
6. Colorado: Vincent Groves
Over a ten year stretch, Vincent Groves murdered anywhere between 14-24 women from 1978 to 1988. It was in 1988 that Groves was ultimately apprehended for the murder of Diane Mancera, after police found Mancera's body on the side of I-25 in Denver. Groves was linked to numerous deaths, which he denied, claiming that the women in question all died of drug overdoses. However, investigators determined that those women had actually been raped and strangled. In 1989, Groves received a life sentence. While in prison, Groves was asked to confess to his murders, but he refused. In 1996, Groves died from both Hepatitis C and liver failure. With the help of countless advancements in DNA analysis, Groves has since been linked to 20 more murders, which could bring his overall body count to more than 24.
7. Connecticut: William Devin Howell (The Sick Ripper)
William Devin Howell is one of the most prolific serial killers in Connecticut history, as he was convicted of murdering seven people in 2003. In 2007, a person was looking for a hunting ground behind a shopping plaza on Hartford Road in New Britain, Connecticut. While in the process of surveying the land, this individual came across several dead bodies. Since the area behind the shopping plaza was wooded and marshy, it was inaccessible to cars and delayed the investigation. Due to blood samples, authorities connected Howell to one of the murders and sentenced him to 15 years. In 2017, Howell was convicted of six other murders and ultimately sentenced to 360 years in prison. While in prison, Howell confessed to a cellmate that he had a "monster" inside of him and called himself a "sick ripper." Howell also said that he kept the body of one of his female victims in his van for two weeks, because it was too cold to bury her; he slept with the corpse and called it "baby." Later, Howell cut the victim's fingertips off, dismantled her bottom jaw and disposed of the body parts in Virginia.
8. Delaware: Steven Brian Pennell (Route 40 Killer)
To this day, Steven Brian Pennell remains Delaware's only documented serial killer. Between 1987 and 1988, Pennell raped, tortured and mutilated five prostitutes along Route 40. Pennell would prey on sex workers on Route 40, picking them up in an electrician's van. As bodies piled up, investigators noticed that the victims all had blue fibers on their bodies, which helped police find the killer. In 1988, an undercover cop posed as a prostitute on Route 40. After passing several vehicles, she noticed a blue van pass by seven times in 20 minutes. When she approached the van, she noticed it had a blue carpet. The driver tried to convince her to get in, but she said no. However, she managed to get a fiber from the van, as well as its plate number. Police were able to link the carpet fibers to the victims and connected the plate number to Pennell. Pennell claimed he was innocent, but asked for the death penalty when he was convicted of first-degree murder. In 1992, Pennell died by lethal injection.
9. Florida: Christine Falling (The Babysitter from Hell)
Florida is home to several notorious serial killers, such as Ted Bundy and Aileen Wuornos, but also claims Christine Falling (aka the "Babysitter from Hell"). At 19 years old, Falling choked five children to death, including an 8-month-old. People began to suspect Falling of foul play when they noticed several children dying of mysterious causes shortly after they were in her care. For example, three days after 4-year-old Jeffrey Davis died (Davis had been under Falling's supervision shortly prior to his death), Falling was asked to watch her 2-year-old cousin; the toddler died just a few hours later, due to a viral infection. A 10-week-old also died shortly after being in Falling's care; during examination, doctors noticed internal injuries that could have only been sustained from suffocation. Christine Falling was sentenced to life in prison, but was spared the death penalty due to her confession. Falling confessed to the murders and said she killed children because she "had a sudden urge to choke them."
10. Georgia: The Atlanta Child Murders
Between 1979 and 1981, Atlanta was in a state of panic, as the city saw a disturbing increase in African American children being murdered. Over those two years, 28 children were murdered in total. During that same time period, two adults were murdered in addition to the 28 children. Unfortunately, there is no official suspect in the Atlanta Child Murders case. However, a man by the name of Wayne Williams was tried and convicted in the murder of the two adult victims; he was given two consecutive life sentences. To this day, Williams maintains his innocence and says he was not involved in the child murders. In 2019, Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reopened the case in hopes that recent advancements in forensic technology can possibly help find the culprit.
I hope that you learned something new after reading this list! I'm looking forward to sharing stories from the other forty states -- stay tuned for part two, coming up soon!
- Gabby (@moneybagsgabs)