Historical True Crime

Maniac

Maniac

In 1927, while the majority of the township of Bath, Michigan, was celebrating a new primary school—one of the most modern in the Midwest—Andrew P. Kehoe had other plans. The local farmer and school board treasurer was educated, respected, and an accommodating neighbor and friend. But behind his ordinary demeanor was a narcissistic sadist seething with rage, resentment, and paranoia. On May 18 he detonated a set of rigged explosives with the sole purpose of destroying the school and everyone in it.

Hell's Princess

The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men

In the pantheon of serial killers, Belle Gunness stands alone. She was the rarest of female psychopaths, a woman who engaged in wholesale slaughter, partly out of greed but mostly for the sheer joy of it. Between 1902 and 1908, she lured a succession of unsuspecting victims to her Indiana “murder farm.” Some were hired hands. Others were well-to-do bachelors. All of them vanished without a trace. When their bodies were dug up, they hadn’t merely been poisoned, like victims of other female killers. They’d been butchered.

The Pirate

(Bloodlands collection)

In 1860, a sloop drifted into New York Harbor. Not a soul on board—just blood from cabin to deck. Looted coins led to Bowery thug Albert Hicks, the ax slayer who turned his shipmates into chum.

His crimes were absolutely fiendish. His execution was pure ballyhoo. It drew nearly ten thousand bloodthirsty sightseers to the city—including the enterprising showman P. T. Barnum. Refreshments were served as the most notorious and unrepentant mass murderer of the era made history as one of America’s first celebrity killers.

Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie

(Bloodlands collection)

At a remote little inn not far from the Kansas homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder lived the Bender family. These pioneers welcomed unwary visitors with jackrabbit stew and a sledgehammer to the skull.

In time, their apple orchard gave up its secrets—a burial ground for their mutilated victims, each stripped of their possessions. The devilish enterprise on “Hell’s Half-Acre” would earn the Bloody Benders an undying place in the annals of American infamy. But it was the mysterious fate of eldest daughter, Kate, that would make them the stuff of mythic campfire prairie tales.

The Pied Piper

(Bloodlands collection)

With makeup and an affected Elvis pout, Tucson’s Charlie Schmid was a crude parody of a bad-boy heartthrob. In 1964, he still had a hold on girls who’d follow him anywhere. He murdered three of them.

It was the dawn of the free-love movement—perfect for a magnetic madman who’d also foreshadow its end a few years later in the malignant charisma of Charles Manson. The inspiration for a classic story by Joyce Carol Oates, Schmid, the most bizarre serial killer of any era, was the epitome of a narcissist flattered into believing he could get away with murder.

Panic

(Bloodlands collection)

During the Depression, economic anxieties found an outlet in a series of child murders that triggered an irrational nationwide hysteria: pedophiliac psychopaths were overrunning the country.

As America was brought to rage and fury by the press and the FBI, lynch mobs took to the streets, reason gave way to doomsday scenarios, and one father was even driven to murder his three daughters to “save them” from a degenerate crime wave. A terrifying cautionary essay, Panic explores the combustible mix of unfounded fears, moral crusades, and the dangers of collective thinking.