Who do you think about when you think about serial killers or mass murderers? Who comes to mind when you think about celebrity crimes? The following list, divided into five categories, contains a list of 25 of the most infamous crimes in modern history.
Although the list below barely taps the number of cases that could be listed here, the links lead you to sites that hold many more cases — especially cold cases — where you can browse for more information.
- Michael Jackson: In 2004, Jackson – famed pop singer – faced charges of conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion, with four counts of committing lewd acts upon a child, attempted lewd acts upon a child and four counts of administering intoxicating agents to a minor in 2003. A jury acquitted Jackson of all charges in 2005, although he faced another accusation of sexual molestation in 1993.
- Michael Skakel: In 1975, fifteen-year-old Martha Moxley’s body was discovered in her back yard. She had been beaten so thoroughly with a six-iron that the shaft had shattered, and a jagged piece of it was used to stab her through the neck. It wasn’t until 2000 that Skakel surrendered and was booked on charges of murder as a juvenile (he was born in 1960). Skakel, nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy, the late widow of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was convicted in 2002 and is serving a twenty-year to life sentence.
- O.J. Simpson: When O.J. Simpson’s wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ron Goldman, were found murdered outside Nicole’s Los Angeles home in 1994, Simpson was arrested and charged with the murder of his wife. He was acquitted in a highly-publicized trial, but found guilty for damages in the murders during a civil trial. Now, Simpson – a former NFL football hero – is serving a 33-year sentence for criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, assault and robbery for a separate incident that occurred in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2007.
- Robert Blake: An actor best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as Tony Baretta in the television series by the same name, was arrested in 2002 for the murder of his wife, Bonnie Bakely. He was found not guilty of the murder and one of the two counts of solicitation for her murder in 2005. He was, however, found liable for the wrongful death of his wife and ordered to pay thirty-million dollars. Blake filed bankruptcy in 2006, and in 2008 an appeals court upheld the verdict, but cut Blake’s penalty assessment in half. Bakely’s death is considered a cold case at this point.
- Phil Spector: A musical genius, recognized as a legendary rock and roll music producer, Spector was sentenced this year to nineteen years to life in prison for the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson.
- Amber Hagerman: This ten-year-old girl was a victim of abduction on 13 January 1996 in Arlington, Texas. Four days later, her body was found in a creek bed and an autopsy revealed that her throat had been cut. She was alive for two days before being killed. No arrests were made and her murder remains unsolved. Amber’s death, however, inspired the creation of the AMBER Alert system.
- Black Dahlia: Cold case investigators and crime writers have been fascinate with this 1947 murder case. In January that year, twenty-two-year-old Beth Short’s body was discovered in a vacant lot near Hollywood, drained of blood, bruised and beaten, and cut in half. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, this case remains unsolved.
- Jimmy Hoffa: Former Teamsters president, Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared sometime after 2:45 p.m. on 30 July 1975 from the Machus Red Fox Restaurant’s parking lot located in a Detroit, Michigan, suburb. He intended to meet two Mafia leaders, Anthony Giacolone and Antohy Provenzno. Although some Mafia hit men claimed responsibility for Hoffa’s disappearance, the case remains cold. Ironically, Robert Blake (see #3 above) played the part of Hoffa in the 1983 television film, Blood Feud.
- JonBenet Ramsey: Ramsey’s parents discovered her in a spare room in the Boulder, Colorado home basement in 1996. Investigation focused on six-year-old Ramsey’s parents from the beginning, but in 2003, an Atlanta judge stated that the police and FBI created a media campaign designed to make the family appear guilty. No evidence ever was discovered to implicate the family in Ramsey’s murder. This case may be cold, but it’s not dead.
- Natalee Holloway: This eighteen-year-old graduate from Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama was last seen leaving a nightclub in Aruba with three males during a class trip to this Caribbean Island in 2005. Although authorities in Aruba closed the case in 2007, Aruba’s top prosecutor reopened the investigation in 2008 after seeing key pieces of evidence collected by a Dutch journalist.
- Zodiac Killer: The case of a serial killer who operated in northern California during the late 1960s continues to fascinate and frighten people more than forty years since the last murder. Although the Zodiac claimed in letters to newspapers that he murdered thirty-seven people, investigators agree on only seven confirmed victims, two of whom survived. The Vallejo Police Department maintains a way to report Zodiac crime tips, and the case also remains open in Napa County and Riverside.
- Charles Manson: Although Manson killed on other occassions, he is best known for the 8 August 1969 murders of Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Sharon Tate and Sharon Tate’s unborn child. Although Manson was not at the murder scene, it was discovered that he had ordered the murders. Even in jail, Manson continues to commit crimes, including conspiracy to distribute narcotics, destruction of state property, and assault of a prison guard. He has been denied parole eleven times, and will not be eligible for parole again until 2012.
- Colin Ferguson: on 7 December 1993, Ferguson boarded a Long Island, New York, commuter train and began shooting passengers with a Ruger P-89 9mm pistol. Six people were killed and nineteen were injured before he was overpowered by three passengers. Ferguson represented himself in trial and was found guilty and sentenced to six consecutive 25-years-to-life terms for the murder conviction and nineteen additional 25-year sentences for each count of attempted murder.
- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: On 20 April 1999, these two teenagers conducted a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, that claimed the lives of thirteen people (twelve students and one teacher) and injured twenty-five individuals, including three who were injured while attempting to escape. Eric and Dylan committed suicide at the scene. This was the fourth-deadliest school massacre in the U.S., behind the 1927 Bath School massacre, Virginia Tech (see below) and the 1966 University of Texas massacre. It was the deadliest massacre for any American high school.
- Seung-Hui Cho: This senior English major at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, killed 32 people (5 faculty members and 27 students) and wounded seventeen other people on campus before committing suicide on 16 April 2007. This massacre represents the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.
- Timothy McVeigh: On 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh, with the help of Terry Nichols, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, claiming the lives of 168 victims and injuring more than 680 people. The blast used by McVeigh destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on 11 June 2001. His execution was the first federal execution in thirty-eight years.
- James Sullivan: Although this man never shot his wife, Lita Sullivan, he was arrested for her murder. This millionaire, about to lose half his estate in a divorce, instead hired a hit man – Phillip Anthony Harwood – to gun down his wife of nine years on 16 January 1987. Sullivan escaped arrest by fleeing abroad, but on 2 July 2002 he was arrested in Thailand, extradited to Atlanta, Georgia, and in March 2006 was convicted of capital murder. Harwood is scheduled to be released from prison in 2017.
- John Couey: Repeat sex offender Couey abducted and raped his neighbor’s nine-year-old daughter, Jessica Marie Lunsford, on 24 February 2005. Believed held captive over a weekend, he then was buried Jessica alive in two garbage bags. Police found Lunsford’s body on 19 March 2005, and the coroner ruled that she had suffocated to death. On 24 August 2007, Couey was sentenced to death, as well as three consecutive life terms. Jessica’s tragic death led to the creation of Jessica’s Law, designed to punish sex offenders and reduce their ability to re-offend. This law initially was introduced in Florida, but forty-two other states have introduced similar legislation since this law was passed in Florida in 2005.
- Leopold and Loeb: Nathan Freudenthal Leopold and Richard Albert Loeb were two wealthy University of Chicago students murdered fourteen-year-old Bobby Franks in 1924 and were sentenced to life in prison. On 28 January 1936, Loeb was attacked by a fellow prisoner and died from his wounds. Leopold was released after serving thirty-three years, and died of a diabetes-related heart attack on 29 August 1971.
- Scott Peterson: When the decomposed remains of Laci Denice Peterson and the couple’s fetus washed ashore from San Francisco Bay in April 2003, Scott Peterson was arrested. He was charged with the murder of his pregnant wife and the murder of their unborn son, Conner Peterson. The murder occured sometime between 23 and 24 December 2002. Peterson was sentenced to death, but his sentence carries a mandatory appeal. In the meantime, Peterson has started a Web page with his supporters asking for money for that appeal.
- Angelo Buono: Known as the “Hillside Strangler,” Buono began his criminal career by age fourteen, when – held in a juvenile delinquent facility – he bragged about raping and sodomizing young girls. eventually, Buono and his cousin Kenneth Bianchi raped, tortured and killed at least nine women in Los Angeles between 1977 and 1979. Bianchi was arrested first, and he turned evidence on Buono. Buono died of a suspected heart attack in 2002 while incarcerated.
- David Berkowitz: Also known as Son of Sam, this man killed six people and wounded several others. His crime spree, which was shortlived (1976-1977), focused on women. He stated that killing women was sexually arousing, and he fabricated much of his original testimony to try to prove insanity. Today, Berkowitz claims to be a born-again Christian, and he is described as a model prisoner. He has denied any parole hearings, stating he is happy with his life in jail.
- Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer: Dahmer committed his first murder in 1978, when he was eighteen-years-old. The murders escalated as he aged, culminating in seventeen known murders, mostly of young men. He kept body parts and buried other parts in his previous homes and committed cannibalism as well. The apartment where he was arrested held several corpses in acid-filled vats, skulls, severed heads and human remains in his refrigerator, among other “keepsakes.” After Dahmer was sent to prison, Christopher Scarver, an inmate, beat Dahmer with a bar from a weight machine. Dahmer died of severe head trauma on the way to the hospital in 1994.
- John Wayne Gacy: KNown as the “Killer Clown,” because he entertained kids at parties in a clown outfit, Gacy was convicted of the torture, rape and murder of thirty-three males between 1972 and the time of his arrest in 1978. Twenty-nine bodies were discovered in the crawlspace of his Chicago home, which led to his arrest. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1980, and he was executed by lethal injection in 1994.
- Ted Bundy: This attractive man was one of the most prolific known serial killers in U.S. history. Bundy confessed to over thirty murders that he committed between 1974 and 1978 in a nationwide crime spree, but the exact total of murders he committed may never be known. Bundy bludgeoned and then strangled his victims (all female), and he often engaged in rape and necrophilia. He was executed for his last murder and rape of a twelve-year-old girl in Florida in 1989.