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Do murderers disproportionately have 13 letters in their names?


Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history, has 13 letters in his name. Could there be some validity to the claim that most murderers share this peculiarity?
Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history, has 13 letters in his name. Could there be some validity to the claim that most murderers share this peculiarity?
© Corbis

The number 13 strikes fear into the hearts of many. Considered an unlucky number by many cultures, we tend to avoid poor, maligned 13 because of myriad superstitions. Most of these superstitions are well known, of course — Friday the 13th is an unlucky day, many buildings skip the 13th floor and so on.

You might want to check into the mystical number 13 a little closer to home, though. An old superstition says if you have 13 letters in your name, you'll suffer the devil's luck. Piggybacking on that superstition, conspiracy theorists believe they've found an interesting link between the number 13 and murderers. They posit that most murderers have 13 letters in their names [source: O'Keefe].

You just added up the letters in your name, didn't you? It's okay, we did, too.

Lots of conspiracy and folklore websites love pointing out the connection between 13 and murderers (or serial killers). They list all the killers with 13 letters in their name, pointing out the eeriness of the phenomenon. Understandably, it's a pretty cool theory. But does it hold water? Let's put it to the test.

Here's a list of some known murderers with a total of 13 letters in their first and last names [sources: Conradt, Law]:

  • Albert DeSalvo — aka the Boston Strangler, believed to have killed 13 women
  • Jeffrey Dahmer — murdered and ate his victims; later killed in jail
  • Charles Manson — cult leader who had his "family" murder actress Sharon Tate
  • Aileen Wuornos — murdered seven men in one year and said she'd do it again
  • Saddam Hussein — overthrew the Iraqi government, started wars and committed genocide
  • Lavinia Fisher — known as the first American serial killer, poisoning over a dozen guests at her boarding house
  • Osama bin Laden — responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks which killed 3,000 people
  • Theodore Bundy — killer and rapist who confessed to at least 30 murders
  • Jack the Ripper — still unidentified killer of prostitutes in the 1880s London

Yes, it's true all of these murderers have 13 letters in their names. However, as with most superstitions, cause doesn't equal effect. Having 13 letters in your name doesn't make you a killer. It's simply a coincidence. For contrast, here's another list of people with 13 letters in their names:

  • Mahatma Gandhi — leader of the Indian independence movement, practiced non-violent protest
  • Shirley Temple — child star during the Great Depression, who later became a humanitarian and diplomat
  • Nelson Mandela — South African anti-apartheid activist, president of South Africa
  • Susan B. Anthony — activist and instrumental in securing women's right to vote

We could go on and on. Obviously, none of these historical figures had murderous tendencies. In the case of murderers having 13 letters in their names, it's a neat theory, but based on false data. You can pick and choose among the names you want to use and ignore the ones you don't — Ed Gein, Joel Rifkin and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) are all famous killers without 13 letters in their names.

To summarize, it's not necessary to avoid anyone with 13 letters in their name. Unless you already find them annoying.

Why Is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?

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