Hunting Serial Killers Who Vanish


Police tape hangs across the street in front of the house once owned by Dennis Rader, aka the BTK killer. Rader pleaded guilty in 2005 to killing 10 women in the Wichita, Kansas, area. Larry W. Smith/Getty Images
Police tape hangs across the street in front of the house once owned by Dennis Rader, aka the BTK killer. Rader pleaded guilty in 2005 to killing 10 women in the Wichita, Kansas, area. Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

It never fails: When you're home alone at night, you'll hear strange noises coming from the darkest corners of your basement. Then you immediately think of every true crime story and unsolved mystery you've ever heard. And unfortunately for your wandering mind, there are still many unsolved crimes on the books, including the worst of the worst — serial killers.

Now you know they're not hanging out in your basement, but you're clearly not going back to sleep anytime soon. So you might as well settle in with the guys at Stuff They Don't Want You To Know and let them give you some really quality nightmares as they dish the dirt on Serial Killers On the Loose in this episode of the podcast.

FBI investigator Robert Ressler is widely credited with coining the term "serial killer" in 1974, using it to define a series of murders all committed by the same person, in various locations, with "cooling-off" periods between murders. His definition proved to be too vague, though, and the FBI updated it to be "the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events."

To really hunt something, you need to understand it. When investigators study serial killers, they often turn to two tools: the Macdonald Triad and the Holmes Typology. The Macdonald Triad was created by forensic psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald in 1963, after he studied a small group of people who threatened violent acts. He published findings that said as children, serial killers are more prone to bed-wetting, arson and cruelty to animals. His study was far from conclusive, however, and it's been argued that the symptoms he attributed to serial killers are found more in people who suffered from child abuse. Often, serial killers are victims of child abuse, perhaps explaining the false correlations he drew.

The Holmes Typology, developed by Stephen T. and Ronald M. Holmes, created categories of killer: organized or unorganized, missionary or visionary, social or asocial, and broke down their motivations into act, process, thrill, lust, gain or power. Not all serial killers fit investigative profiles, of course. But categories are useful to understanding these criminals, predicting their behaviors and ultimately, capturing them.

They do sometimes mess up and get caught all on their own, too. Lonnie David Franklin Jr., aka the Grim Sleeper, was convicted in 2016 of killing 10 women in the '80s before one of his victims survived and was able to describe him to police. Now he's behind bars on death row. Dennis Rader, aka BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill), killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991 in the Wichita, Kansas, area, and taunted the police with letters about his crimes. Then he just stopped. He might have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for his ego. The lead investigator went to the press, stating BTK must have died or fled the country. Rader couldn't resist responding to brag that he was very much alive and ready to kill again. He never got the chance though. Police were able to trace the floppy disk he sent to them to his address, and BTK was booked.

Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen. As hosts Ben Bowlin, Matt Frederick and Noel Brown discuss in this episode of the podcast, serial killers like the Oakland County Child Killer, the Freeway Phantom, and the Maniac of Novosibirsk are still unidentified and on the loose. Listen to the podcast to hear more about these frightening, yet fascinating, felons and their grisly crimes — maybe you can help solve a crime.