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Hakeem Fullerton,  Off Beat,  Our Writers

10 Lesser-Known U.S. Killers of the 20th Century

Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy…these are just some of the most infamous killers the United States has ever seen with their acts of crime and sadism being the topic of many documentaries, TV shows, movies and podcasts over the years.

But what about those reviled men and women who’ve committed evil acts on the same level as Bundy and Dahmer yet have been forgotten about in the annuals of time? Well in this article I’ll be going over 10 ruthless American killers whose acts of evil have become a footnote in U.S. history.

#10. Alfred Knapp


Alfred Andrew Knapp became a small time celebrity after confessing to the death of one woman with some newspapers comparing him to the infamous serial killer H.H. Holmes. However it’s been speculated that he might also be responsible for the deaths of at least four other women in the previous years before his capture.

In December of 1902 Knapp’s third wife, Hannah was strangled and killed by her husband in the early hours of the morning inside their home in Cincinnati, Ohio. He disposed of the body inside a wooden box that Knapp threw into the Great Miami River in order to hide the evidence.

Not too long after this Knapp began traveling from Ohio to Indianapolis where he remarried another woman but also informed the sister of his previous victim that her sibling was missing. Authorities then decided to arrest Knapp under suspicion that he might’ve had something to do with his wife’s disappearance at which point he soon confessed to being responsible for Hannah’s death. He also admitted to being involved in the killing of 4 other women between 1894 and 1896 in the Cincinnati and Indianapolis areas.

Knapp was put on trial where his sister served as his attorney. She claimed that the killer was mentally unstable and needed to be put into an institution, but upon the discovery of Hannah’s decaying body inside the box, Knapp’s fate was sealed. He was found guilty and sentenced to death where he died via the electric chair on August 19th, 1904.

#9. Charles Barr 


When you think of a place called ‘Lover’s Lane’ the first thing that often comes to mind are two people alone at night in a car engaging in a little bit sexy time, unfortunately it’s also be the seen as your stereotypically location to commit murder as so many have occurred over the years.

Two such murders took place in Memphis Tennessee with the first one happening on January 27th, 1923 when a man by the name of Charles Barrs drove a friends car to Lover’s Land when he stumbled upon Duncan Waller and Ruth Tucker. Barr followed the couple on foot when he pulled a pistol and shot Waller inside the car killing him instantly, he then pursued Tucker who attempted to flee before sexual assaulting and then killing her.

After escaping the scene of the crime, Charles Barr returned to Lover’s Lane a few months later to kill another couple however this time didn’t go exactly has planned as he ended up shooting a grocery store executive named W. Obe Spencer while his date Laura Johnson made it out of the car and ran to safety where she was taken to the police to report the incident, but she was unable to give an accurate description of the criminal.

At first the case looked like it had no chance of ever getting solved until detectives got a tip that a watch which was in the possession of a pawnbroker was brought in by the wife of the killer, this and the discovery of the .25 caliber pistol inside Barr’s vehicle led to him going on trial where he was sentenced to death and on August 20th, 1926 the twenty something year old Charles Barr died via electric chair. 

#8. John Frank Hickey


Also known as “The Postcard Killer” because he would send letters to the police and the family’s of victims mentioning his monstrous crimes, John Frank Hickey showed a violent side even at a young age when he killed a fellow coworker at just the age of 18 with a dangerous opium called laudanum.

Hickey soon began to kill innocent children going all the way back to 1902 when he strangled an 11 year old boy by the name of Michael Kruck who was found dead in New York’s Central Park, however the murderer was arrested after drunkenly confessing to the crime in a bar but he was later released due to a lack of evidence.

In 1911, John Hickey committed another killing after taking seven year old Joey Josephs to an outhouse near a saloon where he sexually assaulted and killed him. The child killer would then write and mail letters to the police explaining how he was under the influence of “Demon Whiskey” before assaulting and disposing of Josephs’ body with the words “Catch me if you can” at the end of one of those letters.

His downfall came when someone who use to work with John Hickey at another job sent the police a letter that matched the hand writings of the previous letters that the killer had sent them and soon this eventually led to John F. Hickey’s capture in November of 1912 where he was charged with first degree murder and later admitted to the crimes as well as having an uncontrollable urge to kill.

John Frank Hickey would be found guilty, but of second-degree murder and he would serve a life sentence at the Auburn State Prison before dying on May 8th 1922.

#7. Amy Archer-Gilligan

Amy Archer Gilligan

The alleged inspiration behind the famous play turned equally famous 1944 film “Arsenic and Old Lace” starring Cary Grant, Amy Archer-Gilligan took the lives of around 60 people including her husband, Michael Gilligan who died from a bad case of indigestion mere months into the marriage and was later revealed that she forged his signature to a will that gave her access to his estate.  

Her reign of terror began when she and her first husband created their own nursing home which saw Amy acting as a caretaker for many of the elderly residents. However, when her husband died from a kidney disease in 1910 Amy got a sum of money via a life insurance policy she took out on him weeks prior and this desire for money would led to a trail of death for the next several years.

From 1907 onward, many of Gilligan’s patients would die in what The Hartford Courant would call the Murder Factory with many of the residents seeing their health decay as time went by.

It wasn’t until the family members of one of the victims began to suspect foul play leading to the police getting involved after months of alerting their concerns to the Distract Attorney. After letters were found by the victims’ family mentioning how Amy demanded money for her services the authorities and medical experts noticed that the residents who died in Gilligan’s care had traces of arsenic and strychnine in their systems and this ultimately led to her being arrested.

Gilligan’s would be found guilty and sentenced to death until she begged for a re-trial which she got and pleaded insanity which led to her serving time in the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane before dying on April 23rd, 1962 at the age of 88. 

#6. The Atlanta Ripper

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A unique entry on this list as the identity and body count of this serial killer has never been revealed despite it being over a 100 years old.

Begin in the early 1910’s the mysterious killer known as the Atlanta Ripper began killing beautiful women in Atlanta Georgia with the victims being found die with their skulls either fractured or crushed and their throats slit open.

As the deaths continued to pile up in the area an investigation was soon underway, unfortunately due to the female victims of the ripper being exclusively African Americans most in the community refused to help due to the prejudice of the time.

Despite a few arrests by the police, many of those accused were acquitted with the number of victims ranging from 6-20 and as previously mentioned the Atlanta Ripper was never identified and thus the case remains unsolved to this day.

#5. Andrew Kehoe 


The perturbator of the insidious Bath School Massacre, Andrew P. Kehoe caused one of the worst school disasters in American history up to that point.

After attacking his wife and blowing up the house and farm he shared with her, Andrew Kehoe went on to commit one of worse tragedies 1920’s American has ever seen. On May 18th 1927, Kehoe who was the school treasurer entered the Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township, Michigan where he rigged piles of dynamic to explode resulting in most of the building getting destroyed as well as 40 plus people dying and 58 getting injured with 37 of those killed being children.

Kehoe then rolled up to the wreckage about 30 minutes later before calling over the super intendent before causing the truck he was in to exploding leading his to death and the deaths of four other people in the area.

It’s believed that the motive behind Kehoe’s actions stem from the fact that he lost a local election in 1926, with the killer leaving a disturbing message of the fence of where his house was reading “Criminals are made, not born”.

#4. Jake Bird


A day before Halloween of 1947, Bertha Kludt and her daughter June were hacked to pieces by a man wielding an axe in a botched burglary attempt. Police were called to the area after reports of screaming were heard near the house by neighbors and this led to the authorities chasing after the culprit who was seen sneaking out of the back door.

The man whom the police caught after the chase was a 45 year old African American male named Jake Bird who drifted from job to job and had a record for attempted murder, burglary and serving time in prison in at least three different states. 

He soon confessed to the murders of Bertha and June Kludt although some suspect that he was responsible for the deaths of at least 40 more people with Bird himself helping the police to solve a number of unsolved cases with a few connected to him as he killed his victims with either an axe or a hatchet in 11 different states.

Bird was later sentenced to death via hanging on July 15th, 1949 were he was buried in an unmarked grave, however Jake Bird wasn’t finished yet as the serial killer made a statement following the jury verdict where he says:

I’m putting the Jake Bird hex on all of you who had anything to do with my being punished. Mark my words, you will die before I do.” 

Eerily enough six people would end up dead with two police officers who took his confessions, the chief clerk in Bird’s trial, one of his prison guards, the judge for the trial and his own lawyer (whom Bird believed didn’t like him) would all die a few months or a year after the hex was placed.

#3. Earle Nelson

Earle Nelson

Earle Nelson aka ‘The Dark Strangler’ or ‘The Gorilla Man’ was the 1920’s version of Ted Bundy in that he raped and killed women all over the country while evading the police and racking up a large body count.

Nelson’s early crimes included breaking into people’s houses, burglary and taking advantage of a 13 year old girl with him escaping prison and institutions on a number of occasions, but his road to infamy began in 1926 when he killed and raped five middle age women who were land ladies in the California area.

From there, Nelson would head to Oregon where he killed three other women in the span of three days whilst hiding their bodies like the previous victims. After returning to California where he killed another middle aged woman, Nelson would taking his killing spree across country where he would kill victims including an eight month infant from Washington to Iowa to Missouri to Pennsylvania to New York to Michigan to Winnipeg Manitoba Canada.

A huge manhunt to find the person or people responsible for this was underway not too long after the first set of murders in California, but Nelson escaped justice and the police a few more times until he stumbled into a barber shop to get a shave when the person in charge reported that Nelson had a blood spot on his head which occurred from his victim grabbing part of his head during a struggle.

This description as well as other breaks in the case led to Earle Nelson’s capture and trial where he was sentenced to death via hanging in early 1928 ending his two year killing spree with around 22 female victims left in his wake.

#2. George Hassell

George Jefferson Hassell

Swindler, rapist and murder are a few words to describe then Texas native, George Hassell who murdered many of his family members in gruesome fashion.

After getting into an argument with his wife upon discovery that he was sexually assaulting his 13 year old daughter, Hassell grabbed a ballpen hammer and smashed his wife’s skull in before proceeding throughout the rest of house where killed the rest of his children with a razor blade, an axe and women stockings. Hassell then waited for the oldest son to return home before killing him in his sleep with a shotgun and then burying all of the bodies inside the root cellar.

Once the police were tipped off about Hassell’s strange behavior after the murders, he attempted to commit suicide but survived and police arrested him where he soon confessed to killing another family he had in California in 1917 by strangling them to death with his total number of victims adding up to 13 people.

Hassell’s record showed that the murderer had a criminal history which included embezzlement and deserting the army during World War One, not to mention he told the police that he wanted to kill his mother because he believed she poisoned his father. Hassell’s time came to an end on February 10th, 1928 when he was found guilty and died in the electric chair.

#1. Carl Panzram

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Perhaps the most twisted of all the killers on this list…and that is saying something, Carl Panzram had a horrendous upbringing which included being beaten and raped by staff members of a reform school he attended, and this led to him burning the school down in 1905.

A history of arson, robbery, drunken behavior and escaping prison eventually led to Panzram committing a crime spree that saw him go from New York to Connecticut to Southern Africa to Massachusetts to Rhode Island to Maryland where Panzram was responsible for a whole host of things including the sexual assault and murder of numerous sailors on a yacht that ended up crashing in New Jersey, burning down a Portuguese oil rig for kicks, sexually assaulting and sodomizing many children and men and stealing valuable belongings to finance his spree.

Panzram was capture by the authorities in August of 1928 in Washington D.C. where he explained his sickening crimes to the police although some believe that many of his accounts were fabricated. The man known as prisoner 31614 was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison never showing any sign of remorse except for slaughtering all the animals he killed and his regret for not killing more people.

Carl Panzram is perhaps best known for the final words he said before being hanging on September 5th,1930; As Panzram was being set up for his death, he spat in the face of his executioner before saying: “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.”

So this article was more darker than my usual stuff which shouldn’t be surprising considering the subject matter, but do you think with this list? Do you want more articles like this from in the future? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and for more content like this and be sure to follow Lace ‘Em Up on Twiter @laceemupoffice and you can follow me also on Twitter @hakeemfullerton.

Freelancer with experience in writing articles on topics like Wrestling, Film, TV, Video Games, Politics etc.

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