Imagine the pressure of being a detective on the hunt for a crazed serial killers. You know it’s only a matter of time before the murderer strikes again and more innocent lives are claimed. You’re working around the clock; piecing together certain clues, witness statements, and crime scene evidence. Then, the sinister serial killer finally slips up—it could be the smallest error—but you’ve finally caught your suspect.
This has been a reality for many detectives over the years as they have witnessed first-hand that even the most calculating of humans are still capable of grave errors. Before we had DNA, blood and fibre analysis; the game of cat and mouse was a lot more complicated. These following manhunts all came to an end because these psychopaths simply weren’t as smart as they’d like to think.
Ukrainian-born Andrei Chikatilo, nicknamed the Butcher of Rostov, is known for the assault, murder, and mutilation of at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. The trial of mutilated bodies left no question that a crazed serial killer was on the loose. Uniformed police were placed at rail stations in Rostov Oblast in order to deter any murderer looking to strike. There were also several undercover agents instructed to question anyone who appeared suspicious. Altogether, more than 360 police were manning the stations during the manhunt.
In November 1990, Chikatilo was washing his hands and face in a well at a nearby station when he was approached by an agent. Chikatilo had not washed his face properly and a red smear was left on his cheek and his name was noted. When the body of his 36th victim was discovered in the woodlands nearby, Chikatilo was arrested and four years later, executed for his crimes by a single gunshot.
Born in 1870, serial killer Albert Fish was known under many nicknames including the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire and The Boogey Man. Fish was executed by electric chair for the brutal slaying of 10-year-old Grace Budd and two others. It’s unknown how many more victims he could have claimed before he was caught out by an envelope that contained a very cruel letter.
Fish wrote to Budd’s mother, detailing exactly how he butchered and cannibalized her young daughter. “It took me 9 days to eat her entire body,” the serial killer taunted. The letter was delivered in an envelope with an emblem representing “New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association”. The police managed to trace the envelope back to a rooming house that Fish had moved out a few days earlier but he was expected back to collect a check. When he returned, the police pounced and were finally able to catch the sinister child killer.
David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz terrified the public when he killed eight people with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver in eight separate shooting attacks between 1976 and 1977 in New York City and surrounding areas. Berkowitz became part of the biggest police manhunt in the history of New York City as he taunted them with sinister letters about his crimes. Knowing that the FBI on his trail makes things even more unbelievable that the serial killer was caught out by a parking ticket.
After Berkowitz killed a 20-year-old couple in a borough of Brooklyn, one witness said she noticed a young man around 2.30am when she was out walking her dog. She recalled he was holding his arm stiffly as if he was carrying something up his sleeve and also that a police officer had tagged an illegally parked car close to the site of the murder. Detectives traced the parking ticket to a 1970 Ford Galaxie registered in Berkowitz’s name. When he was arrested, Berkowitz turned to the police and said, “I guess this is the end of the trail.
Jeffrey “The Milwaukee Cannibal” Dahmer confessed to killing 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. It’s haunting to think how much higher that kill count could have been if he had an air freshener in his apartment. When Dahmer invited 32-year-old Tracy Edwards back to his apartment to pose for nude photographs in exchange for $100, the young man became spooked by a foul-smelling odor coming from a blue 57-gallon drum in the corner of the room.
Edwards, who had just been handcuffed by Dahmer, asked to take a bathroom break, which was granted and he was able to hit him over the head and escape. Edwards managed to flag down two Milwaukee police officers explaining to them what the “freak” had just done. Police officers headed to Dahmer’s apartment to investigate and they noticed there were several Polaroids of dismembered human bodies. They also found body parts—including a human head—in the fridge. When Dahmer was arrested, he uttered, “For what I did I should be dead”.
Serial killer Israel Keyes took the lives of at least three known victims, however, the actual victim count could be eight or more as he moved between Washington, New York, New Jersey and Alaska. 18-year Samantha Koenig was kidnapped by Keyes from the coffee booth where she worked as a waitress and he murdered her the following day. He took a photo of her body alongside a four-day-old newspaper to make it appear she was still alive and demanded a $30,000 ransom to be paid to Koenig’s debit card.
His surprising error came when he headed to an ATM to withdraw the ransom and was immediately tracked through CCTV then arrested. In custody, Keyes confessed to murdering three victims and even offered to reveal where two more bodies were buried in exchange for a cigar. Before he stood trial, he wrote a two-page suicide note before slashing his wrists and hanging himself. Investigators will now never know the true length of the bloody trail he left behind.