Most of the time, when we read about serial killers (especially in fiction), they’re presented as evil geniuses capable of outwitting law enforcement and evading detection. The truth is that their unique psychologies (sociopaths, psychopaths, etc.) do give them a certain degree of cunning that enables them to continue their kills without being detected. However, they are also driven by their neuroses, their unique “thing” that makes them kill. Sometimes, that neuroses ends up pushing them too far, or they make a mistake that ends up getting them caught.
As I was researching serial killers, I ran across a funny article on Psychology Today that looked at the silly things that got serial killers caught. Some pretty moronic things, considering how intelligent some of these people were:
- Ted Bundy got caught because he was pulled over for erratic driving.
- Randy Kraft got caught because the cops discovered a dead body in the front seat of his car after they pulled him over for drunk driving.
- Joel Rifkin got caught for driving without a license plate, and the cops found a dead body in his car.
- David Berkowitz was caught because of a parking ticket.
- Henry Lee Lucas was arrested on a charge of illegal weapons, then ended up confessing to hundreds of murders.
- Jack Owen Spillman took a lot of precautions when killing (using surgical gowns, shaving his body hair, etc.), but he got sloppy during a burglary.
- Alexander Bychkov was arrested for theft, but ended up being linked to nine murders.
- Arthur Shawcross was caught having lunch over the body of his latest kill.
- Dennis Nilsen flushed chunks of his victims down the toilet, and that clogged plumbing led the police to his apartment, where they found body parts.
- Alvin and Judith Neely were caught because of some background noise on a phone call they made.
- Dennis Rader was caught because he believed the police when they told him they couldn’t trace a computer disc.
- Peter Goebbels dropped his ID at the scene of a crime.
- Dr. Harold Shipman got caught because the lawyer relative of one of his victims believed a will was forged in the doctor’s favor.
When writing serial killers, remember that they are as prone to faults, failings, and human nature as anyone else. It’s interesting to think of small mistakes or slip-ups that get them caught in the end.