FEATURED SERIAL KILLER ARTICLE
PEOPLE WHO HAVE SURVIVED VICIOUS SERIAL KILLERS
By Lori Bell
Most people remember the names of infamous serial killers. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy --- these names and more ring unwanted through our collective psyche, their crimes too horrendous to ignore. However, very few remember the names of the victims of these depraved individuals, perhaps because most never live to tell their tale.
In some cases, though, there are those who are fortunate enough to escape the clutches of madness. Their stories serve as lessons in survival that we can all learn from, lessons that could very well have saved a life.
Three months pregnant and unmarried, 19 – year – old Maria Viricheva was working as a saleswoman at the time of her encounter with one of Russia’s most notorious serial killers --- Alexander Pichuskin. Known by the seemingly bizarre name “The Chessboard Killer,” this deranged individual set out to kill as many people as there are spaces on a chessboard. He later refuted this claim, confessing that had he not been caught, he would have continued killing indeterminately.
Attracted to the idea of having the power over the life or death of another person, Pichuskin explained that he felt like God when he was carrying out the murders. He would end the lives of his victims with a hammer blow to the head. Chillingly he is quoted as saying, “I killed in order to live because when you kill, you want to live.”
Maria was new at her job and had been set up with it by her boyfriend, who was also the father of her child. Earlier that day, the two had gotten into an argument, and afterward she found herself distraught in a metro station in Moscow. Pichuskin spied Maria, and noting her obvious state of despair, struck up a conversation with her. Maria, desperate and alone, welcomed the company.
Hearing of her situation, Pichuskin offered her a chance to earn some additional money, telling her that he had stashed some stolen cameras in a well in nearby Bittsevsky Park, and that he would give her some to sell. Even though it was late in the evening, Maria not even knowing if her job would be there in the morning anyway, agreed to go with him to retrieve the cameras.
When they arrived at the spot, Pichuskin lifted the cover from the well and told her to look inside. As she did so, he quickly snatched her up and threw her in. She clung to the sides of the well to avoid falling, but Pichuskin grabbed her head and repeatedly slammed it into the side of the well. She had little choice but to let go. The last thing she heard was her killer yell, “take a bath there!” as she plummeted into the darkness.
She tumbled over 30ft. before landing knee – deep in sewage water that was rapidly flowing down a drain pipe. She was caught in the current, and only by swiftly removing her jacket and boots, did she manage to place her hands and feet on the sides of the drain and stop her further decent. Had she not done so, she would have reached the end of the drain pipe to a section that was completely filled with water and drowned.
Fortunately, she stopped herself near another well leading up from the drain pipe and managed to climb to the top, only to find that she was too weak to push the well cover open above her. Luckily, a passing woman heard her cries for help and saw the well cover raise a bit as Maria tried to pry it open, and the woman ran to alert security guards. They lifted the well cover and pulled Maria to safety.
Unbelievably, the police refused to investigate the incident and forced Maria to sign a statement saying that she had fallen down the well herself. She was only brought in to identify her attacker when he was finally apprehended under suspicion of 48 murders. Had the police done their job the first time, many lives might have been saved.
Viricheva is one three people known to have survived attacks by Pichuskin. One survivor has no recollection of the attack because of the head injury Pichuskin inflicted, while the third was a homeless boy, Mikhail Lobov, who was 14 when Pichuskin threw him down the well. He submitted written testimony to the court. He said he tried to tell police about Pichuskin but that they would not listen to a homeless boy.
Pichuskin told the court that he almost had a nervous breakdown when he saw Maria Viricheva near her apartment about six months after the attack. Pichuskin is serving the first part of his sentence, which he must spend in solitary confinement.
Young Whitney Bennett could not have known that leaving her bedroom window unlocked before she went to bed on the night of July 4, 1985, would lead to her being viciously attacked. This innocent mistake would lead her to a night of pure horror and a lifetime of suffering. That night Richard Ramirez, also known as The Night Stalker, crept through her bedroom window and savagely beat her with a tire iron before ransacking her room and taking all the valuables.
The only thing the young girl could be thankful for was that the first few blows quickly rendered her unconscious, though the strangulation marks which were on her neck after the attack indicated that luck was truly on her side that night. Two nights later, Ramirez perpetrated an almost identical attack against another woman, Joyce L. Nelson, in her home. This time, the attack was fatal.
The crime scene Ramirez left behind him was covered in Whitney’s blood, and his bloody shoe print was found on her comforter. The distinctive print also turned up at many other Night Stalker crime scenes. One such bloody shoe print was found on the left cheek of Joyce L. Nelson. He had also carelessly left the tire iron on her bedroom floor. As for Whitney Bennett, she was left with permanent scarring from the attack and had to undergo extensive cosmetic surgery.
It was her testimony that helped convict Ramirez of his crimes during his trial and ensured that he received the death sentence. Ramirez was on trial for 13 murders in Los Angeles County. The self – proclaimed devil worshipper from El Paso, also faced 30 other felony counts stemming from the series of nighttime attacks in 1984 and 1985. He faced a 14th murder charge in San Francisco, and an attempted murder and sexual assault charges in Orange County. He ended up dying in prison of natural causes at the age of 53 before the execution could take place.
After 40 years of silence, Rhonda Williams decided that enough was enough and finally worked up the courage to tell of her twisted involvement with one of Houston’s most notorious serial killers. Dean Corll, and his younger accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley, we’re responsible for the murders of 29 young boys, all lured into Corll’s clutches for the purpose of satisfying his sadistic sexual urges.
Dean Arnold Corll exclusively targeted teenage boys. He worked from 1965 to 1968 in his family’s candy company, giving him his horrid nickname, “The Candy Man.” He lured many if his victims with free candy and also free alcohol and Marijuana. His rampage lasted from 1970 to 1973, during which he befriended two wayward accomplices, David Brooks, and Elmer Henley.
Rhonda Williams had befriended Henley during her teenage years and thought Henley was someone she could trust. Growing up in an atmosphere of severe abuse and neglect, she was often beaten by her alcoholic father and was even raped repeatedly as a toddler.
In August 1973, she placed her trust in Henley once again as he snuck up to her bedroom window to help her escape another episode of abuse at the hands of her father. Another boy, Tim Kerley, was waiting in the car for them and the three drove away to what Williams thought was safety. Had she known Henley’s true motives, she certainly would have decided against letting him “rescue” her.
The trio arrived at Corll’s home, where they partied until they passed out. Williams woke to a scene of unimaginable horror. She and two other boys were bound hand and foot. Corll began kicking and screaming for her to wake up, then he and Henley took the other two captives to another room and lashed them both to what can only be described as “torture boards.” Naively, she still believed that Henley would not let her be hurt, even as she heard the screams of her captive companions.
Her trust was finally broken when Henley told her that he would have to shoot her before the ordeal was over. However, something in Henley finally broke, and instead he turned the gun on Corll and shot him dead, saving the lives of all the captives. Then Henley reached for the phone and called police.
Williams survived her night of horror thanks to the conscience of her friend, and although he was jailed for a short time she made a promise to him to remain silent about her ordeal from then on, only to speak about it publicly four decades later. Henley, still in prison for his role in luring victims to Corll, remains in contact with Williams to this day.
Teresa Thornhill :
Robert Black was a convicted child murderer and pedophile, who claimed four young victims in Scotland between the 1970s and 1990s. Teresa Thornhill was one of the few known survivors of his attacks. Black was convicted in 1994 of the murders of 11 – year – old Susan Maxwell from the Scottish Borders, five – year – old Caroline Hogg, from Edinboro, and Sarah Harper, 10 from Morley near Leeds.
On a warm day in April 1988, Teresa, 15 at the time, was walking home when she caught the eye of Black, who was parked in a van by her house. Faking car trouble as he exited the back of his van, Black asked the young girl if she knew anything about engines. When she approached, he grabbed her and placed one hand over her mouth, pinned her arms by her sides, and tried to pull her into his van through the back doors. She screamed and bit his arm, causing him to drop her just as a friend in the neighborhood came running to help, scaring Black off. After her frightening experience she ran to her home and her parents called the police. But it was already too late --- Black had already disappeared.
Two years passed and the young girl remained traumatized by her experience, almost never going outside. She was one of the witnesses to testify against him at his trial, where he was convicted of the three murders and her kidnapping, receiving a life sentence for his crimes. While still in prison, he was convicted of killing his fourth victim, a nine – year –old girl. To this day, police are still investigating his case and suspect him of many more murders.
Black has long been the prime suspect in the disappearance of 13 – year – old, Genette Tate, who was last seen on a country lane in Aylesbeare, Devon, in 1978. No trace of the newspaper delivery girl has ever been found.
Teresa Thornhill says, “I can still see Robert Black’s face every day.”
Eleven – year – old, Tali Shapiro didn’t like taking the bus, so almost every day she would walk to school from her home in West Hollywood. On a September morning in 1969, the young girl’s decision to walk the short distance to her school would prove to be a costly mistake.
While walking down South Boulevard that morning, Rodney Acala approached her in his vehicle and asked her if she wanted a ride. She refused, saying that she was not allowed to talk to strangers. He assured her that he knew her family and told her that he had a beautiful picture to show her. Though wary, she approached his car. That’s the last thing she remembers from that morning. Luckily, another man saw the abduction and called the police.
Rodney Acala became known as, “The Dating Game Killer,” after appearing as a contestant on the Dating Game show during the midst of his murder spree. Posing as a professional photographer, Acala took over 1,000 disturbing photographs of women. While none of these individuals have been positively identified as a missing person or unsolved homicide victim, there may come a time when they are realized as casualties of the Dating Game Killer.
When the police arrived at his door, Acala tried to stall them by claiming that he was in the shower, forcing them to kick the door in. Acala escaped out the back door and the officers found young Tali on the floor of his apartment in a state of near death, with a metal bar across her neck, as if Acala had just been pinning her down when they arrived. The young girl was also found to have been sexually assaulted. She was rushed to the hospital and thankfully, survived her atrack.
Tali Shapiro was the second person to testify for jurors who were considering the death penalty for Acala, who was convicted of killing four Los Angeles County women and a 10 – year – old Huntington Beach ballet student. Like many brave victims recounted in this article, Tali Shapiro later testified against her assailant, helping to convict him. He was sentenced to death.
Acala, who had been representing himself, asked if she remembered him apologizing to her when she testified at an earlier trial. She said she did not. “I sincerely regret and apologize for my despicable actions that day,” was the apology he made. Shapiro did not respond.
Although Rose Steward has every justification for hating Dean Carter, in an incredible act of forgiveness, she actively campaigns to spare from the death penalty for her rape and the murders of five other people.
On March 29, 1984, Steward was woken up by an intruder holding a knife to her neck. Over the next five hours she was repeatedly raped and tortured by him, losing consciousness twice during the attack. She only managed to survive ordeal by pretending to “like” her attacker, even going so far as to kiss him, which caused him to leave without taking her life. When her nightmare was finally over, she immediately sought help from a neighbor, who contacted the police. Carter went on to rape and strangle five other women throughout California over the next 18 days, and it was Steward’s testimony in part, that helped prosecutors ensure that he received the death penalty for his crimes.
After her assault, Steward started sleeping on her living room floor. She kept a loaded gun under her pillow --- even after Carter was arrested during a traffic stop a month later with his victim’s belongings in his car.
During their first courtroom encounter --- Steward said she managed to stare down Carter and felt stronger as a result. Steward worried about how the victim’s families would regard her. She had come to know the slain women --- Jillette Lenora Mills, 25, Susan Lynn Knoll, 25, Bonnie Ann Gunthrie, 34, Janette Anne Cullins, 24, and Tok Chum Kim, 42, --- as “sisters” and saw herself as their voice.
Would their families resent her for living while their loved one’s died? Could she have prevented their murders by doing something differently? Did he kill because he realized she had tricked him and decided to leave no more witnesses? The loved ones of the other victims did not blame her. They were kind and warm.
As he now sits on death row awaiting his fate, Steward herself has actively campaigned against the death penalty, supporting what is known as California Proposition 34, a ballot to replace all death sentences with sentences of life without parole. Some of the other victim’s families are understandably shocked by her decision. This has left Steward torn between her belief that the death penalty is wrong, and her personal understanding of her fellow victim’s pain. Only time will tell if Rose Steward will be there to see Carter’s last day.
While Bryan Hartnell was attending school at Pacific Union College in San Francisco in the late 1960s, he had no idea that his bright future would forever be scarred by one truly horrifying day. After driving to a scenic lake in a remote part of the city with his girlfriend, Cecilia Shephard, the couple parked their car and planned to enjoy their day in privacy. Unbeknownst to them, the unknown man who would later be dubbed the Zodiac Killer had other plans for them.
While they remained in their car, a man wearing a black hood and a shirt with cross hairs etched on the front, approached the couple and forced them out of the car at gunpoint. After forcing them to the ground, he proceeded to stab both of them repeatedly. Then he just vanished, leaving them for dead. Cecilia was later able to provide a description of the killer before she died in the hospital. Bryan however, never saw his face and thus was left with the frustration of not knowing who it was that took the life of the one he loved.
Hartnell was stabbed 8 times, his companion, Cecilia, between 10 and 20. She died a day later at the hospital. Investigators say it was one of the most brutal attacks they’ve ever seen. They believe the Zodiac used a knife so passersby wouldn’t hear the sound of gunshots. Following the attack the Zodiac Killer calmly walked away leaving intentional clues as to his identity. He wanted to make it clear there was a serial killer on the loose. The Zodiac craved attention.
Thankfully, the years that passed healed Hartnell’s wounds not only physically, but emotionally as well. Bryan is now a probate attorney and is married with a family of his own. The Zodiac Killer remains unidentified to this day and is still one of the most enduring crime mysteries of the 20th century.
It was Corazon Attenza, a 23 – year – old exchange nurse from the Phillipines, who opened the door to her apartment on the night of July 13, 1966, and unknowingly allowed brutal mass murderer, Richard Speck, into her and her roommates’ lives. The first thing she noticed about him was the strong smell of alcohol. She also saw the small gun he had pulled from his black jacket. She was also the only one that survived that terrifying night.
Richard Speck committed all his murders in one day, sneaking into a housing facility for student nurses and stabbing eight of them to death. Speck’s savagery evoked world – wide horror and headlines --- and left a terrifying legacy: the growing fear that Americans weren’t save anymore, even in their own homes.
Gun in hand, Speck forced his way into the home and herded the girls into the common room. He sliced some of the bed sheets into makeshift ropes and bound them all tightly. At first, he didn’t harm the women, telling them he just wanted some money, and that he would leave them alone. After a short while, though, one by one, Speck proceeded to rape, stab and mutilate them while Corazon, wracked with fear, hid under the beds in the room. At one point, one of her friends was being assaulted on the bed directly above her.
The attacks went on for almost six hours, with Corazon not daring to even whimper the entire time. Finally, at around five in the morning, it was over. Due to Speck being highly intoxicated at the time of the attacks, he apparently forgot about her and left the apartment after he thought his work was finished. She escaped the scene of carnage through a bedroom window after he left, and screamed for help. Her cries were heard by her neighbors and her waking nightmare came to an end.
Due to the overwhelming amount of physical evidence Speck had left at the scene --- and the fact that he had an extensive criminal record already --- he was caught shortly afterward when he checked himself into a local hospital after attempting suicide. He had slashed his wrists after learning that he’d left Corazon alive, and a doctor at the hospital recognized him from newspaper reports and contacted the police. Nine months later, a jury took only 49 minutes of deliberation to sentence him to the electric chair. His sentence was later overturned by the Supreme Court in 1972 and he was given eight consecutive terms of 50 to 150 years.
On December 5, a part of the terror ended when Speck, 49, died of a heart attack in a hospital near Joliet, Illinois, where he had been held for 24 years. Cremated by the state, and never showing any remorse for his crimes, Speck took with him the horror of those crimes.
Larry Flynt is famous as the outspoken and flamboyant publisher of Hustler magazine, and the creator of a business empire. He is also famous for nearly being assassinated by one, Joseph Paul Franklin, in an attempt that left Mr. Flynt paralyzed from the waist down, when he was hit by two bullets from Franklin’s high powered rifle.
What is not commonly known is that Mr. Flynt’s assailant was a serial killer who was tried and convicted for eight murders across the United States between 1977 and 1980, though he claimed to have killed a dozen more in an attempt to start a “race war” in the country. Franlkin, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and a Neo – Nazi, spoke of “being at war.” Flynt was a direct contradiction to Franklin’s highly religious beliefs and his moral stance against pornography, particularly the interracial deceptions that were featured in Hustler at the time. It was on March 6, 1978, that both Mr. Flynt and his lawyer were shot by Franklin, who confessed in prison after being sentenced for another shooting in which he received the death penalty.
Though Larry Flynt, who was left in constant pain, could have understandably wished to see his assailant die, he actually lobbied for Franklin’s sentence to be commuted to life in prison due to his stance against the death penalty itself. To quote him exactly: “In all the years since the shooting, I have never come face –to – face with Franklin. I would love an hour in a room with him and a pair of wire – cutters and pliers, so I could inflict the same damage on him that he inflicted on me. But, I do not want to kill him, nor do I want to see him die …I just don’t think that the government should be in the business of killing people. And I think punishment by putting someone in a three – by – six cell, is a lot greater than if you snuff out their life in a few seconds with a lethal injection.”
Flynt filed a motion with the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to have Franklin’s sentence commuted to be life behind bars. Despite Flynt’s best efforts, Joseph Franklin was executed in November 2013. Franklin made no statement before his execution, but told CNN during an interview that he was no longer racist, had found religion, and repented.
Rebecca Garde worked as a telemarketer in Seattle in 1982. She had just gotten off work and was tired of waiting out in the rain for her bus, so she decided to hitchhike home on a cold night in November. The man who eventually offered her a ride seemed as ordinary as the Dodge pickup he was driving, so she happily accepted his offer. Had she known that he would eventually be convicted of killing 48 women like her, she might have declined instead. She had no way of knowing that the driver was Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, one of the most prolific serial killers. She didn’t know the terror he had in store for her.
While riding in his vehicle, she offered him sex in exchange for $20, figuring she could use the money to buy weed when she got home. It was at this point that she began to get an odd feeling about the man she was with, so as a precaution, she asked to see his identification, which he agreed to. This put her a little more at ease --- at least he wasn’t a cop. They parked by a trailer park and the man suggested they go into the woods for some privacy. Once they reached a spot that was relatively secluded, Gary Ridgway attacked, and tried to strangle her to death from behind. Fighting him off by pushing him into a tree, she stunned him and ran to a nearby trailer for help. Her attacker immediately fled the scene.
Due to her lifestyle and a general fear of the police, Garde waited nearly two years after her attack before she contacted the authorities, and though her forthcoming would not lead directly to his capture, it did help law enforcement build a more solid case around the most prolific killer in the United States. Ridgway picked up and killed at least 15 more women in the same area along the Pacific Highway South, where he attacked Garde. Her description of him at least gave them something to move on.
The majority of Ridgway’s victims were teenage girls who had left tough or abusive homes, turning to the streets where they supported drug habits through prostitution. In 2001, Ridgway was finally apprehended and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of their brief initial encounter, Garde said she thought Ridgway seemed odd. At 5’11”, and 150lbs, he wasn’t very imposing, though she remembers that his hands were large and his eyes small. Most of all, she said, “I remember the look in his eyes.” Rebecca Garde remains his only known surviving victim.
We could never imagine the horror that these victims felt during their ordeals but, the exhilaration of escape must have been mind boggling too. Although they are “survivors,” their turmoil continues as they struggle everyday with the memories of how close they were to becoming a statistic. Their brave efforts saved lives and calmed fears of many, and brought to light the identities of the many victims who lost their battle with evil.