Netflix and other broadcasters have been investing in true crime shows for the past years. From documentaries about Steven Avery’s trial (also known as Making a Murderer) to ones about the Columbine school shooting, it’s fair to say true crime makes for fascinating entertainment.
As is often the case, the bloodier the murder, the more fascinated we get. There’s something about reading or hearing about brutal murders committed by monstrous people that keeps us on the edge of our seat. We often find ourselves asking “How can someone this cruel exist?” and “What leads someone to kill dozens of people?”
If you’re interested in this topic, you’re definitely not alone. You may have watched dozens of documentaries and read even more books about true crime, but have you ever wondered how many serial killers from Ohio have made headlines? To answer your questions, we’ve come up with a twisted list of serial killers from Ohio list.
What is a serial killer?
Before we go into the topic of serial killers of Ohio, we want to clear the air on what a serial killer actually is. According to the FBI, a serial killer is someone who murders at least three people over the course of more than a month. To be considered one, the killer must go through an emotional cooling off period between killings.
However, a lot of people disagree with this definition. In fact, the serial killers we hear about on the news have a much higher killing rate than, say, three deaths over ten years. For the general public and some behavioral analytics, a serial killer is someone who murders without a clear motive and typically in a way that is predictable by analyzing their behavior.
“But what serial killers are from Ohio?!” we hear you ask. We’ll keep the suspend no longer. Without further ado, here is a list of famous serial killers from Ohio.
1. Donald Harvey
Maybe one of the most infamous American serial killers, Donald Harvey was nicknamed “Angel of Death” for killings dozens of people at the Marymount Hospital in London, Kentucky.
Donald Harvey has a rough childhood. He was abused for several years by an uncle while he was still a toddler in the 1950s. Schooling interested him much, which led him to drop out when he wasn’t even 16.
By 18, Harvey was taking care of his sick grandpa at the Marymount Hospital. Because he spent so much time there and because he was unemployed, the hospital decided to offer him a position there. His job was to handle patients’ medication and looking after their personal needs.
But only two months into his new job, Donald Harvey killed for the first time. He did this out of anger towards the victim who was a patient at the hospital by smothering them with a pillow. But the killings didn’t stop there. He went on to kill 15 people at this hospital.
After being fired for stealing hospital equipment, Harvey got another job at the Veterans Administration Medical Centre where he took 18 more lives. Finally, he took up a job at Cincinnati Drake Memorial Hospital, where he killed 26 patients.
But patients weren’t his only target, however. Both neighbors, family members, and partners died at the hands of Donald Harvey. When questioned about why he killed, he famously reported that he did it because he enjoyed it.
2. Anthony Sowell
This serial killer took the lives of eleven people and hid their bodies in his duplex in Ohio. Because Sowell had served in the military and received five medals, he was a respected member of his community. This only made the news of him being a serial killer all the more shocking.
Before he started his killing spree, Sowell served time in jail for attempting to restrain and rape a pregnant woman. Just two years after his release, he went on to kill eleven people and hide their bodies.
Visitors and neighbors complained of the vile smell coming from his apartment. This stench turned out to be that of the rotting corpses, but Sowell was always able to make up a good enough lie.
In October 2009, a woman went to the authorities to report that Anthony Sowell had raped her. When policemen went to his house to investigate, they were taken aback by the horrible smell and the sight of two bodies on his living room floor.
At the end of investigations, Powell was convicted of killing eleven people in total and of hiding their bodies in his property: both in his house and buried in the garden. He was sentenced to death in 2011 and his execution date is scheduled for 2020.
3. Robert Bredella
Robert Bredella was also known as “The Kansas City Butcher” and “The Collector” and was born in Ohio, despite not having committed any murders in the state.
Bredella was a loner and had a rough childhood due to bullying. When he was eighteen, he moved away from home to become a college student at the Kansas City Institute of Art. He started to do drugs and drink alcohol and was expelled while on his second year for killing a dog “in the name of art.”
From 1984 to 1987, Robert Bredella went on a killing and torturing spree. In total, he mutilated, raped, and raped five men. His killing and torturing methods were increasingly brutal and bold.
After his sixth victim managed to escape, Bredella was caught by the police and, eventually, sentenced to life in prison. Just four years later, he died of a heart attack in prison.
4. Gary Heidnik
One of Ohio’s most disturbing serial killers was Gary Heidnik, a man who scored 148 on an IQ test and who imprisoned and tortured six women.
After having lived through a rough childhood filled with abuse and bullying, Gary Heidnik went on to become one of the most repulsive serial killers in American history.
Over the course of one year, he kidnapped and imprisoned five women in his basement. He would torture and manipulate the women using electric shocks. The abuse and mistreatment were so severe that one of the women died of starvation. Gary Heidnik’s response to this was to dismember her and cook her body parts to feed the other captives.
The last victim Heidnik kidnapped convinced him to drive her back to her family. He agreed and left her off at a gas station, from where she walked on foot and shortly thereafter called 911. Once the policemen saw the bruises on her ankles left by the chains, they were quick to arrest Gary Heidnik.
In 1988, the serial killer was accused of first-degree murder and of second-degree murder and sentenced to the death penalty, which he received in 1999.
5. Thomas Dillon
Between 1989 and 1992, Thomas Dillon killed five people in the state of Ohio, launching an FBI manhunt for the killer.
Thomas Dillon would drive around in his pick up and choose seemingly random people who were out hiking and enjoying nature. No one, to this day, knows why he started his murdering spree and how he picked out his victims.
His fourth victim was killed on federal soil, meaning that the FBI had to get involved in the investigation. A year later, he was arrested for illegal ownership of a silencer. Once the authorities started their investigation, they found Dillon’s dirty trail of killings.
In the end, Thomas Dillon was convicted of murdering five people and sentenced to 165 years in jail. His life finally came to an end in 2011.
6. Michael Madison
The most recent serial killer on our list is Michael Madison. Born from an unwanted pregnancy and growing up without a father figure in his life, Madison turned to crime in his teen and young-adult years.
By 2002, Madison had already gotten in trouble with the law. Once for the possession of drugs, and once for attempting to rape a woman, which led to him being locked up for four years.
During the years of 2012 and 2013, Michael Madison kidnapped and strangled three women he met at a bar. He put their bodies in trash bags and buried their remains in his house, in his garage, and in his yard. The smell from the decomposing corpses was what tipped off Madison’s neighbors and authorities.
Later that year, Michael was charged with three counts of murder and sentenced to death. In 2016, Madison was executed.
7. Edward Edwards
The story of Edward Edwards is a tricky and confusing one. He was no stranger to being behind bars before he started his killing spree. Edwards was even on television to speak of prison reforms after he was released the first time.
Edward Edwards committed robbery and was convicted to spend a few years behind bars. Once he escaped from jail, he made it into the FBI’s top-ten-most-wanted-criminals list. He was eventually caught and thrown back in prison.
After being released, Edward Edwards went on television to speak in favor of prison reforms and had several shows done based on his past crimes.
Interestingly enough, just three years after his release from jail, Edward Edwards went on his rampant killing spree. He started it in 1977 and was only caught in 2011, after killing his adoptive son for the insurance money.
Edwards was convicted of killing five people and sentenced to death. While on death row, he died of natural causes. Although he was only charged with five accounts of murders, the authorities believe he might have been responsible for seven more murders.
8. The Cleveland Torso Murderer
The Cleveland Torso Murderer was, unfortunately, never caught, but he caused a lot of harm and spread fear in Cleveland and Youngstown in the 1950s.
This despicable murderer’s signature was the decapitation of his victims with his bare hands. In some cases, the victims were still alive when they were brutally beheaded.
Throughout the span of the 1950s, the Cleveland Torso Murderer killed 40 people in the cities of Cleveland and Youngstown. Most victims were never identified and, to this day, remain known as John and Jane Doe and similar variations.
Sadly, the Cleveland Police Department was never able to find the culprit. They believe the murderer is male, but, to this day, no more information about the killer is known.
9. Ariel Castro
Although he was born in Puerto Rico, Ariel Castro moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was just a child.
It was in this city that Ariel Castro started his reputation of vicious kidnapper, rapist, and killer. In 2002, Castro held 20-year-old Michelle Knight hostage in his house. The following year, he abducted 16-year-old Amanda Berry. Finally, in 2004, he took 14-year-old Gina DeJesus into his basement where he held her against her will.
Ariel Castro kept the three women chained in his basement until 2013. During these years, Castro managed to throw off suspicions by maintaining his normal life. He still went to work as a school bus driver and invited friends and family members over to his house. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until 2013, when Amanda Berry managed to escape from the basement, that the authorities arrested Ariel Castro. They freed the other women and the man was taken into custody.
In the end, Castro was charged with kidnapping, rape, and murder. This last account was added because Castro forcefully and illegally performed several miscarriages to the girls whenever they got pregnant. While this isn’t the typical serial killer profile, it fits the profile according to the authorities.
That same year, Castro was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus an additional 1,000 years of incarceration.
10. Martha Wise (“The Borgia of America”)
The oldest case of a serial killer murdering spree on our list was committed by Martha Wise, born Martha Hasel. The woman nicknamed “The Borgia of America” attempted to kill seventeen people, succeeding in murdering three.
Born in 1885, Martha Wise was a poor widow by the age of 40. She lived alone on a farm in Ohio when she fell in love with a man much younger than herself. When she expressed the wish to marry this man, Martha’s family vehemently opposed the union. They ridiculed her and shunned her for her desire to marry a younger and more handsome man.
This was all it took for Martha to poison seventeen of her family members. She started with her mother and slowly moved on to uncles, aunts, and other relatives. She used doses of arsenic but only managed to kill three of the seventeen she poisoned.
Once her family members recovered from the failed poisonings, they went to the local authorities with their suspicions. In no time, they were able to reach the conclusion that Martha was behind all this. She came clean and confessed killing three relatives. At first, she plead insanity, but the judge saw her fit for trial, and so Martha was sentenced to life in prison. In the end, she died during her life-long imprisonment.
Frequently Asked Questions about Serial Killers from Ohio
1. Do most serial killers come from Ohio?
Ohio has a disturbing history of being the birthplace of many famous serial killers. But it’s certainly not the only place in the US that has seen serial killers be born within its borders. No one has calculated the percentage of serial killers from Ohio, but it’s not the highest in the country.
2. How many serial killers are from Cleveland Ohio?
Cleveland, Ohio, is oftentimes called the serial-killer capital of the United States. But this is based more on the public’s perception of serial killers than on an actual number. There’s no telling how many serial killers have been born in Ohio, but a few famous ones (such as the Cleveland Torso Murderer and Ariel Castro) killed in the city, giving it the nickname of “serial killer capital.”
3. Why are so many serial killers from Ohio?
This is always a very hard question to answer, mainly because we don’t know why someone decides to go on a killing spree. There are many factors that can be related: lack of support from the community, lack of empathy skills, and difficulty accessing mental health services.