As a society, we’re fascinated with murder. True crime podcasts flood the airwaves, and forensic investigation shows air at all hours on channels dedicated to the subject.
But there are some murders that surpass others in mere gore or depravity – these are the murders that haunt our nightmares.
The scariest murders of all time.
1. The Black Dahlia
January 15, 1947. A young woman was found murdered in a vacant lot on the west side of South Norton Avenue in Los Angeles, California.
She was horrifically mutilated; her body had been cut in half at the waist and completely drained of blood. Her mouth had been slit from ear to ear in a “Glasgow smile”, and entire portions of flesh had been cut from her breasts and thighs. Her name was Elizabeth Smart.
Her murder swept the media – it was, and remains, one of the most sensational murders ever. She earned the nickname “The Black Dahlia” while she was living, for the way she styled her dark hair into a flower shape; there are also some theories that it was derived from The Blue Dahlia, a film noir murder mystery that had been released in April the previous year.
The investigation consumed Los Angeles Police. They spent months tracking her movements and talking to every boyfriend she had on the way. However, some of them were soldiers that have shipped out by the time the murder was discovered.
Overall, the case yielded over 150 potential suspects, but no arrests have ever been made and the case remains unsolved.
Just two weeks after her murder, Republican state assemblyman C. Don Field used the case to introduce a bill calling for the formation of a sex offender registry.
The state of California became the first state to make the registration of sexual offenders mandatory. At least some good came out of one of Hollywood’s scariest murders.
The murder of the Black Dahlia remains high in the public consciousness. The case had been the basis for dozens of fiction and non-fiction books, films, and other media. Among the most famous fictional accounts is The Black Dahlia, a 1987 novel by James Ellroy that was adapted to film by Brian De Palma in 2006.
She also appeared in two episodes of American Horror Story.
2. The Ice Box Murders
June 23, 1965. A pair of Houston police officers forced their way into elderly couple Fred and Edwina Rogers’ house after they failed to answer their phone calls for days. Upon entering the home, they found nothing amiss.
They opened the refrigerator and found what appears to be several cuts of washed, unwrapped meat sitting on the shelves. Everything is normal until they found their heads in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.
Police later determined that the couple had been murdered on June 20. Fred had been killed with a claw hammer to the head, his eyes had been gouged out. Edwina had been beaten and shot execution-style in the head before the couple were dismembered in their upstairs bathroom.
Police were quickly pointed in the direction of the couples’ son, Charles. He was described as a recluse and had been living with them at the time of the murders.
However, he disappeared shortly after the murders occurred, and has never been located. He was declared dead in absentia in July of 1975, but the fact that the murderer disappeared and was free to kill again is what really makes this crime one of the scariest murders ever.
3. Arlis Perry
October 12, 1974. A 19-year-old newlywed named Arlis Perry has gone to Stanford Memorial Church in Stanford, California. She wanted to pray after having an argument with her husband, Bruce.
When she didn’t return by 3am, Bruce called the police and reported her missing. Her body was discovered at 5:45 am by Stephen Crawford, a campus security guard.
She was found near the altar in the church’s east transept, lying face-up. An ice pick was found in the back of her head, with the handle broken off and missing. There were signs that she had been strangled, and two three-foot-long altar candles were found on her body – one between her breasts, and one in her vagina.
Investigators found little evidence inside in the church, but there was semen on a kneeling pillow near the body, and a palm print on yet another candle. Initial tests ruled out Bruce Perry and Stephen Crawford as suspects, and the case remained open for years.
In 2018, a more advanced DNA test conducted on the semen matched it definitively to Stephen Crawford.
However, when investigators approached his house with a search warrant on June 28, he shot himself in the head before he could be arrested or questioned. Stanford’s scariest murder may have been resolved, but it’s still a nightmare that will haunt the campus forever.
4. The Woodchipper Murder
November 19, 1986. Helle Crafts had been dropped off at her home by a friend. It was the last time anyone other than her husband, Richard, saw her alive.
Over the next few weeks, he gave her friends and family a variety of stories about where she’s gone. Her friends notified police, and they began finding evidence that something terrible has happened.
Police found that pieces of carpet had been cut from the floor of the master bedroom; a smear of blood was found on the side of their bed.
Richard’s credit cards showed that he made several unusual purchases around the time that Helle disappeared; a freezer that wasn’t in the house, sheets and a duvet, and the rental of a woodchipper. He was seen using this last purchase near the shore of Lake Zoar on the night Helle was last seen.
When police searched the lakeshore, they found metal and about 3 ounces of human tissue, including a tooth, a toenail covered with pink polish, bone chips, fingernails, thousands of hairs, and Type O blood, which matched Helle.
A chainsaw was found at the bottom of the lake, covered in blood and hair that could also be matched to Helle.
Through a series of forensic experiments, investigators concluded that Richard had frozen his wife’s body before feeding it through the woodchipper. The theory is that he killed her by striking her in the head with a blunt object, and then kept her body in the missing freezer for an amount of time before taking it to the lake, where he dismembered her with the chainsaw, then putting the pieces through the woodchipper.
Richard was arrested for his wife’s murder in January 1987 – his first trial resulted in a hung jury, but the second trial ended with a guilty verdict on November 21, 1989. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2021.
5. Annie Le
September 8, 2009. A doctoral student at the Yale School of Medicine entered a building on the New Haven Campus. She never came out, and her body was discovered inside the building on September 13 – her wedding day.
After she was reported missing by her roommates, police checked surveillance footage and discovered that she had gone into the building, but never came out.
They shut down the building, and on September 13, discovered her body in a cable chase inside the wall of a laboratory in the basement. The autopsy confirmed that she had died from traumatic asphyxia due to neck compression.
Because of the building’s high security, police focused on Yale students and employees. On September 17, they arrested Raymond Clark, a lab tech that had been working in the building when Le disappeared.
He entered a guilty plea in March 2011, in exchange for a 44-year-prison term. Chillingly, he has never given an explanation for the attack.
6. Jessica Chambers
December 6, 2014. Authorities in Courtland, Mississippi were called to a car fire on a rural road at approximately 8:15pm. When they arrived, they discoveredr a young woman standing in the ditch, still burning.
She had burns to over 98% of her body. The blaze had been so hot that it had turned her black car white, incinerated her clothing, and blinded her. Her name was Jessica Chambers, and she died hours later from her horrific injuries.
According to the police investigation, Jessica was last seen by her mother, when she told her that she was going to a gas station near her house to clean her car.
At some point, she met up with someone who lured her to the rural road before dousing her and her car in gasoline before setting her ablaze. Responders later reported that she said something like “Eric” or “Derek” while they were treating her, though this detail was hotly disputed.
Police questioned Jessica’s ex-boyfriends and some of the rough crowd that she was reported to have been hanging around with before she died. She’d expressed concerns to her father, who was a mechanic for the sheriff’s office.
She said, “Everyone thinks I’m snitching because you work for the police.” However, none of these leads panned out, and there was widespread obsession over the case from online armchair detectives.
There were theories that ranged from the involvement of her most recent ex-boyfriend, Bryan Rudd – despite the fact that he’d lived in Iowa since 2013 – to an attack by ISIS.
It wasn’t until police announced that they had indicted a suspect on February 23, 2016 that anyone had any semblance of answers.
27-year-old Quentin Tellis had only known Jessica for 2 weeks, but he’d been pestering her for sex and had been repeatedly rebuffed.
Phone records placed him with her at the time of her murder, and his DNA was found on her car keys. He was also suspected of another murder in Louisiana, that of college student Meing-Chen Hsaio in August 2015. In his first trial, jury confusion led to a mistrial; his second trial resulted in a hung jury. He remains in prison on other charges while the prosecution decides whether they want to try him again.
The Scariest Murders
So, there you have it. Some of the most brutal, cold-blooded murders ever committed. These crimes have become part of a collective nightmare – don’t expect to sleep tonight.