By Debbie Emery – Radar Reporter
The history books are full of multiple murderers with names like Charles Manson, Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy haunting our nightmares, but what about the killers who have not been immortalized in popular culture?
In his new book Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of, author Harold Schecter reveals chilling details on the crimes committed by America’s forgotten killers and RadarOnline.com has excerpts of his grisly revelations.
“From the early years of the Republic, our country has been home to a terrifying array of sex-killers, mass murderers, and homicidal maniacs. Moreover, many of these monsters attracted an enormous amount of public attention, becoming the subjects of frenzied newspaper stories, best-selling true crime pamphlets, and popular ballads,” he told the Huffington Post, explaining that although the term “serial killer” didn’t exist until the 1960s, the deadly act certainly did.
On the morning of March 21, 1860, an unmanned ship, the E. A. Johnson, drifted into New York Harbor and upon boarding the boat, searchers found pools of blood everywhere and the cabin in a shambles. The “shocking signs of carnage” left no doubt that the crew had fallen victim to a “dreadful and bloody tragedy.”
Following the leads of several witnesses, police swiftly tracked down and arrested a suspect, Albert Hicks, a hulking brute who prided himself on being “the worst man who ever lived,” and eventually confessed that, after shipping out on the vessel he had butchered the other three crew members with an axe, stolen the money, and absconded in a lifeboat.
Hicks was hung for his crime on Beldoe’s Island (the future home of the Statue of Liberty) in a gala event that was witnessed by an estimated 10,000 New Yorkers.
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Crowned America’s “Queen Poisoner” by the press, Lydia Sherman began her homicidal reign in the mid-1860s when deciding it was cheaper than divorce, she disposed of her unemployed husband and five dependent children with arsenic.
She then married a wealthy, much older farmer who perished one year later after consuming a bowl of his wife’s specially seasoned clam chowder. Like other psychopathic killers, Lydia murdered not for profit but for fun. She continued her joy ride by marrying again and killing her two stepchildren and new husband with arsenic-spiked hot chocolate. Due to a Victorian rule against executing women, she escaped the gallows following her arrest and conviction in 1871 and was sentenced to life in prison.
This unskilled German laborer was hired as a field hand by a kindhearted Philadelphia farmer named Christopher Deering, but then repaid his employer’s generosity by slaughtering his entire family – father, mother, four children (including an infant in its cradle) – along with two other innocents who happened to be on the scene.
His motive was to steal the small sum of cash the farmer kept at home. Following his execution two months later on June 8, 1866, Probst’s right arm was amputated and sold to a Bowery dime museum, where it attracted hordes of morbid curiosity seekers, eager to view the ghoulish relic of the man the New York Times called “the greatest criminal of the nineteenth century.”
In the summer of 1872, 64-year-old Franklin Evans – aka the Northwood Monster – lured his adolescent grandniece, Georgianna Lovering, into the woods near her home, strangled her to death, then raped and sexually mutilated her corpse.
Following his arrest, he confessed to a string of unsolved atrocities, among them the random mutilation-murder of a physically deformed five-year-old girl he snatched from her New Hampshire home, the rape-murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl in Maine, and the butchering of a 15-year-year-old Massachusetts girl, along with her 12-year-old brother who had witnessed the crime. He was eventually caught for his “unnamable and incredible crimes,” and “swung like a dog” in his execution.
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Situated about 10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire, the town of Smutty Nose was once home to a six-member family of Norwegian fisherfolk, the Hontvets. On the night of March 5, 1873, while the three men were away on a fishing trip, a family acquaintance named Louis Wagner, intent on robbery, snuck into the cottage and butchered two of the women with an axe. The third woman, 26-year-old Maren Hontvet, escaped by crawling through a window and concealing herself on the rocky shoreline. Wagner, who had fled to Boston, was swiftly tracked down and transported back to Portsmouth, where a lynch-mob of 10,000 people had to be held back at bayonet point by a company of marines. He was legally hanged two years later.
On the morning of October 8, 1876, a 17-year-old girl named Josie Langmaid set out on her daily two-mile walk to school in the town of Pembroke, New Hampshire. She never arrived. That night, searchers discovered her butchered and decapitated corpse in the woods, with her head a quarter-mile away. The culprit turned out to be a serial sex-killer named Joseph LaPage who had fled his native Quebec in 1871 after raping his 13-year-old sister-in-law and, three years later, had escaped punishment for the mutilation-murder of a Vermont schoolteacher.
Fortunately this time the law caught up with him and he was tried, convicted and hanged in March, 1878.
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Prior to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the most heinous act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history was the “Bath School Disaster” of 1927, which was committed by Andrew Kehoe, a respected farmer who spiraled into paranoid madness.
Kehoe managed over the course of several months to smuggle several hundred pounds of explosives into the basement of the community’s two-story school building and detonated on the morning of May 18, 1927 by a crude timer in a blast that killed two teachers and 36 children. While rescuers were digging through the rubble for survivors, Kehoe, after murdering his wife, drove a Ford pickup loaded with dynamite and shrapnel to the scene and detonated the car bomb, killing himself and eight other people.
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Paunchy, middle-aged vacuum cleaner salesman Harry Powers used a fake name to make contact with a string of widows, divorcees, and spinsters through a midwestern “lonely hearts” club. But instead of giving them romance, in the summer of 1931, he lured two of these women, Dorothy Lemke and Asta Eichler — along with Mrs. Eichler’s three young children — to a remote cabin in the rural hamlet of Quiet Dell, Virginia, where he starved, tortured and murdered all five victims before disposing of their bodies in a drainage ditch.
Convicted in December of that year, “The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell” (as the tabloids dubbed him) was hanged three months later. The exact tally of his victims is unknown, though Powers ultimately suggested that he had slain as many as 50.
While hailing from America, Eddie Leoniski performed his murderous spree on the other side of the globe in Australia at the outbreak of World War II, where he prowled the streets of Melbourne during the nightly “brownouts,” when street lights were dimmed and window shades drawn to protect against possible Japanese aerial bombardment.
Between May 2 and May 19, 1942, “The Brownout Strangler,” raped and murdered three women and attacked several others, setting off a citywide panic. After drunkenly confessing to a friend, he was hanged on November 9, earning a special distinction in the annals of infamy as the second American soldier to be executed in World War II.
Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of by Harold Schecter is available at Amazon.com for $20.