Cleveland may not be the city to move to if you enjoy winning sports championships, but it’s apparently the best place to be if you have murder in your blood. A disproportionately high number of serial killers and psychopaths have emerged from Drew Carey’s neck of the woods, more so than many other places. With crime rates two to three times the national average, along with the following famous criminals that call it home, it’s pretty plain to see why Cleveland could so easily claim the title of Serial Killer Capital of America. It’s a badge they surely wear with pride.
10. Ariel Castro
Serial rapist? Yes. Serial kidnapper? Sure. But serial killer? Technically, absolutely.
Between the years 2002 and 2004, Ariel Castro kidnapped three young girls and held them captive in his basement for 10 years. The girls finally escaped in early 2013, and the nation watched in horror as the case unraveled. After his capture and arrest, Castro pled guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder. he was sentenced to life in prison plus a thousand years, just in case he turned out to be Wolverine or something. Not that it mattered much, as Castro died of asphyxiation just one month into his millennium-long sentence.
Now, the three girls escaped, with a six-year-old child in tow, so who exactly did he murder? Unborn children, that’s who. According to his plea agreement, Castro also admitted responsibility for intentionally inducing numerous miscarriages. How many? Well, a minimum of two, and a maximum of God Only Knows. Either way, though he may be more infamous as a kidnapper and rapist, he’s a serial killer.
9. Michael Madison
Not too much is known about Michael Madison, as he was only recently indicted for his crimes. What is known is that the Cleveland police responded to a foul odor complaint related to Madison’s garage. Within three days, Madison was in court and charged with the murder of three women, each of which were found in plastic bags in various states of decomposition.
As the news broke that yet another serial killer was arrested in Cleveland, the local NBC news affiliate had reported that Madison was inspired by the work of Anthony Sowell, who we will be dealing with later.
8. Richard Eberling
In 1954, Dr. Sam Sheppard was accused, and convicted of, murdering his pregnant wife, Marilyn Reese Sheppard. For 10 years the doctor appealed the decision, all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where he won a retrial. At the retrial, Dr. Sheppard was found not guilty of murdering his wife, but his life was left in ruins. One of the most famous trials of the 50’s and 60’s, rumblings were that both The Fugitive show and movie were loosely based on the court case. The case has been explored by over a dozen court shows, including Cold Case, American Justice, and The New Detectives.
How does this tie in with Richard Eberling? Richard Eberling was Sheppard’s handyman, and his blood was at the scene. Richard Eberling was later convicted of killing Ethel May Durkin in a court of law. While serving his sentence, he gloated to fellow inmates that he had killed Marilyn Sheppard, even going as far as corresponding with Sheppard’s son, Sam, and confessing his guilt to him. After the fact, knowing Eberling was very much capable of murder, he was linked to the deaths of George Eberling and Barbara Kinzel but, due to Richard’s death, any motivation to actually solve those cold cases went, well, cold.
7. Edward Edwards
Edward Edwards was born in Akron, Ohio, and was shipped off to an orphanage shortly after his mother’s suicide. In his early 20’s, he fled Ohio for greener pastures, committing petty crimes and bouncing around the nation. During a brief respite from committing crimes, he wrote his autobiography The Metamorphosis of a Criminal: The True Life Story of Ed Edwards in 1972, outlining the abuse he had suffered at the Akron Orphanage, along with the inspirational story of how he turned his back on crime. He even found time to appear on To Tell The Truth and What’s My Line, making him the only serial killer to ever appear on multiple game shows.
That happy ending was short-lived, as five years later he went on a killing spree, killing two people in 1977, two more in 1980, and his own foster son in 1996. He was apprehended in 2009, and convicted of murdering five people. He was sentenced to be executed, but died on his own less than a month after entering prison. While he swore prior to his death that he only killed five people, many speculate him to be the famous Zodiac Killer, responsible for upwards of three dozen murders.
6. Gary Heidnik
Gary Heidnik grew up just outside of the Cuyahoga County border in Eastlake, Ohio. His parents divorced when Heidnik was age three, and he lived with his mother until age seven, when he moved in with his father and his new family. With behavior problems plaguing him since birth, Gary was shipped off to military school at the tender age of 14. Minor charges followed Gary around his adulthood until 1986, when he was charged with spousal rape and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. By the end of 1986, Heidnik had kidnapped and tortured six young women over a one-year period, murdering two of them.
Gary Heidnik was apprehended in 1987 and, in 1999, became the last person executed by the state of Pennsylvania. His legacy lives on in a twisted fashion, as many claim that Buffalo Bill, the serial killer from Silence of the Lambs, was based on Heidnik’s history, persona, and knack for imprisoning his victims in shallow pits and either starving them to death or outright murdering them.
5. John Demjanjuk (Ivan The Terrible)
Nazi war criminals tend to hide in semi-luxury and total isolation, lest they be caught and tried. John Demjanjuk, on the other hand, joined the UAW, went to work building automobiles, and settled in Seven Hills, Ohio, only 10 minutes from the hustle and bustle of downtown Cleveland. Hardly the life of isolation that so many stereotypical war criminals led.
In 1983, Israel requested an extradition request for Demjanjuk, claiming that he was Ivan the Terrible, a notorious Nazi guard. After five long years of trial and legal wrangling, Demjanjuk was found guilty of being Ivan, and was sentenced to death by hanging. After more appeals, in 1993 the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the conviction, saying the Ivan the Terrible was actually a person named Ivan Marchenko. Scholars across the world debated the Court’s ruling, with some saying it was correct, and others howling that Demjanjuk actually was Marchenko, and got away with murder simply by changing his name.
Then in 2005, Cleveland again sought to be deport John/Ivan, this time to either Germany, Poland, or the Ukraine. Ending up in Germany, Demjanjuk, having traversed nearly 30 years in international court systems, was convicted as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 persons and sentenced to five years in prison. Demjanjuk, while free on appeal, died at the age of 91. Since his appeals in Germany were not fully exhausted, he died legally innocent in his home country. In short, aside from a few years of imprisonment, Ivan The Terrible truly did get away with murder.
4. Robert Berdella
One of the most notorious serial killers in American history, Robert Berdella — also known as the Butcher of Kansas City — was arrested for selling drugs almost immediately after enrolling at the Kansas City Art Institute. Bouncing around for a decade, taking on odd jobs and working flea markets, he parlayed his interest of oddities into opening his own store, Bob’s Bazaar Bizarre. The store served a dual purpose, selling knickknacks and tchotchkes in the front, while gruesomely torturing young male prostitutes to death in the back. As of this writing, six murders have been confirmed, with many more suspected.
In his prison psychiatric profile, Berdella spoke of his rough childhood in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Specifically, he mentioned his rape at age 16, an act that triggered his desire to move to Kansas City, and kill off everybody in the sex industry in the process. Berdella died in prison just four years after his arrest.
3. Jeffrey Dahmer
The Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer, killed 17 men by drugging them, sexually assaulting them, murdering them, and then dismembering and eating parts of their corpses. However, despite committing his crimes in Milwaukee, Dahmer is very much a Cleveland boy. Graduating from Revere High School between Cleveland and Akron in 1978, Dahmer killed his first victim in Medina County less than a year after his graduation. After a stint in the United States military, the troubled Dahmer left Northeast Ohio to stay with relatives in the Milwaukee area. After terrorizing Milwaukee for nearly five years, he was captured, convicted, and sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences.
He was murdered in 1994, less than three years after entering prison. Then, an odd thing happened; Dahmer entered the pop culture as a cartoonish rendition of pure evil. References to his crimes began popping up in songs and TV shows, graphic novels and Dahmer movies followed, and one company even offers a walking tour of the area where Dahmer found the majority of his victims.
2. The Cleveland Torso Murderer
The Cleveland Torso Murderer (also known as The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run) is suspected to have committed up to 40 murders between Cleveland and Youngstown throughout the 1950’s. His calling card was to gruesomely decapitate his victims with his bare hands, sometimes while the victim was still alive.
There is no name associated with the Torso Murderer, because he was sadly never apprehended. For that, you can thank Cleveland’s Safety Director Elliot Ness, who was apparently too distracted by alcoholism and a messy divorce to truly commit to finding a maniac ripping off heads throughout the east side of Cleveland. It is only assumed that the murderer was male, due to most women not possessing the strength to manually decapitate a living human being, or even a dead one.
Not only was the killer never found, many of the victims were never identified, simply given the meaningless monikers of John and Jane Doe.
1. Anthony Sowell
It is extremely hard to catch a serial killer if you don’t even know that there are victims. In the fall of 2009, a young lady was invited to Anthony Sowell’s house for some drinks. Once she arrived, Sowell attempted to rape her, and she escaped. A month later, the slow-acting Cleveland police entered Sowell’s home with an arrest warrant, only to find two dead bodies in the living room. Then, four more bodies were found around the house, including a head in a basket. Five more bodies were found hidden or buried in the yard. All the bodies were female.
After police arrested Sowell, neighbors claimed that they had complained about the smell around his house for years. One account named Sowell as “that smelly guy,” who apparently lived in squalor amongst the victim’s decomposing bodies. So knowing about the wretched smell, how come none of the eleven victims’ families put two and two together? Well, many of the victims were in the clutches of long-term drug addiction, and had disappeared into some of the most dangerous, drug-infested neighborhoods in the Midwest. Family members were simply too exhausted from years of abuse to bother reporting the women as missing, allowing Sewell to quietly carry on his murderous spree, with nobody suspecting a thing until it was far too late.