10 Famous U.S. Murder Cases

A Look at the Country's Most Notorious Killers

From serial killers to celebrity victims, here's a look at a handful of the most famous murder cases in recent U.S. history. Some of these crimes were committed by criminals who've been caught ​and punished. In others, questions still remain. 

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John Wayne Gacy, The Killer Clown

John Wayne Gacy

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An entertainer who played "Pogo the Clown" at children's parties, John Wayne Gacy was one of the most infamous serial killers in America. Over just six years, beginning in 1972, Gacy tortured, raped, and murdered 33 young men, most of whom were just teenagers.

Police tracked down Gacy while investigating the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest in 1978. What they discovered in the crawl space under his home was gruesome. Twenty bodies of young men were found there, one was in the garage, and four more were found in the nearby Des Plaines River.

Gacy was found guilty after an unsuccessful attempt at an insanity defense. He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.

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Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy in Court
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Ted Bundy is probably the most notorious serial killer of the 20th century. Though he admitted to killing 36 women, many people speculate that the actual number of victims is much higher.

Bundy graduated from the University of Washington in 1972. A psychology major, Bundy was described by his classmates as a master manipulator. He lured women by faking injuries many times and escaped from custody on a few occasions.

Bundy's crime spree spread across many states and Florida is where it finally ended with a conviction in 1979. After numerous appeals, he was executed in the electric chair in 1989.

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The Son of Sam

Son of Sam Killer is Led to Court
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David Berkowitz was another infamous serial killer during the 1970s. He had two nicknames: the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer.

Berkowitz's case was strange because the murderer would write confession letters to police and media. Reportedly, his rampage began on Christmas Eve in 1975 with the killing two women with a knife. More women and a few men were killed in New York City by Berkowitz before his arrest in 1977.

In 1978, Berkowitz confessed to six murders and received a sentence of 25 to life for each. During his confession, he said that demons, particularly his neighbor named Sam Carr, had instructed him to kill.

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The Zodiac Killer

Handwritten Note from Zodiac Killer
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The Zodiac Killer that haunted Northern California in the late 1960s has yet to be solved.

This bizarre case involved a series of letters sent to three California newspapers. In many, an anonymous man confessed to murders. Even more chilling were his threats that if the letters were not published, he would go on a murderous rampage.

The letters continued through 1974. Not all are believed to be the same man; police suspect there were many copycats in this high-profile case.

In total, the man who came to be known as the Zodiac Killer confessed to 37 murders. However, police can only verify seven attacks, five of those resulting in death.

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The Manson Family

Charles Manson Returning to Los Angeles Jail, 1969


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In the late 60s, Manson coerced a number of young women and men to join "The Family." Many were just barely teenagers and were easily vulnerable to his influence.

The group's most infamous murder took place in August 1969 when Manson sent four of his "family members" to a home in the northern hills of Los Angeles. There, they killed five people, including director Roman Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate.

Manson was indicted and convicted along with those who carried out the murders and sentenced to death. However, he was never executed by the state. He lived the rest of his life in prison and passed away in 2017 of a heart attack.

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The Plainfield Ghoul

Edward Gein on his Way to Take a Lie Detector Test

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Plainfield, Wisconsin was home to an unassuming farmer turned handyman named Ed Gein. But his rural farmhouse became the scene of unthinkable crimes.

After his parent's deaths in the 1940s, Gein isolated himself and became infatuated with death, dismemberment, sexual fantasies, and even cannibalism. He began with corpses from local cemeteries and escalated to killing older women by 1954.

When investigators searched the farm, they found a literal house of horrors. Amidst the body parts, they were able to determine that 15 different women fell victim to the Plainfield Ghoul. He was admitted to a state hospital for life and died of cancer in 1984.

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The BTK Strangler

BTK Killer Dennis Rader


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From 1974 through 1991, the Wichita, Kansas area was gripped with a string of murders attributed to someone known as the BTK Strangler. The acronym stands for "Blind, Torture, Kill" and the crimes went unsolved until 2005.

After his arrest, Dennis Lynn Rader confessed to killing ten people over the previous thirty years. He had notoriously toyed with authorities by leaving letters and sending packages to local news outlets. The last correspondence was in 2004 and led to his arrest.

Even though he was not found out until 2005, his last murder occurred prior to 1994, when Kansas enacted the death penalty. Rader pleaded guilty to all ten murders and was sentenced to ten consecutive life sentences in prison.

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The Hillside Strangler

Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi
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Also in the late 1970s, the West Coast was terrorized by the Hillside Strangler. They soon found out that behind this moniker was not one man, but a pair of killers: Angelo Anthony Buono Jr. and his cousin Kenneth Bianchi.

In 1977, the two began their killing spree. They raped, tortured, and murdered a total of 10 girls and young women, starting in Washington State and extending to Los Angeles.

Once arrested, Bianchi turned on Buono to avoid the death penalty and confessed. After receiving a life sentence, Buono died in prison in 2002.

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The Black Dahlia Murder

Elizabeth Short Grave
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The 1947 Black Dahlia case remains one of the best-known unsolved cases in California.

The victim, dubbed "The Black Dahlia" by the media, was the 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. In all, almost 200 people were suspected in Short's murder. A number of men and women even confessed to leaving her body in the vacant lot where she was found. Investigators have never been able to pinpoint the killer.

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The Dating Game Killer

Penalty Phase Trial for Serial Killer Rodney Alcala
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Rodney Alcala received the nickname "The Dating Game Killer" because he had been a contestant on the popular TV show "The Dating Game." His date from that appearance declined the rendezvous, finding him "creepy." Turns out that she had good intuition.

Alcala's first known victim was an 8-year-old girl in 1968. Police found the raped and strangled girl holding onto life along with photos of other children. Alcala had already gone on the run, though he was later arrested and sentenced to prison.

After being released from his first prison sentence, Alcala killed four more women, the youngest just 12-years-old. He was later convicted of one murder and sentenced to death in California. However, given the number of photos recovered, it's believed that he's responsible for many more brutalities.