Cold Cases and Serial Killers

Cold case investigations link more unsolved cases to known serial killers.

When William Clyde Gibson was sentenced for the murder and mutilation of three women, he claimed that there were many more. The police “might have a tenth of it,” he stated. Although we know that serial killers like to brag and some have exaggerated their victim toll, we’ve also recently seen the linkage of past unsolved cases to serial killers for whom we thought we knew the tally. Some, like Gibson, hinted at more, but others never breathed a word.

Christine Thornton went missing in 1977, somewhere in a Western state. Only after police posted a stash of photos from photographer Rodney Alcala’s storage rental did Christine’s sister notice one that showed the missing woman's unique traits. Apparently, Christine had the bad luck to cross paths with this killer in Wyoming while he was traveling from New York to California. Possibly, there are more victims among those women and children featured in Alcala's photos. He pleaded guilty to two murders in New York and was convicted of five in Los Angeles.

Earlier, I described the effort to link British serial killer Robert Black to cold cases of murdered and missing young girls. One involves nine-year-old Jennifer Cardy. In 1981, she’d gone to visit a friend before vanishing. Duck hunters found her body in a millpond ten miles from her home. She’d been sexually assaulted. Despite an intensive search, the case remained unsolved for thirty years until Robert Black was identified as a potential serial killer. He’d driven a delivery van for a company with clients around the UK, including where the Cardys lived. In 2011, he was finally convicted.

Cold case detectives in Washington State have been trying to link Ted Bundy with more murders than the three-dozen to which he confessed. In 1966, two women were bludgeoned in their apartment similar to the way Bundy had assaulted four women in Florida in 1978. Bundy had worked in the area, so he might have seen them. Although this is 7 to 8 years earlier than Bundy claimed to have begun (depending on which story you believe), we don’t have information about cases at which he'd only hinted. He’s also a prime suspect in the kidnapping of a child when he was 14 in 1961.

After Roger Kibbe was arrested in the rape-murders of six women in California in 1986, he was linked to a murder with a similar MO from ten years earlier. In 2003, he admitted it and tried unsuccessfully to assist investigators to locate the woman’s remains. A persistent officer finally figured it out and found a piece of bone. In 2011, DNA proved it was her, adding one more to Kibbe’s count.

There has been news in Canada recently about gay killer Bruce McArthur. The 66-year-old landscaper has been charged with seven murders. After killing his victims, he'd dismember them and place body parts in planters at a Toronto home he'd landscaped. Police are now searching the yards of his prior customers. They suspect him in an eighth murder of a man recently identified and believe that he has victims from earlier decades. One murder dated back to 2010, and police are re-examining 15 cold cases from as far back as 1975.

Cold case investigators with the New York State Police have looked into the possibility that deceased “Beauty Queen” killer Christopher Wilder murdered Shari Lynne Ball in 1983. Her remains, found that year near Buffalo, were finally identified in 2014. She’d gone missing in Boca Raton, FL, the state from which Wilder had fled when police closed in. Ball had told her family she was going to New York State with a friend to pursue a modeling career. Wilder was known to lure women by offering them jobs as models, and a witness put him near Buffalo in July 1983.article continues after advertisement

Although we often hear statements that a serial killer might be responsible for hundreds of undiscovered murders, we’ve yet to see a case that proves this. However, cold case teams have definitely linked some older cases to notorious killers, which suggests that in the future we might see more such resolutions.

About the Author

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and the author of 60 books.

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