Few things intrigue and terrify man like the specter of his own destruction. Through cinematic, artistic, and literary mediums, we fight and glorify death on a daily basis. In a partial attempt to cope with our mortality, we fixate on real-life killers, rationalizing their existence whenever possible and sometimes turning them into accidental celebrities. The more twisted or troubled a murderer seems, the more eagerly we wish to dissect that person’s motives and mindset. It’s only natural, then, that killers with inscrutably odd fixations both rivet and repulse us.
When police entered the Ohio home of 30-year-old Matthew Hoffman, they found an arboreal hellscape of leaves blanketing the whole house. Hundreds of bags of leaves, none of which Hoffman had ever been seen raking, filled the bathroom. Some parts of the house had been packed so densely, that officers feared they would find bodies buried underneath.
In the basement was a 13-year-old girl whom Hoffman had snatched from her home four days earlier. She was bound by her hands and been and dressed in a trash-bag-diaper. She was on a bed of leaves draped with blankets. When authorities finally freed the girl, she asked to be transported to school for fear of being too tardy. She heartbreakingly anguished over the fate of her dog, which Hoffman had killed for being too noisy. But the killer had also committed far graver sins.
The girl didn’t realize it at the time, but her mother, little brother, and a young neighbor were all dead, killed during a botched robbery attempt and then and callously cut to pieces. Hoffman had hidden their remains in the hollow of a 65-foot-tall tree. Psychologists would later suggest that he had chosen their wooden resting place to bring himself comfort. The tree obsession, they suggested, indicated a severe mental imbalance and delusional thinking. It was an imbalance that characterized most of Hoffman’s life.
Ever since childhood Hoffman had surrounded himself with trees. He climbed them, played in them, and built treehouses. He worked with them in adulthood part-time as a tree-trimmer before getting released for falsifying his work history and unnerving his boss. In the end, he would make trees inanimate accomplices in his grotesque transgressions. Hoffman willingly admitted his atrocities in court, earning him a life sentence without parole
9Roger Reece Kibbe
Cutting Women’s Clothing
Long before Robert Reece Kibbe became known as the “I-5 Strangler,” he exhibited strong signs of depravity. A frequent ward of the juvenile justice system, Kibbe would regularly skip school to steal women’s undergarments. Using his mother’s scissors, he would then cut amorphous holes in them. He also broke into other people’s garages, 13, and falsely claimed to have been molested by kidnappers.
One of Kibbe’s arresting juvenile officers uneasily pondered whether the troubled child would go on to become a dangerous man. Years later, Kibbe would validate those concerns in the worst way. Between 1977 and 1987, Kibbe terrorized the female population of Northern California. During that decade-long interval, he kidnapped, raped, and choked seven women to death. Echoing the habits of his youth, Kibbe cut holes their clothing. In at least one instance he ripped out some of his victim’s hair and wrapped it in a portion of her underwear.
Initially, Kibbe was only tried and convicted for one of his many murders, that of 17-year-old Darcie Frackenpohl. In 1987 he was sentenced to serve 25 years to life in prison. However, 13 years after his conviction, advancements in forensic science implicated the I-5 Strangler in six more murders. He admitted the killings to avoid capital punishment and subsequently helped investigators recover all the bodies but one. Investigators fear, however, that the true tally of victims could be much higher.
In September 1993, an Italian teenager indulged the advances of an awkward older suitor against her well-formed reservations. The girl, 16-year-old Elisa Claps, had heard uncomfortable rumors about the seemingly oafish Danilo Restivo. Restivo, it was said, sat behind women on buses and surreptitiously cut their hair. Despite his creepy conduct, Claps pitied Restivo and agreed to meet him at church. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.
From the start, everyone suspected Restivo had killed the poor girl, but no one could find a body. And Restivo, despite seeming childlike and unthinking, had the savvy to meticulously cover his tracks. Fast-forward nine years, and Elisa Claps remained one of Italy’s most famous missing persons. By that time Restivo had resettled in the English town of Bournemouth, where he would kill again. In 2002 Restivo murdered and mutilated Heather Barnett, leaving clippings of his victim’s hair in her hands.
Barnett’s children, who discovered her body, recalled that Restivo had visited their home before the family’s house keys vanished. But concrete evidence linking him to the murder was sorely lacking. As investigators delved into Restivo’s life, however, they found numerous red flags. As a boy, Restivo had been traumatized by an unsuccessful tonsil surgery and seemingly acted out by torturing other children. Police also discovered his hair fetish. Interviews of Bournemouth residents suggested that Restivo had cut the hair of at least two school girls. A witness also spotted him masturbating to a woman’s hair on a bus.
Then, a forensic breakthrough: Authorities found DNA residue placing Restivo at the scene of Barnett’s murder. But even then, the composed killer produced a coherent explanation. Justice finally prevailed in 2010, when Elisa Claps’s body was discovered in Italy along with traces of Restivo’s DNA. Her hair had also been cut and placed in her hands. This time, the evidence was inescapable. In 2011, a court condemned Restivo to life in prison.
7Eric Bikubi And Magalie Bamu
In the summer of 2008, 19-year-old Naomi Ilonga paid a month-long visit to London-based soccer coach Erik Bikubi and his longtime girlfriend Magalie Bamu. What should have been a pleasant sojourn took a sharp turn for the frightful when Bikubi hacked off her flowing hair with a pair of scissors. The provocation for his aggression was simultaneously simple and stunning: Ilonga bit her nails, which in Bikubi’s mind pegged her as a witch. Beyond that harrowing interaction Ilonga emerged from her stay unscathed. Others weren’t so lucky.
In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, his sister, Kelly, and a third sibling flew over from Paris to spend the Christmas holiday with their older sister, Magalie. Once more, the issue of witchcraft came to the fore. Both Magalie and her boyfriend seized onto the notion that their three visitors were secretly sorcerers employing their dark magic against a young child. Determined to force a confession, Bikubi and Bamu denied their guests food, drink, and sleep. Egged on by Magalie Bamu, Bikubi beat and berated the siblings as well.
To stave off more abuse, Kristy, Kelly, and their younger sibling copped to the absurd accusations of witchcraft. But the inquisition wasn’t over. Kristy, perhaps gripped with fear, wet himself. An incensed Bikubi smashed his teeth out with a hammer, twisted the 15-year-old’s ears with pliers, and assailed him with an assortment of weapons that included a metal rod, a paint roller, knives, and a chisel. Kristy pleaded with his sister Magalie to stop his suffering, but she refused, instead urging Bikubi to continue the onslaught.
After three days, Kristy literally begged for death. It finally came when the tortured teen drowned during a ritual bath. In court, Bikubi blamed his barbarity on brain lesions, while Magalie Bamu denied instigating his violence. Unpersuaded, a judge sentenced Bikubi to a minimum of 30 years and Bamu to at least 25 years in prison.
Ricky Brogsdale’s best friends growing up were hardship and dysfunction. The son of a violent alcoholic mother, he turned to drugs early in life and engaged in an untoward affair with a half-sister. During his teenage years, the wayward Brogsdale constantly landed himself in juvenile detention for a battery of offenses that included battery and rape. In adulthood, his most abhorrent transgressions would be fueled by violence and voyeurism.
Brogsdale reached the peak of his perversion in 1987. In May that year, he was granted parole after serving a partial sentence for possessing an unlicensed firearm. Within two months of his release, he got himself rearrested for indecent exposure. However, the parole board showed leniency and declined to detain him before his upcoming trial date rather than rescinding parole altogether. Brogsdale would use that pretrial interlude to shoot seven people.
Over a span of sex weeks, the pathological Brogsdale prowled the neighborhoods of Southeast Washington D.C. For targets. Once he settled on someone—usually a woman—he would peep at them through their window. Sometimes he masturbated. To achieve full satisfaction, Brogsdale aimed and fired once at the object of his arousal. In his quest for gratification, the so-called “peeping Tom killer” ended two lives and marred multiple others.
At trial, Brogsdale’s attorneys defended him as a tortured soul who only meant to sate a diseased hunger born of horrid childhood abuse. That was little solace to families of the deceased and the survivors he permanently scarred. A D.C. Court found Brogsdale guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to 63 years in prison with the possibility for parole after 55 years.
David Tarloff’s neighbors knew him as “the crazy guy.” Slim and fashionable in his youth, Tarloff aged into a tragically unstable man in the throes of a schizophrenic meltdown. He dressed sloppily, often neglecting to fully button his shirts and zip up his pants. He habitually stole cat food and Yoo-hoo from a Manhattan store that he frequented. At night, Tarloff could often be heard screaming at his elderly mother.
Despite the rockiness of their dynamic, Tarloff loved his 73-year-old mother, Beatrice, intensely. When she ultimately had to enter a nursing home, he rapidly unraveled. An inconsolable Tarloff began frequenting her new abode and issuing death threats to employees, who were forced to boot him off the premises. Tarloff’s father grew so distressed about his son’s irrational behavior that he relocated Beatrice Tarloff to at least two other facilities. But her son always managed to find her.
Throughout Tarloff’s tailspin, police and close relatives tried to have him committed to a mental facility. Each time, he was released after a brief stay thanks to a revolving door system of admissions for dangerous patients. The consequences of that proved dire. Having convinced himself that his mother was being mistreated, Tarloff devised a crude scheme to whisk her away to Hawaii or out of the country entirely. Instead, he cost an innocent woman her life.
Tarloff planned to finance his getaway by robbing psychiatrist Kent Shinbach, who had Tarloff hospitalized in 1991. Instead, the would-be bandit encountered therapist Kathryn Faughey. A panicked Tarloff responded by stabbing her 15 times with a meat cleaver and cracking her cranium with a mallet. Mental health professionals would find Tarloff incompetent to stand trial three different times. In 2014, six years after Dr. Faughey’s death, a jury convicted him of second-degree murder among other chargers. He’s slated to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Craig Hicks’s favorite movie was Falling Down, which captures a downtrodden man’s descent in to madness. According to his ex-wife, he watched the film religiously and found great amusement in the carnage it depicted. He was also an avid atheist who unabashedly voiced his contempt for organized religion. But the thing that seemed to stand out most to the people around Hicks was his seemingly maniacal preoccupation with where and how his neighbors parked.
The 46-year-old Hicks policed parking outside his Chapel Hill apartment with tyrannical zeal. He cataloged people’s vehicles and where they were situated in extreme detail, reporting anyone who lacked proper stickers or otherwise transgressed. Ever ornery, he had heated confrontations with neighbors over parking infractions. Hicks gleefully sicced law enforcement on a couple having sex in their parked cars and even got himself banned from calling a local tow truck company for abusing its services so excessively.
Unsurprisingly, Hicks’s neighbors felt extremely uneasy and even fearful in his presence. This held especially true for spouses Deah Barakat and Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha. Hicks hounded the couple about their parking violations, sometimes brandishing a gun as he did so. Other times, he was accosting them for making too much noise. Barakat become so fed up with his neurotic neighbor that he printed off an annotated parking map for his visitors to avoid further altercations with Hicks.
Tragically, Barakat’s efforts to appease Hicks were to no avail. In February, 2015, he gunned down Barakat, his wife, and his wife’s sister, Razan Abu-Salha. Some, including the victims’ families, believe the murders were fueled by anti-Muslim hatred. Those closer to Hicks suggest otherwise. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Hicks was highly disturbed and extremely dangerous.
UK resident Harry Street exemplified qualities everyone dreads in a neighbor. Warren Smith experienced that firsthand in 2013. The irascible 70-year-old hurled objects at Smith’s house, pounded and drilled into walls in the dead of night, and issued nasty threats on a regular basis. When Smith finally moved into a new place, Street stalked him and amped up the harassment.
The police got involved and uncovered a chilling fact. Street had been making bullets and an explosive from scratch. As it turned out, Smith’s neighbor wasn’t just a cantankerous coot with a soft spot for stalking. He was the infamous Barry Williams, who in 1978 slaughtered five neighbors in a paranoid rage. Released from detention in 1994, he legally changed his name and started life anew. Unfortunately, he still had much in common with his past incarnation.
In his younger days, Street constantly bickered with neighbors over the noise emanating from their cars and televisions. For him, it wasn’t a matter of peace and quiet but the fact that he interpreted the sounds as laughter. Whenever a neighbor started a car or cranked the volume on a television, Street heard mean-spirited mockery directed at him personally. It was only a matter of time before rage gave way to rampage.
The breaking point came on October, 26, 1978, as two of Street’s neighbors tinkered with a car. A berserk Street grabbed two handguns and launched into a five-minute shooting spree before leading police on a high-speed chase. As he fled, Street shot at bystanders and flung homemade explosives from his car. Due to his clearly delusional state, he would spend 15 years at a psychiatric facility. After tormenting Warren Smith, Smith was recommitted in 2014. He died shortly thereafter.
2Tulsa’s Sex Maniac
Between 1942 and 1948 Tulsa, Oklahoma’s female population was put on edge by what one resident referred to as a “sex maniac.” During that six-year period, four women ages 19 to 48 were beaten to death in their own beds under the cover of darkness. It’s believed that they all died at the hands of a single man who relied on a single twisted M.O.
The perpetrator would strike his victims repeatedly with a pipe or similarly blunt object, sometimes rupturing their skulls. On two different occasions the killer boldly helped himself to breakfast, in one case eating seven scrambled eggs. In all four cases the offender sexually defiled the women’s battered corpses. The perpetrator left no noticeable finger- or footprints. All authorities had to go on were gray hairs and grease smudges left behind on the women’s bedding. In the days before DNA profiling, that wasn’t much.
Scraping for answers and finding nothing, Tulsa law enforcement manufactured a breakthrough. In 1945 police pinned the murders on a 33-year-old African American named LeRoy Benton. After days of brutal questioning, they strong-armed a confession out of him. The dubious admission netted a conviction, but it didn’t last. An appellate judge later overturned Benton’s sentence, citing coercive interrogation methods.
The investigation dragged on. Eventually, the evidence pointed them to 52-year-old Charles Floyd. Officers tracked down the suspect and interrogated him in front of a news reporter. Floyd readily confessed, providing corroborating details that persuaded police that they finally had their man. A psychiatrist described Floyd as a “deranged murderer” but deemed him unfit to stand trial. Instead, he would spend the rest of his life at a mental hospital. No culprit was officially named.
1Dayton Leroy Rogers
Feet And Bondage
As an 18-year-old, Dayton Leroy Rogers asked a 15-year-old girl to close her eyes and then stabbed her in the stomach. It was an act of spontaneous savagery that few people would consider but which came naturally to a man driven by fetishistic violence. In the ensuing years, Rogers began hogtying and raping women. And by the late 1980s, he was a full-fledged murderer.
Rogers’s first murder conviction came in 1988 after he fatally stabbed Jennifer Smith outside an Oregon restaurant. But soon, more bodies would surface, each of them painting the same dark portrait of their killer. Rogers had developed a taste for heroin-addicted prostitutes. He liked to gain their trust by paying to fondle their feet during their initial outings before graduating to more extreme behavior. After he got the women comfortable, he would hogtie them and start acting out his more sinister urges.
An avid foot fetishist, Rogers enjoyed biting feet among other body parts. Sometimes he sawed his victims’ feet completely off. He would also slam captive women’s heads against hard surfaces, slap them around, and verbally degrade them. The more they screamed and suffered, the more excited Rogers got. Once he was done toying with his prey, only death and mutilation remained. One woman was disemboweled from pelvis to sternum.
When all was said and done, Rogers had at least eight dead bodies to his name. More than a dozen prostitutes who managed to escape Rogers endured traumatic assaults. Yet despite his penchant for life-taking, Rogers fought vigorously to stave off the death penalty, which he received and evaded three different times on various technicalities. In 2015 an Oregon jury sentenced the serial killer to death for a fourth—perhaps final—time.