The Devil's Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics

The Devil's Dozen: 12 Notorious Serial Killers Caught by Cutting-Edge Forensics

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by Katherine Ramsland

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What led authorities to the murder castle of H. H. Holmes? What cast a cloud of suspicion over cannibal Albert Fish? What drove Russia’s Killer X to confess?
How many victims were actually buried on that Vancouver pig farm?
In The Devil’s Dozen, Katherine Ramsland explores the true stories of twelve of the most


What led authorities to the murder castle of H. H. Holmes? What cast a cloud of suspicion over cannibal Albert Fish? What drove Russia’s Killer X to confess?
How many victims were actually buried on that Vancouver pig farm?
In The Devil’s Dozen, Katherine Ramsland explores the true stories of twelve of the most notorious serial killers of the last century and the cutting-edge forensics that delivered their downfalls. Through their compelling case histories, she traces the fascinating evolution of forensic investigation. What clues did these killers unwittingly leave behind? How were the unpredictable twists and turns of their criminal behavior thwarted by the weapons of science and logic?
From the developing stages of the nineteenth century’s earliest investigative tools and ingenious police procedures to the first DNA dragnet to the remarkable twentieth century CSI advances, The Devil’s Dozen provides a fascinating window into the world of those who kill—and those who dedicate their lives to bringing them to justice.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Katherine Ramsland and her books:
“Ramsland has brilliantly captured the insights and drama of some fascinating cases.”—Dr. Henry Lee
 “Highlights [Ramsland’s] command of history and forensic knowledge, fusing it with her interesting and approachable narrative voice…The Devil’s Dozen is a collection of some of the most fascinating cases and instances of innovative investigation.”—

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Praise for the works of Katherine Ramsland

Beating the Devil’s Game

“A great forensic thriller, and once again Katherine Ramsland has brilliantly captured the insights and drama of some fascinating cases.”—Dr. Henry Lee


The Human Predator

“If you’re looking for the perfect gift for someone who’s riveted to television shows like C.S.I., you won’t find a better one than Dr. Katherine Ramsland’s The Human Predator. You’ll not only learn about serial murder but also the historical background of forensic science. This book is unique in the field.”

—Court TV Crime Library


The C.S.I. Effect

“A fascinating must-read for C.S.I. fans and anyone interested in criminal justice.”—Booklist


The Unknown Darkness: Profiling
the Predators Among Us
Coauthored with Gregg O. McCrary


“This is a must-read for true crime fans. A beautifully written expert analysis of high-profile killers.”—Ann Rule


“One of the most immensely readable and gripping accounts of serial murder I have ever read.”

—Colin Wilson, author of Serial Killers: A Study in the Psychology of Violence

The Forensic Science of C.S.I.

“Fascinating...a must for anyone who wonders how the real crime solvers do it.”—Michael Palmer


“With the mind of a true investigator, Ramsland demystifies the world of forensics with authentic and vivid detail.”

—John Douglas


Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires
in America Today

“A riveting read, a model of engaged journalism.”

Publishers Weekly

Other Books by Katherine Ramsland

True STORIES of C.S.I.
(with James E. Starrs)
among US (with Gregg McCrary)

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Copyright © 2009 by Katherine Ramsland


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Berkley trade paperback edition / April 2009


eISBN : 978-1-101-02894-0


An application to register this book for cataloging has been submitted to the Library of Congress.




I was pleased to discover that my agent, John Silbersack, and editor, Ginjer Buchanan, spotted the value of this book right away. Having written fuller histories of both serial murder, The Human Predator, and forensic investigation, Beating the Devil’s Game, I had noticed that some of the more inventive improvements to criminal investigation had resulted from cases of serial murder. However, in those books it was difficult to fully explore them. Thus I’m deeply grateful to John and Ginjer, who have supported me through many projects, for sharing my vision and encouraging me to write this.

Along the way, I received information, photos, or enthusiastic assistance from a number of other people. I must especially thank Michelle Mrazik and Debbie Malone from the DeSales University library, and Sharon Brown from the Macon Public Library, for digging out articles that were difficult to find. Dr. Lawrence Farwell provided his full report, and John Timpane went to Philadelphia’s Free Library to get documents on the Holmes case. But then John Borowski and Waterfront Productions created excellent documentaries on both the Holmes and Fish cases, with terrific footage, and that, too, was a great help. Marilyn Bardsley, my former editor at the Crime Library, encouraged me for eight years to pursue research on serial killers, and Gregg McCrary, Robert Ressler, and John Douglas opened the doors to FBI profiling. Sir Alec Jeffreys, Mike Wild, D.A. William Heisler, Detective Joe Pochron, Chief Roger MacLean, and Officer Brian Lewis provided information, interviews, and/or photos to make this a better book. I’m grateful to them all.

I also wish to thank Dr. Karen Walton, the provost at DeSales University, and to acknowledge the generosity of DeSales for providing release time to work on this project.

Mostly, I’m grateful for the persistent, dedicated investigators who go the extra mile to solve cases and bring killers to justice. To them, I dedicate this book. I appreciate their work and am pleased to have the opportunity to showcase it and provide their example to future investigators.

Table of Contents


Other Books by Katherine Ramsland

Title Page

Copyright Page




ONE - H. H. HOLMES:Deduction, Determination,and Dogged Persistence

TWO - LUDWIG TESSNOW:Secrets in Blood

THREE - ALBERT FISH:Deciphering a Deadly Document

FOUR - LUCIAN STANIAK:The Art of Darkness


SIX - ANDREI CHIKATILO:Lured into the Mirror

SEVEN - JACK UNTERWEGER:Linkage Analysis and the Detective’s Database


NINE - RICHARD ROGERS:The Most Expensive Fingerprint

TEN - DENNIS RADER:Computer Forensics and a Clever Lie

ELEVEN - JAMES B. GRINDER:The Brain Never Lies





They know who he is and they’re closing in. After investigating seven gruesome murders that exploited the victims’ weaknesses, intrepid investigators have chased down the killer, ready to corner him . . . or shoot him. Their lives are on the line, because he’s been extremely clever and they can’t be certain if he’ll outsmart them, but their weapons are ready and they pray for the advantage. At least, that’s how it goes in fiction.

Novels and films often play up the supposed excitement of chasing a serial killer, and while such cases are actually rare, in the history of law enforcement some killers have posed such a challenge that they’ve inspired extraordinary efforts or forensic innovations. Thus we have factual tales that do feature suspenseful sparring between genuine villains and heroes. From the detection of arsenic to the analysis of brain patterns, serial murder has been intricately intertwined with investigative invention. Extraordinary killers command extraordinary methods, and so we present twelve tales of killers who have affected the forensic culture. Among the first was a nineteenth-century poisoner from Nuremburg, Germany.

At age forty-nine, Anna Maria Schonleben neé Zwanziger realized she might spend the rest of her life alone, in poverty. Against her will, she had married an alcoholic lawyer twice her age, but he died, leaving her in debt. She stole a valuable ring, which got her banished from her married daughter’s home, and she twice tried but failed to take her own life. It was the early 1800s and a woman without means had little hope after a certain age of supporting herself. There was also evidence that she suffered from a nervous disorder and was possibly borderline psychotic. She’d had a baby out of wedlock and a miscarriage, both of which had badly affected her, as had a lover’s abandonment. Facing fifty and having lost her looks, Anna decided to try to win a husband by proving her worth as a domestic servant to the head of a household.

She knew she would face hurdles on this quest, especially if the man she targeted was married. But her secret weapon—her “truest friend”—was arsenic: she could always kill the wife. Anna knew that aging men were often afraid to be alone. Dependent as they were on a woman to take care of their household, such men, she believed, could be persuaded to form a partnership of convenience.

She set her sights on a Judge Glaser in Bavaria, killing his wife, but the new widower did not respond as she’d hoped. In a huff, she moved on, finding employment with a Judge Grohmann, a widower already. However, when he married someone else, Anna retaliated by placing poison in his food, killing him and some of his servants. The wife of a third employer, a magistrate named Gebhard, was the next target. She seemed to know she was being poisoned, but her husband dismissed her suspicions. She died and he grew ill, so he sent his glassware and several food containers for analysis at the local apothecary. He learned that the saltshaker contained arsenic, so he alerted authorities.

Anna was now associated with several suspicious deaths, but the science of arsenic analysis had, at the time, barely been used in a forensic context. Toxicologists were just learning how to detect this centuries-old “inheritance powder,” but in 1806, chemist Valentine Rose devised a method for confirming its presence in human organs. He had utilized Johann Metzger’s 1787 discovery: when arsenious oxide is heated with charcoal and a cold plate is held over it, the heated substance forms a dark mirrorlike deposit. This was arsenic.

To develop his theory about how to detect arsenic in the human body, Rose had cut up the stomach of a victim of suspected poisoning and dissolved the contents in water. He filtered this substance before treating it with nitric acid, potassium carbonate, and lime to evaporate it into arsenic trioxide. When he treated it with coals, he derived the telltale arsenic mirror. This confirmed that the victim had been murdered.

Able with this method to prove such poisonings, investigators who arrested Anna on October 18, 1809, found several packets of the toxic substance on her person. A chemist applied Rose’s innovative procedure to the organs of Judge Glaser’s wife, which revealed the presence of arsenic. Since this substance had turned up in salt containers in another household where Anna had been employed, the evidence was convincing. She admitted to the double homicide, adding other names, and said she did not think she could stop. After being convicted of murder, she was beheaded in 1811.

This is the sort of story you will read in these pages. Faced with an elusive killer who has proven to be hard to identify, investigators find ways around the hurdles, setting new standards or devising new methods. As crime detection improves, the challenges increase, so many of these cases have compelling twists and turns, but history has shown that science and logic are equal to the test.

Before describing just how serial killers do get caught, let’s first clarify the meaning of serial murder. Often, it comes with enormous associations based in stereotypes and misinformation.

Serial Murder

While any type of incident that involved a number of murders was once called “multiple murder” or “mass murder,” investigators eventually decided that distinctions were needed. The term serial killer was first used in The Complete Detective in 1950, but it’s generally agreed that during the 1976 Son of Sam case in New York, FBI special agent Robert Ressler limited the term to cases on which he and his colleagues in the Behavioral Science Unit were consulting. Thus it became the standard term for a specific type of multiple murder incident.

According to the FBI’s official manual, the term serial murder implies that there are at least three different murder events at three different locations, with a cooling-off period between events, but the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and some criminologists allow for only two such events. In addition, some killers bring successive victims to a single location at different times, so there are problems with the FBI’s approach. To achieve clarity, in The Human Predator, I defined the various terms thus:

1. Mass murder is a concentrated response to a single event or idea, occurring in one basic locale, even if the killer travels to several loosely related spots in that general area, and there are at least four fatalities.

2. A spree is a string of at least three murders arising from a key precipitating incident occurring close in time to the murders, but the spate of killings is fueled by continuing and associated stress, taking place in several locales and across a relatively short period of time; there is no psychological cooling off.

3. A serial killer murders at least two people in separate incidents, with the strong likelihood of killing again. There is a psychological cooling-off period between incidents, which might serve as a time of preparation for a later killing. He, she, or they also choose the modus operandi and may either move around to kill or lure successive victims to a single locale. They dehumanize potential victims into objects needed for the satisfaction of their goals, which can be anything from lust to greed to anger, and their behavior manifests an addictive quality.

All the criminals described in this book are serial killers. Because “cunning” implies that they know what they’re doing and are generally clever enough to evade detection, all are cold-heartedly psychopathic as opposed to deranged or remorseful.


Despite the FBI’s use of behavioral profiling, there is no comprehensive study across decades showing how serial killers have actually been caught. An examination of three hundred cases of serial murder from different eras and in multiple countries reveals that the largest percentage of successful resolutions involved responsible—even extraordinary—investigation. Many killers, however, were caught simply because of their own errors.

While there are many steps in any investigation, especially those that last many years, there is generally something that initiates the key break in the case. Some killers retain an item once owned by a victim or they have a victim’s photo. Sometimes they’re caught visiting a corpse. Helicopter surveillance over a broad swath of territory caught Rochester, New York, killer Arthur Shawcross having lunch over the body of his latest victim. To trap a prostitute killer, a policewoman in disguise subtly collected carpet fibers from a suspect van and assisted the capture of Steve Pennell in Delaware.

A palm print identified Bobby Joe Maxwell and a fingerprint revealed Colin Ireland, while biological evidence yielding DNA nabbed Green River Killer Gary Ridgway (after a decades-long investigation). Physical evidence, such as soil, paint chips, or fiber helped investigators in other multiple murder cases, while the remains of victims found on the killer’s private property caught Larry Bright and Herb Baumeister. Oddly enough, when investigators went to question Wesley Gareth Evans, identified as a friend of the chief suspect in several murders, it turned out that Evans was actually the killer. Maury Travis sent maps to reporters of where victims could be found and investigators from the state police Cyber Crime Unit who recognized the Web site design used computer logs to get his address, while background noise on a recorded phone call eventually nailed team killers Judith and Alvin Neelly.

Among the more interesting ways that killers have been apprehended were the obvious mistakes they made (aside from leaving fingerprints) that revealed their identities. Peter Goebbels dropped his ID at a crime scene—a dead giveaway—while Neville Heath signed the hotel register for a room in which he’d left a victim bludgeoned, bitten, and murdered. Harold Shipman forged a patient’s will in his favor, causing surviving relatives (one was a lawyer) to take a good hard look at the signature, but more obvious was the blood on Earle Leonard Nelson’s hair when he visited a barber in a town where a murder had just occurred. Over drinks, Waltraud Wagner and her accomplices joked openly about their foul deeds in an Austrian hospital and a doctor overheard them. More gruesome, Dennis Nielsen flushed chunks of flesh from his victims down the toilet of his new upstairs flat, which clogged up the system for the entire building. Four killers in the survey left the bodies of victims in their homes, which exuded such noxious odors that people called the police, and Marcel Petiot burned a pile of corpses in his building in Paris, triggering an investigation.

Another error that five killers committed was to brag to the wrong person about their deeds; Charles Schmid and Richard Biegenwald even took friends to see the corpses. Half a dozen murderers were too open about their activities, tempting fate, while Peter Mackay’s final victim was a close friend. Also revealing himself was Danny Rolling, when he left his name on a recorder found at a campsite near several crime scenes.

Some killers have been apprehended in the act, generally because they grew too bold, acted compulsively, or overestimated their concealment. In the early 1900s, Jeanne Weber was caught literally red-handed as she choked the son of an innkeeper, but she was considered mad and sent to an asylum. When Georg Grossman’s landlord in Germany overheard an altercation, he brought the police in time to grab Grossman, who was about to dismember a dead girl. Carroll Edward Cole was similarly caught, but he claimed that his victim, whose apartment he was in, had “just dropped dead.” He got away with this for a time, but eventually he confessed.

In addition, killers like John Wayne Gacy, Joe Ball, and Billy Glaze turned up in several investigations of missing people, which then led to evidence implicating them, while family killers such as Mary Cotton and Mary Beth Tinning stood out as survivors who were always nearby when a family member died. Interestingly, Marie Noe was simply considered the “unluckiest mother alive” when, one after another, ten of her children died young, but years later she was charged with eight murders and she finally confessed.

On rare occasions, an intended victim gets away and brings back the cops. Serial killers done in by escapees include Robert Berdella, Jeffrey Dahmer, Robert Hansen, Gary Heidnik, and Jurgen Bartsch. Harvey Glatman lost out when the police happened by while he was with a victim seeking help, while a surviving victim boldly followed Ronald Frank Cooper to his home. Thomas Rath’s victim had the presence of mind to memorize his attacker’s license-plate number, while a victim attacked Paul Stephani so badly he had to call for an ambulance. Andonis Daglis’s victim managed to persuade him that she was not his type.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Katherine Ramsland and her books:
“Ramsland has brilliantly captured the insights and drama of some fascinating cases.”—Dr. Henry Lee
 “Highlights [Ramsland’s] command of history and forensic knowledge, fusing it with her interesting and approachable narrative voice…The Devil’s Dozen is a collection of some of the most fascinating cases and instances of innovative investigation.”—

Meet the Author

Dr. Katherine Ramsland has master’s degrees in forensic psychology, clinical psychology, and criminal justice, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She has published forty-six books, including SNAP: Seizing Your Aha! Moments, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, The Mind of a Murderer, and The Forensic Science of C.S.I. With former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary, she coauthored The Unknown Darkness: Profiling the Predators Among Us; with Dr. Henry Lee, she coauthored The Real World of a Forensic Scientist; and with Professor James E. Starrs, A Voice for the Dead. She wrote biographies of Anne Rice and Dean Koontz, and her Crimescape e-book, Psychopath, was a #1 Wall Street Journal nonfiction bestseller. In addition, Ramsland has published more than a thousand articles on serial killers, criminology, and criminal investigation. She is a professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, appears on numerous true crime documentaries, and writes a regular blog for Psychology Today.

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The Devil's Dozen: How Cutting-Edge Forensics Took Down 12 Notorious Serial Killers 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to reading this book and was enjoying it until I reached page 10. While making a point about serial killers using friends as accomplices and having the friends turn on them, she mentions Paul Bernardo and his ex-wife Karla Homolka. Karla did give evidence against Paul and was given a lighter sentence (she is now out of prison) but her younger sister was NOT an accomplice. Her sister was actually one of their victims. Karla stole animal tranquilizers from her job, gave them to her sister so Paul could rape and murder her. Karla's sister was not an accomplice but another victim of this psychopathic pair.The wounds these two left are still very much open here in southern Ontario, Canada and are still a painful topic for the families of the victims and the public. I only hope that the facts on other cases in this book are more accurate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book is a interesting read. I learned about a lot of criminals and the technologies that help to bring them to the light for thir crimes. Theres a dozen different stories whch goes into a good amount of details on each case. Excuse the spelling errors
Anonymous More than 1 year ago