Aug 30 2016 3:00pm

10 Surprising Facts About Serial Killers

Developing a good novel requires research—a lot of it. The reading I do before I start to write helps me understand different places, cultures, and people so I can create a more believable world for my readers. One challenge I faced with Her Darkest Nightmare (and the previous book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, Hanover House) was getting into the minds of my psychopathic characters. Psychopaths don’t think like “normal” people. They lack empathy and are completely narcissistic, which can make them ruthless in getting whatever they want. As I descended further and further down this rabbit hole of research, I turned up some pretty fascinating facts about serial killers. Here are 10 of the most shocking: 

1. Jeffrey Dahmer pulled a lot of high school pranks.

In high school, Jeffrey Dahmer had a hard time fitting in. He built a reputation for pulling pranks on his classmates—doing things like bleating like a sheep in the middle of class and faking epileptic episodes. In fact, he became so well known for his antics that pranking a person became known at his high school as “doing a Dahmer.” No doubt that phrase has an entirely different meaning nowadays.

2. Rodney Alcala won “The Dating Game” amid his killing spree.

In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared on the popular TV show “The Dating Game”—and won! Bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw picked him based on his answers, but after the show, she changed her mind and refused to go on a date with him because she thought he was “creepy.” Alcala was later convicted of murdering five people from 1977-79 and eventually pled guilty to two more murders that he committed in 1971 and 1979.

3. Richard Chase only broke into houses that were unlocked.

Chase killed six people in approximately one month in Sacramento (considering that’s where I’m from, it’s extra upsetting to me). He was called “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he often drank the blood of his victims. He also had a very peculiar code: He felt that unlocked houses were an invitation to enter and that locked doors meant he wasn’t welcome. Some twisted version of the “vampires need to be invited in” piece of vampire lore. 

4. Ted Bundy had a different side to him.

We know Ted Bundy as the deeply evil man who killed at least 30 women, yet there are several instances of him doing things that appear, at least on the surface, to be good. He saved a child from drowning, retrieved a woman’s purse from a thief, and worked for a suicide hotline. Since he was a psychopath, it’s likely that he did these things as a way to feel powerful or attain notoriety, but it’s still a bit confounding that he would spend time helping people while also taking so many lives.

5. There’s a reason Vlado Taneski’s writing was so detailed.

Taneski was a Macedonian crime reporter who wrote stories about a serial killer. He turned out to be that killer. (Creepy!)

6. Arthur Shawcross saved a prison guard’s life.

Shawcross, perhaps better known as the Gennessee River Killer, was serving five years for arson and burglary. He was released after only 22 months for saving a prison guard during a riot. He then went on to kill at least 14 people, and some of his murders included cannibalism. 

7. Aileen Wuornos was a talented artist.

This female serial killer, who was the basis of the Charlize Theron film Monster, had a softer, more creative side.  

8. Ottis Toole’s grandmother was allegedly a Satanist.

According to Toole’s account, his grandmother took him on grave robbing expeditions and made him participate in rituals that included self-mutilation. Toole went on to kill at least six people.  

9. Many serial killers have partners and families that have no idea.

John Wayne Gacy, for example, buried his victims under the family home. His wife Carol supposedly believed her husband when he said the smell was due to mice.

10. Richard Angelo’s murders were a byproduct of wanting recognition.

Angelo killed 25 people in 1987. He was a nurse and felt like he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. As a result, he decided to start injecting patients with Pavulon, a drug that paralyzes the body’s muscles and can induce respiratory arrest. His goal was to then save the patient so he’d gain recognition and notoriety, but he failed at least 25 times, which resulted in those patients’ deaths.

In the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, you will meet some frightening individuals—including Jasper Moore, the seventeen-year-old boy who kidnapped, tortured, and nearly killed Evelyn Talbot when she was only sixteen. He was her boyfriend at the time, someone she loved and trusted. It was this life-altering incident that imbued her with the desire to become a psychiatrist. She’s on a mission to learn how a psychopathic mind works, to protect victims and fight back. But, the most chilling fact of all is that there is currently no treatment for psychopathy. So far, efforts to socialize psychopaths have only helped them become better at avoiding detection. 

Evelyn’s determined to change all of that. But, the fight won’t be easy. Pick up your copy of Her Darkest Nightmare today to see what she’s up against—and who will get the better of whom.

Criminal Element Editor Picks:

4 Serial Killers You’ve Never Heard Of

15 Fierce Female Roles

The Dark Tower Reread






Her Darkest Nightmare Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/stories/2016/08/10-of-the-most-surprising-serial-killer-facts-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) August 30, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 3:59 p.m. ET September 13, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

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Brenda Novak, New York Times & USA Today Bestselling Author,  is the author of more than fifty books. A five-time Rita nominee, she has won many awards, including the National Reader’s Choice, the Bookseller’s Best, the Book Buyer’s Best, the Daphne, and the Silver Bullet. She also runs Brenda Novak for the Cure, a charity to raise money for diabetes research (her youngest son has this disease). To date, she’s raised $2.5 million. For more about Brenda, please visit www.brendanovak.com.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Barbara Khan
1. leftyonkey
I have got to start reading Ms. Novak's books. I enjoy, if one can say that, books about serial killers. I'd love to win her book!
Michelle Sramkoski
2. michellena
This sounds like a really interesting and frightening read. I would love to win a copy.
Cairine Stade
3. FaerySong
These people are seriously scary. I'm wondering if there are more of them now or we just hear about it more easily?
pam chapman
4. chapman3002@yahoo.com
I was unaware of Ms. Novak's books till I read this article. I am fascinated and will certainly look up her previous book(s) at my library. In the meantime, hope to win a copy of her new book.
6. Lucinda L
I look forward to the release of your new books!
Ken Darmer
8. Vermont_KID
I often get mistakenly asked if I am related to Jeffry Dahmer, since our last names sound very similar! Sometimes, for a joke, I respond that cousin Jeffry and I have not been in touch for a long time... does that count as "doing a Dahmer"?? LOL! But seriously - I enjoyed the interesting facts listed about these psychopaths- I'm sure they know just how to fit in with regular folks and the examples show that they can sometimes have "normal-seeming" behaviors on outward appearances... but beware what lurks beneath! Looking forward to reading Her Darkest Nightmare!!
Connie Williamson
11. angelbun
I like books about serial killers but I don't know what that says about me. Anyway, this sounds like a book written with me in mind. :-)
Michael Carter
12. rubydog
This title really sounds interesting.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
14. Paula in Colorado
Looking forward to reading this book - sounds great!
Carol Kubala
15. ckubala
I had never heard of Rodney Alcala. Will have to check this case out and also your latest book and this new series. The location of Alaska and the premise of a maximum security facility for psychopaths sounds like a winner.
Darcy Odden
16. DarcyO
Sounds like a good read. I hope Evelyn is successful. These guys are so creepy. Thanks for the chance.
charles j hauser jr
17. admiral
To say that there's something wrong with the people who are serial killers is a gross understatement. But they continue to attract us the way we're attracted by a car crash. The scariest part of it all is that so many of them are so outwardly normal. They could be the guy or gal next door or in the pew in front of us in church. Or they could be any one of the 17 commentators who have filled out this post playing with us all.
Michele Baron
18. angel320
Serial killers have always fascinated me...this books sounds great...thank you for the opportunity to win it
Alyson Widen
19. Sunnymay
As a nurse, how some people use drugs off market is astounding. I'm up all night reading thrillers, especially ones with medical interventions.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
20. mosaix
I pray I only meet a serial killer in a book! Yes!
Jennifer Abrams
22. sbjfap2
What a great article! I find Evelyn's research fascinating, but I don't think I could ever do what she is doing!!!!

Would love to be entered into the sweepstakes. Can't wait for the next book in the series--I'm finished with Her Darkest Nightmare and LOVED it!
Lori Provenzano
23. Mountainesque
Very interesting and disturbing article. 'Her Darkest Nightmare' sounds like a compelling read, especially in light of the above article.
Jeana Keller
24. StuffSmart
Interesting and scary facts.
Her Darkest Nighmare sounds like a thrilling read.
L Peters
25. leepcat
chilling but sounds interesting at the same time. thanks
26. Nicole Wetherington
Would love to win! Looks good!
30. Danielle Aguado
Looks like an awesome book! Hope I win :)
31. Becky RIchardson
This is on my TBR list and can't wait to read it.
Sherri ashburner
32. Sherriska
I read this post last night and still cannot believe that a serial killer won The Dating Game--sends those queasy chills all over me...must read this book!
Rena Sollish
33. Rena
Serial killers are my favorite genre in books. Learning these things about these real killers is so creepy.
vicki wurgler
34. bison61
very interesting info thanks for the giveaway
Gordon Bingham
35. gordonbingham
Having inteviewed several serial killers (part of a pre sentence investigation for the court) in my previous career as a probation officer, the one thing they all seemed to have in common was an excellect ability to read a situation and mainipulate it to their best advantage...
Joyce Lokitus
36. Joyce710113
How fascinating to hear about these serial killers and what their lives were like.
Rina Horenian
37. RDgirl
Very interesting indeed and would love to read more about it.
Linda Moffitt
38. lindamoffitt02
The book sounds GREAT! These are Freaky Scary Facts! Thanks for the chance to win a copy! I Would LOVE to Win!
Deb Philippon
39. DebP
I found this article really interesting (and creepy). It made me want to read books by the author, so I guess being creeped out is an intriguing thing for me.
Barbara Lima
40. barblima
I thought the only cure for a one of these individuals is a culling of the hurd.
42. martin
Creepy but fascinating. The ability to seem normal sometimes and yet so twisted is amazing.
Sandy Klocinski
44. attea2d
Brenda Novak writes my kind of book! I would love to win. I enjoy reading about psychopaths and the inner workings of the mind
47. LStirling
Interesting list! I knew many of these facts, but not all of them. I definitely need to start reading Ms. Novak's books. She and I have a lot in common, as I too survived an abduction and torture. So, I have been very interested in the psychology behind the psychopathic mind, as well. I'm going to sign up to her page, and I'd love to have her book! Thanks!
Sally Schmidt
49. bigcootie
Fascinating to read about, but I hope I have never actually met any. Interesting that trying to socialize them only makes them blend in and fool us better.
Bonnie Franks
50. bonlyn1
Such interesting stuff! Creepy for sure! Book sounds great.
Linda Peters
51. linnett
Love Brenda Novak's books, thanks for the chance
cj r
52. cjr
These things are fascinating to me!
Melissa Keith
53. melly801
Love these facts! 'Drank their blood....' *lol* Lordy, they give all my serial killer friends a bad name. I have a friend who used to be a pharmacy tech in Cali. She doled out meddys to ED Kemper and she told me the best stories! Also I have an old cassette of Henry Lee Lucas confessing. Otis Toole, you and Henry were some sick sons of bitches. Blowing you a kiss and waving my arm like they did in THE DATING GAME. I love Brenda Novak's books. Please, send me HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE. I dare you......
Gstone Turas
54. Gstone
Who isn't fascinated by the psychology of serial killers? It's like that train wreck, or blazing fire that you just have to pull over to watch. I'm old enough now to understand that it is impossible to know the true nature of a human being. I've been dumbfounded and destroyed to learn the dirty secrets of people in my own life who appear innocuous to mask the seething cess pool that is their soul. With that said I am off to buy Ms. Novak's books...
Polly Johnson
56. majorpj2
This sounds fascinating. I am a college instructor in criminal justice so this is now on my "must read" list.
58. Stephanie Liske
Thank You!
John Smith
59. jsmith2jsmith
Hm, I guess I won't say a sprightly "sounds great!" Sounds...creepy, disturbing, but good.
60. sabina edwards
added it to goodreads, need to get it onto my amazon.ca wish list too lOL
Susan Smoaks
61. susansmoaks
this really sounds interesting. i am ready to read it.
Suzanne Rorhus
62. Rorhus
This research is fascinating! I can't wait to read the book.
Chris Noe
64. ezmerelda
I love Brenda Novak's books. This looks like another good one.
Jerry Marquardt
68. versatileer
I would love to win the 10 Surprising Facts About Serial Killers sweepstakes. I thank you for giving us all the chance to win.
69. Christal M
Wow, these facts were great, would love to read more.
70. Jennifer B
love it and the odd facts
trish mckee
71. tmckee
This sounds amazing! I'd love to read it and I love love love learning about such oddities. Bone-chilling stuff!
Carl White
75. CarlWhiteEntry
As a talented artist and writer of great detail who once won "The Dating Game" I just want recognition for my work, time to pull pranks, that were taught to me by a prison guard whose life I saved, with my grandmother, a Satanist, including breaking in to unlocked houses, a hobby I admit my partner and family has no idea about because it is such a different side of me and most importantly I would like to win and read this book.
Philip Lawrence
76. Pooch
Scary that there are so many people like that in the world and those are only the ones who have been caught!
Michelle Caniglia
77. Caniglia
Thanks for the chance to win !! I'd love to read this one ~
Nedra Whittemore
78. Nedraw
Sounds like a really good read. Scary to think that evil like this does exist in our world.
Alyson Widen
79. Sunnymay
Stories about serial killers keep me up all night hurring to turn the pages. Psychopaths lack an emotional connection to others and tend to "groom" their subjects (victims) over time by gaining their trust. I have the shivers and goosebumps already anticipating the next thrilling read.
Patrick Finch
82. Patrick
Rodney Alcala.....have you seen a more recent picture? Looks like Tiny Tim with a serious case of HIV.....super creepy. Thanks for the chance to win, love this genre!
84. Peg Nitskoff
Just reading about this book gave me chills, so I feel this book is amazing. Will also mark it in my to read book list!
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