The Terrifying Similarity Between Florida Crime Spree and These Serial Killers

Three murders have taken place within a mile radius in Tampa, Florida and police suspect a serial killer. The Huffington Post reported that they have found no apparent relationship between the three victims. They all met their end in the Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood, while alone. The killings share some similarities with serial killings, giving police indication that’s what they’re dealing with.

“When you look at the time frame, the proximity, that there is no apparent motive, that they are alone ― the victims are a lot of the time ― it’s clear to me that they’re all linked,” interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a press conference.

Next: What do the victims have in common?

1. Three victims, 10 days, and no apparent links

Police identified the victims as Monica Hoffa, 32, Benjamin Mitchell, 22, and Anthony Naiboa, 20. The killer shot and killed Mitchell, the first victim, on October 9, while he waited at a bus stop.

On October 13, authorities found Hoffa’s body in a field, relatively nearby. Authorities found Naiboa, the latest victim, on October 19, roughly 200 yards where he exited the bus in the same neighborhood. Authorities said the autistic man accidentally took the wrong bus when returning home from work.

Police released this surveillance video that shows a possible person of interest in Hoffa’s killing.

Dugan said he finds the killings extremely frustrating. “We’re not going to be held hostage by whoever is doing this,” Dugan said. “We need everyone to come out of their homes at night, turn on their porch lights and just not tolerate this type of terrorism.”

Crime Stoppers of Tampa offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. Anyone with information can contact Tampa police at 813-6130 or Crime Stoppers at 800-873-TIPS.

Dugan also gave reporters the green light to use the phrase “serial killer.”

Next: What constitutes a serial killer? 

2. The Tampa killer can become ‘serial’ under new criteria

Tampa, Florida

Oddly enough, all the murders took place in the same Tampa neighborhood. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

The FBI once defined a serial killer as someone who killed three or more individuals, with a “cooling off period” of more than a month between each. However, the FBI recently redefined the criteria, according to a publication by a symposium on the subject. The FBI now defines a killer as serial if it involves the “unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”

According to those guidelines, the Tampa Bay killer bears a scary similarity to other notorious serial killers. While diverse, many of them have a few spooky things in common.

Next: The first killer never came to justice, but earned himself a household name. 

3. The Zodiac Killer

Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr in 'Zodiac'

They even made a movie about this notorious killer. | Paramount

According to Biography.com, police linked the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer to at least five murders in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. He may have borne responsibility for more. He taunted police and made threats through letters sent to area newspapers from 1969 to 1974, before ceasing communication. The mystery surrounding the murders spawned numerous books and movies, including director David Fincher’s 2007 feature Zodiac.

The first confirmed murder took place on December 20, 1968. The suspect shot and killed David Faraday, 17 and Betty Lou Jensen, 16 near their car at a remote spot on the outskirts of Vallejo, Calif. On July 5, 1969, Darlene Ferrin, 22, and her boyfriend, Mike Mageau, 19, sat in parked car in a similarly remote Vallejo location, when a man with a flashlight approached them. He shot them, killing Ferrin and seriously wounding Mageau. Within an hour, a man called the Vallejo Police Department, giving them the location of the crime scene and claiming responsibility for that attack and the 1968 murders of Faraday and Jensen. Even though Mageau gave a description of her assailant, little progress resulted.

On September 27, 1969, he approached Cecelia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell on an isolated part of the shore of Lake Berryessa in Napa County. He tied them up, stabbed them, and left a message for police on their car door before fleeing. Shephard later died of her wounds. On October 11, 1969, the Zodiac shot and killed 29-year-old taxi driver Paul Stine. While it did not fit the pattern, the killer did confess to the crime.

Despite evidence that included fingerprints, Mageau and Hartnell’s description, letters sent to newspapers and many tips and leads, police never tracked down the Zodiac Killer. Theories abound, but the case remains open. Like the Zodiac, the Tampa Bay killer targeted people who showed no relation to another, with no apparent motive.

Next: This graphic crime spree proves equally chilling. 

4. The BTK Killer

tape that says "police line do not cross" outside of Dennis Radar's house

Police tape hangs across the street in front of the house that Dennis Rader lives in in Park City, Kansas. | Larry W. Smith/Getty Images)

Dennis Rader terrorized Wichita, Kansas from 1974 until 1991, killing 10 people with his signature “bind, torture, kill” style. He sent police ciphers and hints and broke a decades-long silence with strings of packages in 2005 that finally gave police enough evidence to find him.

The New York Times called the scene of his first killings “ghastly.” Police discovered four members of the Otero family — Joseph, 38, a retired Air Force officer, Julie, 34, and two of their children, Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9 — strangled inside their home in the middle of the day with the cord used in Venetian blinds. Officials noted the elaborate knots used in their bindings, as well as the fact that the killer took a watch as a souvenir. He did leave semen behind, in this and other killings. Rader did not sexually violate his victims, nor did he kill another man or child.

The rest of the seemingly random victims were women, ranging from 21 to 62 years old.

According to the Times, Rader defied many people’s idea of serial killers. He attended church, served as a Boy Scout leader, and in every way, appeared a model member of his community. “I think the police made a mistake over the years,” said Robert Beattie, a Wichita lawyer. “They were looking for a Charles Manson type.”

Like the Tampa Bay killer, many of BTK’s victims appeared unrelated. He attacked them at home, where they felt safe — much like people do in their own neighborhoods. Knowing what they know about BTK, the Tampa police do not assume the killer exists on the outside of society.

Next: This killer carries a geographical link. 

5. Ted Bundy

Sarasota Police Department

Ted Bundy would impersonate authority figures to lure women. | Sarasota Police Department via Facebook

Bundy killed his first victim in 1974, in a spree that took him from Washington, Utah, Colorado, and finally, Florida. He impersonated authority figures or feigned disability to lure women into his car. Once there, he struck them over the head to immobilize them, cuff them, and force them into his vehicle. He raped and murdered scores of women that way, according to Crime Museum. Afterward, he often visited or even kept their corpses for sexual gratification.

He evaded police by leaving very little evidence, particularly given the detection techniques of the 1970s. Like Rader, police often dismissed Bundy because he appeared so clean-cut and upstanding. At the time of his execution in 1989, Bundy confessed to 30 murders, but more may remain in the unsolved files. The Tampa Bay murderer also left no evidence police have released to the public, and has targeted three apparently vulnerable victims.

Next: These murderers used the same method as Tampa’s. 

6. The Washington D.C. sniper

District of Columbia Metropolitan Police maintain a perimeter around the house

The two snipers in D.C. killed 10 people. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Over a three-week period in October 2002, two snipers shot and killed 10 people and injured three. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo chose targets at random around the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The attacks began on October 2, when a bullet shattered the window of a craft store in Aspen Hill, Md, just missing a cashier. Less than an hour later, a 55-year-old man got shot and killed while walking across a parking lot in Wheaton, Md.

By the end of the day on October 3, five more victims added to the body count. On the morning of Oct. 7, a 13-year-old boy got shot and injured in front of his middle school. From October 9-14, two men and a woman died in separate incidents in northern Virginia. On October 19, a 13th shooting occurred at a restaurant. Police received tips and phone calls from the perpetrators, but they finally brought them in after the suspects gave a Catholic priest essential clues to their identities.

Unlike many other serial killers, the snipers shot their victims and did not engage in direct bodily contact with them. They also did not belong to the “troubled white man” trope of so many of their predecessors. They shot people of all ages and all walks of life, striking fear into the community they targeted. Both of those aspects appear chillingly similar to the Tampa case.

Next: This killer stayed under the radar, despite heinous crimes. 

7. Coral Eugene Watts

a judge holding a gavel

Watts was convicted of first-degree murder. | Chris Ryan/Getty Images

Even though Watts killed at least 80 and maybe more than 100 people, he did not become a household name like many of the others. According to the LA Times, courts convicted Watts of first-degree murder in 2004, for the 1979 killing of a woman in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale. Watts received immunity for 12 other killings to which he had confessed as part of a 1982 deal with Texas prosecutors. He said he killed women “with evil eyes.”

“What’s amazing to me is everybody in America has heard of a Ted Bundy, a John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer. But when you mention the name of Coral Eugene Watts, 99.99% of the public has no clue who you’re talking about,” said Andy Kahan director of the Crime Victims Office for the Mayor of Houston.

Watts earned himself the name the “Sunday morning slasher” after murdering three female victims in Ann Arbor, Michigan, CBS News reported. He killed his victims in a myriad of ways: drowning, asphyxiating, slashing, hanging. He never left evidence or witnesses to his crimes.

In exchange for a guilty plea to “burglary with the intent to commit murder” and a 60-year prison sentence, Watts offered confessions for 12 unsolved homicides if they gave him immunity for them. The killer needed more than a week to explain all of his murders, and he led police to three shallow graves.

Like the Tampa killer, he worked quickly. He did not form personal relationships with his victims and killed them in familiar surroundings. The killer also gave no motives for any of his crimes.

Next: This killer marked the first person California executed by lethal injection.

8. The Freeway Killer

The second wave of combat helicopters of the 1st Air Cavalry Division fly over an RTO and his commander on an isolated landing zone

This killer even sexually assaulted soldiers in Vietnam. | Patrick Christain/Getty Images

William G. Bonin, the notorious “Freeway Killer,” confessed to raping, torturing and killing 21 boys and young men. The LA Times reported that Bonin was arrested in Hollywood on June 11, 1980, while sodomizing a 17-year-old runaway from Orange County. In Bonin’s van, police found gear he used to rape and strangle his young victims: wire, rope, and a tire iron with which he twisted T-shirts around their necks. He raped and killed 14 young men, many of them hitchhikers, across Southern California.

Prior to the murders, he had served time for raping a young man. He also sexually assaulted several soldiers under his command in Vietnam, as well as five boys in South Bay, Calif. The bodies turned up alongside the freeway and behind buildings, where he dumped them after finishing. He died in San Quentin on Feb. 23, 1996, after telling the families of his victims his death would not comfort them.

“They feel that my death will bring closure,” Bonin said. “But that’s not the case. They’re going to find out.”

Like the Tampa killer, Bonin left his bodies in public places, along roads and where police could find them.

Next: This crime spree bore remarkable similarities to Bonin’s 

9. Donald Gaskins

a swamp in North Carolina

Donald Gaskins sunk a woman’s body in a North Carolina swamp. | Alexander Ließ/iStock/Getty Images

The serial killer earned the nickname “Pee Wee” as a kid, for his small stature. According to Crime Museum, he killed and tortured his victims to release “bothersome feelings” in himself. In September 1969, Gaskins picked up a female hitchhiker in North Carolina and went into a rage when she laughed at his sexual propositions. He beat, raped, and tortured her, before sinking her body in a swamp. He finely honed his torture, often keeping his victims alive for days. Sometimes he cannibalized their severed body parts and either made them watch him eat them or join in themselves.

By 1975, he racked up 80 murders along the highways in North Carolina. He also murdered his 15-year-old niece and her friend. A woman who called herself his friend, Doreen Dempsey, accepted a ride from Gaskins to the bus station one night. Gaskins took her to a secluded area and raped, sodomized, and killed her and her 2-year-old child. He also accepted money as a hit man, and later became the only person to ever murder someone else on death row. In an attempt to avoid the death penalty, Gaskins confessed to so many murders, he earned the dubious distinction of the worst killer in South Carolina history. To this day, police have not confirmed the true number of murders Gaskins committed.

While the Tampa bay killer has not gone to the lengths Gaskins did, the apparent random nature of those deaths looks similar.

Next: Some call the next man the world’s worst serial killer 

10. Luis Garavito: The Beast

a hand holding out money

This killer would use money to lure his young victims. | George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images

According to Rolling Stone, Garavito admitted to the murder and rape of 140 young boys, but his toll may come closer to 300 victims. From 1994-1999, Garavito used food, gifts, and money to lure his victims, most between the ages of 8 and 16. Once he got them to a secluded spot, he often raped and tortured them, slitting their throats and dismembering their bodies.

The BBC reported that many of his victims were street vendors’ children left unattended. Colombian police first became aware of a possible serial killer in 1997 when they discovered the remains of 36 bodies in the western city of Pereira. They originally called it the work of a satanic cult. A nationwide task force formed, which found newspaper cuttings about disappeared children in places where Garavito hid out. When presented with the evidence, he confessed to his crimes.

Next: Most people know this killer’s name. 

11. Jeffrey Dahmer

Serial killer Jeffrey L. Dahmer enters the courtroom

Serial killer Jeffrey L. Dahmer enters the courtroom. | Eugene Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Notorious serial killer and cannibal Dahmer came to light after Tracy Edwards escaped and ran to police in 1991. Upon searching his apartment, officers found some of the most grisly evidence in modern American history. History.com said evidence included photo albums full of pictures of body parts, several heads in the refrigerator and freezer; two skulls on top of the computer; and a 57-gallon drum containing several bodies decomposing in chemicals.

Neighbors in the Milwaukee, Wis. apartment building complained of a smell, but Dahmer explained it as “rotting meat.” A forensic examination turned up 11 victims dating back to 1989. He later confessed to 17 murders in all, starting in 1978.

Christopher Scarver, who earned two life terms in prison for killing Dahmer and another man at Columbia Correctional Institution in 1994, said the cannibal had a sick sense of humor. He used to leave the fake limbs around the prison where others would find them.

“If he saw a guard that was nervous and standing near enough to hear him, he would say, ‘I bite,'” The New York Post quoted Roy Ratcliff as saying. “Usually the guard would jump away and that would make Jeff laugh.”

Dahmer also did not know his victims previously, much like many serial killers.

Next: This fellow Florida killer met his end in a surprising way

12. The Casanova Killer

prisoner hands in jail

This killer managed to get out of his handcuffs with a paperclip. | iStock.com/sakhorn38

According to the New York Daily News, the handsome Paul Knowles’ good looks earned his nickname “the Casanova killer.” In seven months, he murdered at least 18, and perhaps as many as 35. He had drifted in and out of jail when Angela Covic decided to become his pen pal. She hired him a lawyer to get him parole, and flew her lover to San Francisco to marry her. Once he got there, Knowles frightened her, so she sent him back to Florida.

At that point, the murders began. He choked to death retired teacher Alice Curtis, 65, in her own bed. Two little girls, Mylette and Lillian Anderson, 7 and 11, disappeared. He chose victims in Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Connecticut, Nevada, and Virginia. The killer carefully used different methods and types of victims, to keep police off the scent.

On Nov. 7, 1974, the wife of Carswell Carr came home to Macon, Ga., and ran out shrieking. Knowles stabbed her husband at least 27 times and had sexually assaulted and strangled their daughter, Mandy. He also stole Carr’s clothing, credit cards, and briefcase. He later picked up state trooper Charles Campbell and businessman James Meyer as hostages as the police pursued him. More than 200 people took part in the manhunt, which ended after hunter David Clark apprehended him.

On Dec. 18, 1974, he promised to lead detectives to a spot in the woods where he hid a murder weapon. Using a paperclip hidden in his sock, Knowles picked the lock on his handcuffs. Federal agent Ron Angel shot him, and he died in his escape attempt. Like Knowles, the Tampa killer has not yet revealed a pattern.

Next: This killer matched Knowles in brutality 

13. Tommy Lynn Sells

boyfriend and girlfriend shooting up with heroin syringe

Tommy Lynn Sells says his drug use made him want to kill. | iStock.com/diego_cervo

Sells grew up in Texas and told ABC News he became addicted to killing at 14. “I am hatred. When you look at me, you look at hate,” Sells said in 2010. “I don’t know what love is. Two words I don’t like to use is ‘love’ and ‘sorry,’ because I’m about hate.”

A drug user and drifter, Sells said his drug use fueled his killing, and that both produced a similar high. “I like to watch the eyes fade, the pupil fade. It’s just like setting their soul free,” Sells said without showing emotion. “I don’t have an on-and-off switch. I’m just after that drug. I’m after that feeling.”

He also employed a variety of methods, slashing his victims, beating them, stabbing, and strangling. The killer also raped a number of them. He blamed his abusive childhood on killing children, saying he saved them from the pain he went through.

Krystal Surles, 10 at the time, survived a murder attempt while sleeping over at Katy Harris’ house in Del Rio, Texas. He slashed her friend’s throat and then hers, but she played dead until he left. She ran for help at a neighbor’s house and later identified Sells, ending his spree. Before his death by lethal injection in 2014, Sells said he thought about Surles every day.

While police have released no information on the Tampa killer other than his photo, he may prove to have similar motivations.

Next: This killer targeted those in what should be a safe place 

14. The angel of death, Charles Edmund Cullen

Senior woman in hospital

A hospital worker, Cullen killed his patients with injections. | iStock.com/shironosov

According to the New York Times, Cullen pleaded guilty to killing 29 patients and told authorities he may have killed many more. He earned 11 consecutive life terms for his murders.

Cullen worked at nine hospitals and one nursing home in New Jersey and Pennsylvania over 16 years. He killed by sneaking into his victims’ rooms, usually late at night, and injecting them with lethal doses of drugs. He often used the heart medicine digoxin, killing the old and sick as well as young and recovering patients.

Authorities caught up with him in December 2003, after he killed 13 patients in less than a year at Somerset Medical Center. In exchange for getting life in prison, he agreed to help authorities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania identify all his victims. The serial killer donated a kidney to a friend, saying he wanted to save one life. He never said why he killed those he did.

While Cullen’s case stands unique among serial killers, his lack of discrimination between victims ties him in with the rest.

Next: This killer also holds one distinguishing quality from the rest 

15. Aileen Wuornos

Aileen Wuornos

Aileen Wuornos is shown in this undated photograph from the Florida Department of Corrections. | Florida DOC/Getty Images

Wuornos, sometimes called “The Highway Hooker” and “The Damsel of Death,” admitted she killed six middle-aged men in 1989 and 1990. According to CNN, she lured some of them by posing as a stranded motorist on north central Florida highways. Florida state attorney John Tanner, who prosecuted the Wuornos case, said she killed in a pattern.

“She killed seven men in cold blood,” said Tanner. “She didn’t premeditate the individual killing … and she took targets of opportunity … just whoever happened in her path on the day that she decided to kill.”

Wuornos worked as a prostitute on the Florida highways when she began killing. Sgt. Bob Kelley of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department said she shot, robbed, and then dumped her victims’ bodies. After initially pleading self defense, she later admitted to killing in cold blood.

“I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too,” Wuornos said. “There’s no chance in keeping me alive or anything, because I’d kill again. I have hate crawling through my system.”

Wuornos pleaded no contest to five other killings, and police think she also murdered a seventh. They never found his body.

Regardless of how the Tampa case progresses, the Florida officers have some advice for residents. Come together. Turn on your porch lights. If you see something, say something. As these other cases prove, that’s the only way to find justice.

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