10 Lesser-Known Thrill Killers
Academically speaking, thrill killing can be defined as any premeditated murder committed simply for the excitement of the act. While thrill killers may occasionally take money or other valuables from their victims, their sole purpose for killing is the thrill of it all.
Some thrill killers, like Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, who killed 14-year-old Robert “Bobby” Franks just to commit the “perfect crime,” manage to define entire decades. Others, like the 10 on this list, have managed to fly mostly under the radar of popular memory. That doesn’t make their crimes any less sinister, however. These thrill killers murdered without mercy and gained emotional pleasure throughout.
10 Dartmouth College Murders
Hanover, New Hampshire, a tiny college town, is breathtakingly beautiful, with verdant views of green mountains tucked away behind paved streets surrounded by red brick buildings. It’s the quintessential college town with the added bonus that on any given election year, you’re bound to see at least two politicians walking around.
Sadly, in January 2001, the peaceful town of Hanover was rocked by a double homicide. The victims were Half and Susanne Zantop, two Dartmouth professors who were found dead by a friend in their Etna, New Hampshire, home. Detectives on the scene quickly discovered two commando-style knife sheaths, which were traced back to Chelsea, Vermont, and two names. Two teenagers, 16-year-old James Parker and 17-year-old Robert Tulloch, were arrested in Indiana while trying to hitchhike to California. Oddly enough, California was not the end goal for the two teens. Police discovered that their plan was to move to Australia and start a life of crime after killing and robbing the Zantop couple.
While that was one motive, later investigation showed that Parker and Tulloch were thrill killers who had earlier tried to kill Andrew Patti and his family at their Vermont vacation home.
After 10:00 PM on July 17, 2000, Patti, a native New Yorker, answered a knock at his door. Outside, a thin teenager asked for assistance due to “car trouble.” A suspicious Patti kept his Glock ready and refused every request. Unbeknownst to Patti, Parker and Tulloch were not only carrying hunting knives, but had already dug graves for their intended victims. Sensing danger, Patti ended the standoff by showing Tulloch his gun and calling the police. The true enormity of his experience only began to sink in once Patti found out that his phone line had been cut.
Months later, Tulloch and Parker selected the Zantop house and gained entrance by telling the two professors that they were conducting an environmental study for school. Once inside, both boys pounced on the older couple with knives. A year later, Parker and Tulloch were tried as adults and received 25 years to life with a chance of parole and a life sentence, respectively. Commentators and the investigators themselves have noted over the years that Parker and Tulloch both believed that they were intellectually superior and above the law, thus making their case an easy parallel to the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924.
9 The Disciples Of Destruction
Mont Vernon, New Hampshire, is the type of place that one really has to be looking for in order to find. A quiet and heavily rural community in the otherwise populous Hillsborough County, the residents of Mont Vernon were not people who constantly looked over their shoulders or worried about random acts of murder. That all changed on October 4, 2009, when several men entered the home of Kimberly Cates, age 42, and her 11-year-old daughter, Jaimie. At the time of the attack, Kimberly’s husband, David, was away on business. Worse still, the Cates lived in a secluded home far back from Trow Road, which itself was a rather unfrequented thoroughfare.
Sometime in the early morning hours of October 4, two teenagers named Christopher Gribble and Steven Spader cut the power to the Cates home and broke in. The men, along with two other accomplices, had specifically chosen the house because of its isolation. Once inside, Gribble and Spader, both of whom were armed with knives and machetes, began hacking at Kimberly and Jaimie. Kimberly was struck between 32 and 36 times and had some of her major organs pierced. Jaimie was hit about 18 times and suffered a partially amputated left foot. Miraculously, she survived her ordeal. Kimberly did not.
Gribble and Spader, along with 18-year-olds William Marks and Quinn Glover, were arrested for the crime 50 hours later. A fifth suspect, Autumn Savoy, age 20, was also arrested for providing false alibis for the killers. Despite committing such a high-profile crime in a very low-crime area, the killers not only pawned several items taken from the Cates home the day after the murders, but they openly bragged about what they had done to their friends.
Once apprehended, the young killers admitted that they belonged to a group called Disciples of Destruction, a sort of secret club where they talked about their shared obsessions with the Zodiac Killer, the Insane Clown Posse, and other macabre things. Spader, who was the group’s mastermind, admitted that he was obsessed with killing people and even used the publicity of his trial as a platform to gloat about his self-proclaimed superiority over the people of New Hampshire. In the end, Spader and Gribble were given life sentences, while Marks and Glover, who did nothing while they watched Spader and Gribble commit murder, received 20–40 years and 30–60 years, respectively.
8 The Brooklyn Thrill Killers
They called themselves the Kill-for-Thrills gang. Jack Koslow (age 18), Melvin Mittman (age 17), Robert Trachtenberg (age 15), and Jerome Lieberman (age 17) were four Brooklyn teenagers who had a twisted idea of what constituted entertainment. In August 1954, the boys were accused of killing a factory worker named Willard Menter. The boys tortured him by burning his feet with cigarettes and kicking him repeatedly. Eventually, the Kill-for-Thrills gang dragged Menter’s broken body to the end of South Fifth Street, beat him some more, and then threw him into the river in the hopes that he would drown. He did.
When the boys were taken into custody, they began to admit to other heinous crimes. Even though they all came from solid middle-class homes, each boy apparently enjoyed torturing Brooklyn’s homeless population. For the most part, they would attack random homeless men with their fists and feet. They quickly began upping the ante, however, and one night they set a homeless man on fire after dousing him with gasoline. That same August, the Kills-for-Thrills gang beat a homeless man named Rheingold Ulrickson to death while he slept on a park bench.
Eventually, one of the boys decided to turn on the others and helped to get life convictions for Koslow and another member of the Kill-for-Thrills gang. While in jail, Koslow was interviewed by Dr. Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist interested in studying the relationship between comic books and juvenile delinquency. After discussing crime and horror comics with Koslow, Wertham concluded that the killer had been influenced by his favorite reading material. That conclusion and others would form the center of Werthem’s Seduction of the Innocent, a book so influential that it sparked the US Senate to form a subcommittee about whether or not the comic book industry should be censored.
7 High Desert Bunker Murders
During the early morning hours of January 5, 2008, Cody Thompson, age 18, and Bodhisattva Sherzer-Potter, age 16, were forced from their vehicle at gunpoint. The men wielding the guns were 24-year-old Collin Lee McGlaughlin, 15-year-old Cameron Thomson, and 25-year-old David Brian Smith. They didn’t know their victims, whom they killed execution-style with a shotgun and a rifle. The bodies of the teenagers were then left to rot near an abandoned Air Force bunker off Highway 58 in California.
The discovery of the bodies sent immediate shock waves through the city of Victorville, where both Thompson and Sherzer-Potter were stellar students at the Academy for Academic Excellence. Once the perpetrators were caught and their cases went to trial, the motivations behind the slayings horrified residents even more. McGlaughlin, who ultimately received life in prison, admitted that the murders had been committed “just for fun.” Furthermore, McGlaughlin revealed to the jury that he had long been fascinated by death and had always thought about committing some kind of random homicide.
6 Thrill Kill Caused By Boredom
Chris Lane was a handsome baseball player from Australia. During an unfortunate August day in 2013, Lane was out for a jog in the town of Duncan, Oklahoma. His spirits must have been high, for Lane was visiting his girlfriend that weekend. From out of nowhere, death arrived in the form of three teenagers—Chancey Luna (age 17), Michael Jones (age 19), and James Edwards Jr. (age 17). While Jones drove, Luna leaned out the window and shot the 22-year-old dead.
At his trial, Luna’s lawyers admitted that the teen had pulled the trigger but contended that Luna only wanted to scare Lane, not kill him. The jury did not buy it, and Luna was convicted of the murder. In June 2015, Luna was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Jones, who infamously told police that a shared boredom drove the teens to commit the murder for fun, was likewise sentenced to life in prison. As for Edwards, he was only charged with accessory to murder after the fact.
5 ‘It Was Amazing . . . ‘
Alyssa Bustamante was known as a moody 15-year-old who could sometimes be a bully. She was smart, however, and despite her depressed, Goth girl appearance, she was successful in school. Tragically, Bustamante really was a troubled young woman, and on October 21, 2009, the St. Martins, Missouri, teenager strangled, cut, and stabbed nine-year-old Elizabeth Olten.
According to her confession, Bustamante dug two shallow graves in a wooded area near her house four days beforehand. That was where she’d dump the body, she told herself. Four days later, Bustamante grabbed Olten, a neighbor and a friend of Bustamante’s half-sister, pummeled her, choked her, and slashed her wrists and throat. Bustamante then buried Olten in one of the prearranged graves. Afterward, Bustamante wrote about her crime in her diary. Chillingly, she claimed that killing someone felt “amazing.”
Initially charged with first-degree murder, Bustamante pled guilty to the lesser charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action in January 2012. At her trial, Bustamante expressed remorse for her actions, while her attorney argued that Bustamante’s history of depression, along with her use of the antidepressant drug Prozac, had contributed to an unbalanced mental state during the time of the crime. The Missouri jury had none of it. Bustamante was sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole after 30 years. In 2014, she appealed for a new trial, citing a US Supreme Court case that invalidated the use of mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. A Missouri judge denied her request.
4 Killing Grandma
Wendy Gardner was the type of all-American girl who got good grades and played the flute. She also kept a diary filled with violent fantasies. In particular, Gardner wrote frequently about her desire to tear the flesh off an ex-boyfriend’s bones. Elsewhere, darkness colored Gardner’s life in the form of her parents—a violent, junkie father and a prostitute mother who had died of AIDS. Things didn’t get any better once Gardner’s grandmother, Betty Gardner, took Wendy in along with her three-year-old sister, Kathy. A very religious woman, Betty Gardner believed in strict discipline. Wendy considered it abuse and grew to resent her 67-year-old legal guardian.
In October 1994, Gardner met a 15-year-old ruffian named James Evans. Evans was known to steal bicycles and torture local cats. Under his influence, Gardner began skipping school and eventually started living with the young man outright. She wanted to marry Evans, but her grandmother demanded that she come home. Fed up, Gardner asked Evans if he’d be willing to help her kill her grandmother. He agreed, and on December 28, 1994, he strangled Betty Gardner inside of her Kingston, New York, home with a kite string. During the murder, Gardner sang “Jingle Bells” to herself while relaxing on the second floor.
Immediately following the murder, Gardner and Evans held Kathy captive for a few days until she managed to escape to a neighbor’s house and alert the police. In the meantime, Gardner and Evans stole jewelry from Betty Gardner’s house in between stuffing the elderly woman’s lifeless body in a trunk and having sex. Once arrested and put on trial, Gardner, who was 13 at the time of the crime, was convicted of second-degree murder. She was released on parole in 2004. As for Evans, he was sentenced to nine years to life with the possibility of parole. After several denials, he was finally granted parole in 2014.
3 The Cold Streets Of San Francisco
The death of 67-year-old homeless man Tai Lam remains unsolved. Even with video evidence of the brutal assault, no suspects have been named publicly. On the Sunday night before Thanksgiving 2014, Lam was sleeping outside in a sleeping bag. Suffering from polio and malnutrition, Lam weighed only 45 kilograms (100 lb) at the time, thus making him an easy target. As he slept in front of San Francisco’s Crocker Galleria shopping mall, three men converged on him and began to ruthlessly stomp on him. Lam was left to die. The men came back later, maybe even two times more, in order to pound on the motionless man again. The three unknown killers murdered for the fun of it, even ignoring the fact that Lam had over $1,000 on him.
Determined to catch Lam’s killers, San Francisco police officers speculated that they had ridden either the BART or Muni public transportation systems, since the crime scene was close to the city’s Montgomery BART station. Security cameras caught three suspects near the area right before the attack. Still, despite the evidence, the three killers remain at large.
2 ‘Utterly Senseless’
Alfred A. Brissette and Marc Girard promised Woonsocket, Rhode Island, resident Jeannette Descoteaux, then 38, some cocaine during the early morning hours of June 14, 1999. After picking up Descoteaux at a mutual friend’s house, Brissette and Girard drove to the secluded George Washington Management Area in Burrillville, Rhode Island. At that point, Brissette and Girard hit Decoteaux several times in the head with various blunt objects until she expired. Even at the trial, a motivation for the murder was never established. A Rhode Island Supreme Court justice called the entire case “brutal, barbaric, and utterly senseless.”
Brissette, who told jurors that he had been sexually abused by both priests and high school classmates, was sentenced to 35 years after being convicted of second-degree murder. In December 2012, Brissette was released on parole after serving only 13 years. Girard was given life imprisonment. Upon release, Brissette decided to relocate to Providence, Rhode Island. His new neighbors did not greet him warmly, with some airing their displeasure publicly in the Providence media.
1 Thrill Killer On The Jersey Shore
Richard Biegenwald died a better death than any of his victims. At age 67, Biegenwald died quietly at Saint Francis Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey. Although in custody at the time, Biegenwald still got to go out lying on clean sheets. Six people killed by him between 1959 and 1982 weren’t so lucky.
Biegenwald committed his first major crime on December 18, 1958. Then 18, Biegenwald and an 18-year-old accomplice named James Sparnroft stole a car in Staten Island and drove to Bayonne, New Jersey. There, they stopped at a deli and encountered 47-year-old part-time clerk (and Bayonne’s assistant municipal attorney) Stephen Sladowski. Biegenwald entered the store alone, shot Sladowski, and returned to the stolen car. Eventually, the pair of teenage thugs drove all the way to Maryland, where they engaged in a shoot-out with police. Captured alive, Biegenwald would stand trial for Sladowski’s murder. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1959, but Sladowski’s widow argued against giving Biegenwald the death penalty. The state agreed. Biegenwald received parole in 1975 after serving a mere 17 years.
For a few years, Biegenwald tried to walk the straight and narrow. He held down odd jobs and even managed to get married. Trouble still followed him, however. Biegenwald was a suspect in a 1977 rape case and failed to report to his parole officer that same year. In 1980, Biegenwald was arrested again, this time in Brooklyn on rape charges. The justice system let Beigenwald go a second time because the victim in the case had failed to identify him in a lineup. Soon after, Biegenwald and his wife moved to New Jersey.
At that point, young girls began to disappear. Maria Ciallela, 17 years old, went missing on October 31, 1981, while she was walking back home to Brick, New Jersey. In April 1982, another 17-year-old, Deborah Osborne, also went missing in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. The bodies of both girls would eventually be found cut to pieces in a shallow grave located on the grounds of a Staten Island home belonging to Biegenwald’s mother. Earlier, in 1980, Biegenwald had been responsible for the shooting death of 18-year-old Anna Olesiewicz, an Asbury Park, New Jersey, resident whose body was found in some underbrush behind a fast food restaurant. Finally, again in 1982, Biegenwald was responsible for the deaths of 17-year-old Betsy Bacon, who went missing that November, and a 34-year-old ex-con named William J. Ward, who was shot execution-style following an argument with Biegenwald.
After cornering Biegenwald and his accomplice, Dherran Fitzgerald, at their shared apartment, police found tons of drugs and guns. Once Fitzgerald admitted to helping Biegenwald dispose of the bodies, it was game over for the “Thrill Killer.” In 1983, a jury imposed the death penalty, but Biegenwald’s sentence was later commuted to four consecutive life sentences.
Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer in Boston. His work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, The Atlantic, Listverse, Metal Injection, and others. He currently blogs at literarytrebuchet.blogspot.com.