Illinois — one of America’s most populous states — joined the Union in 1818, giving it a long and rich history that has been shaped by the many immigrants who have called it home. However, in addition to its many wonderful contributions to the United States and beyond, Illinois has given the world some of the most infamous and insidious serial killers known to man, including John Wayne Gacy, a murderer who hid many of his victims’ corpses in the crawl space underneath his house in Chicago. Illinois was also home to H.H. Holmes, a serial killer who claimed to have murdered tourists who were in Chicago for the World’s Fair, while Thomas Neill Cream is believed to have ended the lives of at least four people while working as a doctor in the state. Tillie Klimek — a Polish immigrant — and German-born Johann Otto Hoch both used arsenic to kill their spouses, mainly for financial benefit, while American Charles Albanese murdered three of his family members with arsenic in order to inherit their money and estates.
William Heirens — the Lipstick Killer — is one of the most infamous murderers Illinois has ever produced, although many people are convinced he didn’t commit the crimes he was convicted of perpetrating. Kevin Taylor preyed upon vulnerable women, leaving their dead bodies to be found all over Chicago, while Lorenzo Fayne murdered multiple children while visiting his grandmother in East St. Louis, Illinois. One of the state’s most disturbing serial killers, Gail Savage, admitted to ending the lives of three of her young children, although she later recanted her confession, leaving many to wonder if she was actually responsible for the deaths of the three infants.
John Wayne Gacy
Born in Chicago, Illinois, on March 17, 1942, John Wayne Gacy murdered his first victim, Timothy Jack McCoy, 16, on January 3, 1972, when he stabbed the teenager to death and hid his corpse in the crawl space underneath his home. Over the next several years, Gacy murdered more than 30 young men and teenage boys — who ranged in age from 14 to 21 — torturing and raping his victims before strangling them to death and hiding their bodies in his Chicago home or tossing their corpses in the Des Plaines River. Many of this Illinois serial killer’s victims where young men and boys he hired to work for his construction business, and his status as a successful businessman — who had even been photographed with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1978 — made it easier for Gacy to get away with murdering more than 30 people.
Gacy was a member of the local Moose Club, and he developed two characters — Pogo the Clown and Patches the Clown — and performed with the organization at children’s hospitals and fundraising events. On December 11, 1978, Gacy — who was dubbed the “Killer Clown” by the media — killed Robert Piest, and he quickly became a suspect in the 15-year-old’s disappearance after someone remembered hearing him offer the teenager a job. When officers visited his Chicago home, they noticed the unmistakable odor of decomposing human flesh. Gacy realized law enforcement was closing in on him, so he confessed to the killings on December 20, 1978, eventually admitting to ending the lives of between 25 and 30 victims. The authorities recovered the remains of 28 victims from this Illinois serial killer’s property, and on March 12, 1980, Gacy was convicted of 33 counts of murder. More than 14 years after he was found guilty, Gacy was executed by lethal injection on May 9, 1994, at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. He was 52 years old.
On June 5, 1945, the dead body of 43-year-old Josephine Ross was discovered in her Chicago home, and just six months later on December 10, 1945, the corpse of Frances Brown, 31, was found in her Chicago apartment. Investigators determined both women had been stabbed to death, and law enforcement discovered a disturbing message scrawled on Brown’s wall in lipstick: “For heaven’s sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.” Due to the medium the unidentified killer used to write the plea, the media dubbed the perpetrator the “Lipstick Killer.”
Less than one month later on January 1, 1946, 6-year-old Suzanna Degnan was abducted from her Chicago home, and her dismembered remains were found scattered in the sewers nearby. Degan’s murder was attributed to the Lipstick Killer, and when 17-year-old William Heirens was arrested on June 26, 1946, for trying to break into a Chicago apartment, he allegedly confessed to the murders. Heirens pleaded guilty to the killings on August 7, 1946 — making him one of Illinois’s youngest known serial killers — and he was given three consecutive life sentences for the killings. After he was convicted of the murders, Heirens claimed his confession had been coerced, and he said he’d only admitted to the crimes to avoid capital punishment. Several experts believe this confessed Illinois serial killer didn’t commit any of the murders attributed to him, and while Heirens filed multiple clemency petitions, he died of natural causes on March 5, 2012, while in police custody. He was 83 years old.
From June 2001 to August 2001, Kevin Taylor — who was born on June 11, 1974 — raped and murdered four women, strangling them to death after hiring them for sex. This Illinois serial killer’s victims included Ola Mae Wallace, 39; Diane Jordan, 42; Bernadine Blunt, 39; and Cynthia Halk, 38; and their lifeless bodies were discovered in alleys, abandoned buildings, and trash cans around Chicago. Taylor’s reign of terror came to an end when he was arrested on August 20, 2001, after law enforcement found a time card — with his name on it — from his place of employment, The Cheesecake Factory, underneath the corpses of one of the women he murdered.
After this Illinois serial killer was apprehended, a 38-year-old woman identified Taylor as the man who had tried to strangle her to death on July 27, 2001. Two days after he was arrested, Taylor confessed to murdering the four women while raping them, and during his sentencing hearing, the court learned this confessed killer had been abused by his mother — who was a sex worker and a drug addict — as a child. In order to avoid capital punishment, Taylor pleaded guilty to four counts of murder, and on September 5, 2006, this Illinois serial killer was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes.
Born in Poland in 1876, Tillie Klimek immigrated to America with her parents when she was only a baby, and eventually she and her family settled in a Polish neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois. In 1914, Klimek’s first husband, Jospeh Mitkiewicz, passed away, and she quickly remarried, wedding Joseph Ruskowski, but he also died suddenly that same year. From 1914 to 1921, several people close to Klimek became gravely ill, with many of them dying, including her third husband, Frank Kupszyk. When her fourth spouse became incredibly sick — instead of succumbing to the mysterious illness that had plagued many of Klimek’s friends and relatives — he sought medical attention and learned he had been poisoned with arsenic.
Almost immediately, law enforcement suspected Klimek of trying to kill her fourth husband, and they decided to exhume the bodies of the many people who had died after coming into contact with the Polish immigrant. After a thorough investigation, officials determined Klimek and her cousin Nellie Koulik had murdered 12 victims with rat poison, and the authorities concluded the two women had killed people for both revenge and financial gain. In March 1923, Klimek was convicted of murdering her third husband and sentenced to life in prison. However, while serving her time, Klimek — who was dubbed “Poison Widow” by the press — died on November 20, 1936, when she was approximately 60 years old. Her cousin Nellie Koulik was never convicted of a single count of murder.
Johann Otto Hoch
Born in 1855 in present-day Germany, Johann Otto Hoch left his second wife and four children behind to immigrate to America in 1887, actually marrying his third spouse during his passage to the United States. Hoch eventually settled in Chicago, Illinois, where he bigamously married more than 50 women during a 20-year-old period, employing over 20 different aliases to avoid detection. According to officials, Hoch moved around constantly, allowing him to meet and marry wealthy widows. However, soon after tying the knot, Hoch — who was dubbed the “Stockyards Bluebeard” by the press — murdered his new brides by poisoning them with arsenic. After killing the women, this Illinois serial killer stole their money and valuables and fled the area.</>
Thankfully, investigators arrested Hoch in 1905 after they managed to link him to the mysterious deaths of several woman. According to law enforcement, the Stockyards Bluebeard confessed to multiple counts of murder after he was apprehended, but he was only convicted of killing one victim, Marie Walcker. On February 23, 1906, Hoch was executed in Chicago, Illinois, ending his life at approximately 51 years old. Before he was put to death, this confessed serial killer reportedly told police: “Marriage was purely a business proposition to me. When I found they had money, I went after that.”
Thomas Neill Cream
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 27, 1850, Thomas Neill Cream attended medical school in Canada and completed his post-graduate training at a hospital in London. In August 1879, while he was working as a doctor in London, Ontario, Canada, the corpse of Kate Gardener — a pregnant woman Cream was allegedly having an affair with — was found near his office, dead from chloroform poisoning. Cream claimed another man had impregnated the dead woman, and he even attempted to blackmail the alleged father of Gardener’s unborn child. However, Cream became a suspect in Gardener’s murder, so he emigrated from Canada to the United States, eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after arriving in America, Cream began performing illegal abortions, and from December 1880 to July 1881, one man and three women died after receiving treatment from the doctor. While he was suspected of killing all four of his patients, the doctor was only convicted of murdering Daniel Stott, a man whose wife was having an affair Cream. On July 14, 1881, the deadly doctor was given a life sentence for murdering Stott with strychnine, but Cream was released from prison just 10 years later.
Shortly after he was paroled in July 1891, the alleged Illinois serial killer relocated to London, England, where he murdered four women between October 1891 and April 1892. However, when Cream tried to blame and blackmail other people for the women’s deaths, he became a suspect in the killings. Investigators quickly discovered Cream had been convicted of murder in Chicago — and was suspected of killing least several other victims — so he was was arrested on June 3, 1892. The serial killer doctor — who was dubbed the “Lambeth Poisoner” by the press — was convicted of murdering Matilda Clover, 27; Alice Marsh, 21; Ellen Donworth, 19; and Emma Shrivell, 18. On November 15, 1892, Cream was executed by hanging at Newgate Prison at the age of 42.
Following dinner at the home of her granddaughter and her grandson-in-law in Spring Grove, Illinois, on August 30, 1980, 87-year-old Mary Lambert returned to the retirement community in the Chicago suburbs where she lived with her daughter, Marion Mueller. Shortly after returning home, the elderly woman vomited violently and died. Less than two weeks after Mary Lambert’s sudden death, her daughter Marion Mueller, 69, experienced the same symptoms before she also passed away unexpectedly. Several months later on May 16, 1981, Marion Mueller’s husband Michael Albanese died suddenly at the age of 69. Following Albanese’s death from an unknown illness, the authorities began to suspect foul play, and they launched an investigation to determine if anyone had a motive to kill three members of the same family. Officials quickly discovered that Mary Lambert, Michael Albanese, and Marion Mueller were all connected to Charles Albanese, who was Michael Albanese’s son and related to Lambert and Mueller by marriage.
Investigators learned Charles Albanese’s wife Virginia had inherited $150,000 following the deaths of her mother, Marion Mueller, and grandmother, Mary Lambert. Michael Albanese left his business and estate, which was worth nearly $300,000, to his two sons. Officials determined Charles Albanese — who was born in 1946 — had plenty of motive to commit the murders. The authorities exhumed the bodies of all three suspected murder victims, and they found they had all died from arsenic poisoning. In 1982, Charles Albanese was convicted of three counts of murder, and he was executed on September 20, 1995, by lethal injection at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois. This convicted Illinois serial killer was 58.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, on May 16, 1861, this Illinois serial killer employed a number of different aliases, but he is probably best known as H.H. Holmes. After graduating from the University of Michigan’s Department of Medicine and Surgery in 1984, he moved first to Philadelphia and then to Chicago where he found a job as a pharmacist. While working as a pharmacist in downtown Chicago in 1886, Holmes purchased a vacant lot across the street from the drugstore where he was employed. The following year, Holmes started building a massive structure on the site, but several years later, he still hadn’t finished construction of the mixed-use building — which was later dubbed the “Murder Castle” by the media. In December 1891, Holmes — who bigamously married multiple women — is believed to have killed two of his first known victims, his mistress Julia Smith and her daughter.
A year later in December 1892, this Illinois serial killer reportedly murdered Emeline Cigrande, and in July of the following year, Holmes is believed to have killed Minnie Williams and her sister. Two years later in 1895, Holmes murdered Benjamin Pitezel, an accomplice the serial killer had agreed to help fake his death for the financial benefit of his wife and three children. After murdering Pitezel, Holme’s killed the dead man’s two daughter — Alice and Nellie — by locking the girls inside a trunk and asphyxiating them with gas. After murdering the girls, Holmes killed Pitezel’s son Howard by giving the boy an overdose of drugs. However, this Illinois serial killer was arrested after police found the Pitezel girls’ dead bodies in the home of the house he was renting in Canada, and he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for his crimes. While he was behind bars, Holmes admitted to murdering nearly 30 people in his Murder Castle, claiming they were tourists who had traveled to Illinois for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. On May 7, 1896, this Illinois serial killer was executed by hanging; he was just 34 years old.
Born in 1965, Lorenzo Fayne murdered four children in East St. Louis, Illinois, over the course of five years, beating Aree Hunt, 6, to death in 1989 after sexually assaulting the young boy. In March 1992, Fayne stabbed 14-year-old Latondra Dean to death, inflicting more than 20 wounds on the teenager’s body, and just a few months later in July 1992, this Illinois serial killer murdered 6-year-old Fallon Flood via strangulation and stuffed her lifeless body in a locker at East St. Louis Senior High School. Approximately one year later, Fayne stabbed Glenda Jones, 17, to death in June 1993, and in July 1994, he murdered Faith Davis, 17, in the same manner. Fayne’s crimes finally came to an end on July 24, 1993, when police found Davis’s body in a burning home and followed a trail of her blood to the killer’s grandmother’s house.
After he was arrested, Fayne admitted to killing the children, and officials later determined he’d molested most of his victims after ending their lives, making him a necrophiliac. This Illinois serial killer was sentenced to life in prison for killing 6-year-old Aree Hunt, and he was given the death penalty for murdering his other four victims. While he was behind bars, a routine search of the national DNA database in March 2009 linked the convicted serial killer with the September 15, 1989, murder of 32-year-old Rita Scott, a mother of three who was beaten to death with a chunk of concrete in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Fayne was living at the time. After murdering the young woman, this Illinois serial killer raped her lifeless body, leaving his DNA behind to link him to the horrific crime.
When Gail Savage’s 6-week-old son Michael died on November 5, 1990, and her 22-day-old daughter Amber was found dead in her crib on February 25, 1992, Michael’s death was attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), while the cause of Amber’s death was listed as “undetermined.” However, when Savage’s 5-month-old daughter Cynthia died on June 28, 1993, authorities in Waukonda, Illinois, began to suspect the Savage children had met with foul play. After ruling out epilepsy and cystic fibrosis — two illnesses that ran in the children’s family — officials became convinced Savage had killed her children.
On September 8, 1993, investigators questioned Savage about her children’s deaths, and she reportedly confessed to killing the three infants, ending their lives by holding a blanket over their faces until they stopped breathing. Savage — who was born in 1963 and had an IQ of 75 — later recanted her confession, claiming officers coerced her into admitting to the murders. On April 30, 1994, the alleged female serial killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the death of her daughter Cynthia, but before she was sentenced for the crime, Savage agreed to plead guilty to killing all three of her children in exchange for 20 years in prison. This convicted Illinois serial killer’s current whereabouts are unknown.
Test Your Knowledge About Infamous & Insidious Illinois Serial Killers!
Which Illinois serial killer was not executed for his crimes?
Williams Heirens died of natural causes on March 5, 2012, while in police custody. He was 83 years old.
Which Illinois serial killer was born in the United States?
H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, on May 16, 1861.
How did Illinois serial killer Kevin Taylor murder his victims?
Kevin Taylor strangled his victims to death after hiring them for sex.
Why did the media call William Heirens the "Lipstick Killer"?
The press dubbed William Heirens the "Lipstick Killer" because a message was written in lipstick on a wall in the home of Frances Brown, one of the people he was convicted of murdering.
What led police to arrest Lorenzo Fayne for murder?
Lorenzo Fayne's crimes finally came to an end on July 24, 1993, when police found one of his victims' bodies in a burning home and followed a trail of her blood to the killer's grandmother's house
Test Your Knowledge About Infamous & Insidious Illinois Serial Killers!
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