As one of the oldest and most populous states in America, Ohio achieved statehood in 1903, and today it is renowned for its waterways, rich history, thriving businesses, and beloved sports teams. However, this state has also produced some of the most odious and obscene serial killers to ever come out of the United States, including Anthony Sowell, Michael Madison, and Shawn Grate, three men who strangled women to death and kept their corpses in their homes, backyards, and outbuildings. Thomas Dillon and Richard Beasley both shot their male victims to death, with one man taking lives simply for financial gain, while the other Ohio serial killer’s motives remain unknown.
Anna Marie Hahn — one of the state’s few known female serial killers — poisoned her victims for her financial benefit, while Donald Harvey murdered several people with arsenic and cyanide, later claiming he just wanted to help end their suffering. Dellmus Colvin worked as a truck driver in Toledo, which made it easy for him to find vulnerable strangers for him to rape and strangled to death, while one of the state’s earliest known serial killers — Alfred Knapp — murdered the people who were closest to him, including two of his wives, making him one of the most notorious criminals in Ohio history.
Dubbed the “Cleveland Strangler” by the press, Anthony Sowell was born in East Cleveland, Ohio, on August 19, 1959. This Ohio serial killer committed his first known murder in May 2007, when he strangled 38-year-old Crystal Dozier to death in his home. More than a year later, the Cleveland Strangler killed again, murdering Tishana Culver, 31, in June 2008. Over the course of the following 15 months, Sowell killed nine more women — ranging in age from 25 to 53 — and he hid their corpses in the backyard, basement, and crawl spaces of his East Cleveland home. The scent of decomposing human flesh emanated from Sowell’s home, causing his guests and even people who lived in the neighborhood to comment on the putrid odor. However, this Ohio serial killer blamed the awful smell on the sausage store located next door to his home, and the USDA forced the business to spend more than $20,000 on new plumbing and grease traps.
In September 2009, Sowell strangled and raped a woman after inviting her to his home for a drink, and she reported the assault to law enforcement on September 22, 2009. More than a month later, police visited the Ohio serial killer’s home to arrest him for choking and raping the young woman: while Sowell wasn’t in the house, officers discovered the dead bodies of two women on the floor of his living room. On October 31, 2009, investigators managed to locate Sowell, and he was arrested by Ohio law enforcement officials. A search of his property revealed the remains of a total of 11 women, and on July 22, 2001, Sowell was convicted of 11 counts of murder. The following month, the Cleveland Strangler was given the death penalty for his horrifying crimes; he is currently on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution awaiting execution.
While working as an orderly and a nurses’ aide at hospitals in London, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio, Donald Harvey — who was born in Butler County, Ohio, on April 15, 1952 — murdered several patients. Harvey began killing his victims shortly after he started working as an orderly in 1970, and he employed a variety of methods to end their lives. This Ohio serial killer murdered most of his patients by poisoning them with arsenic and cyanide, but he also killed people by giving them lethal doses of insulin and morphine, shutting off hospital equipment, smothering them with pillows, and intentionally infecting them with hepatitis B. In addition to murdering his patients, Harvey poisoned people he knew in his personal life, ending the lives of his neighbor, Helen Metzger, and his boyfriend’s father, Henry Hoeweler, by giving them lethal doses of arsenic.
In April 1987, an autopsy of one of Harvey’s patients, John Powell, revealed the man had been poisoned with cyanide, and an investigation into the suspected murder found Harvey had been dubbed the “Angel of Death” by his colleagues because so many people died while under his care. Police searched his home and found arsenic, cyanide, and a journal containing details about the murders, and on August 11, 1987, Harvey confessed to the killings, claiming he had murdered between 30 and 70 people. On October 26, 1987, this Ohio serial killer was convicted of 37 counts of murder, and nearly three decades later on March 30, 2017, Harvey died at the age of 64 while serving multiple life sentences at the Toledo Correctional Institution. Officials believe he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate.
On July 19, 2013, police were called to a home in Cleveland, Ohio, after an employee from a local cable company reported a foul odor emanating from a garage. Authorities quickly discovered the badly decomposed body of Shirellda Helen Terry, 18, who had disappeared nine days earlier after she left the elementary school where she was employed. Investigators found the corpse of Angela Deskins, a 38-year-old woman who went missing in June 2013, buried in the backyard; in the basement of a nearby vacant home, officials recovered the body of Shetisha Sheeley, 28, who had vanished in September 2012. All three women had been strangled to death and placed in garbage bags, and law enforcement later concluded they had most likely been raped before they were murdered.
The home’s tenant, Michael Madison — a registered sex offender who was born on October 15, 1977 — quickly became the prime suspect in the killings, and a search of his apartment turned up evidence linking him to the murders. On October 31, 2013, Madison pleaded not guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, but on May 5, 2016, the Ohio serial killer was found guilty of killing Terry, Deskins, and Sheeley. Madison was given the death penalty for his crimes, and during his June 2, 2016, sentencing hearing, Van Terry — the father of the teenager whose lifeless body was discovered in the convicted killer’s garage — tried to choke the man who strangled his daughter to death, while the triple murderer simply smiled in response. Madison is currently in an Ohio prison awaiting execution.
Born in Canton, Ohio, on July 9, 1950, Thomas Dillon murdered his first known victim on April 1, 1989, when he shot Donald Welling to death while the 35-year-old was walking along a road in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. More than a year later on November 10, 1990, the Ohio serial killer shot and killed Jamie Paxton, 21, in Belmont County; 18 days later, Dillon murdered 30-year-old Kevin Loring in Muskingum County. Both men were duck hunting when Dillon shot them to death with a high-powered rifle. Less than two years later, Dillon murdered two men while they were fishing, killing Claude Hawkins, 48, in Coshocton County on March 14, 1992, and Gary Bradley, 44, on April 5, 1992, in Noble County.
After he killed his fourth victim, a task force was formed to find the person responsible for randomly shooting men to death in Ohio. When he heard police were looking for a serial killer, one of Dillon’s friends reported him as a possible suspect to law enforcement, and the middle-aged murderer was placed under surveillance. On November 27, 1992, Dillon was arrested for having an illegal silencer, and he confessed to the killings after the police told him he wouldn’t get the death penalty for the murders. While the Ohio serial killer said he’d heard voices telling him to shoot his victims, he was deemed sane. On July 12, 1993, Dillon — who was dubbed the “Outdoorsman Sniper ” by the media — pleaded guilty to five murders, and he was given 30 years to life in prison for each count. While he was in prison custody, the confessed serial killer died of cancer on October 21, 2011, at the age of 61.
While he was working as a cab driver in New Jersey, serial killer Dellmus Colvin committe his first known murder when he strangled 27-year-old Donna Lee White to death, dumping her body in an Atlantic City parking lot where she was discovered on September 15, 1987. However, Colvin is best known for the murders he committed between 2000 and 2005 while he was working as a truck driver in Toledo, Ohio. After strangling or smothering his victims to death in his truck, this Ohio serial killer wrapped their corpses in blankets and sheets and discarded their bodies all over Toledo. The skeletal remains of 38-year-old Valerie Jones were discovered near a landfill on January 6, 2000. Eight months later, the remains of Dorothea Wetzel, 40, were found near the Maumee River in South Toledo on August 5, 2000; the following month on September 2, 2000, 42-year-old Jacquelynn Thomas’s corpse was found just across the border in Bedford Township, Michigan.
Less than two years later, the corpse of Lily Summers, 43, was found in a tractor-trailer in Lake Township, Ohio, and on April 23, 2003, the decomposed body of 33-year-old Jackie Simpson was discovered hidden under some bushes on Toledo’s Creekside Avenue. The corpse of Colvin’s last known victim, 37-year-old Melissa Weber, was discovered on May 9, 2005, in a trucking terminal in Toledo. Colvin became a suspect in the murders when a woman contacted police, claiming the trucker had attacked her in his vehicle. Investigators compared the Ohio serial killer’s DNA with evidence collected from the victims, and they determined Colvin matched the semen found on the women. Colvin confessed to the killings when he was questioned about the murders, and on October 2, 2006, he was sentenced to life in prison. This Ohio serial killer is currently behind bars in the Toledo Correctional Institution.
Anna Marie Hahn
Born in Bavaria, Germany, on July 7, 1906, Anna Marie Hahn moved to Cincinnati in 1929, marrying in 1930 and eventually bringing her son from a previous relationship to the United States to live with her and her new husband. Between May 1933 and August 1937, Hahn reportedly murdered at least five elderly men, poisoning them with arsenic in order to inherit money and property to support her gambling habit. Hahn — one of Ohio’s few known female serial killers — murdered her victims while she was employed as their caregiver, convincing them to loan or will her thousands of dollars before killing them with poison.
However, her crimes were uncovered after her last known victim, Georg Obendoerfer, died suddenly on August 1, 1937, while visiting Colorado with Hahn and her son. An autopsy of the man’s body revealed high levels of arsenic, and when two of the other men Hahn had cared for were exhumed, officials found they had also been poisoned. This Ohio serial killer was convicted of killing one victim, 78-year-old Jacob Wagner, and Hahn — who was dubbed the “Angel of Mercy” and the “Blond Borgia” by the media — was executed in Ohio’s electric chair on December 7, 1938. Hahn was just 32 years old when she died.
With the help of his teenage accomplice, Brogan Rafferty, Richard Beasley — who was born on June 6, 1959 — murdered three men who traveled to his home in Summit County, Ohio, after responding to his help wanted ad. Beasley placed an ad on Craigslist, claiming he needed a caretaker for his Appalachian farm, and more than 100 men inquired about the role, eager to be considered for a position that included good compensation and free housing. However, Beasley didn’t own a 688-acre cattle ranch, and the ad was simply a ruse to convince people to travel to Summit County where he could shoot them to death in order to steal their cash and possessions. This Ohio serial killer murdered three men in 2011, callously ending the lives of Ralph Geiger, 56; Timothy Kern, 47; and David Pauley, 51. After shooting the men to death, Beasley — with the help of Rafferty — buried their bodies in a remote area near Caldwell, Ohio.
Beasley’s crimes came to an end on November 13, 2011, when he tried to murder Scott Davis, shooting him in the arm, but the 49-year-old managed to escape and tell police about his terrifying ordeal. After Rafferty was arrested, he told investigators about the killings, and eventually both he and Beasley — who were dubbed the “Craiglist Killers” by the media — were convicted of three counts of murder. On November 13, 2012, Rafferty was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for his crimes, and he is currently incarcerated in the Warren Correctional Institution. The following year on April 5, 2013, Beasley was given the death penalty; he is currently in the Chillicothe Correctional Institution awaiting execution.
While living in Cincinnati, Ohio, Alfred Knapp — who was born in Indiana in 1863 — committed his first know murder when he strangled Emma Littleman, 12, to death on June 21, 1894. The girl’s body was found two days later, hidden under pieces of wood in a lumberyard. Nearly two months later, Knapp strangled his ex-girlfriend, Mary Eckhart, to death, but police initially ruled the young woman’s death a suicide. Shortly after murdering Eckhart, Knapp killed his wife Jennie by strangling her to death, but law enforcement determined she had ended her own life by drowning herself after her corpse was found in a canal. Less than two months after killing his wife, this Ohio serial killer married Hannah Goddard, and the newlyweds moved to West Indianapolis, Indiana, around July 1985. Not long after arriving in Indiana, Knapp murdered his fourth victim, Ada Gebhart.
Over the next several years, Knapp assaulted multiple people, including a 4-year-old girl, but he didn’t kill again until he murdered his wife Hannah in December 1903. After strangling Hannah to death in her sleep, this Ohio serial killer placed her lifeless body in a box which he dumped in the Miami River. While Knapp tried to convince people Hannah had left him, the woman’s family wasn’t convinced, and they asked police to investigate her sudden disappearance. After learning that Knapp had rented a horse and buggy around the time his wife went missing, he was arrested for Hannah’s murder, and he quickly confessed to the four earlier killings. This Ohio serial killer — who was dubbed “Knapp the Strangler” by the media — pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for killing Hannah, but he was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death. Knapp was executed in Ohio’s electric chair on August 19, 1904; he was 42 years old.
On September 13, 2016, Shawn Grate was arrested after a woman called 911, claiming this alleged Ohio serial killer had kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her multiple times, and was holding her captive in his Ashland home. After Grate was apprehended, he told police he hadn’t intended to kill the woman, but a search of his home uncovered the bodies of two women, Stacey Stanley, 40, and Elizabeth Griffith, 29. Griffith went missing on August 16, 2016, and an autopsy determined the 29-year-old had been strangled to death. Stanley disappeared on September 8, 2016 — just five days before Grate was arrested — and she, like Griffith, had died from strangulation. On November 1, 2016, Grate — who was born on August 8, 1976, in Marion, Ohio — reportedly helped investigators recover the remains of Candice Cunningham, his former girlfriend who went missing in June 2016.
This alleged serial killer also confessed to strangling Rebeka Leicy to death in early 2015. Leicy’s corpse was discovered on March 16, 2015, and her death was initially ruled a drug overdose, not murder. Grate reportedly confessed to murdering another woman — who remains a Jane Doe — in Marion, Ohio, some time between 2003 and 2005. The authorities believe this victim may be related to skeletal remains recovered in March 2007. This alleged Ohio serial killer is currently behind bars in Ashland County awaiting trial for two counts of murder. He initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but he withdrew this plea on April 7, 2017, after an evaluation determined Grate was not insane when he murdered his victims.
Test Your Knowledge About Odious & Obscene Ohio Serial Killers!
Which Ohio serial killer didn't keep his victims' bodies in his home or on his property?
Dellmus Colvin dumped his victims' bodies in remote and abandoned areas in Ohio and Michigan, but he didn't keep their corpses in his home or on his property.
Which Ohio serial killer didn't strangle his victims to death?
Thomas Dillon was dubbed the "Outdoorsman Sniper" because he shot his victims to death with a rifle while they were hunting or fishing.
What led to Shawn Grate's arrest for murdering multiple victims?
Shawn Grate was arrested after a woman he was holding captive called 911 and law enforcement discovered two dead bodies in his home.
How did convicted serial killer Donald Harvey die?
Donald Harvey died on March 30, 2017, at the age of 64 while serving multiple life sentences at the Toledo Correctional Institution. Officials believe he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate.
What nickname did the media give to Anthony Sowell?
Anthony Sowell was dubbed the "Cleveland Strangler" by the media for strangling 11 women to death in his East Cleveland home.
Test Your Knowledge About Odious & Obscene Ohio Serial Killers!
Show Comments (1)