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The 1980s saw the rise of a number of the most prolific serial killers in the United States, including Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez. The latter, also known as "The Night Stalker," was part of a rising public concern regarding Satanism, the occult, heavy metal music, and other elements of underground culture that many believed to be dangerous and violent. While Satanic worship seems overall to have been a false concern, some combination of factors certainly did lead this decade to be one of the deadliest, with some of the most shocking and infamous crimes of the 80s setting the standard for horrific crimes that have been committed throughout history.
The "Night Stalker" Murders
Richard Ramirez was one of the country's most prolific serial killers. He was convicted of 13 counts of first degree murder, as well as several counts of sexual assault and burglary in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. The combination of the extremity of his crimes and his absolute lack of remorse or humanity in the courtroom got him sentenced to death on 13 counts. However, he died on death row before his execution came to pass. Part of what made these Night Stalker murders some of the most infamous crimes of the 80s was Ramirez's self-proclaimed status as a Satanist. In part, this highly publicized killing spree fueled the "Satan Panic" that pervaded this decade.
The .22 Caliber Killer
Although Joseph Christopher became known as the .22 Caliber Killer, only his first four murders—which took place in the span of 36 hours—were actually committed this way. He would go on to murder seven more people, mainly through stabbing, before confessing to a psychiatrist that he felt he "had to kill blacks." To little surprise, the majority of Christopher's victims were African Americans. Christopher, who was turned away from a psychiatric facility only weeks before the first murders, would later be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was, however, still found fit to stand trial, and was sentenced to 60 years for committing some of the most infamous crimes of the 80s. He died in prison.
The Murder of Adam Walsh
The kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh became one of the most infamous crimes of the 80s not only for the shock and horror of it, but also for the lasting effects that this event had on the public. Adam was kidnapped while shopping with his mother in 1981. His decapitated head was found two weeks later in a gutter. Ottis Toole, who committed many murders with Henry Lee Lucas, confessed to this crime. However, both Toole and Lucas gave countless confessions that authorities later found to be false.
Regardless of the guilty party, this event sparked widespread national interest, and led to the founding of various organizations and policies designed to protect and help kidnapped children, including a "Code Adam" procedure for missing children in stores, and the television show hosted by Adam's father, John Walsh, titled America's Most Wanted.
The DeLorean Scandal
While most of the infamous crimes of the 80s regard crazed serial killers or disturbing murders, there was at least one non-violent scandal that rose quickly to the public eye: the DeLorean drug sting. In 1982, John Z. DeLorean, who designed the Pontiac GTO and the Firebird before starting his own automotive company, was arrested for intending to distribute 55 pounds of cocaine—$24 million worth. DeLorean Motor Company never really recovered, but they did find a more positive fame with the inclusion of a DeLorean in Back to the Future in 1985. Given the context, that also raises a few questions I have about Doc Brown's character.
The Acid King
Richard Ramirez's self-proclaimed ties to Satanism disturbed many upon his arrest, and raised already-growing concerns about the occult, heavy metal music, and other things associated with Satanic affiliations. It was Ricky Kasso of Northport, New York, however, who brought these concerns to a head in 1982, when he murdered his friend, Gary Lauwers. The two were teenagers, and tripping on LSD, when an altercation regarding some stolen drugs occurred. Although Lauwers apologized and promised to pay Kasso back for the missing drugs, the altercation later escalated, and Kasso stabbed Lauwers as many as 36 times, and carved out his eyeballs. Two other high school students were with them at the time, and report that Kasso told Lauwers to say, "I love you, Satan." Lauwers reportedly said, "I love my mother," before dying.
Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole
Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole are, without a doubt, two of the most prolific serial killers in United States history. It's difficult to say exactly how prolific they really were, as they each claimed responsibility for hundreds of murders which they did not commit. In the case of Ottis Toole, most of these were dismissed as having been coerced by authorities, and many of Lucas' confessions were similarly disregarded. However, enough murders have been confirmed to land these two firmly among the most disturbed individuals in our history. One of the most controversial of these confessed crimes was the murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh. Toole confessed to the murder, and Lucas backed him up, leading to the closing of the case. Many believe, though, that this confession was amongst the many other false admissions, and that the case should not have been closed.
The Murder of Carol Stuart
In 1989, Charles Stuart shot and killed his pregnant wife, Carol. Tragic enough on its own, to be sure, but this crime became one of the most infamous crimes of the 80s for its cold-blooded premeditation and its racial implications: Charles Stuart planned Carol's murder carefully, intending to stage the death as a carjacking and collect a life insurance policy on her. He even shot himself to make it convincing, and claimed that they were attacked by an African American assailant. He went as far as to identify a young man as the attacker he described. However, the case fell apart when Charles' brother, Matthew, came forward to admit to having knowledge of Charles' intent to commit insurance fraud—he had not known, however, that he had planned to murder his wife and unborn child.
The Grim Sleeper/The Southside Slayer
The Grim Sleeper is the name given to serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr. when he began killing decades after his first spree. His notorious crimes of the 80s, for which he was dubbed the Southside Slayer, terrorized the Los Angeles area, but seemed to stop in 1988. He re-emerged fourteen years later, in 2002, and was finally arrested in 2010. He was officially charged for 10 murders, but is believed to be responsible for as many as 25. Part of the difficulty involved in the original investigation was that these crimes were never linked. As many of the women were prostitutes, they were not even carefully investigated until DNA evidence began linking several of the crimes. This lack of police investigation into a serial killer who targeted African American women prompted the formation of the "Black Women Count" movement, which pushed for these killings to be recognized as the work of a serial killer and for a task force to be formed to investigate.
Some of the most notorious crimes in known history were perpetrated by Jeffrey Dahmer. As if the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 young men and boys weren't bad enough, Dahmer also cannibalized a number of them, including "filleting" the heart of one of his victims. He also preserved entire skeletons, and engaged in necrophilia with many of his later victims. He was diagnosed with a host of psychotic and personality disorders, but was nevertheless found fit to stand trial. He was sentenced to life in prison (or rather, 16 lives in prison), and died there at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, near where many of his murders took place.
Carol Bundy and Doug Clark
Among the most terrifying serial killer couples, Carol Bundy and Doug Clark fell in love and moved in together in 1980. Part of their compatibility seems to be a shared interest in decapitation. Clark began expressing interest in young girls, necrophilia, and killing girls while having sex with them. With Bundy's help, he lured their 11-year-old neighbor over and took pornographic pictures of her. Clark then fulfilled one of his fantasies by raping and murdering two women. He told Bundy about it, who was uneasy enough to inform the police. However, she did not reveal their identities. Clark then murdered another two women, and decapitated one. Bundy cleaned and put make-up on the head for Clark's later necrophiliac use. Eventually, Bundy let slip to a friend about their sordid affairs, and fearing he might turn them in, proceeded to murder and decapitate him as well. The guilt, however, ultimately got to Bundy, and she confessed to her co-workers, who informed the police.
The Assassination of Paul Castellano
In 1986, Paul Castellano was head of the Gambino crime family. He was assassinated by John Gotti in New York City. The assassination was unsanctioned, and led to a serious destabilization of New York's most powerful organized crime family, which is why it is considered to be one of the more infamous crimes of the 80s. Gotti was eventually arrested with the help of a former rival who had been enraged by the unsanctioned assassination, and was formally charged and sentenced to life in prison in 1992. He died in prison a decade later, but the ramifications of his actions have continued to ripple through the world of organized crime since the 80s.