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If you have ever read true crime books or watched movies about serial killers, then you probably already know that the 1970s was a golden era of crime. Statistically, crime in the United State peaked in this decade, particularly when it came to violent crime.
In order to be a violent crime that stands out in an era known for violent crime, you really have to see something seriously sick going on. To a point, you almost have to wonder what it takes to be charged with a crime that hits national headlines in this era.
That's why the most infamous crimes of the 70s are so insanely wild to read about—and why it makes you feel a little better knowing we live in mellower times.
(Note: We're not including the Manson family murders since much of the cult's activity happened during the 60s. That's for another article!)
John Wayne Gacy, The Killer Clown
Chicago was a pretty interesting place to be in the 1970s, but in the suburbs, it seemed like a fairly calm place to be. Back in those days, everyone knew each other and had a fairly good idea of who did what in town.
In Chicago's outskirts, the Gacy family had a golden reputation. John Wayne Gacy owned fast food restaurants, hired local boys to help run them, and would even dress up as Pogo the Clown to cheer up children at birthday parties.
The Gacy family was so well-respected, they took an active role in politics. At one point, John Wayne Gacy even posed for a photograph with the First Lady! How could anyone have known that Gacy himself would become one of the most famous American serial killers of all time?
Young boys and men started to disappear around the area, with one even being found naked and bloodied, claiming that Gacy had tried to kill him. Police, knowing Gacy's sterling reputation, didn't believe the victim!
Eventually, one of the victims' family members goaded police into investigating the home. Police found the bodies by smelling the decaying flesh in the basement. In 1978, John Wayne Gacy admitted to killing 33 men.
The scandal ripped through the state and quickly became one of the most infamous crimes of the 70s.
When politics become wrapped up in crime, you can expect to have a seriously juicy scandal on your hand. When Richard Nixon ran against the Democrat George McGovern in the Presidential election, he wanted to make sure he'd win at any cost.
In the early hours of a hot June night in 1972, five men were picked up by police while trying to "bug" the Watergate Hotel. Two reporters decided to take a deeper look into the arrest, and thanks to an insider known only as "Deep Throat," were able to tie Richard Nixon to the illegal activity.
Nixon desperately tried to downplay the involvement his administration had in the election's meddling, but to no avail. Investigators began to demand tapes of Nixon discussing the Watergate scandal during prosecution, but Nixon refused to release the tapes.
When tapes were procured, a 20-minute gap in footage was discovered. They were edited, and it was clear that Nixon was hiding something. Feeling cornered, Nixon had a "Saturday Night Massacre" which involved him firing his lead assistants.
Nixon adamantly claimed he knew nothing of the meddling, but no one really believed him. Constantly dogged by bad press, he resigned after claiming that he was "not a crook."
Along with being one of the most infamous crimes of the 70s, the Watergate scandal is now seen as one of the most similar historical parallels to the current scandals facing the Trump administration. Whether or not history will repeat itself, though, remains to be seen.
Ted Bundy, The Sex Killer
Ted Bundy was the charming, handsome guy who worked at a suicide prevention hotline. He was the type of guy who women would bring back to Mom when they wanted to impress their mothers with the men they were dating.
However, things weren't quite what they seemed. Ted Bundy became known as one of the most notorious serial killers of the 1970s. His method of choice was to appear injured to trick women into helping him out in abandoned parking lots.
Then, he would strike and kidnap them.
From there, he'd strangle women to death. The former law student's killing spree ended up claiming the lives of 36 women and spanning a total of four states.
When he appeared in front of the judge, it was hard to believe that he was the one at fault for the killings. He looked so innocent, that it actually became the most shocking aspect of his murder spree!
The Deaths of Sid and Nancy
In the 1970s, punk rock was really starting to take off as both a music and political moment. The subculture itself was infamous for being loud, wild, and for having a serious drug use issue—particularly when it came to heroin.
At the top of the charts were Sid Vicious and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Sid Vicious was a member of the Sex Pistols, and Nancy was a groupie who went to the UK for its punk scene.
When the two met, the duo were known for being incredibly hard-partying and for having an incredibly turbulent relationship. When the Sex Pistols broke up, their relationship got even more tumultuous.
Eventually, one day in 1978, the two spent time in New York City's Chelsea Hotel... and that's where Nancy was discovered, lying in the bathroom with a single stab wound in her stomach. Sid was found wandering around the halls, and was immediately arrested.
He went out on bail, went back to the UK, was arrested there, and then bailed out again. He died less than a day later on a heroin overdose, and many people believe he took the punk scene with him.
The Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones was once one of the most well-respected spiritual leaders in California. A favorite among the African American community, Jones was known for preaching about equality and civil rights.
He called his church The Peoples' Temple, and it was a Christian offshoot that gained over 2,000 loyal followers. When he announced that he would create a compound in Guyana devoted to his teachings, around 900 people followed him. He called his compound Jonestown.
The compound appeared to be a fully-functional religious paradise, and was even called so by parishioners. However, cracks began to show when supplies started getting low. Rumors about public beatings of those who refused to follow him began to surface, and some people even went so far as to ask relatives for help to escape.
Jim Jones was known for inspiring loyalty so well, even the FBI and CIA studied him to figure out what he did. Truth be told, it was a warning sign of his serious desire to control others around him.
Jones' pathological need for control continued to tighten, and parishioners began to become incredibly paranoid. They were encouraged to tell on one another, with many facing consequences if they didn't do as Jones told.
Eventually, a US senator was sent to Jonestown to investigate the claims. He was shot, making him the first senator to die in service. Not too long after, the Peoples' Temple ordered all 900 Jonestown followers to commit suicide by drinking FlavorAid dosed with cyanide.
The children were killed first, then women, then men took their own lives. Those who refused to drink were shot by followers. Of the 900 people who died, only a handful were able to survive. Jones himself died in the massacre.
To date, Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre remains shrouded by mystery, is considered to be one of the most infamous crimes of the 70s, and is known as one of the largest collective loss of human life in American history. The question of whose footsteps can be heard after everyone died in the recordings of the mass suicide is still speculated today.
The List Family Murders
John List was a financier who was highly regarded in his Westfield home, but times were tough. The 70s were not the best time to be a banker, and he was quickly finding himself unable to make ends meet for his upper class family.
His wife, mother-in-law, and three children were popular and well-liked around the neighborhood. That's why his decision to murder them all became all the more shocking.
Their murders were all meticulously planned out, down to their burial methods. It took an entire month for the bodies to be found, which was more than enough time for John List to make his exit.
When he was finally apprehended, he appeared to have no remorse for his actions. He believed he was doing his family a favor for not forcing them to live as a middle class crew.
The Murder Spree of Dr. Death
Dr. Harold Shipman looked like just about every other doctor in his hospital ward. He was a trusted confidant to his patients and was known for being a very popular, married, family man. In 1971, he started out on becoming one of the most prolific serial killers in British history.
Dr. Shipman was able to kill a total of 218 people by dosing them with lethal cocktails before people became suspicious. After he signed off on an abnormally high number of death certificates, people began to investigate the bodies further.
Shipman's killing spree spanned two decades, and he was only fully discovered when a victim's daughter noticed that Shipman made himself the sole beneficiary of a will. He now goes by "Dr. Death" and committed suicide in his cell in 2004.
The Kidnapping and Brainwashing of Patty Hearst
Patty Hearst was the heiress to the Hearst press fortune, and when she was kidnapped by the ultra-left Symbionese Liberation Army, the press went mad. It was considered to be one of the most infamous crimes of the 70s for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that it was a star-studded event.
She went missing for about two months. She then released a tape saying that she changed her name to "Tania," and decided to join the ultra-left wing faction. She became an accomplice in robberies, attacks, and other serious crimes. Hearst, once a straight-laced woman, became a fugitive.
When she was finally arraigned, she claimed that she was raped repeatedly, threatened with violence, and forced to commit heinous acts. Doctors noted that it was clear that she had signs of serious PTSD, including reduced IQ, nightmares, and anxiety.
Despite all that, she was given the maximum sentence for her crimes and spent 35 years in jail.
The Mysterious Death of Georgi Markov
Georgi Markov was a highly respected, award-winning broadcaster for the BBC's overseas service. He also happened to be a person who defected from Bulgaria in an era where communism was in full swing—and it's clear that Bulgaria didn't like that too much.
While waiting for a bus, he was jabbed in the thigh with an umbrella by a stranger. The stranger left, and soon after, Markov started to display strange symptoms. He died three days later.
An inquest showed that Markov had been shot with a deadly ricin pellet that was loaded into the "umbrella" and fired into him. Decades later, it was still uncertain who killed Markov and why, but it's clear that international espionage played a role.
A hitman from Italy, under the name of Agent Piccadilly, has been named as a top suspect. Even so, the case remains open and Markov's mysterious death remains a prime example of international intrigue...and a warning sign to defectors everywhere.
The Zodiac Killer
Unlike other famous serial killers, the Zodiac Killer's murders became some of the most infamous crimes of the 70s because the killer himself has never been caught.
His serial killer calling card of choice were notes that had a cryptic code. The letters were sent to the press, but never were able to be deciphered despite years of research.
The killer is described as a white man with glasses, and has been known to be active throughout the 60s and 70s. No one knows who he is, and police remain curious about his identity to this day.