20 Black Serial Killers Who Almost Flew Under the Radar

Photo:  AP File (AP)
Photo: AP File (AP)

Prime Video’s new show Swarm  got people shook with Dominique Fishback’s compelling performance as a melanin-stan, serial killer. As confusing as it was watching her get away with a series of gruesome murders, it made you realize that she might have flown under the radar because no one suspects a Black woman to be capable of such terrible crimes.

The show brings light to this disturbing reality: Black serial killers exist. They may not be as “popular” or widely known as your typical Jeffrey Dahmer and Zodiac Killer, but their crimes are just as sinister.

Read more

I bet you can’t think of any Black serial killers off the top of your head. But if you read on, you’ll be familiar with at least 20 of them.

Maury Travis

Screenshot:  ABC News
Screenshot: ABC News

The infamous “Videotape Killer” was linked to the murders of 12 sex workers in St. Louis by investigators, per Fox 2 Now. He would lure women to his home with money or drugs, then tie them up and kill them. After committing each murder, Travis would discard the bodies along the road and carried on this heinous act for three years.

Police identified Travis after tracing his steps through a series of interactive maps and found his home. Bloodstains covered every part of his house and various women’s items were recovered in the basement along with several videotapes of him torturing, abusing and raping his victims. Travis committed suicide in his jail cell before he could be convicted.

Elton Manning Jackson

Screenshot:  Daily Press Archive
Screenshot: Daily Press Archive

Jackson wreaked havoc on the LGBT community for 10 years. His first victim was a gay man in 1997 and he was suspected of killing another 11 queer men. Authorities declined to name Jackson as the suspect in the other killings due to a lack of evidence, but found his method of madness was identical in each case: sexually motivated strangulation.

He ended up being convicted in only one murder and was sentenced to life in prison though he denied his involvement.

Eddie Lee Mosley

Screenshot:  Fort Lauderdale Police Dept
Screenshot: Fort Lauderdale Police Dept

Dubbed as the “Rape Man,” Mosley was accused of terrorizing the women of South Florida in the 70s. DNA linked him to dozens of murders and rapes in the Fort Lauderdale area. He was charged three times for rape and was found not guilty in two cases and entered a plea deal in the third, per Sun Sentinel. Two innocent men were even convicted for Mosley’s crimes, one of them being the rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

Once the police got to him in the late 1980s, he was declared unfit to stand trial and was secluded to mental hospitals until he died in 2020.

John Floyd Thomas

Screenshot:  CBS News
Screenshot: CBS News

The insurance claim adjuster turn serial killer was named the Westside Rapist for the terror he brought on women from Inglewood to Claremont, Ca. His targets were older women between the ages of 50 and 90. He would break into their homes, rape them and choke them to death. Thomas was finally sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for seven murders but remains a suspect in another 15 unsolved killings, per LA Times.

Jake Bird

Screenshot:  The Ogden Standard-Examiner Archive
Screenshot: The Ogden Standard-Examiner Archive

“The Tacoma Ax-Killer” had a lengthy record of burglaries and murders. However, he was caught after police responded to reports of screams inside a house. When they arrived, Bird ran out the backdoor barefoot but was caught and arrested by the police. He was convicted of the first-degree murder of two Tacoma women and given the death penalty in 1947.

While on Death Row, he confessed to over 40 more murders across the country that flew under the radar. He was hung at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla in 1949.

Harrison Graham

Screenshot:  Wikicommons
Screenshot: Wikicommons

One summer in 1987, Graham’s neighbor complained to their landlord about a stench coming from Harrison’s apartment. He was ordered to vacate the premises but refused and boarded up his doors and windows. He then fled from the fire escape and the landlord called the police to break into the apartment. What they found were two dead Black women, blood splatters and a slew of skeletal remains. Bones and body parts of other victims were found in bags.

For the following week, Harrison ditched the police until his mother convinced him to turn himself in. When he was arrested, he confessed to the killings of seven women and was convicted in each case. He received the death penalty but was ordered to serve life in prison first, meaning he wouldn’t actually be executed.

Roberta Elder

Screenshot:  YEN News
Screenshot: YEN News

The wife of Reverend William M. Elder was not only responsible for his death but also the death of two of his children whom she poisoned with her cooking. She was charged for their murders but during her trial, it was found that her killings didn’t stop at her household. She was accused of killing up to 13 people including two ex-husbands, three of her own children, a grandson, a cousin and her own mother. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Debra Brown

Photo:  Al Berhman (AP)
Photo: Al Berhman (AP)

Brown and Alton Coleman began their killing spree when they lured two young girls into the woods in 1984. One of the girls was raped and the other was suffocated and stomped. For the next 50 days, the two killed eight more people, raped seven and kidnapped three. The couple was sentenced to death and Coleman was executed in 2002. However, Brown’s death sentence was overturned after the attorney general attributed her actions to a mental disability, per Indy Star.

Samuel Little

Photo:  California Department of Corrections (AP)
Photo: California Department of Corrections (AP)

Little is known as the most prolific serial killer not just because of his crimes but because he confessed to a large number of unsolved murders just two years before he died. Little had been killing since the 50s but was sentenced for good in 2014 for killing three women in the 80s. His DNA was then connected to another string of strangulations. In an interview with a Texas Ranger, he confessed to unsolved killings in over a dozen states bringing the total up to 93 people dead.

Henry Louis Wallace

Photo:  Charlotte Observer (AP)
Photo: Charlotte Observer (AP)

Wallace, also known as the “Taco Bell Strangler,” raped and murdered 11 Black women in the span of four years in the 90s. Most of the victims were women he knew such as friends and co-workers at the Taco Bell he managed in Charlotte, NC. Ol boy even attended some of their funerals. It wasn’t until Wallace killed two women back-to-back in the same building that the police were onto him. He was arrested in 1994 and sentenced to death.

Chester Turner

Photo:  Nick Ut (AP)
Photo: Nick Ut (AP)

Over a span of 11 years, Turner killed 10 women in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 10 counts of second-degree murder and the superior court judge said the evidence showed Turner would strangle each woman to death for his own sexual pleasure, a nature of cruelty rarely seen in murder trials. By 2014, he was sentenced to death after being found guilty in the killings of an additional four women, per Los Angeles Daily News.

Paul Durousseau

Photo:  The Florida Times-Union, Rick Wilson (AP)
Photo: The Florida Times-Union, Rick Wilson (AP)

Durousseau was a cab driver in Jacksonville when he raped and killed a 26-year-old woman. Following her death, Durousseau took the lives of six other women all under the age of 25. He was finally arrested in 2003 on five counts of murder but DNA linked him to his first killing, upgrading his punishment to the death sentence. In 2021, he had his death penalty conviction overthrown to serve life in prison instead, per News4Jax.

Craig Price

Photo:  Journal-Bulletin, Norman A. Sylvia (AP)
Photo: Journal-Bulletin, Norman A. Sylvia (AP)

Price grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood during the heat of the civil rights movement. Despite having a relatively happy childhood, Craig started experiencing dark thoughts about murder and by the time he turned 13, he had a hefty criminal record including robbery, stalking and assault. Soon, he killed a white woman from his neighborhood. The case went cold until police found he later killed another white woman and her two daughters. He willingly confessed to the murders and was convicted as a minor. His sentence was supposed to have ended in 2017 but his repeated crimes inside prison extended his stay, per WJAR. He goes down in US history as once of the youngest serial killers.

Zebra Killers

Photo:  California Department of Corrections
Photo: California Department of Corrections

In the 70s, a group of young Black men embarked on a killing spree, taking the lives of up to 15 people. Their crimes led to a stop-and-search program to be issued in San Francisco which was widely criticized by Black civil rights leaders as another ploy to harass innocent Black people. However, by 1974, seven Black men were arrested. Three of them got off on bail but the remaining four were convicted on a slew of charges including murder and kidnapping, and sentenced to life in prison.

Carl Eugene Watts

Screenshot:  ABC 13 News
Screenshot: ABC 13 News

Dubbed by the press as the “Sunday Morning Slasher,” Watts was assumed to be experiencing delusion after being diagnosed with Meningitis. When he was younger, he used to hunt rabbits and stalk his female classmates, then he committed his first murder at 15 years old. According to AP, he killed for a span of eight years claiming the lives of 14 to 100 women. He was hard to catch because police couldn’t find a pattern in how he killed. Then, in 1981, one of his victims faked being unconscious and escaped from him, alerting the police. In Texas, he was charged as a non-violent felon after pleading guilty to burglary with intention to kill. However, a witness from Michigan came forward with a testimony sending him to life in prison.

Wayne Williams

Photo:  AP File (AP)
Photo: AP File (AP)

In 1981, Williams was arrested for the murders of two adult men. However, during his trial, prosecutors suggested he was also behind a string of 22 murders of children in Atlanta. Though he maintained his innocence, forensic evidence from his home and vehicle connected him to several victims. He was sentenced to life in prison, though many people still believe he is innocent.

Lonnie Franklin Jr.

Photo:  Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP (AP)
Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via AP (AP)

The “Grim Sleeper” was known to target young Black women who struggled with drug addiction. Franklin was found guilty of killing nine women and one teenager in 2016 and sentenced to death. His killing spree lasted from 1984, all the way to 2007 ; he kept souvenirs from his victims including their jewelry or pictures of them. He was finally arrested in 2010; prosecutors speculated he may have been behind even more murders. Before his execution date, he died in 2020 in his prison cell, per People.

Derrick Todd Lee

Photo:  Baton Rouge Police Department/The Advocate (AP)
Photo: Baton Rouge Police Department/The Advocate (AP)

Though he was only convicted in the murder of two women, Lee was tied to at least six other murders in Louisiana between 1998 and 2003. Prosecutors say he murdered to satisfy a sexual gratification he craved. In 2003, he was sentenced to life in prison for one murder but in 2004, his sentenced was enhanced to the death penalty after being found guilty in another murder.

Mark Goudeau

Photo:  Michael Schennum (AP)
Photo: Michael Schennum (AP)

The “Baseline Killer” killing spree began in August of 2005, per ABC News. Within one year, he was believed to kill nine people as well as commit a string of rapes and assaults. The women of Phoenix were running to self-defense classes and buying firearms for protection. By September of 2006, he was arrested and charges with 94 crimes, including but not excluded to the murders. He had two trials as the public debated on whether he was the killer in question. Right now, he sits on death row.

The entire time, his wife, Carr, stood by him and proclaimed his innocence. “The police have manipulated the media. They’ve said horrible things about Mark. People want to believe that they have the right guy,” Carr said to GMA.

Anthony Sowell

Photo:  Tony Dejak (AP)
Photo: Tony Dejak (AP)

Sowell served 15 years in prison in a rape and was released in the early 2000s. However, in 2009, investigators who suspected him of another rape found the decomposing bodies of two women on the third floor of his house and a grave dug in the basement. Sowell had a total of 10 dead bodies rotting in his home, all of which were vulnerable young women who struggled with drug addiction. Victims who escaped tried to tell the police but some didn’t believe their reports.

Sowell was sentenced to death in 2011 but died in 2021 of an unspecified illness, per Cleveland.com.

More from The Root

Sign up for The Root's Newsletter. For the latest news, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.