The Most Notorious Criminals in Every State
From the infamous (Jesse James, Butch Cassidy) to the horrific (the BTK Killer, Jeffery Dahmer), here are the worst residents of every state in the union.
Alabama: Joseph Dewey Akin
Nurse Joseph Dewey Akin stands out because in his job he was supposed to be saving lives, not taking them. But that’s what authorities believe he spent career doing: Over ten-year period while working at about 20 different healthcare facilities, Akin is suspected to have ended the lives of 100 people, including a quadriplegic he pleaded guilty to killing with a lethal dose of lidocaine.
Alaska: Israel Keyes
Per capita, Alaska has more serial killers than any other state. Some experts point to the long, dreary winters as a factor, though what made Israel Keyes tick is anyone’s guess. One of his more hideous acts was kidnapping and murdering a young woman in Anchorage, hiding her body, going on a cruise, and then, upon returning, convincing the woman’s family to pay a ransom for their daughter. He eventually confessed to murdering five others. Keyes took his own life in a jail cell while awaiting trial.
Arizona: Jodi Arias
Thanks to the intense news coverage of the 2013 trial of Jodi Arias over the 2008 murder of former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, Arias is arguably a more notorious criminal than even Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six and injured 13 in his assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon. Arias spent a shocking 18 consecutive days testifying on her own behalf, attempting to resolve several years’ worth of conflicting stories she’d told about what really happened to Alexander and ultimately claiming she killed him in “self-defense”—unsuccessfully. Find out the 38 dumbest criminals of all time.
Arkansas: Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson
Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson aren’t the first or most prolific school shooters. But their age at the time of their crimes (11 and 13, respectively), and the fact that they are now still alive (a rarity among school shooters) and out of prison having been released on their 21st birthdays makes them Arkansas’s most notorious criminals. Here are the powerful things people are doing to prevent school shootings.
California: Charles Manson
California has its share of infamous criminals, but none as notable as Charles Manson, the cult leader whose followers carried out a murder spree in Hollywood in the late 1960s that took the life of approximately 35 people, including the actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child. Read more about Manson in the true crime book, Helter Skelter— here are some other amazing true crime books to check out.
Colorado: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris
The deadly 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School made the two teens at its center, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Colorado’s most notorious criminals. With only two weeks left before they were to graduate from high school, Klebold and Harris executed a killing spree they’d been planning for more than a year. Their motive was revenge on people they accused of bullying them. They killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives. Here’s some insight into the minds of mass shooters.
Connecticut: Adam Lanza
In one of the most disgusting acts imaginable, Adam Lanza murdered 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown before shooting himself in December 2012.
Steven Brian Pennell, also known as the Route 40 Killer, is the only documented serial killer in Delaware history. When he was executed in 1992 for committing three murders, it was the first execution in Delaware since 1976 (the year the death penalty was reinstated). Those close to the case still can’t figure out why this young married man with two children would have hunted women on a lonely stretch of highway.
Florida: Aileen Wuornos
Serial killer Aileen Wuornos was found guilty of murdering six men between 1989 and 1990. Wuornos was a tragic case: She was abused as a child, abandoned, and later made a living as a sex worker along Florida’s highways. Executed in Florida in 2002, Wuornos story was made into the film, Monster, which starred Charlize Theron. Read more about the criminals who left major crime-scene evidence behind.
Georgia: Paul John Knowles
The so-called Casanova Killer, Paul John Knowles, exploited his good looks and charm to ingratiate himself with his victims. He claims to have killed up to 35 people; authorities have tied him to at least 18 murders. Born in Florida in 1946, he made his way to Georgia in 1974 and began his spree, killing mostly women—many of whom invited him into their homes. Thriving on attention, Knowles idolized the outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, and like them, was shot to death by law enforcement.
Hawaii: Bryan Koji Uyesugi
In 1999, Bryan Koji Uyesugi, a Xerox technician, shot up a Xerox Engineering Systems office in Honolulu, killed seven people and fled in a van before being tracked down by police. This was the worst mass murder in Hawaii’s history, and it drew attention to violence in the workplace.
Idaho: James Edward Wood
“Convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for the kidnapping and murder of an 11-year-old Idaho girl, James Wood [is] credited with at least 85 rapes, 185 robberies, and dozens of murders,” according to Murderpedia. Wood died in prison in 2002 of a heart attack.
James Earl Ray, the small-time-criminal-turned assassin of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Alton in 1928. Many believe that Ray, who plotted the assassination for several months before executing it on April 4, 1968, was motivated by segregationist sentiments, though he apparently thought he could make money by targeting black civil rights leaders. He died in prison in 1998.
Indiana: John Dillinger
“John Herbert Dillinger, Jr. was a … bank robber, auto thief, and fugitive who captured the national imagination until the FBI caught up with him in 1934,” according to the FBI. Born in 1903 in Indianapolis, Dillinger terrorized the Midwest, including killing a member of law enforcement before he went down in a hail of bullets on July 22, 1934. In addition to his prolific list of crimes, what makes Dillinger even more infamous is the fact that he was idolized by many downtrodden Americans during the Depression as a Robin Hood-like figure.
Iowa: Robert Ben Rhoades
Known as the Truckstop Killer, Rober Ben Rhoades converted the sleeper cab on his semi into a torture chamber. Authorities believe the Council Bluffs native may have been responsible for the rape and murder of more than 50 women, though they’ve only confirmed three victims. Rhoades was caught when a police officer approached his truck, parked on the side of the road with the hazard lights on. Inside, a handcuffed nude woman was screaming for help. He’s currently serving a life sentence.
Dennis Rader will forever be remembered as the BTK Killer (bind, torture, kill), who murdered ten people in the Wichita area from the mid-1970s through 1991. A Kansas native, Rader appeared to be a family man and a hard worker, but his zest for leaving clues to taunt authorities led to his capture and conviction. His story inspired Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, which became a film in 2014 that starred Anthony LaPaglia and Joan Allen. Here’s how you can avoid being an easy target for criminals.
Kentucky: Donald Harvey
Kentucky is where Donald Harvey got his start in 1970 as a prolific “angel of death”: During a ten-month period, he killed at least 12 patients while working as an orderly at Marymount Hospital in London. Harvey claimed to have murdered 87 people all told. He managed to keep his crimes hidden for nearly two decades before finally being arrested and convicted in 1987. He died in prison in 2017.
Louisiana: Bonnie and Clyde
Louisiana has its share of notorious criminals, but it also happens to be where the crazed lovers, robbers, and killers, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met their demise in 1934. At the time, they were wanted for at least 13 killings—three of whom were law enforcement officers. The gunfight that ended their Depression-era reign of terror lasted a mere 12 seconds, but the nation’s romanticizing of them has never really ended. They’re the subject of numerous books, movies, and popular songs. Find out the strangest unsolved mysteries of all time.
Maine: James Purrington
His name may bring to mind a harmless cat, but don’t be fooled: James Purrington killed his wife, seven of his eight children (he left the eighth for dead, but the 17-year-old boy survived), and himself on a summer morning in 1806 at their home in Bowdoinham. It’s believed he was struggling with mental illness.
Maryland: John Wilkes Booth
His name that will live in infamy: John Wilkes Booth, a native of Maryland, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865. Booth, an actor, didn’t act alone, but it was his bullet that ended Lincoln’s life as he yelled out, “Sic semper tyrannis! [Thus always to tyrants!] The South is avenged.”
Massachusetts: Whitey Bulger
It takes a lot to displace Lizzie Borden and her ax, but James “Whitey” Bulger, who was born in Dorchester in 1929, was a far more prolific criminal. After being apprehended in 2011, Bulger was convicted of federal racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and 11 murders. A prominent member of Boston’s organized crime scene from the 1970s through the 1990s, Bulger had been on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list since 1995. At 89, he was killed in a West Virginia prison in 2018 while he was serving a life sentence.
Michigan: John Eric Armstrong
Mild-mannered 300-pound giant, John Eric Armstrong of Dearborn Heights, was a decorated Navy man, a “good neighbor,” and a devoted dad. But by his own account, he couldn’t get over his breakup with his high school girlfriend and had been punishing women by raping and murdering them starting in 1992, at the age of 17. He was convicted in 2001 and remains incarcerated for life.
Minnesota: Tom Petters
While Minnesotans are known for being nice, there’s no denying Minnesota native Tom Petters, who was convicted of a $3.65 billion dollar Ponzi scheme, did not fit the bill—though he did donate a lot of his ill-gotten gains to charity. He’s currently serving a 50-year sentence in Leavenworth. Find out the biggest lies ever made in history.
Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of planning and directing the 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. (The events inspired the movie Mississippi Burning.) He wasn’t tried and convicted until 2005.
Missouri: Jesse James
Born on in Kearney in 1847, Jesse James made a name for himself as a bank robber, train robber, and leader of the James-Younger gang and between 1860 and 1882. At his peak, James was one of the most feared criminals in American history. After his death at the hands of fellow gang member, Robert Ford, in 1882, James became a legend of the Old West. Speaking of legends, did you know these creepy urban legends all have their basis in truth?
Montana: Ted Kaczynski
Living in the backwoods of Montana, Ted Kaczynski built and sent mail bombs that killed three people and injured 23 more between 1978 and 1995. He moved to the state in the early 1970s and lead a remote, survivalist lifestyle while developing his anti-government ethos. The name Unabomber came from FBI, and it combined “university” and “airline,” Kaczynski’s preferred targets.
Nebraska: Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate
Although they were captured in Wyoming, it was in Nebraska that 20-year-old Charlie Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate, began a murder spree in 1958. During a one-week period, Starkweather—and possibly Fugate—killed 11 people, including Caril’s mother, stepfather, and baby half-sister. The remaining murders were committed during a violent statewide road-trip. Their story has been referenced in numerous movies, books, and songs—most notably in the film Badlands and the song “Nebraska” by Bruce Springsteen.
Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was born in New York (in 1906) and died in California (in 1947), but he rose to infamy in Las Vegas. Siegel supervised the organized crime-funded construction of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. It was to be his final criminal endeavor—the construction went $4 million over budget, and his mob bosses ordered a hit on Siegel. He was shot to death in his Beverly Hills home.
Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861 to an affluent New Hampshire family. His criminal behavior began with simple con games but soon rose to murder. Known as America’s first serial killer, Holmes may have killed as many as 200 people, many of them in a house he built for precisely that purpose—known as the Murder Castle. You can read more about the Holmes story in the excellent book, Devil in the White City, which is in plans to be made into a feature-length film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Read this story about two men who confessed to the same murder.
New Jersey: Bruno Richard Hauptmann
The most notorious crime committed by Bruno Richard Hauptmann may be more notorious than the criminal, himself. Hauptmann was convicted and executed for the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh, Jr. from the Lindbergh home in Hopewell, New Jersey. The 20-month old toddler was the son of famous transatlantic aviator, Charles Lindbergh and his wife. Although Lindbergh paid $70,000 in ransom, Charles Jr. was found murdered. Did you grow up thinking Lindbergh was the first aviator to cross the Atlantic? Sorry, but it’s a myth. And here are more history myths you might have been taught.
New Mexico: Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid was born in New York in 1859 but gained fame as a Wild West legend. He claimed to have killed 21 people, and he participated in the famed Lincoln County War in New Mexico. Soon after, he was arrested and sentenced to death for the murder of a law enforcement officer, but then escaped by killing the guards charged with holding him. Billy was finally shot down in 1881 by Fort Sumner by Sheriff Pat Garett.
New York: Robert Chambers
Between David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam killer who terrorized New York City), John Gotti (the infamous “Dapper Don” crime boss), and Bernie Madoff (whose multi-billion-dollar investment firm turned out to be a devastating Ponzi scheme), it’s tough to settle on a most-notorious criminal. But we’re going with Robert Chambers, the handsome, private-school-educated “preppie,” who murdered 18-year-old Jennifer Levin behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The so-called “Preppie Murder” forever changed the way many thought of consensual sex and seemingly innocent teenage dramas.
North Carolina: Henry Louis Wallace
Most serial killers go after strangers: Henry Louis Wallace targeted people he knew—and all of his victims were African-American women. Many in the African-American community were outraged that law enforcement wasn’t more proactive in pursuing the so-called Taco Bell Strangler (Wallace was a manager at the chain and killed several employees). Ever wonder how prejudices develop? There’s a psychological explanation.
North Dakota: Harry Louis Carignan
North Dakota-born Harry Louis Carignan was sentenced to death for a murder he committed in Anchorage, Alaska way back in 1949. But due to law enforcement error in eliciting Carignan’s confession, Carignan’s sentence was reversed. He stayed in prison for another nine years on rape charges and then was paroled in 1960. He a went on to abduct, assault, and murder a number of other women across the country before he was apprehended in 1974 in Minnesota. His conviction resulted in a 40-year sentence, which he’s still serving today. Here are 9 historic stories of heroism to inspire you right about now.
Ohio: Jeffrey Dahmer
The Milwaukee Cannibal may have done most of his damage in Wisconsin, but Dahmer spent most of his childhood in Ohio. His horrific upbringing included sexual abuse by a neighbor, neglect by his mentally ill mother, and being treated as a misfit by everyone. Born in 1960, he committed his first murder in 1978 and continued until he was caught in 1991. Sentenced to 15 life terms, he was murdered by an inmate less than four years in.
Oklahoma: Timothy McVeigh
Raised in New York in 1968, Timothy McVeigh earned a Bronze Star from the Army for his service in the Persian Gulf. But he returned disillusioned and soon began planning what would become one of the most deadly acts of domestic terrorism in American history: The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The bombing, which took place in September 1994, killed 168 people, including 19 young children. At least 650 other people were wounded.
Oregon: Randall Woodfield
In 1974, Oregon-born Randall Woodfield was a handsome, all-American boy from a well-to-do family who was all set to play football for the Green Bay Packers when he was cut from the team after a series of arrests for indecent exposure. A closer look at his background would reveal a lifetime of strange behavior, including an indecent exposure arrest during high school, but not before Woodfield would go on to become the “I-5 Killer” for the robberies, sexual assaults, and murders he committed along the Interstate 5, which runs through Oregon as well as Washington and California. Woodfield is currently serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of a woman from Salem, Oregon, but he’s linked to nearly 20 other murders and suspected of murdering nearly 50 during his late-1970s spree.
Pennsylvania: The Sundance Kid
Born in Mon Clare in 1867 as Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid embarked on his life in crime when he met Butch Cassidy, the leader of the criminal gang known as the “Wild Bunch.” Together, they committed the longest successful run of train and bank robberies in American history. It’s believed Sundance died on the run in Bolivia in 1908. The story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was immortalized in the 1969 film of the same name.
Rhode Island: The Patriarca Crime Family
The Patriarca crime family were brought down in part by notorious Massachusetts criminal (turned informant) Whitey Bulger. The family was the largest organized crime organization in Rhode Island. Founded in 1916 by Gaspare Messina—but renamed in the 1950s for boss Raymond Patriarca—members of this criminal enterprise have been indicted time and again on numerous racketeering charges. Here are the secrets the FBI doesn’t want you to know.
South Carolina: Susan Smith
While Donald Pee Wee Gaskins is known as the most prolific serial killer in South Carolina, it may be Susan Smith who has the most name recognition. The South Carolina native sent her two toddler sons to a watery grave in 1994 by strapping them into her Mazda and rolling it into John D. Long Lake. Smith initially claimed the children had been abducted by a “strange man.” Eventually, the truth came out.
South Dakota: James Brudos
Serial murderer James Brudos was born in South Dakota in 1939 and suffered a troubled childhood that may have led to his developing some dark and violent fetishes. During the 1960s, he committed a series of murders in Oregon that earned him the moniker the Shoe Fetish Slayer. Apprehended in 1969, he died in prison in 2006.
Tennessee: Machine Gun Kelly
George Kelly Barnes was born in Memphis in 1895. He began his criminal career in bootlegging and then moved up to bank robbery. He got his first machine gun—and his nickname—from his wife, who became his accomplice. After kidnapping a wealthy oil tycoon, Kelly was finally caught, arrested, and sentenced to life in prison in 1933. He died in 1954.
Texas: Kenneth Lay
Some people don’t use a gun to commit their crimes: Kenneth Lay was born in Missouri but became, arguably, Texas’s most notorious criminal because of his role as chairman and chief executive of Enron Corp, which he helped drive into bankruptcy by selling off $300 million in stock over more than a decade. The bankruptcy filing was the biggest in U.S. history at the time, cost 20,000 employees their jobs and their life savings, and losing billions of investor dollars. Although Lay was indicted on 11 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false and misleading statements, he died before sentencing.
Utah: Butch Cassidy
The leader of the Wild Bunch gang and partner-in-crime with the Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy was born Robert Leroy Parker in 1866 in Beaver, UT. Cassidy, who took his name from Mike Cassidy, a cattle thief he met during his travels, is known as one of the “great hustlers” of the American West. He began his life of crime long before he met the Sundance Kid, and there is speculation he survived the shootout that killed Sundance, returning to the States where he died of cancer in 1937.
Ted Bundy, considered by many to be the most notorious criminal of the 20th century, was born in Burlington, Vermont in 1946. Handsome and charming, Bundy admitted to killing 36 women in the 1970s—across a number of states but mostly in Florida; law enforcement estimates the number of victims higher—as many as 100. He was executed in Florida in 1989, so the truth may never be known.
Virginia: Seung-Hui Cho
Born in South Korea in 1984, Seung-Hui Cho was the shooter who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University in 2007. The shooting at Virginia Tech is known as one of the most devastating mass murders in American history, according to Biography and the largest campus shooting since the Texas Tower shooting in 1966 at the University of Texas, Austin. In a haunting letter to the media written before the shootings and actually mailed during his murderous spree, Seung-Hui Cho referenced the Columbine school shooters, Klebold and Harris. Like Klebold and Harris, he ended the spree by turning his gun on himself.
Washington: Gary Leon Ridgway
Gary Leon Ridgway is Oregon’s Green River Killer. Born in 1949 and now serving 48 consecutive life terms, Ridgway confessed to killing 48 women, most in South King County, between 1982 and 1998. In 2013, he claimed that he had actually murdered closer to 80 women. No one is sure whether Ridgway was telling the truth or merely seeking media attention.
West Virginia: Sheila Eddy and Rachel Shoaf
Sixteen-year-old Sheila Eddy and Rachel Shoaf committed the atrocious and senseless crime of murdering their best friend, Skylar Neese in July 2012 after luring her into their deadly trap. The girls’ inexplicable violence and cruelty caught the attention of people across the country, and the crime, itself led to the enactment of Skylar’s Law, requiring Amber Alerts for all missing children (as opposed to only those suspected of being kidnapped).
Wisconsin: Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser
In another tale of young girls inexplicably turning on a friend, 12-year-olds Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser tried to murder their same-age friend Payton Leutner. The motive? They were trying to placate an imaginary Internet character known as the “Slender Man.” Leutner survived, and both Weier and Geyser are spending the next several decades in mental institutions.
Wyoming: Polly Bartlett and Keith Hunter Jesperson
Polly Bartlett has been called the “first and worst” serial killer in Wyoming history. She ran a boarding house where she may have poisoned as many as 22 of her guests before she was shot by a friend of one of her victims. Keith Hunter Jesperson is far less of a prolific killer but captured media attention when he drew a happy face alongside a murder confession in 1990. While the “Happy Face Killer” claims a body count of 160, he’s forensically linked to only eight. He’s currently serving time in an Oregon prison. Next, learn the spookiest urban legends from every state.