Movies Depicting Real Murderers


Hollywood likes to make movies about murderers, real and fictional.  Movies have been made about Jack the Ripper, about Billy the Kid, about Lizzie  Borden---if you are a murderer and generate significant press, then the chances are very good that Hollywood will make a movie about you---especially if you kill more than one person!


Movies have been made about the following serial killers who were caught during the last half of the 20th century: Charles Starkweather (1939-1959), Albert DeSalvo (1931-1973), known as the Boston Strangler, Charles Manson (1934-  ), David Berkowitz (1953-  ), known as the Son of Sam killer, and Ted Bundy (1946-1989).  Movies have been made about other murderers; however, these five are arguably the most famous murderers who had movies made about them.


Starkweather: Charles at age 19 had a girlfriend, 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate.  Her parents didn't particularly like her boyfriend, quite understandable given the age difference and his appearance---he struck the pose of the rebel emulating his idol James Dean.  The parents also knew he was an unemployed 9th grade dropout.  What the parents didn't know was that some seven weeks earlier he had killed a gas-station attendant during a holdup.  He got in an argument with the parents and killed both of them as well as murdering Caril Ann's two-year-old half-sister.  Caril Ann and Charlie then took off on a cross-country crime spree killing eight more before getting caught.


DeSalvo: Albert grew up with brutality---his siblings and mother were victims of his father.  At the age of seven he saw his father take his mothers hand and bend it back until her fingers were all broken.  So, Albert became a sadist and began a life of crime.  Although he created an image of a stable person, married with children, he really went about killing 13 women.  He also was involved in nonlethal rapes.  It was the rapes that led to his arrest and while incarcerated he bragged about the murders and was then charged and convicted of them.  He was stabbed to death while serving his sentence---his murderer was never caught.


Manson: Charlie at his birth was officially listed as "No Name Maddox" as his 16 year old unwed mother never was able to handle the demands of motherhood.  Growing up he was passed from one set of relatives to another---and the relatives were anything but a stable crowd.  His grandmother was a religious zealot, his grandfather was an alcoholic who became psychotic, one uncle dressed Charlie up on his first day of school in a dress as a punishment for his sissy ways.  They eventually dumped him off at the Gibault Home for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana and that was the beginning of his life of being institutionalized.  He became a thief and a pimp and went in and out of prison.  Then he discovered the hippy movement and this led to his being able to gather a cult around him, which led to the infamous murders in Hollywood that he and his band were convicted of.  Once again we see how the killers are caught by their telling others of their crimes---not by any clever police.  Susan Atkins, one of his cult members, was in jail on other charges and bragged about the killings to cellmates who informed on her.


Berkowitz: David was a postal worker, described by coworkers as courteous and dependable, in New York City who went around killing people randomly---when no motive exists, it is very hard to catch someone.  In his case he was caught thanks to a parking ticket!  He killed six and wounded one before being caught.  He explained that: "I didn't want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them."  He was sentenced to over 300 years in prison.  The case was referred to as the "Son of Sam" case because Berkowitz stated that he got his orders to kill demonically from a dog owned by Sam Carr.  After his conviction he admitted that he had made up this story as a way of diminishing his guilt and responsibility.  This is a good example of the type of "mitigating evidence" that is likely to backfire because a jury is not likely to view it favorably---even if it were true.


Bundy: Ted was a handsome, likable, intelligent, psychology major at the University of Washington who went on to study law at the University of Utah.  People saw him as destined for success.  However, a closer look revealed that this illegitimate child during his first four years of life lived with his mother and grandparents and was passed off as the grandparents' child.  He later became a liar and petty thief, then a Peeping Tom, then fantasized about assaulting young women---and eventually he graduated to a violent sexually motivated serial murderer.


He was first arrested for attempted kidnapping and twice escaped from custody.  He was eventually arrested again, but this time for murder and was convicted.  For over ten years he filed appeals claiming his innocence.  When this failed, Bundy prolonged his execution date by confessing to 28 killings but still ended up being electrocuted.



Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of these people is that they have little in common except for their being multiple murderers.  Well educated or a dropout, sophisticated or semi-literate, regularly employed or close to unemployable, married or single, they are a very varied group.  All with little hesitation if any when it comes to taking the life of another person.