Crimes that Shook the World

Monday 28 June, 10:00pm on Five

Chilling drama-documentary series exploring some of the most notorious murders from around the globe. This instalment focuses on the sickening crimes of the ‘Monster of Florence’, a killer who preyed on young lovers in and around the Italian city in the early 1980s. Despite its reputation as one of the most romantic cities in the world, the Florence of 30 years ago was a deeply religious place where pre-marital relationships were frowned upon. Courting couples often sought privacy in the hills and forests, but for some lovers, it was this desire for isolation that ultimately lead to their deaths. On June 6th, 1981, an off-duty policeman made a gruesome discovery that sparked a manhunt for a savage killer. Giovanni Foggi and his 21-year-old lover Carmela Di Nuccio had been to a disco before driving to the hills for an illicit tryst. They were set upon in their car, and killed by numerous knife and gunshot wounds. “We were perplexed by the fury of the attack,” forensic pathologist Giovanni Morello remembers. “Especially the violence inflicted on the girl.” Carmela’s body had been viciously mutilated. “It was as if her entire lower abdomen was missing,” recalls Mario Spezi, the first journalist on the scene. The local police force, the Carabinieri, struggled to find a motive, but connected the killings to a similar unsolved murder that occurred seven years earlier. The connection between the two cases left Florence reeling, but the city breathed a sigh of relief when a local Peeping Tom, Enzo Spalletti, was charged. However, while Spalletti was on remand, the killer struck again. The victims were a bride-to-be and her fianc�. “You could not help but notice the beauty of the girl,” Spezi remembers. “And at the same time, the mutilation was terrible – worse than the other ones.” It was by now painfully clear that a serial killer was at large. Bullet casings found at the scene were linked conclusively with the gun used in the previous two murders. “There was a maniac on the loose, and panic spread through Florence,” recalls Spezi, who named the killer the ‘Monster of Florence’.

Monday 21 June, 10:00pm on Five

The drama-documentary series continues with more profiles of the world’s most shocking crimes. This instalment recounts the chilling career of serial killer Arthur Shawcross, who murdered 11 women in the city of Rochester, New York in the late 1980s. With almost no forensic evidence to build their case, police had to rely on groundbreaking criminal profile work by the FBI to help catch the killer. In March 1988, a body was found in the countryside by the Genesee River. The victim was a prostitute working in the small city of Rochester, New York. In September of that year, a second body was discovered in the same area. As in the first case, the body provided few clues as to the killer. Detectives called upon a forensic anthropologist to create an image of the dead woman’s face and help identify her. Evidence indicated that both women had been strangled. Over a year later, the discovery of a third victim convinced police they were dealing with a serial killer. “I specialised in homicides for 13 years and this was different,” says investigator William Barnes. This was also the conclusion of crime reporter Corey Williams, who visited Rochester’s red-light district and interviewed working girls who believed a killer was targeting them. One of the women interviewed became a victim herself several weeks later. “It hurt to know that only a few weeks before, I’d spoken to this woman,” Corey recalls. The first lead came when a prostitute named Babs reported seeing one of the victims getting into a car with a man named ‘Mitch’ shortly before she died. Unfortunately, Babs did not know the man’s real name or the exact type of car. In search of a breakthrough, Captain Lynde Johnston decided to call on the criminal profiling skills of the FBI. “You just gotta make things happen. By using profiles, it’s one of those tools that we used to make things happen,” says Lynde.

crimes that shook the world
the phoenix strangler (5/6)
23.05–00.05

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the most notorious murderers in recent history. Tonight’s programme tells the story of a serial killer’s 1997 reign of terror in the Phoenix suburb of Durban, South Africa, where 19 young women were lured to their deaths.

In February 1997, a worker in the sugar cane fields of Durban made a grim discovery when he came across a decomposed body that had been bound and burned beyond recognition. Eight and half weeks later, another bound body was discovered near the site of the first. More victims killed in the same way were found in the following weeks in the same area: one in May and four in June.

Frustratingly, the police investigation was hampered by the fact that the bodies had all been burned in the routine torching of the sugar cane fields – a practice on which the killer seemed to rely to destroy evidence. It soon became clear that the seven deaths were the work of a certain type of murderer. This sort of crime was new territory for the police, so psychological profiler Dr Micki Pistorius was brought in to help. She realised that they were dealing with an organised serial killer.

“All people are creatures of habit,” Pistorius explains, “and so is the serial killer.” As well as working out the killer’s modus operandi (MO), the police also had to narrow down their search to the right location. This was not easy, as the vast cane fields were bordered by many small townships, suburbs and squatter camps – but Micki Pistorius’s insight that serial killers usually target their own racial group was to provide a major step forward. As the victims were all young black women, the police narrowed their search down to a black male, probably of a similar age to the victims.

Unfortunately, the black townships bordering the cane fields were notoriously lawless, and the locals not only mistrusted the police but were scared of offering names for fear of retribution within the community. Searching through records of past cases, the police realised that three old murder cases were also the work of the killer they sought.

Two weeks later, the police had a breakthrough when one victim was finally identified. She was a young Zulu named Hlengiwe Mfeka, who had disappeared from her home after meeting a man who promised her work in Durban. “I had a bad feeling,” says Hlengiwe’s sister Grace, who recalls watching her sister leave with the stranger. When the 11th victim was found, the team made some headway: this body was undamaged by fire, so a closer examination of the killer’s MO could be made. After examining the body and visiting the crime scene, Micki Pistorius began to draw up a profile, getting into the mind of the killer and edging closer to identifying the type of person the police were seeking. “He hated women,” she says, describing the murderer as “a very sullen, dark, dangerous animal.”

As more details emerged, the police began to fear that further bodies lay undiscovered in the cane fields. A thorough search revealed seven more victims, along with evidence that the killer’s behaviour was escalating. He was also becoming sloppy and arrogant, leaving a cigarette butt at one scene and two used condoms at another.

When these DNA samples matched a blood sample from an old attempted rape case, the police could finally unmask the identity of the Phoenix Strangler. His name was Sipho Twala – and all that was left to do was catch him. In March 1999, Twala was convicted of 16 counts of murder and sentenced to 506 years in prison. Meanwhile, everyone involved in the case began the long journey towards coming to terms with the horrors that they had witnessed in the course of the investigation.

crimes that shook the world
the backpack murderer (5/6)
23.45–00.45

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the most notorious murderers in recent history. Tonight’s programme tells the story of Ivan Milat, Australia’s most infamous serial killer. In the early 1990s, Milat killed at least seven backpackers and dumped their bodies in a forest in New South Wales.

In 1992, the bodies of British backpackers Caroline Clarke and Joanne Walters were found in the Belanglo State Forest, New South Wales, sparking a hunt for a killer.The two young women had been missing for five months, and were travelling together on the popular Australian backpacker trail when they disappeared.

Studying the deaths, the police were struck by marked differences: Joanne had been stabbed multiple times, while Caroline had been shot repeatedly, as if used for target practice. Dr Rod Milton, forensic psychiatrist, believed the different styles could indicate two killers: “It suggested that one liked… close, personal violence,” he says. “And it suggested that the other one liked violence at a distance.”

Police knew that a 22-calibre rifle had been used in Caroline’s murder, but with few other clues, the case stalled. Then a local man named Bruce Pryor decided to do some investigating of his own. “I’d become a little bit obsessed with thinking I might find some evidence relating to the Clarke and Walters murders,” he says. Pryor scoured thousands of square metres of forest until, in October 1993, he found a human skull. The discovery triggered a renewed search of the forest, eventually turning up a total of five further bodies: two Australians and three Germans.

The causes of the victims’ deaths ranged from stabbing to gunshot wounds to decapitation – adding further fuel to the theory that more than one killer was at work. Bruce Pryor found himself under suspicion, until a man called Alex Milat told police he had seen two girls being abducted in the forest some months ago. Milat’s story did not ring true to detectives; moreover, he was one of 14 siblings in a close-knit family with a string of criminal offences. Although not yet suspects, the Milats were regarded as “persons of interest”.

As news of the murders gripped the media, the police turned to criminal profilers for help. For anthropologist Dr Richard Basham, the ‘target practice’ element of the crimes reminded him of brothers who enjoyed close relationships and went shooting together. The killer might be part of a large but isolated family: “The family would be one which perhaps promoted violent acts or which didn’t inhibit them,” Dr Basham explains. The profile fitted the Milat family, and police began investigating the various brothers with criminal convictions. One of these was Alex Milat’s brother, Ivan –a road worker.

Evidence began to mount against Ivan, including a 22-calibre bullet found in his car, and the revelation that he had been charged with abducting and raping two women in 1971. Then Alex Milat surprised police by handing over a backpack belonging to one of the victims, claiming Ivan had given it to him. Then, most crucially of all, Englishman Paul Onions came forward to report that he had narrowly escaped the backpack killer whilst hitch-hiking in 1992. At last, there was a witness who could seal Ivan’s fate.

To this day, no one knows why Ivan committed these crimes, or how many people he killed. And, despite police assurances to the contrary, is it possible there really was another killer?

crimes that shook the world
the vienna strangler (4/6)
23.40–00.40

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the most notorious murderers in recent history. Tonight’s episode recounts the sensational story of Johann ‘Jack’ Unterweger, the Austrian media figure who was responsible for a string of murders across Europe and America in the early 1990s.

Austria is one of the safest countries in the world, with very low crime rates. When the Austrian police were faced with their first ever serial killer, therefore, the whole nation took notice. The case was especially notable because the leading suspect in a string of 11 murders across Austria, the Czech Republic and as far as Los Angeles, was one of the most prominent figures of the Viennese intelligentsia, Jack Unterweger –a celebrated writer, broadcaster and former criminal. The charismatic and well-heeled Unterweger had served 14 years in jail for the murder of a girl in 1974 and was hailed as a shining example of the effectiveness of the reform system.

In 1990, seven prostitutes across Austria were found murdered or reported missing. The victims who were discovered had all been strangled with their own underwear and dumped, usually in woodland. This sparked the first nationwide murder hunt in Austrian history. What the Austrian authorities did not know was that three prostitutes were also murdered in the same way in Los Angeles –by the same killer.

The Austrian police had few leads and little forensic evidence, but a breakthrough was made when a retired detective noticed similarities between the recent murders and that of Unterweger’s first victim in 1974. The authorities could scarcely believe that someone as highprofile as Unterweger could be responsible for these murders. The brazen broadcaster had even discussed the case on television and interviewed the leading detectives on the radio. However, with no other suspects, the police put Unterweger under surveillance.

When one of the missing prostitutes was found murdered in the same way as the others, the cops moved to arrest their man, but he had disappeared. This is when the media got hold of the story that a media darling was the chief suspect. In Unterweger’sabsence, the police raided his house and found bills and receipts placing him near to the final sightings of the victims. They also found documentation concerning his visit to the LAPD while he had been under surveillance in Austria, so they called the Californian authorities to find out why. The Austrians were in for a big shock –it was not long before the LAPD realised that Unterweger was responsible for the string of similar prostitute murders in LA. “We knew from this moment on we had an international serial killer,” says Chief Investigator Dr Ernst Geiger.

Thus began an international manhunt for Unterweger, who was still in hiding. However, the Americans eventually arrested him in Miami, and he was extradited back to Austria where he stood trial. The Austrian authorities, aided by the muscle of the FBI, only had circumstantial evidence against him, but a large quantity of it. All the strangluations were committed with exactly the same slipknot –the killer’s signature. At this point, another prostitute was discovered in the Czech Republic, and the Austrians were able to prove the victim had been in Unterweger’s car shortly before her death.

They now had enough evidence to convince the jury of Johann Unterweger’s guilt. Unterweger was sentenced to life without the chance of parole for nine of the murders. Hours after his sentencing, Unterweger hung himself in his cell. “He killed himself in the same way he killed the women,” says Austrian detective Max Edelbacher. “This is evidence enough.”

crimes that shook the world
the green river killer (3/6)
22.55–23.55

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the most notorious murderers in recent history. Tonight’s episode examines the Green River Killer case – America’s longest-running and most prolific series of murders.

For almost two decades, citizens of Seattle on the west coast of the USA quaked in the shadow of the Green River Killer –a murderer so prolific that, by the time he was caught, more than 48 women had lost their lives in Washington State. Detective David Reichart, the lead detective of the Green River Task Force, explains that it was a difficult time for the residents of the city: “There was a dark cloud over this community for a very, very long time,” he says.

On August 15 1982, a rafter on Green River spotted the bodies of three women floating among the reeds. When the bodies were recovered, police noted that the killer had strangled and had sex with all of the women. A month before, two other women had died in a similar way: King County police had a serial killer on their hands.

Detective Reichart had to move quickly and soon made a vital discovery: all five victims had worked as prostitutes on the notorious SeaTac Strip. But the prostitutes were reluctant to communicate with the police, and the prevalence of drug and alcohol problems in the area made eyewitness accounts unreliable. “Get off the street –there’s a killer on the loose,” was Reichart’s advice, but women continued to take the risk and the victim list grew.

Until now, the victims had been found in water but, in September 1982, the killer began to dump bodies in urban waste grounds. This led to another problem for detectives: as forensic anthropolgist Bill Hagland recalls, when “you find bodies dumped in this context,” it becomes impossible to decide “what’s evidence and what’s not.” The crime lab was presented with the mammoth task of sifting through over 10,000 pieces of evidence.

“We were way behind by the middle of 1983,” says Reichart. By the end of that year, the body count had risen to 15, and the detective’s task force had swelled to 40 officers. Over the following six months, two new victims were being discovered each week. The phones were constantly jammed with tip-offs, but still the women kept disappearing.

Police then turned to psychological profilers to examine the ‘type’ of person responsible for the killings. This led them to Melvin Foster –a taxi driver who knew many of the victims. Foster became the prime suspect and a number of searches and interviews followed. However, the man was innocent and, after a costly investigation, police were forced to admit they had wasted their time.

By 1987, 36 women were dead, but police were no nearer to finding the truth. However, things were about to change. Eyewitness accounts pointed to a new suspect who drove a pickup truck, so detective Matt Haney ran a list of everyone who owned such a vehicle in the area. This led him to Gary Ridgeway, who had been arrested some years ago for a separate offence. Haney obtained a warrant to search Ridgeway’s property, but no real evidence was found. “It was no time to quit,” insists Haney but, with the police keen not to harrass another innocent man, Ridgeway was released.

The case lost momentum and, after eight years of hard work, the evidence was filed away. It was not until 1999, when scientific breakthroughs in DNA profiling gave detectives new leads, that the case reopened, and police were forced to realise how close they had come to catching the killer so many years before. On 30 November 2001, Gary Ridgeway was finally arrested. Now that they had their man in custody, however, the police were faced with a whole new challenge: to build the case against the Green River Killer.

crimes that shook the world
btk (2/6)
23.35–00.40

Continuing on Five this week is the documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the most notorious serial killers in recent history. Tonight’s episode looks at the crimes of BTK, an infamous murderer who preyed on women and families during a 30-year reign of terror in Kansas. Named for his method of binding, torturing and killing his victims, BTK mocked police efforts to find him until a careless mistake exposed his identity.

In January 1974, police in Wichita, Kansas, were called to the home of the Otero family, where all four members had been strangled to death. Elevenyear-old Josephine Otero had also been the victim of a sexual assault. In the community of Wichita – the biggest city in the state known as “the Buckle on the Bible Belt” –such a crime was unthinkable. For the town’s police, the Otero murders were the beginning of a long battle with an anonymous foe.

The only evidence from the scene was semen left by the killer, but in an age before DNA testing, it provided few leads. In October 1974, three men confessed to the murders, only for their claims to be disputed by the real killer. The culprit wrote to police boasting knowledge of the crime that only the killer could know. Criminal profilers have since been able to analyse BTK’s actions: “BTK certainly suffered from malignant narcissism,” says FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood. “That’s when you begin to consider yourself superior to others –that you’re incapable of making mistakes, and you have a desperate need for attention.”

The Killer’s craving for attention even led him to dub himself ‘BTK’. But following the initial letter, nothing was heard from him for three years, until a pair of young women were killed. The police decided to warn the public that a serial killer was on the loose, and even inserted a subliminal message into a TV broadcast, urging the killer to ‘call the chief’. The ploy failed, and BTK went underground again. In 1985, the body of a 53-year-old woman was found in a ditch, followed six years later by the discovery of another probable victim.

However, it was not until 2004 that a breakthrough in DNA technology allowed police to create a profile of BTK from the semen in the Otero case. In addition, a book claiming that BTK was dead helped drive the killer out of his silence. BTK wrote to police claiming credit for a murder in 1986. Police Lieutenant Landwehr saw an opportunity to forge a bond with the killer: “The strategy was to keep him talking,” he says. “We wanted the frequency of communications to increase.”

BTK responded to Landwehr’s appeals with a series of notes. In one case, he was caught on camera leaving a package in a truck. Though the man could not be seen, his vehicle was identified as a black jeep. Then the killer made a fatal error: he promised to send more messages by disk if the police assured him that they could not be traced to the computer that authored them. “He felt himself in such a powerful position, and the police were so dependent on him for information, that they couldn’t possibly lie to him,” Hazelwood says.

BTK was tricked into sending his next message via disk – only for police to trace it to the Christ Lutheran Church. The name ‘Dennis’ was saved on a file. The president of the congregation was one Dennis Rader, the owner of a black jeep. When medical records matched his DNA with that of BTK, police rushed to arrest their suspect. With his identity finally revealed, this religious family man began to divulge his chilling secrets stretching back 30 years…

crimes that shook the world
btk (1/5)
23.30–00.30

Beginning on Five this week is a documentary series that lifts the lid on some of the 20th century’s most shocking crimes. Using archive footage, reconstructions and interviews, the series profiles the worst serial killers in recent history. Tonight’s episode looks at the crimes of BTK, a notorious murderer who preyed on women and families during a 30-year reign of terror in Kansas. Named for his method of binding, torturing and killing his victims, BTK mocked police efforts to find him until a careless mistake exposed his identity.

In January 1974, police in Wichita, Kansas, were called to the home of the Otero family, where all four members had been strangled to death. Elevenyear-old Josephine Otero had also been the victim of a sexual assault. In the community of Wichita, such a crime seemed unthinkable. Built on the prairies of the Midwest, Wichita was the biggest city in Kansas, the state known as “the Buckle on the Bible Belt”. For the town’s police, the Otero murders were the beginning of a long battle with an anonymous foe.

The only evidence from the scene was semen left by the killer, but in an age before DNA testing, it provided few leads. In October 1974, three men confessed to the murders, only for their claims to be disputed by the real killer. The culprit wrote to police boasting knowledge of the crime that only the killer could know. Criminal profilers have since been able to analyse BTK’s actions: “BTK certainly suffered from malignant narcissism,” says FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood. “That’s when you begin to consider yourself superior to others –that you’re incapable of making mistakes, and you have a desperate need for attention.”

The Killer’s craving for attention even led him to dub himself ‘BTK’. But following the initial letter, nothing was heard from him for three years, until a pair of young women were killed. The police decided to warn the public that a serial killer was on the loose, and even inserted a subliminal message into a TV broadcast, urging the killer to ‘call the chief’. The ploy failed, and BTK went underground again. In 1985, the body of a 53-year-old woman was found in a ditch, followed six years later by the discovery of another probable victim.

However, it was not until 2004 that a breakthrough in DNA technology allowed police to create a profile of BTK from the semen in the Otero case. In addition, a book claiming that BTK was dead helped drive the killer out of his silence. BTK wrote to police claiming credit for a murder in 1986. Police Lieutenant Landwehr saw an opportunity to forge a bond with the killer: “The strategy was to keep him talking,” he says. “We wanted the frequency of communications to increase.”

BTK responded to Landwehr’s appeals with a series of notes. In one case, he was caught on camera leaving a package in a truck. Though the man could not be seen, his vehicle was identified as a black jeep. Then the killer made a fatal error: he promised to send more messages by disk if the police assured him that they could not be traced to the computer that authored them. “He felt himself in such a powerful position, and the police were so dependent on him for information, that they couldn’t possibly lie to him,” Hazelwood says.

BTK was tricked into sending his next message via disk – only for police to trace it to the Christ Lutheran Church. The name ‘Dennis’ was saved on a file. The president of the congregation was one Dennis Rader, the owner of a black jeep. When medical records matched his DNA with that of BTK, police rushed to arrest their suspect. With his identity finally revealed, this religious family man began to reveal his chilling secrets stretching back 30 years…

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