Serial Killers and Their Killing Fields

Some have a preferred dumping ground, to enhance their sense of dominance.

Posted Aug 13, 2020

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

On November 3, 2016, police heard banging from inside a metal shipping container on Todd Kohlhepp’s 95-acre wooded property near Woodruff, SC. They found Kala Brown, missing for two months, chained up inside. She told them Kohlhepp had killed her boyfriend, Charlie Carver. Under arrest, Kohlhepp admitted he’d murdered seven people in three separate incidents: four in a motorcycle shop, Kala’s boyfriend, and another couple, Johnny and Meagan Coxie. Kala was likely next.

Searchers found Carver’s vehicle in a ravine and his body, wrapped in a tarp, buried across from the shipping container. Kohlhepp led investigators to the Coxie graves. Apparently, he liked to use the place to lure people on the pretense of hiring them to clear brush. Then he’d kill the male and keep the woman for sex. Not many serial killers have the means to own so much property on which to hide bodies.

Herb Baumeister used his Fox Hollow Farm property in Indiana for similar purposes. In June 1996, his wife let police investigate as Baumeister fled to Canada, where he wrote a suicide note and shot himself. Their son had found a skull and some bones on the property, which Baumeister had explained away as a medical specimen from his father’s collection. When detectives went to where the bones had been, they found a scorched area. Soon, they dug up human remains, along with a rusty pair of handcuffs. Over 5,500 human bones and bone fragments were collected from the burn spot, and there were more in a distant compost area. They estimated that 11 men had been buried there.

Other killers have located dumping grounds that worked surprisingly well for a while. The ABC Killer in South Africa, identified as Moses Sithole, had three different places. Between July and October 1994, the bodies of a dozen young adult Black females, raped and strangled, were discovered in a remote area around the Pretoria-Johannesburg suburb of Cleveland. Some had been in place for several months. Then near Atteridgeville about 40 miles north, 15 more bodies turned up. Ten miles east of Cleveland, in a Boksburg suburb, 10 were found. Sithole had lured women in need with the promise of a job. He was charming and well dressed, so he easily fooled them into thinking he’d come through on his promise. Instead, he killed and dumped them in his killing fields.

In the Seattle, Washington area, Gary Ridgway and Ted Bundy both had favorite spots. From 1982-1984, Ridgeway, the “Green River Killer,” strangled and stabbed numerous women and discarded their bodies in the Green River area. In 1983 alone, 27 women had disappeared and nine were found dead. Many were sex workers or runaways. They were generally left in one of four dumpsites, and sometimes more than one was found in a single day. Since the killer had sexual contact with victims after they were dead, investigators knew he was returning to the scenes. In 2001, Ridgway was linked via DNA. He pled guilty, showing authorities more graves until his toll reached 48. Ridgway said he’d viewed them as his possessions; he didn’t like it when victims were found, because he then “lost” them.

Ted Bundy called his killing field sacred ground. Although he’s known for his cross-country mobility, he did have dump areas near Seattle. Three of his victims in the Pacific Northwest were discovered in September 1974 in a wilderness area near Issaquah. In March 1975, 11 miles east, the skulls of four more turned up on Taylor Mountain. Bundy considered the victims, once dead, to belong to him. “They are part of you,” he stated, “and you are forever one… You feel the last bit of breath leaving their body… You then possess them and they shall forever be a part of you. And the grounds where you kill them or leave them become sacred to you.” (It's where he wanted his ashes scattered after his death.)

Those who stake out a killing field share fundamental traits with collectors of sex slaves. The need to possess other people signals weak or inadequate personalities. Some believe they’re entitled to do whatever they want to another person. To them, others are merely objects for their gratification. They have no appreciation for the terror and pain another person might experience, except to be narcissistically pleased by it. A pathological need for control is evident, especially when they feel violated upon discovering that a victim’s remains have been found and collected.

Robert Hansen, a baker in Anchorage, Alaska, thought he was clever when he flew women to wilderness areas into which few people ventured. A teenager who fled before he got her on his small plane told police about him, but they had no evidence with which to arrest him and he offered an alibi. The remains of three women turned up in the wilderness, shot or stabbed, and most had been sex workers. The police located a weapon in Hansen’s home that ballistics matched to bullets removed from the murdered women. They also found the victims’ missing jewelry and IDs, as well as a map marked in areas where the bodies had been found. Hansen confessed and admitted using them as “game.” For a sexual thrill, he’d drop them off in the wilderness, naked, and hunt them down. Although he confessed to 17 murders, he pleaded only to four.

In some cases, we know about buried remains, but can’t find them. Ian Brady preferred the remote areas in the Moors outside Manchester, England. With his girlfriend, Myra Hindley, he lured four children here, sexually assaulted them, and buried them. The lovers would have picnics on their graves, because Brady liked to feel his ownership of the bodies. The “Moors Murderers” were arrested in 1965. Three bodies were recovered, but not that of Keith Bennett, just 12 when they abducted him. Hindley and Brady both died without pinpointing the location of his grave. Searchers suspect he was buried in the vicinity of the other three graves. Through the years, there have been many attempts to find the grave, but he remains lost on the Moors.

Killing fields tend to be in remote areas, partly to prevent discovery but also so the killer can return to the victims to relive his sense of power.

References

Ramsland, K. How to catch a killer: Hunting and capturing the world's most notorious serial killers. (2020). Sterling.