Serial Killer Cops in the News

Some offenders use the forceful guise of authority to trick a victim.

Posted Aug 23, 2020

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

In the past month, we’ve seen two serial killers in the news who had law enforcement background and who used it to commit their crimes. There are more. Some had actual credentials; others faked it.

The story with Mikhail Popkov just keeps getting worse. We heard from him most recently in July. He’d been a cop in Angarsk, Russia, who’d used his uniform and badge to force women to do what he said. Apparently, he was angry over his wife’s alleged adultery. Most of the women he picked up to kill were sex workers or intoxicated, both of which he considered immoral. Taking them into forested areas to rape and kill, he’d attack with a knife, axe, baseball bat or screwdriver. Some victims had more than 150 stab wounds.

Ironically, Popkov's police affiliation also helped to trip him up, when he left tracks from an off-road vehicle typically used by cops near several body dump areas. DNA testing identified him. Upon his arrest in 2010, authorities thought “the Werewolf” was guilty of 22 murders between 1992 and 2000. He was convicted in 2015. Then they thought he might have killed as many as 30. They weren’t even close.

In 2018, Popkov confessed to 59 more murders, including a male police officer. He took his former colleagues to many of the burial sites. Then he admitted to two more in July 2020, bringing his death toll to 83. So far.

Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo, recently convicted, was in the Auburn Police Department in California for six years before he was caught shoplifting dog repellant and a hammer. He used his police and military training to assist his surveillance, stealth and athletic escapes while committing more than 130 break-ins in the Visalia area, 50 rapes as the East Area Rapist of Sacramento, and thirteen murders ­– most as the Original Night Stalker. His crimes spanned 11 counties. After 1986, he lived quietly in his community, the father of three daughters, until his arrest in 2018 via genealogical DNA analysis. Victim impact statements were offered in court this past week, where DeAngelo apologized.

Gerald Schaefer tried and failed at different jobs before being hired by the Martin County Florida Sheriff’s Department in the early 1970s. As a patrol officer, he picked up female hitchhikers and tied them to trees. Two escaped, getting him fired, but the skeletal remains of two more were discovered and linked to him. Evidence recovered in a search of his home, including graphic sketches and descriptions, linked him to other missing and murdered women. Although he was convicted in two, Schaeffer claimed in a correspondence that he’d killed between 80 and 110. He most certainly murdered more than the two for which he was charged.

Dennis “BTK” Rader and “Coed Killer” Edmund Kemper both aspired to be cops. Rader failed the police exam several times, although he achieved a college degree in criminal justice, and finally accepted a low-level job as a compliance officer. He killed 10 in Wichita. Kemper was told he was too tall, at 6-foot-9, to become a cop, though he studied for it. He hung out with cops at a Santa Cruz, listening to them talk about the 6 missing coeds he’d abducted. When Kemper turned himself in after killing his mother, officers were quite familiar with Big Ed. He seemed to enjoy spilling his guts to them.

Several killers pretended to be cops. John Wayne Gacy sometimes posed as a cop named Jack Hanley when he picked up young men from Bughouse Square in Chicago during the late 1970s. Since many who hung out there were engaged in illegal activity, they generally did as he said. Some became his victims, buried in the crawlspace under his house. After his arrest, as part of his insanity defense, he claimed that Jack Hanley, his alter personality, was a cop who hated homosexuals.

We know of Bundy’s pretense from a young woman on whom he’d used it. On November 8, 1975, 19-year-old Carol DaRonch reported an attempted abduction in Murray, Utah. She described how an “Officer Roseland” had approached her and said her car had been burglarized outside a store. She’d found nothing wrong, but the officer asked her to accompany him to a substation nearby, so she agreed. She asked for ID. He flashed something from his wallet without letting her see it, took her to the back of a building, and had her get into his car. She found it odd that he drove a dented, dirty Volkswagen Beetle, and declined when he asked her to buckle her seat belt. They drove for a short time before Roseland pulled over and snapped a handcuff on her. She managed to escape. No suspect was picked up, but police remained watchful. When they later arrested Bundy, DaRonch identified him, and he was convicted. To interviewers, he later admitted having used this ruse of authority several times, because it worked.

Kenneth Bianchi and his cousin, Angelo Buono, went on a killing spree in Los Angeles between October 1977 and February 1978, raping and murdering 10 women. The men sometimes posed as undercover cops. Bianchi even went on police ride-alongs. They gained the moniker “the Hillside Stranglers” because they left some bodies on the hillsides of the Glendale Highland Park area. Bianchi later committed a double homicide in Washington State. Both men were convicted.

The idea that authority works to get compliance seems like an obvious pose for a predator, but it’s easier for those who have actual police experience and equipment. They know how to be convincing and they also know how cases will be investigated. They're aware of evidence handling and case reconstruction. Some predators think police work provides easy access to victims. It’s likely that both Rader and Kemper believed this, as both already had murder on their minds when they considered law enforcement as a career. It's a clever move, because even those who suspect something amiss don't want to risk arrest fro resisting an officer.