Notable Crimes of 2017

Looking back on a year of terror, mass murder, and serial killers.

Posted Dec 29, 2017

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

We saw a rise in popularity this year of the true crime genre, with miniseries devoted to the Menendez brothers, Andrew Cunanan, H. H. Holmes (supposedly as a candidate for Jack the Ripper), and the Zodiac, among others. More are in the works.

This year, too, supplied numerous incidents that captured headlines.

For reasons still unknown, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock brought an arsenal of weapons into the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas. During a country music festival on October 1, he shot multiple rounds from his room on the 32nd floor at over 22,000 concert-goers below. He killed 58 people and injured hundreds more before killing himself. The incident ranks as the deadliest shooting thus far on American soil.

At the end of that month in New York City, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov drove a rented truck onto a bike path, intentionally killing eight people as a terrorist act. He was shot near the vehicle but survived. He awaits trial.

Then on November 5, Devin Patrick Kelley murdered 26 people and wounded 20 others at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It was apparently a revenge killing. A man outside the church shot him twice and chased him until he crashed and shot himself in the head. Plenty of red flags were found in his background, along with errors in handling the numerous violent incidents from his past.

In Pennsylvania in July, the search for four missing young men ended in the discovery of a shocking quadruple homicide over some insignificant debts and drug transactions by a couple of loser cousins. Two weeks ago, Cosmo DiNardo, 20, pleaded not guilty. He had used his father’s property to murder these young men and bury their remains in a pit. DiNardo bragged to police that he’d killed before, but no other victims have been identified. DiNardo’s cousin, Sean Kratz, was charged as an accomplice.

In Florida at the end of November, thanks to a tip, Howell Emmanuel Donaldson III was identified as the serial killer who’d shot and killed four people in Seminole Heights between October 9 and November 14. He awaits trial. This St. John’s University graduate has not offered a motive.

Child killer and former nurse Genene Jones made the news when it was announced that she might be paroled soon. She is suspected in dozens of other murders. After a significant public outcry, more charges were filed in another incident.

In May, serial killer Todd Kohlhepp pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder. In one incident, he’d killed four people. Recently, he hinted that other murders are as yet undiscovered.

In New Hampshire, four cold case murders were solved when Terry Peder Rasmussen was linked to them. In 1985,the bodies of a woman and child were initially found in a barrel in a wooded area. In 2000, the bodies of two young girls were dumped in the same area. One was Rasmussen’s daughter. Rasmussen is also associated with another missing woman, as well as a murder in California. He died in prison in 2010.

On June 1, former nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder. She received life sentences after admitting to killing eight elderly patients with lethal doses of insulin between 2007 and 2014.

We also saw murders inspired by serial killers. A fan of John Wayne Gacy, Alabama resident Nathaniel Sebastian killed his mother, put her corpse into a barrel, and buried it under the porch. Knowledge about Gacy’s MO of placing bodies under his house helped to get a warrant that focused the police search under the porch. Sebastian was arrested.

Amy Caroline Brown, 24, pleaded guilty to attempted murder in Washington State. With an ad, “Let’s go Zombie Hunting,” she’d arranged a blind date. To prepare, she spent the day watching episodes of Hannibal. In a motel, Brown stabbed the man in the chest. He escaped and went to the police. Under arrest, Brown told an officer that she had planned to kill people for about fifty years and then turn herself in.

In Moscow, Elena Lobacheva, 27, was part of a gang that murdered fourteen people. She said she’d been inspired by a horror movie, Bride of Chucky, and by the "chessboard" serial killer, Alexander Pichushkin. Upon arrest, she stated that “randomly stabbing the body of a dying human brought her sexual pleasure.”

Also outside the U.S., police found bones and dismembered body parts from nine people in Takahiro Shiraishi’s Tokyo apartment. He’d searched social media for people who were suicidal and offered himself as a professional hangman. If they wanted company, he pretended to be willing to die with them. As shocking as these crimes were, it was not the first time that a Japanese man had used suicide chat areas to find victims.

Some of these incidents will spill over into 2018, in legal proceedings and the search for motives, possible ID of other victims, and efforts to prevent similar crimes.