It’s a strange and arguably troubling thing isn’t it, our fascination with the disturbed and dangerous? Serial killers, outlaws, perverts and generally violent criminals have always captured the fascination of society at large, their motivations and behaviour being so antithetical to the basic wants and hopes of the majority that they are as confounding as any epistemological paradox. They have generated enough morbid curiosity to give impetus to a plethora of works, be they investigative psychology treatises, the slasher sub-genre and crime cinema in broader terms, and also biographical films.
Ed Gein, Dennis Rader, Aileen Wuornos, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy have all been the subject of motion pictures, some playing faster and looser with the facts than others (sometimes to the extent that it has become cynically exploitative torture porn as opposed to a truthful and measured character study). In conjunction with works about prolific unidentified maniacs such as Zodiac and The Town That Dreaded Sundown, these kinds of movies unequivocally tickle our darker taste buds, but they have unfortunately become as recyclable as the pathetic cash-cow overkill that is the Rettendon Range Rover Case (The U.K. has vastly more interesting true crime going for it than that). Bearing this in mind, I thought I’d list some real-life diabolical, antisocial bastards who are intriguing enough to warrant a film of their own. I will predominantly be focusing on serial murderers, but the list will be inclusive of criminals with dangerous personality disorders and just plain horrible wrong’uns in opposition to a peaceable, functioning society.
1. Richard Biegenwald
Between 1958 and 1983, this charming man murdered at least 9 people with either gun or blade and committed dozens of robberies. He was a heavy drinker and problem gambler from the age of eight, had set fire to his parent’s house three years prior at the age of five, set fire to himself at the age of eleven, and spent most of his formative and teen years in and out of juvenile detention. In spite of this, he eluded suspicion for his most heinous crimes starting at 18 right up until his arrest at the age of 42, the police who raided his home confiscating floor plans for several area businesses, a pipe bomb, handguns, a machine gun, Rohypnol, marijuana and a live puff adder. If that kind of life story isn’t worth the big screen, I’ve no idea what is.
2. Joseph Kallinger
Joseph Kallinger a.k.a ‘The Shoemaker’ was moulded from utterly tragic beginnings, but it nevertheless makes for a fascinating and appalling true tale. Severely abused by his adoptive parents, he would go on to have his own family in between frequent hospitalisation for amnesia, schizophrenia and severe migraines. A tyrant to his own wife and kids, Kallinger eventually recruited his 12-year-old son Michael to aid and abet him in a 6-month reign of terror around Pennsylvania and New Jersey, torturing and robbing people as well as killing three. Despite only scoring 82 in a prison IQ test, Kallinger was methodical and articulate, and had earlier aspirations to become a playwright. His strange alias arose from his being a trained cobbler, but it has horribly ominous supervillain vibes.
3. Israel Keyes
I almost thought this vile shitbag was too awful to include, but then I remembered they’re all awful, plus at the time of his arrest, the U.S. hadn’t seen a killer this calculating since Ted Bundy. Between 1996 and 2012, Keyes committed an indeterminate number of murders, sexual assaults, burglaries, bank robberies and arson attacks. He struck all over the country, at one point utilising a ‘murder kit’ that he had stashed two years earlier in Vermont, thousands of miles away from his home in Alaska. Serving in the military from 1998 to 2001, he was discharged as a decorated specialist, his colleagues recalling him as a quiet and laid-back man who consumed vast quantities of Wild Turkey and loved Insane Clown Posse. An intelligent and resourceful true-life demon, though I hope ICP appears nowhere in any prospective movie soundtrack.
4. John William Cooper
The first out of two nutters on this list to make a game show appearance, this savage Welsh scallywag actually had the balls to enter as a contestant on British darts-and-quiz series Bullseye. He did this in the middle of a crime spree that included two vicious double murders, an arson attack and a horribly creepy assault on a group of teenagers. Already possessing a long criminal record for burglary, armed robbery and general violence at the time of his ultimate arrest, the farm labourer, gambling addict and diagnosed psychopath is such a shit that he even attempted to implicate his own son as the real culprit while undergoing police interviews. There have been recent talks of a triple-part police procedural for television with Luke Evans, but I think the brazen taffy lunatic’s saga is due for more cinematic treatment.
5. Rodney Alcala
Look up the word ‘creepy’ in the dictionary and you find a picture of what? This horrendous freak. Estimated to be one of America’s most prolific serial murderers with a suspected victim count exceeding 100, this asshole was convicted for 8 confirmed killings between 1971-79, though his warped exploits began much earlier. Discharged from the military in 1964 for erratic behaviour, various psychiatrists have diagnosed him with antisocial, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. With an IQ of 170, the erudite monster (who is also a cinephile, but we don’t claim him) asserted his arrogance when he won a particularly eerie instalment of The Dating Game in 1978, the other contestants and young lady who ultimately refused to date him describing him as a ‘strange, creepy guy with bizarre opinions’. I think Bale is written all over this one.
6. GG Allin
Ok, it’s an enormous change of pace and I had already posted a review of the documentary Hated several years back, but c’mon man, it’s GG Allin. The guy was a demonstrably unbalanced powder-keg of antisocial impulse and malevolence, and while he never actually murdered anybody (that we know of), he attests to his itinerant rocker lifestyle preventing him from going down that route on a serial or even mass scale. Serving several prison sentences in his lifetime for assorted violence and disgusting affray, this audience-abusing degenerate easily has one of the most insane upbringings and subsequent careers in history, ripe for a big-screen dramatisation. Seeing as Todd Phillips conceived of and directed Hated and recently asserted his chops with Joker, I reckon he could pump out a compelling if utterly nauseating biopic.
7. Michael Swango
Just about everyone has heard of Dr Harold Shipman, one of our very own Brits and the most prolific killer in history. Far fewer are familiar with Michael Swango, an Illinois physician who is arguably Shipman’s American equivalent. Estimated to be responsible for at least 60 fatal poisonings of both patients and colleagues, Swango had promising beginnings as a high school valedictorian who toured the state with a band and joined the Marine Corps. After an honourable discharge, previous acquaintances noted something bizarre had happened to him psychologically. Obsessed with death, Swango laced cafeteria food with ant poison and arsenic, for which he served a 5-year sentence before being released to do likewise at various other hospitals. The openness of his evil and administrative incompetence is too bewildering to remain untouched by any director. How about ‘Dr. Death & The Silly Judges’?. Could be a band name.
8. Harry Roberts
While not a severely psychologically abnormal serial killer like the majority of the entries here, Roberts is nevertheless a callous and dangerous career criminal. Already living off ill-gotten gains as a young man in post-war England, Roberts became nationally infamous in 1966 when he gunned down three police officers in Sheperd’s Bush. Concerned that they were about to find a cache of weapons in his van that he’d assorted for a robbery, Roberts decided that violently slaying cops was preferable to the relatively minor punishment he’d have received for mere firearm possession. He ultimately served 48 years before being controversially released in 2014, and even as an elderly man on a life licence, Roberts has purportedly retained his air of menace. Seems that a sociopathic old bastard leopard never changes its spots.
9. Kenneth Noye
In 2015, they released Black Mass, the saga of the notoriously detached and openly remorseless American mobster Whitey Bulger, and I’ve always found it surprising that nobody has attempted an examination of the man many see as his British counterpart, Kenneth Noye. A thief from the age of 5 and a protection racketeer by the time he was 15, this wily villain fenced the gold from the Brink’s-Mat heist (still Britain’s biggest ever armed robbery) before making national headlines in two separate incidents where he fatally stabbed a police officer and a motorist with whom he had a road rage altercation. He also minimised criminal competition via being a police informant. Amazingly, he’s out of prison, and the judge at his trial for the M25 killing has said ‘Noye is not psychopathic’. Not sure what he’s been smoking, but I’ll take a hit.
10. Glennon Engleman
Despite looking not dissimilar to a potato, this oversexed, sociopathic manipulator successfully charmed several women and convinced them to assist him in the planning and execution of…several executions, essentially. Technically a serial killer (more accurately a self-employed hitman), Engleman used firearms, blunt objects and explosives to murder at least 6 people for substantial monetary gain, respectively with the help of his work assistant, his ex-wives and lovers (some of whom were in relationships with the victims). A U.S. Army veteran who would later become a dentist, this real-life noir villain’s story has been loosely adapted for a couple of mediocre TV films and the dreadful 1996 horror The Dentist, but a fact-based feature-length take for wide release would be most welcome.
And, as a bonus pick, whoever this cameraman behind Jessica Simpson is.
Regularly check out this blog for more lists and reviews of new releases and older gems, coming every week.