Being desensitized to the concept of murder is a reality. It is no longer strange to skim over an article detailing a brutal killing while eating breakfast and then simply skipping to the sports or entertainment section, immediately forgetting that yet another family is grieving because a monster murdered their loved one.
Sometimes, however, a murder case includes details that make it chillingly real to those reading or hearing about it, as it once again reminds all of us that real-life monsters are walking among us. Here are some chilling details about ten already horrific murders.
10 Giggling While Reporting Murders
On January 26, 2015, several residents of the luxury De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, heard raised voices coming from the Van Breda family home situated in the center of the estate.
Early the following morning, they watched as police and emergency services arrived at the house. Later, they were informed that three of the five family members had been murdered by someone wielding an ax. The daughter, Marli, had to be rushed to hospital, and the youngest son, Henri, was attended to by paramedics for superficial wounds.
It wasn’t long before Henri was taken in for questioning. Marli, who was still in the hospital receiving treatment for serious head injuries, was said to have suffered retrograde amnesia.
The chilling truth became known as more details about the murders were uncovered. Henri was revealed to have had a drug problem and was initially questioned because when police arrived, he was covered in the blood of both his parents and his brother. During the questioning, he claimed that a black man with an ax had attacked his family. He also said that the man had worn dark clothing, gloves, and a balaclava.
This claim was quickly pulled apart by prosecutors after Henri’s trial started, especially after it was revealed that Henri only called emergency services more than three hours after his family had been attacked. And, most chilling of all, in the audio recording of the phone call, Henri giggled after saying, “My…my family and me were attacked…by a guy with an ax.”
Not surprisingly, Henri Van Breda was found guilty of murdering his parents and brother and attempting to murder his sister. He was given three life terms. Henri attempted to appeal his conviction and sentence in 2018 but was unsuccessful.
9 Message from Beyond the Grave
On August 13, 2018, Nickole Utoft Atkinson reported her friend and colleague, Shanann Watts, and Watts’ two daughters missing. This came after she had driven Shanann home following a business trip, and Shanann, who was 15 weeks pregnant, missed a doctor’s appointment later that day. She also failed to reply to any of Nickole’s text messages. She had decided to call the police after going to Shanann’s house and receiving no response after knocking and ringing the doorbell several times. Nickole informed Shanann’s husband, Chris, of the situation, who was at work at the time.
Police arrived to do a welfare check and found no sign of Shanann or her two daughters. Chris was on TV the next day, pleading for the return of his family.
Chris Watts was arrested on August 15, 2018, after which he failed a polygraph test. He then confessed to killing his wife. He initially claimed that Shanann had strangled their daughters to death after he told her he’d been having an affair and that he’d strangled her out of rage. He then transported the bodies to an oil-storage site, where they were found on August 16. It was later revealed that Chris was the one who killed his daughters, smothering them with a blanket. He claimed to have killed his family so he could be free to pursue his relationship with his lover, saying, “I thought it would be easier to be with Nichol if Shanann wasn’t pregnant… I knew if I took my hands off of her, she would still keep me from Nikki.”
A documentary on the murders was shown on Netflix in 2020, and soon social media was abuzz with viewers who believed that Shanann was trying to communicate with police from beyond the grave. This came after a scene in which CCTV footage was shown to the police. After the footage is turned off, an image of what looks like a fetus and a skull floating in oil appears on the TV screen.
8 “It was too cold outside to bury her.”
After inviting 44-year-old Janice Roberts into his vehicle on June 18, 2003, and trying to engage her in a sexual act, William Devin Howell discovered she was transgender and strangled her. Six months earlier, Howell had murdered a 29-year-old woman, and after killing Roberts, he murdered five more women before being caught.
While awaiting his sentencing, Howell told one of his cellmates that he thought of himself as a “sick ripper” who had a monster living inside him. He also revealed that he’d kept one of the women’s bodies in his van for two weeks and slept next to the dead woman because it “was too cold outside to bury her.” Howell admitted that he eventually cut off her fingertips, pulled out her teeth, and then dumped the body parts in Virginia.
Howell referred to his 1985 Ford Econoline as his murder mobile. After being found guilty and sentenced to six consecutive life sentences, Howell told the court he deserved the death penalty and apologized to the victims’ families.
7 “Tell the police that I had something stolen today around 4 pm.”
On April 6, 2009, the body of eight-year-old Sandra Renee Cantu was discovered in a suitcase at the bottom of an irrigation pond. The tragic discovery was made after routine draining of the pond. An autopsy revealed that Sandra had been sexually assaulted with a foreign object and strangled. There was also evidence of Alprazolam in her system.
At first, the FBI thought they were looking for a white male with a history of child abuse. But then they discovered that the mother of one of Sandra’s friends had sent a strange text to Sandra’s mother on the day she failed to return home from another friend’s house. The text read, “Tell the police that I had something stolen today around 4 pm. I don’t know if that makes a difference or not.” The woman, Melissa Huckaby, was a Sunday school teacher. She approached the police the next day claiming to have found a note on the ground that read, “Cantu locked in stolen suitcase. Thrown in water on Bacchetti Road and Whitehall Road. Witness.” Huckaby also reported that a suitcase of hers had been stolen.
What Huckaby didn’t know was that surveillance footage captured Sandra walking toward her home on the day she went missing, March 27, 2009. Eight minutes later, Huckaby drove off in her SUV, and at that time, the phone call was made by Huckaby in which she reported her suitcase missing. A retired U.S. Marine and his wife saw her at the irrigation pond when she was away from home. She returned to the church 30 minutes after being seen at the pond.
The FBI searched the church and discovered a bloodied rolling pin, which later tested positive for Sandra’s DNA. Huckaby was arrested and charged with murder. She pled guilty to avoid the death penalty and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
6 A Secret Ingredient
When Joe Metheny’s drug-addicted wife left him and took their son with her, he was enraged. He started hunting for them, searching roadsides, and even visiting halfway houses. Metheny remembered that his wife used to shoot up under a particular bridge in the area they lived. Arriving at the bridge, he found two homeless men, but there was no sign of his wife and son. When the homeless men couldn’t provide him with information on his family’s whereabouts, Metheny attacked and killed both men with an ax. He threw the bodies into a nearby river, but this didn’t stop him from being arrested for the murders and spending almost two years in prison awaiting trial.
When his trial finally started, Metheny was acquitted because there was no physical evidence that he’d killed the men. However, he’d hardly left his prison cell when he murdered two prostitutes. He dismembered both and mixed some of their flesh with beef and pork. He used this mixture to make hamburger patties, which he sold over a few weekends.
The first thing Metheny told police when he was arrested again was that no one complained about the patties because “the human body tastes very similar to pork.” Joe Metheny was eventually handed two life sentences but was found dead in his cell in 2017.
5 Upside Down Inside a Wall
In 2009, 24-year-old Annie Le was due to be married in five days when she vanished from a lab at Yale University. Her body was discovered on what would have been her wedding day inside the lab building she was last seen entering. Her remains were stuffed upside down in a wall. Police at the crime scene were horrified at how smashed up her body was, to the point where she was nearly unrecognizable.
It was determined that Annie Le had been strangled and that her attacker had broken her jaw and collarbone while she was still alive.
Lab technician, Ray Clark, was soon arrested for Annie’s murder. He claimed that he’d been angry with Annie because she’d left dirty mice cages behind in the lab after a study, and he sent her a stern email about it. It is also believed that this is what led him to attack her. Clark was sentenced to 44 years in prison but never confirmed the true motive behind the attack.
4 Killer Security System
The BTK Killer murdered ten people over a period of 20 years. Dennis Rader’s first victims were four members of the same family. He tied up the Otero family members after forcing his way inside their home on January 15, 1974. He masturbated as they struggled to breathe inside the plastic bags he’d tied over their heads.
In March 1977, he locked Shirley Vian Relford’s three children in their family home’s bathroom before proceeding to kill her.
In 1978, an overly-confident Rader sent a letter to a radio station in Wichita, in which he confessed to killing seven people. He even called 911 to report the murder of 25-year-old Nancy Fox after killing her in 1977, writing two poems about the murder that he sent to the press.
Rader would steal intimate clothing articles from his victims, put them on, and then tie himself up and take “selfies.” Sometimes, he hung himself from a tree or buried himself in the dirt.
Dennis Hader started killing again seven years after Nancy Fox’s murder. He kept communicating with the police and the media. After sending a floppy disk to yet another TV station, he was finally arrested when investigators discovered metadata on the disk that revealed the BTK Killer’s first name. He was tried and handed ten consecutive life sentences.
It was revealed during the trial that Dennis Rader had worked for the security company ADT during 1974 and had installed alarm systems in houses all over Wichita, mostly for families who were worried about being attacked by the BTK Killer.
3 Highways of Horror
California’s highways are well-traveled by millions of people every day. However, most drivers may not know that they’re driving over the last resting place of several children. It is believed that Mack Ray Edwards abducted and killed as many as 22 children and disposed of most of his victim’s bodies beneath California highways.
Eight-year-old Stella Darlene Nolan was playing with a friend at the Auction City Flea Market in June 1953, while her mother worked at a sandwich stand nearby. Stella was to check in with her mother every hour and did so right up until 8 pm. When 9 pm came and went, Stella’s mother Ilena immediately scoured the flea market looking for her daughter. When she couldn’t find her, she called the police. When they arrived, she told them about a strange conversation a week prior, when a man told Ilena she had a beautiful daughter and asked, “Is there any chance of kidnapping, buying, or stealing her?” An investigation immediately ensued, but police couldn’t find any trace of the little girl.
After Stella’s disappearance, more children went missing, including 12-year-old Branda Howell, 13-year-old Don Baker, 8-year-old Thomas Bowman, and 6-year-old Bruce Kremen.
When Mack Ray Edwards was finally arrested and charged with several murders, he confessed to most of them, telling authorities that he’d disposed of many of his victims under highways, including the Santa Ana and Ventura freeways. He also confessed to killing Stella Nolan after raping, strangling, and dumping her body over a bridge. When he returned to the site where he had left her, he found that she was alive and sitting up. When she tried to escape, he stabbed her to death. Stella’s remains were discovered in March 1970 by a highway crew after Edwards gave them directions.
Edwards, who was a heavy machine operator and worked freeway construction sites, committed suicide in his prison cell in 1971.
2 Former NFL player
On January 18, 1981, 20-year-old Shari Hull was attacked by a man who’d managed to enter the building she worked in. As he walked her down a hall, holding a gun to her back, he spotted another young employee, Lisa Garcia. After sexually assaulting both women, he shot them in the back of the head. Shari died at the scene, while Lisa pretended to be dead. As soon as the man left, Lisa called the police, who drove right past the killer on their way to the crime scene.
Police were convinced it was the same man who’d killed several people before he’d gotten to Shari and Lisa. As they tried to track the killer with the help of Lisa, the serial murderer kept on killing. Eventually, Lisa identified him in a photo line-up, and Randall Brent Woodfield was finally arrested and tried for his crimes. He was convicted of one murder and one attempted murder but has been linked to several other homicides. He is still suspected of killing as many as 44 people.
It was revealed during investigations that Woodfield had been drafted by the NFL in 1974 to play for the Green Bay Packers. However, he was soon cut from the team after being arrested a couple of times for indecent exposure.
1 Vanishing Steps from Home
Twenty-year-old Holly Bobo was studying nursing and still living at home when she disappeared from her own backyard on April 13, 2011.
Holly’s mother, Karen, had received a phone call from a neighbor that morning while she was at work, with the neighbor stating she’d heard someone screaming near Karen’s home. Karen phoned home immediately, and her son Clint picked up. She asked whether everything was all right at home and whether Holly had gone to campus. When Clint said that Holly’s car was still in the driveway, Karen knew something was wrong.
Karen then hung up to call the police, and Clint went into the kitchen. Looking out the window, he saw his sister with a man dressed in camouflage who he thought was Holly’s boyfriend, Drew Scott.
Karen called home again after struggling to get through to the police. When Clint told her about Drew being outside, Karen told her son to shoot the man with Holly because she knew Drew was elsewhere. Clint didn’t know what to do—being unwilling to shoot someone—so he called out to both Drew and Holly, but neither answered. Then he saw Holly and the man vanish into the woods behind the house.
At this point, he got his gun and ventured outside. He saw blood on the ground near Holly’s car, and as he stared at it, the first police cars arrived at the house. A search immediately got underway, and on April 14, searchers found Holly’s lunchbox, a piece of paper with her name on it, and a pair of pink women’s underwear.
Holly Bobo’s remains were found inside a bucket in the woods on September 18, 2014. She had been shot in the back of the head. Six men were initially arrested for Holly’s murder, with three being prosecuted for the aggravated kidnapping and rape of Holly. Eventually, in September 2017, Zack Adams was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 50 years. His brother Dylan was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and Jason Autry accepted a deal that reduced his sentence to eight years. Autry was released in September 2020.