Ask anyone to name America's most notorious serial killers and you're pretty much guaranteed to hear the same roll call of late-twentieth century psychos: Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Aileen Wuornos. It almost seems as if such evildoers didn't exist before the era of Woodstock and the Vietnam War.
It's true that the term "serial murder" didn't exist until the 1960s (1961 to be precise, when, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was coined by German critic Siegfried Kracauer to describe the ineffably creepy child-killer played by Peter Lorre in Fritz Lang's movie, M). As for the kinds of criminals we now refer to by that name, the sobering act is that they have always existed. They were just called different things in the old days--"murder demons," "bloodthirsty fiends," "devils in human shape."
From the early years of the Republic, our country has been home to a terrifying array of sex-killers, mass murderers, and homicidal maniacs. Moreover, many of these monsters attracted an enormous amount of public attention, becoming the subjects of frenzied newspaper stories, best-selling true crime pamphlets, and popular ballads. Exactly why these once-notorious figures have faded from collective memory is an interesting and complex issue, one I explore in my new book Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of. Here's a rogue's gallery of 10 long forgotten "multi-murderers" (as they were also sometimes called)--the celebrity psychos of their day.'
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