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How Famous Serial Killers Chose Their Targets

Once in a while, the hunter can become the hunted. Even in the realm of true crime, sometimes serial killers choose their targets a bit unwisely.

By Ossiana TepfenhartPublished 6 years ago 9 min read

When we think of serial killers, we tend to see them as monsters who slice up people like it's no one else's business. We assume, often correctly, that they are predators that can only be stopped by police—if they ever can be stopped during their lifetimes.

We also tend to believe that victims are powerless to fight back, or even more so, that they just are incapable of doing acts of violence. The truth is that tables can easily turn and that no one knows what they are capable of until their back is to the wall.

Ever wonder what made serial killers choose their targets, and how it affected their sprees? Some ended up getting killed by their targets, while others ended up getting caught as a result.

Here are some stories of killers who ended up choosing the wrong target, and how those who were about to be slain helped end murder sprees in their own unique way.

Dean Corll, "The Candy Man"

During the early 1970s, Dean Corll was better known as the "Candy Man," a raging serial killer who had been responsible for the deaths of over 20 different young men throughout the Texas area. This is also a good lesson on why serial killers choose their targets to be younger than they are, too.

His modus operandi was what would eventually mark his downfall—and his entry on this list of serial killers that were murdered by those they targeted.

To lure boys to their death, Corll would usually enlist the help of a younger accomplice. One of his accomplices, Elmer Wayne Henley, ended up working for Corll because his family was very low on money. He ended up killing multiple people alongside Corll, until one fateful night where he decided to lure a female victim instead.

Corll went ballistic and ended up tying up Henley and the female victim, threatening to kill them both. Henley managed to convince Corll to let him go, claiming he'd kill the girl himself. Corll agreed to untie him, after which Henley grabbed Corll's gun and shot him six times.

The girl was safe, but Henley is now serving multiple life sentences due to being a killer's accomplice. Had Henley not acted, Corll would have been a killer that was never caught—rather than one of the most famous serial killers to be discovered in Texas.

Neal Falls

Many serial killers choose their targets because they feel like police and society, in general, will overlook their disappearances. Such was the case with Neal Falls. During 2015, women were disappearing and dying throughout the Cincinnati area—often connected to sex work.

Though he'd been stopped by police multiple times on unrelated charges, Falls was never a suspect. It was only when he decided to call up a new target by the name of Heather that he ended up being known as a serial killer.

When Heather showed up to his home, he pointed a gun at her and told her, "Live or die."

Heather, being a woman who didn't take any BS, grabbed the gun from him. There was a struggle, and she shot him. She then promptly called police, who searched his home.

When they arrived, they discovered Neal had a fully stocked serial killer setup with weapons, rope, and most alarming of all, a hit list with future victims' names. The disappearances stopped once Neal was killed.

Wayne Nance

Known for being linked to a number of mysterious disappearances, the man only known as "The Missoula Mauler" was never arrested for his crimes. However, it's plainly evident that he may be responsible for as many as five different women's deaths.

The way that most serial killers choose their targets tends to skew in the direction of people they're attracted to. This was true in Nance's case, but he made a misstep.

Wayne Nance was feeling bold one night and decided to enter the private home of Doug and Kris Wells, hoping to get his jollies off by killing the two of them. He entered, stabbed Doug in the chest, and Doug retaliated by shooting Nance in the head.

Robert Hansen

If you've ever read the short story called, "The Most Dangerous Game," you already know what Robert Hansen's modus operandi was. This vicious murderer would pay for sex workers in Alaska, kidnap them, and then take them out to the woods to hunt them like wild game.

It's uncertain how many people Hansen chose to hunt, but police have claimed that at least 17 women have been confirmed dead because of him. At least 30 were gunned down like wild animals by Hansen, who was known as a skilled marksman.

In many cases, serial killers choose their targets because of personal reasons as well as strategic reasons. Hansen, who society only knew as a soft-spoken baker until his arrest, chose his targets because they were easy to make disappear—and also because of revenge.

Hansen, when he was younger, had serious acne and would regularly get made fun of by girls. He chose his victims because he felt it was like "payback."

One victim by the name of Cindy Paulson was lured by him with the promise of $200 for oral sex. After days of being kidnapped and tortured, she managed to escape and immediately summoned police for help.

After telling police everything she saw and experienced, they had enough evidence for a search warrant. Police found a number of bodies as well as evidence tying him to the crime.

Though he initially blamed the girls (such a nice guy, right?) for having him kill them, he confessed to the murders and was convicted. All this happened because Cindy was bright enough to figure out how to escape.

Colin Ireland

Perhaps one of the strangest ways any serial killers choose their targets is by trying to figure out who would make them the most famous. Such was the case with Irish serial killer, Colin Ireland.

Ireland chose his victims by stalking gay men at bars, then asking them if they wanted to do bondage games. Once he'd lure them out of the bar, he'd tie them up, and kill them. He then would change into clothes, clean the area, and stay in the flat where he killed them until the morning.

Typically, serial killers tend to fetishize murder, which is why they go after targets who they would want to sleep with. What's weird about this guy is that he claimed to be heterosexual. He was married and had kids.

In an interview, he claimed he killed gay individuals because it'd make him famous. Unlike others on this list, his targets weren't the cause of his downfall; it was the savvy work of police that nabbed him in the end.

Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most terrifying serial killers of the 80s and 90s, and is a perfect textbook example of how many serial killers choose their targets. Dahmer was an oddball in his childhood who also happened to struggle with his sexuality.

Dahmer was secretly gay and was emotionally tortured for it. According to friends, he ended up snapping. He chose his victims because he wanted to sleep with them, and chose gay men that he'd lure to his apartment.

His last victim escaped and police took notice when they saw the naked man waving down a police car. A search by police revealed that Dahmer had taken photographs of the dismembered bodies of his victims.

Dahmer quickly confessed to killing 17 men, eating their body parts, and even keeping some of their skulls as souvenirs from the slaying. Though his last victim survived, one can't imagine what kind of trauma he must have experienced to be targeted by a person like Dahmer.

John Wayne Gacy

Perhaps one of the only people to be as notorious a killer as Dahmer is John Wayne Gacy. Unlike Dahmer, who had always struck people as a bit "off," Gacy was considered to be a pillar of the community.

Along with being a local volunteer for a variety of different church and community functions, Gacy was known for being a successful KFC franchise owner and even dabbling in politics. Gacy was so highly respected, he even met the President of the United States while volunteering for the Democrats.

In his neighborhood, parents would often ask Gacy to dress up as his alter-ego, Pogo the Clown. Then, strange stuff started to happen around the neighborhood. Men and boys connected to Gacy began to disappear, with one mourning family begging police to investigate him.

Police didn't listen until a bruised man approached them in 1977, claiming that Gacy kidnapped him, molested him, and tried to kill him. A search revealed that Gacy hid 26 bodies in the crawlspace of his home—proving that he was, in fact, the reason local boys disappeared.

As far as killers go, Gacy was yet another example of how serial killers choose their targets based on sexual attraction. He was bisexual and according to his ex-wife, preferred men.

Ashley Mervyn Coulston

Some serial killers choose their targets through a method rather than any arbitrary reason. Coulston, for example, chose his victims by answering their ad in the newspaper asking for people who were looking for a new roommate. Coulston entered the house, tied up the victims, and shot them dead.

Coulston was what one would call an "opportunistic killer," in the sense that he chose targets that literally just popped up. He was caught after he tried to abduct two people and failed—the two would-be murder victims told police, who searched him and were able to connect him to crimes.

Anthony Sowell

In many cases, the killers who are the most dangerous are the ones who take a very reptilian look on how they target their victims. This is why many of the most noted serial killers choose their targets by looking for people who they believe wouldn't be missed.

Anthony Sowell, who was known for his "House of Horrors" in Cleveland, chose women that he specifically felt would not be missed or noticed by people around them. More specifically, he chose female victims of minority descent who were sex workers with drug issues.

Tragically, it appears that Sowell was right. Only half of his victims' families ever reported the victims missing, despite many of them being gone for months or even years. Sowell was charged with killing 11 different women using this targeting method.

Stephen Port

Most serial killers seem to operate using old school methods—newspapers, picking up people at bars, asking people if they need a ride... but not all are like this anymore.

Perhaps one of the newest killers to show the changes in how serial killers choose their targets is Stephen Port, a killer who primarily targeted gay men who he'd later drug, rape, and kill in his London Flat.

According to news sources, Port would go on social media apps and dating sites like Grindr to groom his targets. Most serial killers cruise around for a victim that has specific traits.

In the case of Port, he never really had to do much to find a person he'd want to kill; all the necessary details were laid bare for him on dating apps. Port's downfall was police work and internet conversations that traced his victims back to him.


About the Creator

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer based out of New Jersey. This is her work account. She loves gifts and tips, so if you like something, tip her!

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