Many serial killers collect twisted and chilling souvenirs, often referred to as “trophies,” from the scenes of their crimes. This can be anything from a lock of their victim’s hair to one of their personal belongings. But what happens when a serial killer likes to document a cold-blooded murder in a photograph? Even worse, what if they wanted to capture their victim on film moments before they died?
For some of the following victims, looking at a camera in the hands of a serial killer would have been one of the last things they ever saw. The images captured of their torment provide a chilling glimpse into the brutal reality of their murders.
Serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades stalked the highways of Texas in his mobile torture and death chamber. A hidden compartment in his 18-wheeler truck is where he would end the lives of his victims in the most brutal manner imaginable—a vicious cycle of “kidnap, torture, kill.” He is suspected of killing more than 50 women between 1975 and 1990, although, as he traveled all around the United States using interstate highways, it is believed the real victim count could be even higher. He was only convicted of three murders.
Rhoades would take chilling photographs of his victims before murdering them. When he killed 14-year-old runaway Regina Kay Walters in a barn in Illinois, he captured a chilling moment where she appears to back away from him, clearly frightened. Rhoades’s photos of Walters were also used as evidence that he had held her captive for a long time, based on her hair growth and the bruising on her tiny frame. In 1994, Rhoades was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to the murder of a newlywed couple.
Harvey “The Glamour Girl Slayer” Glatman was a truly frightening and twisted serial killer in the late 1950s. Glatman posted Lonely Hearts adverts to lure his victims in addition to prowling modeling agencies in Los Angeles, posing as a photographer before taking women back to his apartment. There, he would tie them up, assault them, and take pictures before they lost their innocent lives—each victim appearing terrified and desperate. After Glatman had killed them, he dumped the bodies in the desert.
Following an attempted attack on a woman who managed to escape, the police were alerted, and the hunt for the killer began. When police managed to catch up with him, Glatman eventually confessed and revealed his “toolbox,” which contained all the chilling photos of the victims. He was executed in 1959 in a gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
Rodney Alcala was also known as The Dating Game Killer because he appeared as a contestant on a popular dating show during his killing spree. He was described as a “killing machine” by detectives and would strangle his victims, revive them from unconsciousness, and then strangle them again—repeating this twisted process until they were dead.
Alcala was sentenced to death for the murders of five women, although it’s believed the real victim count could be as high as 130. Detectives have uncovered over 1,000 photos belonging to Alcala in a storage locker. Many of the subjects in the photos appeared nude. The less explicit photos have been made public in hopes of identifying the people in them. The photo above is but a single example. In 2016, Acala was charged with the 1977 slaying of a woman identified in one of the photos.
William Richard Bradford was sentenced to death in California for the murders of his 15-year-old neighbor and a 21-year-old barmaid. In 1984, Bradford met barmaid Shari Miller in a Los Angeles bar and told her he was a professional photographer who could help build her modeling portfolio. He took her to a remote campsite, where she posed for him. Then he strangled her to death. Bradford then sliced off her tattoos and ditched the body in an alley. He was caught after it was discovered that he was the last person to have seen both of the victims alive.
After 18 years on death row, police discovered 54 photographs of young women that belonged to Bradford, including the photos of Miller, in various modeling poses. They released the photos in hopes that they could identify the other potential victims. The majority of the victims in the photos remain unidentified, but as Bradford spent time in Michigan, Florida, Texas, Oregon, Illinois, Kansas, and Louisiana, the search is still nationwide. In 2008, he died behind bars of natural causes.
Robert “Bob” Berdella was a serial killer and torturer who documented his sinister slayings in photographs. Between 1984 and 1987, he murdered at least six men in Kansas City, Missouri. After befriending his victims, he kidnapped them and physically tormented them for days and weeks on end. He injected caulk in their ears to deafen them, administered electric shocks to their bodies, and blindfolded them with bags over their heads.
In the photographs he took of his helpless victims, some of them were already dead. The bodies of his victims were then dismembered and either buried in the yard or left in bags for the garbage crew to pick up. Berdella was caught after one of his victims managed to break free from his restraints and jump from a second-floor window wearing nothing more than a dog collar around his neck. Alongside the disturbing images, police also discovered human remains at his home, including two skulls and notebooks on torture.
Serial killer and necrophile Jerry Brudos was known as The Lust Killer for his perverse attraction to his victims. He killed them in cold blood and then kept many of their shoes as trophies. Since the age of five years old, he’d had a fetish for women’s shoes, and he received psychotherapy as a teenager after he was caught stealing women’s underwear. Between 1968 and 1969, Brudos murdered four young women and attempted to attack two others in Oregon.
Brudos photographed one of his victims, 19-year-old Karen Sprinker, in his garage just hours before her murder after he kidnapped her from a department store parking lot. He made her pose in clothes he had bought and then strangled her before dumping the body. Sentenced to life behind bars, Brudos never showed any remorse for his crimes—instead, he put the blame on his own mother, claiming she had been abusive all his life.
Twisted serial killer and torturer Dean Corll abducted, assaulted, and killed at least 28 teenage boys and young men from 1970 to 1973 in Houston, Texas. He was given the nickname The Candyman, as he would use free candy to lure his vulnerable victims into a false sense of security. He was assisted by two teenage accomplices named David Owen Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, Jr., and his reign of terror came to an end when Henley fatally shot him.
Nearly 40 years later in 2012, a photo which is believed to show a 29th victim was uncovered by a filmmaker. The boy appears scared as looks up at the camera while wearing handcuffs. Filmmaker Josh Vargas said, “While rummaging through pictures [belonging to Corll], this Polaroid falls out. I take a look at it and, right off the bat, having studied the case and the crime scene photos and everything, I see Dean’s toolbox, and I see his implements in that toolbox, and I see this kid right here with handcuffs on his arms.” It is believed that the boy was Corll’s 29th victim.
Soviet serial killer Anatoly Slivko played a disturbing game with his victims in an attempt to recreate his own twisted fantasy. In his early twenties, he witnessed a traffic accident that fatally injured a young boy wearing a Young Pioneers (essentially the Soviet Equivalent to the Boy Scouts) uniform, and this gruesome scene sexually excited him. Two years later, he started running a local children’s club and took advantage of his position in the most sinister way imaginable.
Slivko formed close friendships with the boys—usually aged between 12 and 15 years old—and then lured them to the woods. He would hang the boys from trees, assault them as they were unconscious, and then revive them. He also took photos of the victims as they were asphyxiated. More than 40 boys were molested by Slivko, and he was unable to revive seven of them, leading to their deaths. When police began investigating a boy’s disappearance, several of the children complained they had suffered “temporary amnesia” from the things Slivko did to them. The photos and testimonies were enough to charge Slivko, and he was executed by firing squad in 1989.
There are some images you should never search for online. Such is the case for the personal Polaroid collection belonging to serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer that was uncovered during his arrest. Milwaukee police officers discovered a man named Tracy Edwards roaming the streets with handcuffs dangling from his wrist. Edwards said a “weird dude” in a nearby apartment had put them on him, and they escorted him to address, which was the home of Dahmer. When an officer went into the bedroom to find the key for the handcuffs, he noticed photographs of dismembered human bodies lying around.
Dahmer was arrested, but that wasn’t the only grisly discovery in his apartment. Investigators uncovered four severed heads, seven skulls, blood drippings collected in a tray, two human hearts, and an entire torso. The chief medical examiner commented, “It was more like dismantling someone’s museum than an actual crime scene.”
On September 20, 1988, 19-year-old Tara Calico disappeared near her home in Belen, New Mexico, when she failed to return from her regular bike ride in Valencia County. What was believed to have been a kidnapping soon evolved into a potential serial killer case after a chilling Polaroid was uncovered.
Nine months later, a woman discovered a Polaroid in good condition 2,600 kilometers (1,600 mi) away in Florida. It showed two apparent victims bound with their arms behind their backs and tape over their mouths. The young woman looked identical to Tara, and the boy was believed to be Michael Henley of Milan, New Mexico, who went missing six months before Tara when he was nine years old. Parents of both the victims were convinced it was them. Sadly, in 1990, it was discovered that the boy in the photograph was not Michael, as his remains were uncovered, and his death had been a tragic accident.
The questions surrounding the Polaroid are still unanswered, and one of the most chilling theories online is that this was a photo from a serial killer’s creepy collection. This might very well be one of those cases that will never be solved.
Cheish Merryweather is a true crime fan and an oddities fanatic. Can either be found at house parties telling everyone Charles Manson was only 5’2″ or at home reading true crime magazines.