Few things intrigue and terrify man like the specter of his own destruction. Through cinematic, artistic, and literary mediums, we fight and glorify death on a daily basis. In a partial attempt to cope with our mortality, we fixate on real-life killers, rationalizing their existence whenever possible and sometimes turning them into accidental celebrities. The more twisted or troubled a murderer seems, the more eagerly we wish to dissect that person’s motives and mindset. It’s only natural, then, that killers with inscrutably odd fixations both rivet and repulse us.
10 – Matthew Hoffman, Trees
When police entered the Ohio home of 30-year-old Matthew Hoffman, they found an arboreal hellscape of leaves blanketing the whole house. Hundreds of bags of leaves, none of which Hoffman had ever been seen raking, filled the bathroom. Some parts of the house had been packed so densely that officers feared they would find bodies buried underneath.
In the basement was a 13-year-old girl whom Hoffman had snatched from her home four days earlier. She was bound by her hands and been dressed in a trash-bag-diaper. She was on a bed of leaves draped with blankets. When authorities finally freed the girl, she asked to be transported to school for fear of being too tardy. She heartbreakingly anguished over the fate of her dog, which Hoffman had killed for being too noisy. But the killer had also committed far graver sins.
The girl didn’t realize it at the time, but her mother, little brother, and a young neighbor were all dead, killed during a botched robbery attempt and then callously cut to pieces. Hoffman had hidden their remains in the hollow of a 65-foot-tall tree. Psychologists would later suggest that he had chosen their wooden resting place to bring himself comfort. The tree obsession, they suggested, indicated a severe mental imbalance and delusional thinking. It was an imbalance that characterized most of Hoffman’s life.
Ever since childhood, Hoffman had surrounded himself with trees. He climbed them, played in them, and built treehouses. He worked with them in adulthood part-time as a tree-trimmer before getting released for falsifying his work history and unnerving his boss. In the end, he would make trees inanimate accomplices in his grotesque transgressions. Hoffman willingly admitted his atrocities in court, earning him a life sentence without parole.
9 – Roger Reece Kibbe, Cutting Women’s Clothing
Long before Robert Reece Kibbe became known as the “I-5 Strangler,” he exhibited strong signs of depravity. A frequent ward of the juvenile justice system, Kibbe would regularly skip school to steal women’s undergarments. Using his mother’s scissors, he would then cut amorphous holes in them. He also broke into 13 other people’s garages and falsely claimed to have been molested by kidnappers.
One of Kibbe’s arresting juvenile officers uneasily pondered whether the troubled child would go on to become a dangerous man. Years later, Kibbe would validate those concerns in the worst way. Between 1977 and 1987, Kibbe terrorized the female population of Northern California. During that decade-long interval, he kidnapped, raped, and choked seven women to death. Echoing the habits of his youth, Kibbe cut holes their clothing. In at least one instance, he ripped out some of his victim’s hair and wrapped it in a portion of her underwear.
Initially, Kibbe was only tried and convicted for one of his many murders, that of 17-year-old Darcie Frackenpohl. In 1987, he was sentenced to serve 25 years to life in prison. However, 13 years after his conviction, advancements in forensic science implicated the I-5 Strangler in six more murders. He admitted to the killings to avoid capital punishment and subsequently helped investigators recover all the bodies but one. Investigators fear, however, that the true tally of victims could be much higher.
8 – Danilo Restivo, Hair Cutting
In September 1993, an Italian teenager indulged the advances of an awkward older suitor against her well-formed reservations. The girl, 16-year-old Elisa Claps, had heard uncomfortable rumors about the seemingly oafish Danilo Restivo. Restivo, it was said, sat behind women on buses and surreptitiously cut their hair. Despite his creepy conduct, Claps pitied Restivo and agreed to meet him at church. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.
From the start, everyone suspected Restivo had killed the poor girl, but no one could find a body. And Restivo, despite seeming childlike and unthinking, had the savvy to meticulously cover his tracks. Fast-forward nine years, and Elisa Claps remained one of Italy’s most famous missing persons. By that time, Restivo had resettled in the English town of Bournemouth, where he would kill again. In 2002, Restivo murdered and mutilated Heather Barnett, leaving clippings of his victim’s hair in her hands.
Barnett’s children, who discovered her body, recalled that Restivo had visited their home before the family’s house keys vanished. But concrete evidence linking him to the murder was sorely lacking. As investigators delved into Restivo’s life, however, they found numerous red flags. As a boy, Restivo had been traumatized by an unsuccessful tonsil surgery and seemingly acted out by torturing other children. Police also discovered his hair fetish. Interviews of Bournemouth residents suggested that Restivo had cut the hair of at least two school girls. A witness also spotted him masturbating to a woman’s hair on a bus.
Then, a forensic breakthrough: Authorities found DNA residue placing Restivo at the scene of Barnett’s murder. But even then, the composed killer produced a coherent explanation. Justice finally prevailed in 2010, when Elisa Claps’s body was discovered in Italy along with traces of Restivo’s DNA. Her hair had also been cut and placed in her hands. This time, the evidence was inescapable. In 2011, a court condemned Restivo to life in prison.
7 – Eric Bikubi And Magalie Bamu, Witchcraft
In the summer of 2008, 19-year-old Naomi Ilonga paid a month-long visit to London-based soccer coach Erik Bikubi and his longtime girlfriend Magalie Bamu. What should have been a pleasant sojourn took a sharp turn for the frightful when Bikubi hacked off her flowing hair with a pair of scissors. The provocation for his aggression was simultaneously simple and stunning: Ilonga bit her nails, which in Bikubi’s mind pegged her as a witch. Beyond that harrowing interaction, Ilonga emerged from her stay unscathed. Others weren’t so lucky.
In 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu, his sister, Kelly, and a third sibling flew over from Paris to spend the Christmas holiday with their older sister, Magalie. Once more, the issue of witchcraft came to the fore. Both Magalie and her boyfriend seized onto the notion that their three visitors were secretly sorcerers employing their dark magic against a young child. Determined to force a confession, Bikubi and Bamu denied their guests food, drink, and sleep. Egged on by Magalie Bamu, Bikubi beat and berated the siblings as well.
To stave off more abuse, Kristy, Kelly, and their younger sibling copped to the absurd accusations of witchcraft. But the inquisition wasn’t over. Kristy, perhaps gripped with fear, wet himself. An incensed Bikubi smashed his teeth out with a hammer, twisted the 15-year-old’s ears with pliers, and assailed him with an assortment of weapons that included a metal rod, a paint roller, knives, and a chisel. Kristy pleaded with his sister Magalie to stop his suffering, but she refused, instead urging Bikubi to continue the onslaught.
After three days, Kristy literally begged for death. It finally came when the tortured teen drowned during a ritual bath. In court, Bikubi blamed his barbarity on brain lesions, while Magalie Bamu denied instigating his violence. Unpersuaded, a judge sentenced Bikubi to a minimum of 30 years and Bamu to at least 25 years in prison.
6 – Ricky Brogsdale, Violent Voyeurism
Ricky Brogsdale’s best friends growing up were hardship and dysfunction. The son of a violent alcoholic mother, he turned to drugs early in life and engaged in an untoward affair with a half-sister. During his teenage years, the wayward Brogsdale constantly landed himself in juvenile detention for a series of offenses that included battery and rape. In adulthood, his most abhorrent transgressions would be fueled by violence and voyeurism.
Brogsdale reached the peak of his perversion in 1987. In May that year, he was granted parole after serving a partial sentence for possessing an unlicensed firearm. Within two months of his release, he got himself rearrested for indecent exposure. However, the parole board showed leniency and declined to detain him before his upcoming trial date rather than rescinding parole altogether. Brogsdale would use that pretrial interlude to shoot seven people.
Over a span of six weeks, the pathological Brogsdale prowled the neighborhoods of southeast Washington D.C. for targets. Once he settled on someone—usually a woman—he would peep at them through their window. Sometimes, he masturbated. To achieve full satisfaction, Brogsdale aimed and fired once at the object of his arousal. In his quest for gratification, the so-called “peeping Tom killer” ended two lives and marred multiple others.
At trial, Brogsdale’s attorneys defended him as a tortured soul who only meant to sate a diseased hunger born of horrid childhood abuse. That was little solace to families of the deceased and the survivors he permanently scarred. A D.C. court found Brogsdale guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to 63 years in prison with the possibility for parole after 55 years.