From Ed Gein’s furniture upholstered in human skin to Edmund Kemper’s garden of severed heads, these photos reveal the true horrors of history’s worst killers.
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John Wayne Gacy
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John Wayne Gacy
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John Wayne Gacy
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Cleveland Torso Murderer
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A chair taken from the home of Ed Gein. The base is upholstered in human skin.
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A 57-gallon drum of acid found in Dahmer’s room which the killer used to disintegrate his victims.
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The Zodiac Killer
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Jack the Ripper
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The Manson Family
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The Manson Family
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Though we might feel a bit guilty about our fascination with the macabre, there’s just something irresistible about a good true crime story.
And for those with an insatiable appetite, we’ve compiled a gallery of some of the grisliest photos from serial killers’ crime scenes. These pictures don’t hold anything back – even in black and white — limbs and bloodstains appear as if in color.
But these photos aren’t also without a purpose. Police used these snapshots to provide evidence at trials, to look for clues, and to document patterns in particular crimes, making them invaluable resources for investigators.
The First Famous Crime Scene Photo
Forensic photography, or the practice of taking photos at the scene of a crime, has been around for over a century.
One of the first famous crime scene photos was taken on May 5, 1903, in the home of a Parisian woman named Madame Debeinche who had been murdered. As investigators descended upon the apartment, one of them picked up a camera and photographed the scene.
The photographer focused on a few key details, like a tilted painting on the wall, disheveled bed linens, and overturned chairs. Even more importantly, he captured the body of Madame Debeinche sprawled on the floor by the side of her bed, her limbs bent at unnatural angles, the tips of her extremities darkening, showing hours had passed since she’d been killed.
At the time, the camera was still a relatively novel invention used mostly for posed portraits. It was certainly not used to capture something as horrifying as dead bodies — particularly bludgeoned ones.
And yet, it was rapidly discovered that these photos, as unsettling as they were, were incredibly useful when it came to investigating a crime. Investigators did their best to take notes and detail the scene, but certain aspects went unnoticed or were eventually forgotten. Photography fixed these shortcomings.
After the scene was cleaned up, any visual evidence was cleaned up with it. But with photos, the scene could be revisited time and time again, allowing new sets of eyes to pick out new details.
Investigative Photography Becomes A Regular Part Of Police Work
The importance of crime scene photography was first recognized by Alphonse Bertillon who is now widely remembered as the first forensic photographer.
Bertillon was the first to suggest photographing not only the body but also the entire scene around the body, including shell casings, bloodstains, overturned furniture, broken doorways, and anything that could have been a piece of the larger investigative puzzle.
Bertillon even created a custom tripod that allowed him to center his camera directly above a corpse. Known as the “Gods-eye-view,” the tripod quickly gained popularity amongst investigators as it provided a clear, top-down view of the corpse, in addition to other wide-angle shots of the scenes.
Forensic photographers soon became staples in police departments around the world, and entire networks for crime scene photos were established.
It was largely due to the importance of crime scene photography that the system of photographing the criminals themselves through mug shots was invented, also by Alphonse Bertillon.
From A Tool To A Morbid Collectible
While the art of forensic photography started out purely as an investigative tool, it has also turned into a sort of macabre collectible.
Well-versed crime buffs can recognize which crime scene photo belongs to which serial killer; just like a black and white photo of an ace of spades held up by a bloodstained hand has become synonymous with the mafia.
Then there are the shots from the bloodstained living room of 10050 Cielo Drive, where the Manson family brutally murdered starlet Sharon Tate and her friends. These serial killer crime scene photos are almost as recognizable as the Manson family themselves.
True crime aficionados can also recognize the decrepit living room of serial killer Ed Gein, who used the bodies of his victims to decorate his home, inspiring the character “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs.
These famous crime scene photos are not only for police but also for prosecutors. Where words fail in court, these photos speak. Where memory fades, the photos are a moment of clarity. Despite their gruesome content, these photos are an important piece of investigative history, capturing the grisliest moments in time, and using them for good.
Just remember that while scrolling through these real crime scene photos from some of history’s worst serial killers, that these gruesome snapshots are pieces of evidence with as long and as interesting a history as the crimes they captured.
After this look at serial killers’ crime scene photos, check out these serial killer quotes that will chill you to the bone. Then, read about how Ted Bundy helped catch serial killer Gary Ridgway.