by Debbie Burke
Crime writers have—shall we say?—unusual research needs. We often joke that law enforcement could knock on our doors at any moment because of suspicious internet searches.
Recently, I ran across a site called Murderpedia. It claims to be the largest free database of serial killers and mass murderers around the world. It lists more than 5800 male murderers and more than 1000 female murderers going back hundreds of years in history.
It’s indexed alphabetically by both the killer’s name and by the country where the murder(s) occurred. Each entry chronicles the crime(s), method of death, and ultimate disposition of the case–hanging, firing squad, guillotine, life in prison without parole, etc. Additionally, there are photos, artists’ renderings, and illustrations to go with some stories.
At random, I chose a link to Bridget Durgan, an Irish housekeeper who was so horribly mistreated by her various employers that she vowed to kill them if she ever had the chance. In New Jersey in February, 1867, an opportunity arose. Durgan stabbed and clubbed her employer, Mrs. Mary Ellen Coriel, to death then set the Coriel house on fire, blaming the crime on robbers. Nobody believed her and she was found guilty at trial.
While in prison awaiting execution, Durgan revealed her sad life to the Reverend Mr. Brendan who published her story as a cautionary tale. The illustrated pamphlet was also likely sold to spectators at Durgan’s hanging.
Lurid pen and ink drawings show the mortally wounded Coriel still alive, lying on the floor near her baby, Mamey, and the wild-eyed Durgan standing over them. Durgan reportedly said she allowed Coriel to kiss her child goodbye before finishing her off.
Durgan was hanged in August, 1867.
After perusing the Murderpedia site for an hour (or three!), I was struck by the immense amount of work that had gone into researching and cataloging thousands of cases. Then I noticed the last update was in 2017.
What had happened to Murderpedia?
Down the rabbit hole I tumbled.
I found out that the curator/director was a Spanish criminologist and author named Juan Ignacio Blanco whose own story is nearly as strange as the cases he chronicled. In 1992, he investigated the triple murder of three teenage girls, known as the Alcasser case. He believed two men accused of the crimes were scapegoats who’d been set up by wealthy, politically-connected, Spanish power brokers to cover their own guilt and to divert attention from their other crimes, including pedophilia.
Blanco was branded a conspiracy theorist.
After he published a book about his findings, he was convicted of insulting and slandering officials in charge of investigating the case and served time in prison. His book was judicially seized in 1998 because it included autopsy photos of one victim without her family’s consent. Accusations swirled that Blanco and the father of another victim in the case had set up and operated a foundation that resulted in hefty profits to both of them.
Shortly before Blanco’s death from cancer at age 63, he appeared in a 2019 Netflix series that reexamined the Alcasser Murders.
Was Juan Ignacio Blanco a greedy opportunist who capitalized on a terrible tragedy or a courageous crusader against corruption seeking truth and justice?
Whatever he was, he left behind the vast library of Murderpedia, crammed with painstaking research that’s a fascinating resource for crime writers.
TKZers: What’s your favorite crime research rabbit hole?
If Hurricane Irma doesn’t kill Tawny Lindholm, a shady sports dealer will when she becomes the bargaining chip in a high-stakes gamble. The winner lives, the loser dies.
Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff is now on sale at the introductory price of $.99. Here’s the link.
Debbie, wow! One could spend hours — days! weeks! — on Murderpedia. Thank you!
My favorite crime research rabbit hole is…True Crime Thursday. Of course!
I couldn’t believe the amount of research that’s gone into compiling that encyclopedia of murder.
Hope to cross paths with you somewhere down that rabbit hole!
I doubt there’s anyone here who hasn’t had a serial killer or mass murderer in their area. One killed a waitress where I’ve attended conferences downtown. He left her body in a car trunk in a parking area I was frequenting as a volunteer for the theatre. Shiver. The “Satan Killer” sacrificed people and buried them in his backyard. And who could forget the Lawson family Christmas Day murders in 1929 when a man murdered everyone in his family except his eldest son? Popular song about it included!
The local news station has a series of true crime podcasts about these murders except for the downtown serial killer who was too stupid to be worth any attention and many more that I’d recommend on iTunes and here
The ongoing “Caitlin Can’t Remember” podcasts about a local teen who is dealing with very well-documented memory loss fascinate me most. She was waking up every morning with the same memories she had on the day she was injured. Now, her memory is rebooting every few hours. Sad and fascinating since the condition is so rare that every major teaching hospital in the state and beyond haven’t a clue, but the family are going very public with this podcast which has brought interest from everyone from Doctor OZ to “Time Magazine” in hopes of finding some medical researcher who can help. Very sad yet fascinating.
Marilynn, I don’t know whether to thank you or be mad at you for providing more rabbit holes to get lost in! Fascinating!
Murderpedia is a great jumping off point, but some of the information is unreliable. As with any other research site, always confirm the “facts” with other independent sources. And yes, I agree, it’s easy to spend hours on that site.
Great point, Sue. Before depending on any information as factual, writers need to verify with additional sources.
But for fiction, there’s lots of material to stimulate the imagination!
I spent some time on Murderpedia this very morning. Never had heard of it before. I haven’t written a murder story…yet, but I bookmarked the site just in case. 🙂
I looked mostly at my state, Washington. The Hillside Strangler(s) in particular. One tidbit that I hadn’t heard before was that Bianchi actually applied to the LAPD for a job and rode a few times with officers who were working the LA side of his case. Don’t know if it’s true or not, but I was wondering what those cops thought when they found out.
Some of the cases were very hard to read. Law enforcement is a tough field. I recall a case (I may have mentioned it before here at TKZ) from my area from about 40-odd years ago. A woman cut up her mother and hid her in a barrel, continuing to cash the victim’s social security checks. She was eventually indicted and convicted, but only received a two year sentence. 🙁
Sometimes in this world, justice is deferred to the next, I guess.
2 years? That’s insane. Just the federal crime of stealing the checks has a huge sentence. Add the murder and dismembering the body which is another major crime. What the heck?
Bianchi did try to become a cop. It seems to be a favorite past time of arrogant serial killers who want to see how law enforcement is failing to figure out their “genius.”
The History Channel did a really interesting multi-part series called “Hunt for the Zodiac Killer,” now on the History.com website, which not only studied the past but used current technology to figure out his identity, cyphers, etc. Plus, cadaver dogs! At least one of the suspects tried to insert himself in to the original investigation, too.
Deb, killers who intentionally hang around law enforcement are the height of arrogance, similar to arsonists who insert themselves into the investigation of fires they set.
We can only hope justice catches up with them eventually.
I discovered Murderpedia several years ago when I did research on serial killers for my series. It is indeed an exhaustive resource, and potential black hole sucking huge amounts of time, but you certainly come away with a ton of interesting information. Sorry to hear about the author’s situation and early passing. Thank you for taking the time to give us some background to the site.
You’re very welcome, Cecilia. Is your serial killer book published?
I happened on the site while searching through a photo array online. Included was a mug shot of thuggish-looking guy with a caption that credited “Murderpedia.” Dragged me right down the rabbit hole.