1. Hayden Poulter: Hell
Hayden Tyrone Poulter, now 50, aka New Zealand’s first serial killer, was convicted of the 1996 murders of three people, and of the attempted murder of a fourth. At the time Poulter had a whopping 67 prior convictions. He originally pleaded not guilty, but ultimately changed his plea to guilty blaming a drug-induced psychotic episode and an alter ego he called “Hell” for driving him to his crimes. Poulter was sentenced to serve at least 15 years in prison before being considered for parole in 2012. His first parole hearing, in which he reportedly expressed remorse for his crimes and sympathy for his victims’ families, was held in November 2011. Poulter, who is hoping to be released on parole one day, also reportedly confessed to having made up the Hell persona to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. As sunny and full of daisies as all that is, his most recent psych profile concluded that he was still at “moderate risk of violent offending and moderate to low risk of further sexual offending.”
Poulter was denied parole and sentenced to participate in a treatment program for adult sex offenders before his next parole hearing in October 2013. Having let go of the his “Hell” alter ego, there is a possibility that he will be reclassified as a less violent offender before that hearing. Inventing an alter ego on which to pin the responsibility for crimes is not uncommon in serial killers, in fact some of the most famous ones have claimed that one or more persons living inside their minds either made them kill, or actually did the killing. Most who have tried this multiple personality defense have abandoned it, finding over time, as Poulter did, that not claiming responsibility for their horrific crimes won’t get them what they want.
2. David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam
David Berkowitz was convicted of stabbing two, shooting nine and killing six people in New York City between December 1975 and August 1977. Initially he was dubbed the .44-caliber killer for the signature .44-caliber Bulldog revolver he used, until April 17, 1977, when a letter left near the bodies of Alexander Esau, 20, and Valentina Suriani, 18, was leaked to the press. In the letter the killer called himself the Son of Sam. In fact, when arresting detective Joseph Falotico asked him “Now that I’ve got you,” Falotico said, “who have I got?” Berkowitz politely replied, “You know,” to which Falotico said, “No, I don’t. You tell me.” Smiling Berkowitz answered, “I’m Sam. David Berkowitz.”
It would turn out that the dog of Sam Carr, David’s neighbor when he lived with the Cassara family, barked a lot, as did the Cassara’s dog. Berkowitz claimed that the dogs demanded the blood of young women and commanded him to kill. Berkowitz told police that Sam Carr’s dog, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon. Berkowitz had shot Harvey three days after the shootings began, but the dog survived. Ultimately Berkowitz presented himself as just a tiny piece of an evil conspiracy headed by General Jack Cosmo (Cassara) who commanded the demon Sam (Harvey) to make the Son of Sam (Berkowitz) kill.
Refreshingly, Dr. David Abrahamsen, the prosecution’s forensic psychiatrist concluded that, “while the defendant shows paranoid traits, they do not interfere with his fitness to stand trial … the defendant is as normal as anyone else. Maybe a little neurotic.” Berkowitz pleaded guilty and in June 1978 was sentenced to 365 years in prison.
In 1979 Berkowitz was interviewed on three occasions by former FBI profiler Robert Ressler, who made it clear that he did not believe the demon dog story at all. Eventually Berkowitz admitted that the demon story was a cover intended to make him look crazy enough to authorities that he would not wind up in prison if he was ever arrested. In reality, Ressler wrote, “his real reason for shooting women was out of resentment toward his own mother, and because of his inability to establish good relationships with women. … It was an erotic experience for him to see the remains of bloodstains on the ground, a police chalkmark or two: seated in his car, he would often contemplate these grisly mementos and masturbate.” He had even contemplated attending his victims’ funerals for this reason, but decided against it for fear of being caught.
Berkowitz, who incidentally became a born-again Christian in prison, is entitled to parole hearings, but has repeatedly said that he does not want to be released. He now calls himself the Son of Hope.
John Wayne Gacy Jr.: The Four Johns
John Gacy was notified that they had found human remains under his house and arrested on December 21, 1978. In the wee hours of the next morning he made a full confession, sort of. He admitted that there were 28 bodies under his house and garage and that he had dumped another five in a local river, but he also took the opportunity to feign insanity, pretending that he had another personality, “Jack Hanley,” the evil one, who was behind all his crimes. He told detectives, “There are four Johns.” He listed John the contractor, John the clown, John the politician — and Jack Hanley, the bad one. He told them that only “Jack Hanley” knew why victim Robert Piest’s body was put into the river.
Gacy’s whole confession was laced with little bits of dramatic flourish. For example Gacy said that he did not have anal sex with Piest, but that “Jack might have,” and that “Jack does not like homosexuality.” After drawing a diagram for police of the locations of the bodies in his crawl space, Gacy reportedly put his hands over his face and stated: “What’s going on. Jack drew that diagram of the crawl space.”
In the end the whole “Jack Hanley” ploy did not fool Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, an authority in the field of multiple personalities, who confirmed the conclusion on her colleague forensic psychiatrist Dr. Richard Rappaport that this was not in fact a case of multiple personality, but that “Jack Hanley” was just an alias. At his trial Gacy pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury was not convinced. He was convicted on all 33 counts of murder and sentenced to death. Gacy was executed on May 10, 1994.
Danny Rolling: Gemini and Ennad
Danny Harold Rolling, aka the Gainesville Ripper, was arrested on September 11, 1990, on unrelated robbery charges, and sat in prison for three years before finally confessing to the brutal murders of five students in Gainesville, Fla. On January 31, 1993, Rolling announced to investigators that he was ready to confess, through a fellow inmate. Rolling had already told that inmate all about the murders, and so it was he who answered investigators’ questions and Rolling who confirmed their accuracy for the record. During the three-hour confession Rolling confessed to killing four female students and one male in Gainesville, for which he would also ultimately be executed, but he told investigators that the murders had been committed by “an evil side of his personality that he called ‘Gemini.’” He would later describe “Gemini” as a fallen angel, a demon and a killer, attributing his having entered the locked apartment of victims Christina Powell and Sonja Larson to “Gemini” answering his prayer and unlocking it for him.
Investigators were pleased with the confession, but did not buy the “Gemini” persona. They knew that Rolling had watched the film Exorcist III, in 1990 just prior to the murders. In the film the demon “Gemini” forces a prisoner to kill. Also victim Christina Hoyt had been disemboweled and decapitated, as was one of the victims in the film. Later, in Rolling’s biography the drama deepened with the addition of a second personality, “Ennad,” whom he described as a rapist and a robber, but not a killer. The third person living inside him was himself “Danny,” who Author Sondra London describes in her book Making of a Serial Killer as “gentle, artistic, bight, polite and devout.” Most involved with the case never believed Rolling’s claims of multiple personality and demonic possession, though London in her book states her belief that Rolling did believe them.
Kenneth Bianchi: Steve Walker and Billy
One of the most famous serial killer alter egos was that of Hillside Strangler Kenneth Bianchi’s “Steve Walker,” who first emerged during a psych evaluation in hypnotherapy. “Steve” was the violent, sadistic alter ego to Bianchi’s “Ken,” the all-American good guy. Bianchi, who said he knew nothing of this “Steve” character, helpfully explained that his mother had abused him as a child, and that he had created a “Steve” as a playmate and a defense against her abuse. He did not mention the fact that he had has seen the film Sibil two days before the psych evaluation, but investigators figured that part out for themselves. Evaluator Dr. Martin Orne did not believe Bianchi’s act for a second. As a test, he told Bianchi while he was not under hypnosis that multiple personalities are never just one or two, but at least three. When third personality “Billy” emerged during the next session, Orne concluded that Bianchi was faking. Investigators later discovered that the name Thomas Steven Walker belonged to a young psychologist, who had sent Bianchi his resume. Bianchi had put his name at the top and used the other man’s credentials to apply for jobs as a psychologist.
Bianchi’s act was so good that despite Orne’s experiment and conclusion, a number of psychiatrists connected to the case continued to believe Bianchi’s multiple personality claim even after his conviction.