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6 serial killers who were murdered in prison

Jeffrey Dahmer
Image: Jeffrey Dahmer's mugshot | ARCHIVIO GBB / Alamy Stock Photo | Background Image:

For rather obvious reasons, serial killers are synonymous with the concept of death. For even more obvious reasons, they tend to be known almost exclusively for their involvement in murders. Yet we rarely ever stop to consider that these very same repeat murderers are sometimes the victims of homicide themselves.

A surprising number of serial killers end up on the wrong side of a prison shank. Partly because they are often despised once in jail and also because their killers fancy making a name for themselves inside.

These are six notorious serial killers who were murdered in prison.

1. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer, modern history’s best-known cannibal and serial killer, was just 31 years old when bungling police detectives finally caught him after a 13-year reign of terror that saw him claim 17 victims.

Three years later, in 1994, Christopher Scarver, a fellow prisoner, beat Dahmer to death while he was serving 15 consecutive life sentences for his crimes. At the time, he was cleaning bathrooms at the Columbia Correctional Institute gymnasium in Wisconsin.

Scarver's motivation is unclear, although he insisted that God had instructed him to kill Dahmer during his later criminal prosecution. 21 years after the murder, Scarver claimed to have killed Dahmer because he would taunt other prisoners by forming his meals into various body parts while laughing.

Scarver was sentenced to additional life terms and moved to a federal prison. He was already serving a life sentence for murder.

2. Lee Roy Martin

Between 1967 and 1968, textile mill worker Lee Roy Martin abducted and strangled to death four women in his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina. His vile crimes earned him the rather unimaginative nickname of ‘The Gaffney Strangler’.

Martin was a prisoner at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina when he was fatally stabbed on 31st May 1972. He was stabbed to death by Kenneth Marshall Rumsey, another prisoner. Some years later, Rumsey committed suicide in the same jail.

3. José Antonio Rodríguez Vega

Between August 1987 and April 1988, Rodríguez Vega, a Spanish serial killer, sexually assaulted and murdered at least 16 elderly women, all aged between 61 and 93, in and around Santander, Cantabria.

One day, as a child, Rodríguez Vega badly assaulted his seriously ill father. He was promptly thrown out of the house by his mother, which is why he went on to loathe her. Given that he preyed on elderly people, it is believed that his acts were motivated by retaliation against his mother.

In 1992, Rodríguez Vega was sentenced to 440 years in prison for his heinous stabbings.

On 24th October 2002, while Rodríguez Vega was walking through the jail's common area, he was attacked and stabbed 113 times by a couple of other career criminals. All with prison officers standing by, allegedly watching, but doing nothing to intervene.

4. Charles Schmid

Despite being only 5’3” and having quite possibly the thickest eyebrows in Arizona, Charles ‘Smitty’ Schmid Jr. was known as something of a ladies’ man. That said, ‘The Pied Piper of Tucson’ would stuff rags, newspaper and tin cans he’d stomped flat into his cowboy boots to boost his height and mostly targeted vulnerable teenage girls. Eventually, casual trysts began to bore him and he craved more and more violence to satisfy his broadening sexual appetites.

Between 1964 and 1965, the charismatic but evil Schmid killed at least three young women, which landed him in Arizona State Prison. After several unsuccessful escape attempts, Schmid settled into life inside. That was until he was attacked and killed by fellow inmates who took against his smarmy personality and terrible crimes.

Schmid was stabbed 47 times on 20th March 1975 by two other inmates. He lost an eye and a kidney in the attack and succumbed to his injuries 10 days later. Jimmy Ferra and Dennis Eversole both admitted to second-degree murder in connection with Schmid's death and were sentenced to even more years behind bars.

5. Albert DeSalvo

In all the hubbub surrounding the controversial Boston Strangler murders and whether or not Albert DeSalvo was responsible for them all, a lot of people forget that he met an untimely end in jail.

Six years after DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison he was discovered dead courtesy of a stab wound in Massachusetts Correctional Institution’s hospital wing. His killer was fellow inmate Robert Wilson, a member of the notorious Irish Winter Hill Gang from South Boston. He was put on trial for the murder of DeSalvo, but the trial resulted in a deadlocked jury.

It was later claimed that DeSalvo was murdered because he sold amphetamines inside the jail for less than the amount set by the other drug-dealing inmates.

6. Donald Harvey

Between 1970 and 1987, hospital orderly Donald Harvey killed scores of sick and elderly patients in hospitals across Kentucky and Ohio. His atrocious crimes made him one of history’s most prolific ‘angel of death’ serial killers. He was convicted of 37 murders but confessed to a further 50.

James Elliot, another prisoner, fatally beat Harvey almost to death on 30th March 2017 in his cell at the Toledo Correctional Institute in Ohio. The 64-year-old suffered severe injuries during the incident, which led to his death two days later.

Elliot planned the attack for at least a week in advance. He later stated in an interview with assistant county prosecutor Drew Wood that he intended to kill a fellow prisoner to bring attention to a variety of issues he had with guards and other officials. Still, he had a particular reason for selecting Donald Harvey.

Elliot later clarified in a statement, saying, ‘I guess a part of me saw this as an opportunity to finally do something constructive for my neighbours by way of closure/peace of mind. And in turn, balance the karmic scales in my favour.’