The loose definition of a serial killer is the murder of at least two individuals by the same person (or persons) in separate events at different times. For many of us, it is almost impossible to imagine carrying out one murder, let alone multiple, but it is, unfortunately, something that does make headlines from time to time. It’s unsurprising that convicted serial killers are often met with the harshest of punishments, such as the death penalty.
Ted Bundy is arguably America’s most prolific and infamous serial killer. On 24 January 1989, Bundy met his end at Florida State Prison on the electric chair, but he’s by no means the only serial killer to die at the hands of an executioner. This number stands at approximately 110 to date. Let’s take a look at some of them and their final meals in a little more detail.
John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy has 33 victims to his name. Only Bundy outnumbers this figure at officially 35, although this tally could actually be much higher. However, Gacy has the grim honour of having the highest when it comes to young men and boys. On 10th May, 1994, Gacy’s time ran out in Stateville Correctional Center, Illinois. After a final meal of KFC fried chicken, French fries, fried prawns, and fresh strawberries (Bundy had steak, eggs, toast with butter and jam, hash browns, coffee, and juice, but he didn’t touch any of it), Gacy was loaded onto the execution gurney, strapped down and had the intravenous line inserted into his right arm.
The first set of chemicals, sodium thiopental, successfully knocked Gacy out. However, the execution was delayed by 10 minutes because the pancuronium bromide, which is designed to stop breathing, was blocked and didn’t administer properly. A final dose of potassium chloride eventually stopped Gacy’s heart and, after what was considered a botch execution, the ‘Killer Clown’ lay dead.
Around 9,000 people were executed in the USA between 1890 and 2010. Of these, officially 1 in 32 were botched. Lethal injection is the most botched form of execution, with just over 7% running into some form of difficulty. This compares to 3% for hanging and under 2% for the electric chair.
Speaking of hanging, HH Holmes is widely regarded as America’s first serial killer and was executed on the 7th May, 1896. However, his serial killer label is in some dispute as he was only convicted of one murder.
Separating fact from fiction when it comes to HH Holmes is problematic because no-one knows how many people he murdered. Initially, Holmes claimed to have murdered 27, but some of them were actually found alive and well. After a breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee, he confessed to only two murders and was dropped beneath the gallows.
The reason for this lack of clarity is largely down to a combination of dishonesty on his part, backed by overexuberant journalism. What we do know is that Dr. Holmes was a polygamist, he was married to three women at one time, and a serial fraudster. In the latter respect, he used to disfigure corpses, claim they’d been involved in an accident, and pocket the insurance. What isn’t so clear are the facts that surround his so-called ‘Murder Hotel’.
Despite blueprints revealing a hundred windowless rooms, fifty-one doorways that opened to brick walls, stairs that led to nowhere, and spacious chutes down to an incinerator, evidence suggests it was never used. The hotel burned down in suspicious circumstances in 1895, three years after it was built, so it's unlikely we'll ever know the truth.
If lethal injection is the most unreliable method of execution, the gas chamber is a close second. 24 inmates have been executed by inhaling cyanide gas in the USA and all four of the following, dispatched in San Quentin state prison, were serial killers. One of these was Joe Ariddy, who received a pardon 72 years after his death.
The Hobo Killer
The first was Lloyd Gomez. Dubbed the Phantom Hobo killer, Gomez was also the most fecund in terms of his victims, having robbed and killed nine homeless men in the space of about a year. His last meal, eaten in 1953, of fried chicken, fried potatoes, peas, tomato and lettuce salad, toast, apple pie, and coffee, is one of the most substantial on this page.
Gas Chamber Special
Harvey Glatman’s self-penned ‘Gas Chamber Special’ in 1959 is only one-half of his final gastronomic story. Glatman, an auto asphyxiated obsessed strangler who robbed three young women of their futures, ate shrimp cocktail, rare T-bone steak, French fries, banana split, and a soda for his supper. On the morning of his execution, he also polished off eggs, bacon, toast, jam, orange juice, and coffee for breakfast. A couple of hours later he was no more.
For the record, regarding the other two serial killers that were gassed in the USA, there are no immediate records to determine what Vendor Lee Duncan had for his final meal in 1959 if anything at all. David Edwin Mason refused his last meal in 1993 but requested that he and his family, having been granted permission to spend their last day with him, dine on regular prison food.
Aileen Wuornos is the tenth female serial killer in US history to have been executed, yet she’s arguably the most notorious. In Florida State Prison in 2002, after refusing her last meal in favour of a final cup of coffee, her lethal injection went ahead without any problems, a direct contrast to the rest of her unimaginably tortured life.
Wuornos murdered seven men while working as a prostitute but claims to have acted in self-defence. However, this allegation is undermined by the fact that all her victims, except for one were shot multiple times at point-blank range.
Gary Ray Bowles
The last high-profile serial killer to be executed in the USA was Gary Ray Bowles, aka the ‘1-95 Killer’. Bowles had turned to prostitution as a teenager following a traumatic childhood. He’d been in jail twice but embarked on a killing spree after he was released in 1994, during which he murdered six men. Ray Bowles spent over 20 years on death row in Florida State prison before his lethal injection in August 2019, but only after a final meal of three cheeseburgers and a side of French fries.