Mob justice: Serial killers who got a taste of their own medicine

A copy of richard ramirez's mugshot
The Night Stalker was apprehended after being beaten unconscious by a group of shoppers | Shutterstock

Thankfully, a large percentage of serial killers are eventually caught and sentenced for their crimes. In some cases they might find that life in prison leads to extra punishments. Be it by so-called mob justice, or via the shank of a fellow inmate, some of history’s most reviled murderers have found themselves getting a taste of their own medicine.

However, there is also small subsection of repeat offenders who avoid the authorities, only to find themselves brought to justice by members of the public. For those who have committed particularly heinous crimes, this can be a little more brutal than a simple citizen’s arrest.

Starting with a truly shocking recent case, here we bring you a host of times that notable serial killers from modern history have had the tables turned on them. These are the times that multiple murderers have been dished up some really rough justice.

Masten Wanjala

In October 2021, Kenyan police finally tracked down and arrested Masten Wanjala, who was responsible for the murders of at least 10 young boys across a five year period in the capital city of Nairobi. Wanjala confessed to drugging, assaulting and killing the boys, even drinking their blood in some cases. As you can no doubt imagine, locals were incensed.

The nation was even angrier when Wanjala somehow escaped police custody. It was, of course, a huge embarrassment for the Kenyan Police Service. Just two days after Wanjala slipped his captors, the child killer was himself killed. He’d gone back to his parents’ village and holed up in an empty house nearby. News soon spread and a group of vengeful locals decided that the police had demonstrated that they weren’t capable of punishing Wanjala. Taking the law into their own hands, a small gang of them found their man and strangled him to death.

Richard Ramirez

The summer of 1985 saw ‘The Night Stalker’ terrorise Los Angeles in much the same way that David Berkowitz had done in New York City some eight years earlier. When the LAPD finally identified who the elusive murderer was, they faced a dilemma: keep it quiet and hope to find Richard Ramirez themselves, or release the man’s photo and rely on a public tip-off to flush him out? In the end, they opted for the latter option. Technically it worked, but it very nearly ended in another murder.

Returning home to LA on a bus from Tucson, Arizona, on the morning of 31st August 1985, Ramirez saw the bus depot teeming with police. He dived into a convenience store for some respite, but shoppers inside quickly recognised him. After all, his easily identifiable face was plastered over the front pages of all the daily newspapers. Ramirez fled and botched a carjacking attempt. Soon, a group of some ten locals rounded on him and beat him until he was unconscious.

Police were called and only just managed to separate Ramirez from the baying crowd, effectively saving his life. Ramirez would live another 28 years, all of them in jail.

Michael Madison

In July 2013, police in Cleveland, Ohio, responded to a report of a foul stench coming from a garage rented by a man called Michael Madison. A decomposing body was soon found. Further searches in and around the area uncovered two more corpses wrapped in plastic bags. Madison was soon arrested, tried and found guilty of the three murders.

During his trial, Madison was often seen smirking when his victims’ families gave evidence or read out victim impact statements. On one such occasion, Van Terry - father of the murdered Shirellda Helen Terry - lost his temper and dived halfway across the courtroom in an attempt to get to his daughter’s killer. Luckily for Madison, Terry’s efforts were blocked by court security. Van Terry was released without charge. Madison got the death sentence.

Jeffrey Dahmer

We’ve heard about serial killers attacked on the street, on the run and in the courtroom. Now, for our final two examples, we have to go behind bars, where infamous and perverted serial killers are not very popular.

‘Milwaukee Monster’ Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men between 1978 and 1991. In the course of his awful crimes, he carried out some truly unspeakable acts of torture as well as several acts of cannibalism and necrophilia.

By 1992, he was safely ensconced in the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Well, ‘safely’ for the young men of Wisconsin, anyway. Dahmer himself was far from safe. In 1994, an inmate called Osvaldo Durruthy slashed his throat with a razor melted into a toothbrush. Dahmer survived the ambush. He did not, however, survive the second attempt on his life.

Christopher Scarver bludgeoned him to death one day in the prison gymnasium because he was ‘fiercely disgusted’ by Dahmer’s sick crimes. Scarver would go on to claim that he was left alone with Dahmer by prison guards who were only too happy to see the serial killer violently attacked or even killed. This allegation was never proven.

Albert DeSalvo

Some 60 years after the crimes were committed, there’s still some doubt now over whether or not Albert DeSalvo really was ‘The Boston Strangler’. Despite his confessions, many experts, criminologists and true crime fans now believe Albert Henry DeSalvo to be innocent of at least some of the 13 murders between 1962 and 1964.

DeSalvo copped to them, however, and found himself in jail serving a life sentence from 1967. Six years into his term, DeSalvo was stabbed to death by Irish-American gangster Robert Wilson from Boston’s infamous ‘Winter Hill Gang’. Some say the murder was merely down to a dispute over DeSalvo selling amphetamines inside. Others say it was because of the Irish mob’s declared morals surrounding violence towards women. Either way, on November 25th 1973, the man said to be ‘The Boston Strangler’ died of stab wounds in the infirmary of Walpole Prison.

While none of these attacks may have been right, ethically or legally, the serial killers probably won’t get much sympathy from the families of their victims. They would instead be far more concerned with whether or not their loved ones could find some peace after their untimely deaths.