In order to protect the public, a member of any police force is permitted to use what’s often referred to as ‘reasonable force’ with a criminal or suspected criminal. In extreme circumstances, those officers - if issued a firearm - may even be legally allowed to shoot and kill an assailant.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the only times that someone working for a police force has taken someone’s life with violence. Over the years, plenty of officers have murdered the very people they're paid to protect. Some have even acquired a taste for it and claimed multiple victims. While extremely rare, these cases are genuinely shocking.
These are the worst examples of serial killer cops.
Joseph James DeAngelo
Where else to start but with the highest profile policeman serial killer ever? But for revelatory DNA evidence many years after his vicious killings, Joe DeAngelo would likely have remained anonymous and unpunished forever.
At the very least, the man who was known separately as ‘The Visalia Ransacker’, ‘The East Area Rapist’, ‘The Original Night Stalker’ and ‘The Golden State Killer’ committed 51 rapes, 120 burglaries and 13 murders across California between 1976 and 1986. His identity plagued police and true crime enthusiasts for decades. Few could believe the truth when it emerged. The man responsible served for years as a police officer in the state in which he burgled, raped and murdered.
‘The Werewolf’ committed truly barbaric murders on an almost unfathomable scale in Russia between 1992 and 2012. Nicknamed as he was because of the incredible violence shown towards his victims, the killer was almost regarded as more beast than man. So when a policy of gathering and storing mandatory DNA samples of all police officers identified serving officer Mikhail Popkov as The Werewolf, the nation was appalled.
Popkov was driven by a hatred of women and later claimed his mission in life, he felt, was to ‘cleanse Russia’s streets of prostitutes’. He confessed to 83 murders in total.
Gerard John Schaefer Jr.
Known as 'The Killer Cop' due to his job as a sheriff's deputy in Martin County, Florida, Gerard Schaefer also earned the moniker 'The Hangman' due to his utterly vile modus operandi. He bound his young female victims to trees, tied a hangman's noose around their necks, raped, mutilated, sexually tortured and hung them.
While he was only convicted of the murders of two young women, police are certain that he was responsible for many more, perhaps more than 25.
His former employers found a use for their ex-colleague in prison, tasking him with informing on fellow inmates. He did so with some glee, proudly helping bust a child sex abuse image network.
In December 1995, he was stabbed more than 40 times in the face, eyes, neck and body. His killer never revealed the motive, but it's generally accepted that Schaefer's ratting was behind it.
Gennady Modestovich Mikhasevich was a prolific Soviet serial killer who killed 36 women between 1971 to 1985. Although that figure could actually be closer to 60. He was a volunteer police officer throughout his time as a callous killer of women and was often assigned to investigate his own murders; interviewing suspects and even handling evidence from the crime scenes.
Mikhasevich oversaw and took part in coercion, torture and threats to elicit false confessions out of thirteen other men for his crimes, all of whom were convicted in his place. Twelve were sent to forced labour camps and one was even shot dead by police.
He was eventually caught and it’s believed that he has since been killed in prison.
Florisvaldo de Oliveira
On 22nd August 2012, convicted police officer Florisvaldo de Oliviera (nicknamed ‘Cabo Bruno’) was released from a Brazilian prison after having served 27 years inside. That’s a long time to be in jail, but not that long compared to Cabo Bruno’s original sentence of some 113 years.
Why such a staggeringly long sentence? That’s the kind of time that a judge will give you when you’re responsible for having murdered more than 50 people.
Cabo Bruno is not your usual serial killer. He didn’t prey on women, young people or sex workers. He targeted criminals. In essence, he was a vigilante. He was no antihero, though. His staunch religious upbringing meant that he’d class anyone as a legitimate target. You could become a victim of the man just from living in a Sao Paulo favela and having a tattoo, something he regarded as inherently ‘criminal’.
De Oliviera was gunned down execution-style in what was undoubtedly a revenge attack just one month after his release from prison.
John Christie - The infamous Rillington Place Strangler was a War Reserve policeman during World War Two and a special constable for a short period. He killed his first victim, Ruth Fuerst, while serving as a special in 1943.
David Alan Gore - Gore was what’s known as an ‘auxiliary sheriff's deputy’ who was known to wave his badge about to gain trust and assist him in some of his crimes. Between 1981 and 1983, him and his cousin, Fred Waterfield, raped and killed six women in Florida.
Dennis Nilsen - The Muswell Hill Murderer Dennis Nilsen was a failure as a police officer, lasting barely eight months in the Met.
Norbert Poehlke - After his daughter’s cancer treatment bankrupted his family, this German police officer took to robbing banks and killing his getaway drivers with a hammer. He totalled six murders before taking his life when the jig was finally up in 1985.
Rosemary Ndlovu - This South African policewoman killed relatives and boyfriends in order to cash in on insurance money, albeit her crimes came after her stint in the force.
Zeng Kaigui - 13,000 Chinese police officers were tasked with tracking down their colleague, a man who had been responsible for multiple robberies and murders in the early 2000s.
Tore Hedin - Responsible for the worst mass murder in Swedish history, serving police officer Tore Hedin killed ten people.
François Vérove - A rapist and serial killer, 'The Pockmarked Man' killed at least three - and as many as ten - people while working in various policing roles in the Île-de-France region of France between 1986 and 1994. He killed himself in September 2021 upon realising that he was about to be identified.