Serial killers are typically mundane, pathetic and even pitiable figures, a far cry from the darkly charismatic villains depicted in films and TV shows. Even so, the almost unbelievably gruesome nature of their crimes has made them the real-world equivalent of fairy tale monsters. Fearfully speculated over and mythologised, they’re the Minotaurs and Medusas of contemporary culture.
So it’s no surprise that every last detail of their lives has taken on a mystical, superstitious significance for many true crime followers. For example, there’s a weirdly persistent myth that a disproportionate number of serial killers are born in November (sorry to burst this particular bubble, but they’re really not).
There have also been attempts to fathom these modern monsters by looking to the heavens, and seeing if the stars and planets can partly hold the answers. Whatever you might think of astrology, it’s quite interesting seeing what connections can be made.
According to a 2008 study by statistician Dr Jan Ruis, there’s a significant correlation between serial killers and mutable star signs. For the benefit of the uninitiated, the mutable signs are those that coincide with the end of the seasons: Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces. In the words of the study, 'it is found that serial killers are frequently born when celestial factors are in mutable signs', and that based on the datasets analysed, 'some of the claims of astrologers cannot be rejected'.
Even if you think it’s all gobbledygook, it’s fair to say many of the world’s most notorious serial killers do indeed have these particular star signs. Let’s start with Pisces, which ranges from 19 February to 20 March. This sign has the dubious honour of having John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos, Dennis Radar (aka, the BTK Killer) and Richard Ramirez (aka the 'Night Stalker') among its chief representatives in the world of brutal murderers.
This seems a bit counterintuitive when you consider that Pisceans are generally supposed to be empathetic, dreamy and deeply sensitive types. Then again, serial killers are known for being obsessive fantasists and chronic daydreamers, so perhaps there’s something to this. Richard Ramirez, for example, had an obsession with the Devil, making some victims 'swear upon Satan' and displaying a pentagram drawn on his hand during a court appearance.
As a boy, he’d also come under the influence of his cousin Miguel, who showed him photos of sexual and homicidal atrocities he committed while fighting in Vietnam. As a sensitive, empathetic Piscean, Ramirez may have been prone to soaking up this macabre influence. Dennis Radar, meanwhile, had a very active fantasy life, even enacting one-man roleplay situations where he’d wear a female mask to pretend to be his own victim.
The next mutable sign, Gemini, encompasses the period from 21 May to 20 June. Its awful alumni include the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe, the American cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and David Berkowitz, the 'Son of Sam'. Geminis are known for being playful, quick-witted, fun to be around and lapping up attention. Take Dahmer, who was a flamboyant goofball at school, pretending to have seizures and pulling other pranks that became known as 'doing a Dahmer'. His friends even called themselves the Dahmer Fan Club.
As Gemini is symbolised by twins, there’s clearly an association with contradictory, dual personalities. Peter Sutcliffe is the quintessential example of the unlikely serial killer – a completely unremarkable married bloke who worked as a lorry driver while slaughtering women and casually spreading fear and panic across the north of England.
Virgo people are born between 23 August and 22 September, and are known as highly meticulous, practical, detail-focused, perfectionist types. It doesn’t take a forensic psychologist to deduce why such traits can come in handy when you’re planning on a string of killings.
One of the most infamous serial killer campaigns in US history was the Boston Strangler’s, which unfolded in the early 60s. The Strangler struck quickly and efficiently, gaining entry to people’s homes and seemingly vanishing into thin air. The man most widely suspected of being the Strangler was a Virgo, Albert DeSalvo (though it’s important to note that many believe others were involved).
Another Virgo killer was Ed Gein, the inspiration for Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, who fashioned spectacularly horrific ornaments, items of clothing and even furniture from pieces of human bodies. Which you could argue was Virgo meticulousness and industriousness taken to an outrageous extreme.
And then we come to Sagittarius, the star sign of those born between 22 November and 21 December. If you were wondering whether Ted Bundy was going to turn up among the mutable signs, here he is – alongside his peers in depravity Rose West and Dennis Nilsen.
Sagittarians are known for being energetic thrill-seekers and travellers who are impulsive, charismatic, with a penchant for edgy bluntness. Ted Bundy is in many respects a textbook example of a Sagittarian gone horribly wrong. His thrill-seeking lead him to kill opportunistically for sexual kicks time and time again right across the United States, while his wily, combative personality made him a gift for interviewers.
Rose West, meanwhile, is known for her acerbic and plain-speaking personality, and may be seen as an extreme embodiment of the sign’s tendency to self-centredness. Or, perhaps she’s just a murderous psychopath. Fortunately, deciding whether the destinies of serial killers are written in the stars isn’t a subject any jurors will have to tackle anytime soon.