Trigger warning: graphic descriptions of violence
Since photography was created in the 1940s, crime scenes and criminals were being photographed. However, it was Alphonse Bertillon, inventor of the mug shot, who came up with a system of standard metrics that led to serious improvements in the investigative process.
Today, crime scene photography is often cited in court cases as substantial evidence, and so forensic photographers must be well aware of the important parts of a crime scene and the way that they should be photographed so that they can be used in cases.
There’s far more to photographing a crime scene than just pulling out a camera and capturing a few images. Professionals in forensic photography must have a deep understanding of investigative and judicial processes and must have an eye for detail. One missed image could be the difference between convicting a dangerous criminal and letting them walk free.
While detectives and police officers are given most of the credit in Hollywood films, in reality, crime scene photographers are just as essential to the investigative process. In fact, some crime scene photos have been pivotal in building cases against some of history’s most famous murders. Let’s look back through some crime scene photos from some of the world’s most high-profile cases and examine how they may have helped solve the murders in question.
Theodore Robert Bundy, better known as Ted Bundy, is one of the most well-known serial killers in the history of the United States. He kidnapped, raped, and murdered at least 30 women between 1974 and 1978. However, his true murder count could potentially have been much higher.
He admitted to revisiting the graves of his victims, grooming them, and performing sexual acts on the decomposing corpses. He would also decapitate some of his victims and keep their severed heads as trophies in his apartment.
This particular crime scene photo comes from the day Ted Bundy was arrested in 1975 by Utah Highway Patrol officer Bob Hayward. Hayward saw Bundy cruising around the suburban areas of Granger just before dawn and said that Bundy’s Volkswagen started fleeing at great speed once he saw the patrol car.
When Hayward finally pulled the Volkswagen over, he saw that the front seat had been removed (presumably so that Bundy could stash the bodies of his victims in the car) and that there were “burglary tools” in the trunk, including a ski mask, handcuffs, pantyhose with eyes and a mouth cut out of them, a crowbar, trash bags, and an ice pick.
Unfortunately, as overwhelmingly suspicious as this photo is, the prosecution did not have enough evidence to convict Bundy in the case that followed this arrest. As a result, he was once again released onto the streets where he would commit numerous other atrocities.
John Wayne Gacy
Known to many as the “Killer Clown,” John Wayne Gacy is also one of the more renowned serial killers to terrorize the United States. Gacy became a member of the clown club in his local community in the metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois.
As a participant in the club, he would regularly perform as one of his characters “Pogo the Clown” or “Patches the Clown” at local events and hospitals. This gave him the opportunity to come into close contact with the young men and boys that would eventually become his victims.
He would lure people into his home, handcuff them (pretending that it was part of a magic trick), and then proceed to rape and torture his victim before ultimately killing them.
In December 1978, police investigators obtained a search warrant for Gacy’s suburban Chicago home and discovered a total of 29 bodies on the property, 26 of which were in a crawl space underneath the house and the other three of which were found in the backyard.
The crawl space in question is pictured in the crime scene photo above. When the police first arrived at Gacy’s one-story, ranch-style house, Gacy himself led them to the garage and marked a spot on the floor with spray paint where the bodies were buried. He then pointed out a trapdoor that led to the crawl space where all of the other bodies were buried.
Nicknamed the “Milwaukee Monster” or the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Jeffrey Dahmer is one of history’s most terrifying serial killers because of the unthinkable and gruesome things that he did to his victims.
He is believed to have murdered around 17 young men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Many of his victims were dismembered and eaten by Dahmer or preserved in one of his freezers. He was also known to have engaged in necrophilia with many of his victims’ bodies and to have preserved parts of their skeletons as mementos to his murders.
While the police investigators who raided Dahmer’s apartment found horrifying evidence such as parts of real human skeletons and frozen heads, perhaps the most disturbing thing found in the apartment was Dahmer’s dresser drawer full of Polaroid photos (pictured in the crime scene photo above).
Among these photos were images of dismembered body parts, headless bodies propped up in strange positions, and Dahmer’s victims naked and tied up while still alive. Dahmer’s dresser drawer may very well have contained the most disturbing collection of photographs ever assembled.
Known to some as the “Plainfield Ghoul” or the “Butcher of Plainfield,” Ed Gein came into the public eye when the local authorities of Plainfield, Wisconsin discovered that he had been digging up corpses from a local graveyard and using their bones and skin to fashion trophies and household objects. He also admitted to the murder of two women: a local tavern owner named Mary Hogan and a local hardware store owner named Bernice Worden.
No, Ed Gein is not exactly famous for killing a large number of people. He’s famous for the nightmarish things that he did with human corpses, all but two of which were already deceased when he got to them.
When the authorities searched his home, they found bowls made out of human skulls, human skin covering chair seats, masks made from the skin of female faces, a wastebasket made of human skin, leggings made out of human skin, a belt made from human female nipples, a lampshade made from the skin of a human face, and a pair of lips attached to the drawstring for a window shade. The list goes on.
Ed Gein’s house, which is pictured above, was something straight out of a film like The Silence of the Lambs or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, except for the fact that it was entirely real.
Known as the “Green River Killer,” Gary Ridgway gained media attention after committing a long string of murders in the state of Washington between the 1980s and 1990s. It wasn’t until after five bodies were found in the Green River that police were aware of his ongoing killing spree.
At the time that the nickname was coined, no one knew who the murderer was. By the time Ridgway was identified, he had killed at least 71 people (although he claimed that he probably killed over 90).
Ridgway would often strangle his victims to death and then dispose of their bodies in the wooded areas of Kings County, Washington near the Green River. Oftentimes, he would return to the bodies and have sexual intercourse with them.
The task force that was investigating these murders often interviewed another killer on this list, Ted Bundy, for his opinions on psychology and motivation, which helped lead to the capture of Gary Ridgway.