THE BLACKOUT KILLER
London didn't just have to contend with the casual carnage of German bombs in World War Two. In February 1942, a new and more domestic threat stalked the streets: the so-called Blackout Killer. Journalists of the day compared him to Jack the Ripper, and with good reason. During a tight timeframe, this shadowy figure killed and mutilated a number of women, taking advantage of the wartime blackouts to indulge his urges. One of his victims was found dead in an air raid shelter; another was found in her own flat, her injuries so severe, the pathologist declared the killer to be a "savage sexual maniac".
Fortunately, unlike Jack the Ripper, the Blackout Killer was eventually apprehended after he left an RAF-issued gas mask at the scene of a crime. The service number led police to Gordon Frederick Cummins, who was indeed a member of the RAF, and had been nicknamed "the Count" because he claimed to have royal blood. He was found guilty by the jury in just half an hour, and later hanged. During an air raid, appropriately enough.
THE BLACK PANTHER
Donald Neilson was one of the most daring and vicious killers Britain has ever seen. Not to be confused with the notorious sexual serial killer Dennis Nilsen, this murderer was motivated not by perversity, but by money. Born Donald Nappey, he changed his name because he didn't want his daughter to be bullied for his surname like he was. This compassion wasn't extended to his victims, as Neilson graduated from serial burglaries (he apparently broke into over 400 houses) to brutal armed robberies in the 1970s.
His attacks on post offices led to him shooting three people dead. One of the crimes inspired his nickname, "The Black Panther", when the wife of a victim described him as being quick like a panther. Neilson then took things even further when he kidnapped heiress Lesley Whittle to get money from her wealthy family. The plan went badly wrong and Lesley was found dead. Neilson himself was eventually snared in dramatic fashion, while in the process of abducting two police officers at gunpoint.
Mary Ann Cotton
The drudgery of working class life in Victorian England provided the perfect cover for the shocking crimes of Mary Ann Cotton. Propelled by greed, the frequently married Mary Ann murdered three of her husbands to collect on their insurance policies. Not only that - she's suspected of also having poisoned and killed many of her own children, as well as her mother.
Her method of killing made doctors of the day assume her victims had succumbed to gastric problems. It didn't help that nutrition was generally poor among members of her social class, and disease was rife. Cold and heartless, Mary Ann Cotton would literally watch her victims twist and writhe in agony in front of her, but she herself would come to a grisly end when her hanging was botched, causing her to slowly choke to death.
A highly unlikely serial killer, Thomas Wainewright was a 19th Century dandy who mingled with some of the most famous personalities of his day, from William Blake to Keats. Wainewright himself was a talented author and artist who wrote for bohemian magazines and had works exhibited at the prestigious Royal Academy. Yet behind his silver-tongued and admirable façade lurked a cruel and calculating mind.
Yes, it was a dreadful thing to do, but she had very thick ankles.
Struggling for cash, he's thought to have poisoned his uncle to gain an inheritance, and then went on to kill his mother-in-law and sister-in-law for financial reasons. He was eventually arrested for forgery - the authorities likely knew he was a killer, but didn't have the evidence to prove it. Forgery did the trick, though, and Wainewright was expelled to a penal colony in Australia. According to one account, when asked if he had indeed poisoned his sister-in-law, he replied: "Yes, it was a dreadful thing to do, but she had very thick ankles."
THE CAMDEN RIPPER
A more recent killer whose notoriety vanished as swiftly as it come is Anthony Hardy, the so-called "Camden Ripper". An apparently unremarkable engineer, he was captured in 2003 in circumstances that would almost be farcical if they weren't so macabre. The body of his first victim, a local prostitute, was actually found lying in his house when police came calling to investigate him for vandalism. Yet Hardy wasn't charged with her murder because an autopsy had found she had died of natural causes - despite the signs of physical injury.
It was much later when a homeless man found parts of dismembered corpses in bin bags, which were linked back to Hardy, who had gone one the run. His flat was discovered to be a gruesome lair of weapons and body parts - the remains of two more victims. Hardy was eventually arrested after a violent scuffle, and given a whole life sentence.