Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Ratcliffe Highway Murders

Serial Mass Murder

It's unusual for someone who kills in a manner categorized as mass murder — more than three people in a single location — to go on to commit that same crime again. We may think of the Manson Family, who in 1969 killed five people at the Sharon Tate/Roman Polanski residence, and the next night killed the LaBianca couple, but that was in response to a vision and not the act of a single perpetrator. However, there have been a few notable cases.

Anatoly Onoprienko
Anatoly Onoprienko

In Russia during the early 1990s, a man began to slaughter whole families with a shotgun. Called the Terminator, Anatoly Onoprienko terrorized the Ukraine, murdering a dozen women before he turned his rage into a more wholesale slaughter. After taking what he could from the victims, he usually burned their homes. Sometimes he scattered photographs of the family, as if the very idea of kinship enraged him — perhaps because he had been placed in an orphanage after his mother's death. In addition, he killed people at random — a police officer, men sitting in a car, people who merely looked at him as he fled a crime scene. His threats to a cousin alerted police, who found possessions from the victims in his girlfriend's home. There was no doubt he was a serial killer, or that he included groups of people in his rampage. Onoprienko claimed to have killed more than fifty people because "voices from above" had ordered him to kill, but no one took this play for psychosis seriously.

As for the Ratcliffe murders, the motive remained a mystery and a source of conversation for crime buffs in the decades to come. Colin Wilson indicated that Williams was syphilitic and harbored a grudge against humanity. Thus, he was acting out against people in general and would have continued to do so. The fact that the murders stopped after his apprehension and death, he added, was an additional indictment against him. Wilson also adds that Williams had told a friend who later reported it that after the Marr massacre, he was out of sorts, indicating, "I am unhappy and cannot remain easy." Apparently that statement was suspicious.

However, James and Critchley believes that the proceedings were performed  too quickly as a way to close the case and appease the frightened citizens. An early witness report insisted that the two men seen on the road that night outside the Kings Arms tavern had spoken and one had called out what sounded like a name — Mahoney or Hughey. William's name did not sound like that, but once he was in custody, that piece of the puzzle was soon forgotten. These authors do admit that Williams had misrepresented himself on occasion and was perhaps going by an alias, but following leads about two men walking up the street together (who were not proven to have had anything to do with the murders) dismissed the facts about the open tavern window and the footprint in the mud outside. They believe that it was possible someone else had perpetrated the assaults, making Williams merely a tragic and unfortunate pawn.

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