Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killers Who Surrender

Hate Crimes

On June 12, 1960, a pair of shoes and a lot of blood were found in a car that had crashed into a lamppost in Baslow, England, but the driver was nowhere to be found. Later that same day, the body of a shoeless man was found on an isolated moor, his head clearly battered. He was identified as William Elliott, age 60, who lived alone. Investigators believed that he'd been the victim of an accident, wandering from the car until he dropped over and died. But then the autopsy indicated that his wounds had come from a boot, not from hitting his head on some part of the car.

After a witness report about a man chasing Elliott and beating him up, the police questioned a number of people, including Michael Copeland, a 20-year-old soldier on leave from the British army stationed in Germany. He had a criminal record, but there was no evidence against him, so he was let go.

Map of Germany with Verden locator
Map of Germany with Verden locator

Later that year, a 16-year-old male, Gunther Helmbrecht, was stabbed to death in near Verden, Germany, where Copeland was stationed. He became a suspect after he came into his barracks that same evening suffering from a knife wound. Under interrogation, he claimed that two civilians had attacked him, and when no evidence linked him to Helmbrecht, he was released.

Copeland returned to Chesterfield, England, and soon another male corpse turned up in the spring of 1961. The body had been dumped in a location near where Elliott had been killed and the victim's similar type of head injury linked him tentatively with Elliott. Since Copeland was back in the area, he was again questioned, but this murder went unsolved.

Two years passed, and in 1963 Copeland suddenly called to confess, but his reasoning became rather convoluted. It seems that one of the police officers had developed an association with him, keeping him under surveillance, and this is the man he told about his part in the murders. They had been hate crimes, Copeland admitted, because he'd believed the men to be homosexuals, but he did have some regret over the fatal incident in Germany.

However, Copeland refused to make a formal statement and then he recanted his confession. Still, Copeland's case went to trial, as he himself said he hoped it would, because he wanted to use the courtroom to prove his innocence. Once he did that, he said, the police would stop watching him. However, the circumstantial facts, along with his original confession, did him in. Copeland was convicted and sentenced to be executed. His sentence was later commuted to life.

Another type of anger drove the next killer, who not only turned himself in, but had planned to do so even before he began to kill.