Can you spot the killer?

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Winston Mosely murdered New York bartender Kitty Genovese in an infamous 1964 knife attack that raised questions about the role of bystanders in crime. When he died in prison this week at age 81, his old mug shot (far left in the lineup above) was splashed across the Internet and  we all thought simultaneously, “Yep, that man looks like a killer.”

And, yes, Mosely was a killer, even before we associated his face with homicide. He just looked bad, didn’t he? The kind of guy you might cross the street to avoid walking past.

It’s just part of the human survival instinct to make such snap decisions based only on what we see. A gazelle doesn’t stop to consider whether a lion might be a vegan … the gazelle just runs. But we humans have learned—mostly—that such snap decisions can also be wrong. What frightens us most might be that we can’t always tell who’ll slit our throats just by looking. One common trait for most serial killers is that, until they are caught, few suspect anything sinister about them … and that goes for the scary-ugly ones, too.

Ted Bundy‘s most dangerous weapon was his attractiveness and charm. Green River Killer Gary Ridgway looked like a nebbish. BTK killer Dennis Rader might have been mistaken for your kindly uncle. Andrew Cunanan looked like a frat boy on spring break. In one of Facebook’s several true-crime groups, dozens of female members recently posted on a thread that asked: “Which Serial Killer would you like to date?”

All the men pictured above are killers. Four of the five look like they came straight from Central Casting. Those first four (from left, Mosely; serial killer Rodney Alcala; 2011 Tucson mass murderer Jared Loughner; and Night Stalker Richard Ramirez) are officially responsible for more than two dozen deaths. They might have killed more that we don’t know about, but their collective body count is known to be 26.

The handsome guy on the extreme right (no pun intended)? Doesn’t look like a killer, does he? Some ladies might even cross the street just to pass near him, yes? In fact, that’s just a randomly chosen control image to make the others look even scarier, right?

Nope, that’s Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer who slaughtered 77 people—many of them children—in 2011. Yes, your math is correct: He killed more people than all those ugly guys combined.

(That featured image at the top of the page? That’s West Virginia serial killer Charles Severance.)

 

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