• West Cork Literary Festival 8-15 July 2022

10 Famous Writers: 10 Terrifying Crimes

Writing.ie | Magazine | The Big Idea
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By Luis Forte

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Last week the Specsavers Crime Thillers Awards took place in London, and last night they were aired on ITV3. With this in mind, we thought we’d bring you Luis Forte’s post on writers who kill, in real cases of life imitating art..intrigued? We were….But first, the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards Winners are:

  • Peter May – Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year
  • Wiley Cash – CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger
  • Ray Celestin – CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger
  • Robert Harris – CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller of the Year
  • Denise Mina, Robert Harris and Midsomer Murders were inducted into the Hall of Fame
  • Keeley Hawes for Line of Duty – Dagger for Best Actress
  • Matthew McConaughey for True Detective – Dagger for Best Actor
  • James Norton for Happy Valley – Dagger for Best Supporting Actor
  • Amanda Abbington for Sherlock – Dagger for Best Supporting Actress
  • Happy Valley – Dagger for Best TV Series
  • True Detective – Dagger for Best International TV Series
  • Cold in July – Dagger for Best Film

So now, are there really writers who kill? Seems so – here are the top 10 according to Luis Forte:

In the history of literature, crime fiction has always been the most popular genre. The majority of best-sellers are influenced by a true story narrating a chilling event. But writers, in general, are the artists who receive less pay for their work. Perhaps there arises the idea that all of them end up crazy or maniacs. And even though a lot of people believe that a writer is always an educated individual with a tendency to solitude and completely harmless, I must say that not all of them are so docile. Writers, before all else, are human beings who suffer and smile, and their imaginative minds are sometimes even darker and gloomier compared to any other mortal.

william-burroughs140x2101. William Burroughs (February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was a novelist, short story writer, social critic and essayist. He was considered one of the main figures of the Beat Generation, among Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His work provides a great autobiographical influence, as it displays his consumption of heroin and other hallucinogenic substances. He was an excellent experimenter as well as innovator of language. His most important books include: Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, Queer, and Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict.

While Burroughs and his wife Joan Vollmer Adams Burroughs were in Mexico fleeing from American justice, they came up with the idea of ​​playing one of the most significant scenes of Swiss independence, one in which William Tell shoots an apple off the head of his son. Unlike a crossbow, Burroughs used a gun, and despite the fact that he was a terrific shooter, apparently he and his wife had taken too many toxic substances, because the event did not end as intended. Unfortunately the shot, instead of perforating the apple, went straight to the brow of his beloved wife. This marked a before and after in his literature.


Die große Samstags-Dokumentation2. Johann “Jack” Unterwege (16 August 1950 – 29 June 1994) was an Austrian writer and a serial killer. He is believed to have killed more than 12 prostitutes in Europe and Los Angeles. His first victim was an 18 years old named Margaret Schäfer in 1974, whom he strangled with her own bra. Unterwege was sentenced to life in prison and while serving sentence he wrote stories, poems, and his autobiography Fegefeuer oder die Reise ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the Trip to Prison) that would be later adapted ​​into a film.

After spending 15 years in prison he was released in 1990 by request of several intellectuals and Austrian politicians that claimed his complete rehabilitation. But the following year he murdered about 6 more prostitutes, and in 1992 he was pursued by the United States after killing 3 other women, who were beaten and sexually assaulted with tree branches before being strangled with their own brassieres. He was arrested in Miami in February of 1992 and taken to Austria. After the trial he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole on account of eleven deaths. That night he was found hanging in his cell. He had used his shoelaces and his belt, similar to what he did to execute his victims.


francois-villon140x2103. François Villon (born in Paris in 1431 or 1432, disappeared from view in 1463)

Honored in the masterly essay by Paul Verlaine Les Poètes maudits, François Villon has been one of the world’s greatest poets. He was considered by many as the most illustrious and genuine precursor of the cursed poetry. There are no official dates of his birth nor of his death. At the time his father died when he was a child his mother confided his education to the teacher Guillaume de Villon, from whom he would eventually take the last name as a symbol of gratitude.

François Villon used to frequent both the classroom and the taverns and brothels. One day he started a fight with Philippe Sermoise, a rogue priest who disputed the free favors of a beautiful girl. François, who was losing the fight, grabbed the dagger from his belt and struck down his romantic rival. Then he had to flee Paris after being accused of murdering the priest.

In 1456 he obtained a pardon, but later with a group of friends he looted the Collège de Navarre. After being imprisoned many times he confessed all of his crimes including the priest’s death. He was sentenced to be hanged and strangled. His masterpiece Ballade des pendus was written while awaiting his death. However, fortune smiled on him again and the sentence was commuted to 10 years of exile from Paris. It was never heard from him again.


anne-perry140x2104. Anne Perry (28 October 1938) is an English detective fiction writer. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis when she was a child and sent to a warmer place for possible recovery. At thirteen she went to live with her family to New Zealand, where she met her best friend Pauline Parker. While her parents were in the process of separating, they decided to send Perry to a relative’s house in South Africa. But the two friends had other plans: going back to England alongside Anne’s father after the divorce.

On 22 June 1954, the two girls took Honora Rieper, Pauline’s mother, for a walk in Victoria Park in their home town. Once they were on a lonely trail, Anne threw an ornamental stone for Honora to pick up after which Pauline, her daughter, was supposed to hit her in the head with a brick wrapped in a stocking. Instead of one, they needed 45 strokes to complete the brutal crime. Given that they were very young, according to New Zealand law at that time, they were not sentenced to death. They were released five years later on the condition that they never communicate or see each other again. The horrible murder was made ​​into a film by the name of Heavenly Creatures in 1994.


MAC2_4:ALTHUS.TIF5. Louis Althusser (16 October 1918 – 22 October 1990) was a French Marxist philosopher considered, along with Levi-Strauss and Lacan, one of the most prominent representatives of structuralism. He took part in World War II and was captured by German troops. As a result he remained for five years in a POW camp. Two years later, in 1947, he was diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis and was interned in a psychiatric hospital. Due to his condition he was intermittently interned in the hospital until the day of his death.

Nobody would explain better than Althusser what he did to his wife when he was 62:

“But this time it’s the front of her neck that I’m massaging. I place my two thumbs on the hollow of flesh round the top of the breastbone and, applying pressure, one thumb to the right, the other aslant to the left, I slowly reach the harder zone beneath the ears. I massage in a V. I feel a great muscular fatigue in my forearms; they ache whenever I give a massage.

Helene’s features are serene and motionless, her open eyes gazing up at the ceiling.

I’ve seen dead people before, to be sure, but never in my life have I seen the face of a strangled woman. I nevertheless know she’s been strangled. But how? I stand up and I cry out, I’ve strangled Helene.”

This is a passage from his autobiographical book The Future Lasts a Long Time, a huge best-seller in France. Although he was indicted for murder, the case was closed because three experts identified that Althusser had committed murder in an act of madness. Some of his major books are: Reading Capital, 1965, and Essays in Self-criticism, 1974.


thomas-griffiths-wainewright140x2106. Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (October, 1794 – August 17, 1847) was a British painter, a writer, and a criminal. He was 25 years old when he started his literary career writing for The Literary Pocket-Book, the Blackwood’s Magazine, The Foreign Quarterly Review, and The London Magazine. Some of his paintings were exhibited at The Royal Academy and he also illustrated a few poems of William Chamberlayne.

It is said that he poisoned with strychnine some of his relatives, among them: his sister-in-law who was only 20 years old and whose life was insured for 18,000 pounds a few months before; an old uncle from whom he inherited a house and a small fortune; and his mother-in-law who had changed her will in favor of Eliza, his wife. He also forged and transferred shares from Eliza’s account. He is currently known as “The poisoner of London”.



issei-sagawa140x2107. Issei Sagawa (April 26, 1949) is a Japanese writer who was accused of murder and cannibalism. He currently lives in Tokyo and is considered a minor celebrity in his hometown, so he is frequently invited to TV shows. Besides the books he wrote about the murder he committed when he was a university student, he has written Shonen A, a book about Seito Sakkakibara, a 14-year-old murderer.

Sagawa studied Literature at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris. On June 11, 1981, he invited the young Dutch student Renée Hartevelt for dinner at his place to talk about German poetry for a class he was taking. After she began reading, Sagawa shot her in the back of her neck with a rifle. Then he had sex with the corpse and started eating her buttocks and thighs. He kept eating the different parts of the body for two days. He said that human meat is tender and tastes like tuna. He placed the mutilated body into a baggage and threw it into a lake. When the police interrogated him he confessed everything in a calm way.

After this crime Sagawa was declared insane and judged as such. But a few months later he was mistakenly diagnosed with advanced encephalitis and they predicted he will live just a few weeks more. Therefore France removed the charges and he got his freedom. He was extradited to Japan and immediately admitted into a maximum security psychiatric hospital. On August, 1986, he checked himself out of the hospital and has been a free man since that moment.


maria-carolina-geel140x2108. Maria Carolina Geel (1913 – 1996) was a Chilean writer, a woman listed as controversial both for her irreverent and daring literature and for her life. Her first book was El mundo dormido de Yenia (The Sleeping World of Yenia) in 1946. It was followed by: Extraño estío (Strange Summer) (1947), which tells the story of a divorced woman and then: Soñaba y amaba el adolescente Perces (The Teen Perces Dreamed and Loved) (1949); El pequeño arquitecto (Little Architect) (1956) and Huida (Escape) (1961). She was a friend of Gabriela Mistral, Amanda Labarca and María Monvel, among others. In 1949 she wrote Siete escritoras chilenas (Seven Chilean Writers), a book about literary criticism, an undeveloped field by the writers of her time.

On April 14th, 1956, in the famous Hotel Crillón, at aged 46, Maria Carolina fired four times against her lover Roberto Pumarino Valenzuela who was just 32. Eyewitnesses noted in the newspapers of the time, that after committing the murder, the writer threw herself on her victim and then kissed him and hugged him exclaiming: “He was what I loved most on earth”. She was sentenced to three years in prison. While in prison she wrote one of her greatest novels, Cárcel de mujeres (Women’s Prison); which surprised the critics because it ranged between testimonial literature and fiction. Thanks to her friend and Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral, she was granted clemency.


hans-fallada140x2109. Hans Fallada (21 July 1893 – 5 February 1947) was one of the most famous German writers of the last century. He wrote multiple novels about social criticism. His first big success came with the book Little Man, What Now?, in 1932, which was a bestseller in the United States and Great Britain. In 1937 he published another successful novel, Wolf Among Wolves, that marked his temporary return to the realist style; and in 1947 he launched yet another bestseller: Every Man Dies Alone.

After his parents learned that he had an intimate relationship he was sent to an institution when he was a teenager. Then Hans and his best friend Hanns Dietrich agreed to commit a double suicide masked in the form of a duel to make it look more honorable. That was caused by their sexual preferences, along with the opinions of the homophobic society in which they were living, hence the two youngsters made their pact. However, since they were inexperienced with weapons, the result was not as expected. Dietrich missed the shot but Fallada didn’t miss Dietrich, killing him. Disturbed with the outcome, Fallada grabbed Dietrich’s gun and shot himself in the chest, but somehow he lived. Hans was arrested for murder and taken to a psychiatric hospital, which he left after being declared free of charges. But in 1944 he returned to behaving in a violent manner when in an argument with his ex-wife Hans shot her with a gun.


2008 WROCLAW  FOT. LUKASZ GIZA / AGENCJA GAZETA10. Krystian Bala (born 1973) is a Polish writer and photographer who in 2007 was sentenced to 25 years in prison for having coldly planned and executed the murder of Dariusz Janiszewski, owner of an advertising agency, and lover of his ex-wife. Although Bala declared that the evidence was circumstantial, psychologists decided that he was unquestionably guilty, and that he also had a sadistic personality.

In his novel Amok (meaning Blind homicidal rage in some central European languages​​), Bala thoroughly details how Janiszewski was tortured, mutilated, and thrown into the Oder river. And though Bala has ensured that he was inspired by the information published by the press at the time, for the prosecution the details that appear in the book could only be known by the detectives and of course the murderer.


(c) Luis Forte 

luis_forte140x210This post was originally published on Luis’s fabulous website http://www.top13.net, but we thought it was so good, we’d repost here! Do check it out!

Luis Forte is a Senior Software Developer and founder of Top13.Net. After writing so many lines of computer code, he discovered that he loves writing online articles as much as programming. 
Although he is not a professional writer, Luis finds the art of writing fascinating; and with the help of Ray Faxas, an outstanding Cuban poet, he brought Top13.Net to life with the aspiration of entertaining all those thirsty readers online.
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