It’s not uncommon for killers or serial sexual offenders to enact crimes in a controlled environment, such as one’s home or property. For some, the basement is a means to an end - a way to quickly get rid of a body in a place where no one’s going to stumble upon it. But for methodical offenders, the basement can function as a makeshift prison for victims. Famous killers, such as John Wayne Gacy and alleged cannibal Gary Heidnik, used their homes to conduct and conceal murders. Others, like The Toy Box Killer, owned a remote property that allowed him to imprison women, undetected.
These basements from across the world - from dirty rooms at the bottom of New York tenements to carefully constructed chambers beneath an Austrian home - reflect how some criminals managed to evade police detection. The most recent crime on this list happened in 2016, and the earliest was from when H.H. Holmes dedicated an entire castle to murder in the late 19th century.
H.H. Holmes's 'Murder Castle'
H.H. Holmes, or Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, is thought to have killed up to 200 people from 1891 to 1894. Holmes only confessed to 27 murders, for which the state of Illinois hung him in 1896. The doctor used his Chicago castle to trap, psychology torment, and kill.
He spent nearly a decade hiring and firing builders to add pieces to his “murder castle” that included pipes for pumping gas into bedrooms, a room built specifically to suffocate people, a basement used for murder and experimentation, and more.
Leonard Lake, along with Charles Ng murdered men, women, and children during the mid-1980s. The duo confined female victims in a chamber Lake designed in a remote California cabin. They abducted their victims - often families - and employed torture before killing them.
Lake committed suicide before police could arrest him. The state of California eventually apprehended Ng and charged him with 11 murders.
The Toy Box Killer's 100 Thousand Dollar Lair
David Parker Ray, also known as The Toy Box Killer, built a $100,000 torture chamber in New Mexico near his home in Elephant Butte. The refurbished steel-lined trailer is known as the “toy box.” The police arrested him in 1999 after one of his victims escaped.
While the FBI believes Ray, along with his accomplices, may have killed dozens of women, the courts convicted him of kidnap and rape in 2001, sentencing him to 224 years in prison.
Josef Fritzl abducted and confined his 18-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement he constructed beneath his Austrian home. Fritzl told his wife and the local police Elisabeth ran away but actually kept her in the 5-room basement for 24 years.
Fritzl reportedly sexually assaulted his daughter daily, and she mothered seven children as a result. One of the children died when Fritzl refused to take the infant to the hospital for medical treatment. In 2008, he allowed the eldest child, who was gravely ill, to leave, subsequently alerting the authorities to negligence. The Austrian courts convicted him of murder in 2009.