10 Infamous Serial Killers With Links to Montana

Today, I want to delve into a topic that many of us find morbid and unsettling, but one that still holds our attention and sends shivers down our spines: serial killers.

In particular, we will explore the topic of Montana serial killers, some of the most infamous murderers in the country.

This article will take you down a terrifying path of some of the darkest moments in Montana’s history and give you a glimpse into the minds of men who committed heinous crimes.

As we embark on this journey together, it’s important to acknowledge the discomfort and unease that many of us may feel when discussing these individuals.

But by facing our fears and understanding what drives serial killers to commit such brutal acts, we can better protect ourselves and our communities.

So whether you live in Montana or are just interested in the psychology behind some of America’s most notorious serial killers, this article is for you.

Let’s begin our exploration of Montana’s dark past and the twisted minds of the killers who terrorized the state.

Montana’s Most Notorious Serial Killers

A man in Montana wearing an orange prison suit and handcuffs.

It’s perplexing to try and understand what drives individuals to commit heinous acts and inflict so much pain and suffering on others.

As we look back on the crimes these killers have committed, we must remember to honor the innocent lives they took and to continue to strive for justice for their victims. Here’s a list of Montana’s top serial killers.

1. David Meirhofer

A man being escorted by police in Montana.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

The horrific crimes of David Meirhofer are sure to make anybody’s skin crawl when a seemingly unassuming man from Montana became responsible for a string of brutal serial killings that rocked the state in the 1970s.

His first victim was Susan Jaeger whom he took from a campsite at Missouri Headwaters State Park in 1973. Law enforcement eventually pieced together his gruesome pattern, but it was not an easy task.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation relied on offender profiling – a groundbreaking technique that was still in its early stages – to catch the elusive killer.

By analyzing the evidence, detectives were able to build a comprehensive picture of Meirhofer’s behavior and motivations, ultimately leading to his arrest.

But the story doesn’t end there. After his apprehension, Meirhofer revealed his guilt in a stunning suicide confession.

His admission finally brought a degree of closure to the victims’ families, who had suffered for years in the aftermath of his horrific crimes.

Meirhofer’s reign of terror claimed the lives of at least four people – a tragedy that cannot be overstated. He abducted and murdered young women from across the state, leaving a trail of devastation in his wake.

His victims were:

  • Sandra Smallegan
  • Bernard Poelman
  • Michael Raney
  • Susan Jaeger

He lived in New York City but committed all of his brutal murders in Gallatin County, a serene and peaceful location.

2. Nathaniel Benjamin Levi Bar-Jonah

Nathaniel Benjamin Levi Bar-Jonah, born David Paul Brown, had a long history of criminal activity starting from crimes he committed in Massachusetts.

In 1974, he pleaded guilty to impersonating a policeman and assaulting an 8-year-old boy. He also kidnapped and attempted to murder two boys in the said state.

While in prison, he changed his name to Nathaniel Benjamin Levi Bar-Jonah.

Later in the same year, Superior Court Judge Walter E. Steele ruled that Massachusetts had failed to prove that Bar-Jonah was dangerous so he was released.

He then moved to Montana, where he was arrested again for impersonating a police officer in 1999.

Montana police charged Nathaniel Benjamin Levi Bar-Jonah with kidnapping and sexual assault after searching his home and finding pictures of young children cut out of magazines and a bone that was identified as belonging to an unknown young male.

Even more horrifying were the allegations of cannibalism that surfaced during Nathaniel Bar-Jonah’s trial for the murder of young Zack Ramsay.

Nathaniel Bar-Jonah’s crimes were denied by him vehemently. He was eventually given a 130-year prison sentence for kidnapping, aggravated assault, and sexual assault.

Nathaniel Bar-Jonah was found unresponsive early Sunday of April 13, 2008. His post-mortem found significant levels of LDL in his arteries and myocardial infarction was the determined cause of his death.

3. Wayne Nance, “The Missoula Mauler”

One name that particularly stands out from Montana’s dark past is Wayne Nance, known as “The Missoula Mauler”. The mere mention of his name sends chills down a Montanan’s spine.

He grew up in the Milltown and East Missoula areas of the city and graduated from Sentinel High School in 1974.

Nance was suspected of multiple heinous crimes including burglary, sexual assault, and murder. Evidence found at various murder scenes linked him to several killings in Montana.

His modus operandi was simple yet sinister, he would break into homes, kill his victims, and then steal their valuables.

Among the victims believed to have been murdered by Nance were:

  • Donna Pounds
  • Devonna Nelson
  • Marcella Bachman
  • Mike and Teresa Shook
  • Jane Doe

Wayne Nance is one of the few unlucky serial killers to be murdered by his final intended victims though.

He died in September 1986 at the age of 30 after he went to the home of his boss, Doug Wells, and knocked him unconscious before stabbing him with a knife and going upstairs to rape his wife, Kris Wells.

Doug was able to free himself however, grabbed a rifle, and shot Nance.

4. Joseph Edward Duncan III

Joseph Edward Duncan III was a sexual predator who escalated his crimes to abduction and murder.

His notoriety stems from the 2005 kidnapping of two children, Dylan and Shasta Groene, from their Coeur d’Alene, Idaho home.

Duncan murdered their mother, her boyfriend, and brother, Slade Groene, before taking the two younger children on a horrifying road trip of terror across several places where they were molested and tortured.

He eventually ended Dylan’s life in Lolo National Forest near St. Regis, Montana by holding a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun to his head. 

Duncan took Shasta to meet his mother and made a stop at a Denny’s restaurant, and it was there where Shasta was rescued.

5. Carl Panzram

A mugshot of a man with a mustache taken in Montana.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

One particularly chilling chapter in Montana’s history is that of Carl Panzram.

Panzram was a notorious serial killer and criminal during the 1920s, boasting of killing twenty-three people, committing thousands of robberies and larcenies, and sodomizing a thousand men and boys.

His criminal career began in Montana when he was arrested for burglary in Butte in 1906.

Panzram was sentenced to 1 year in the Montana State Reform School in Miles City where he was believed to have killed a guard and escaped to Helena.

He enlisted in the army after lying about his age and was sent to Fort William Henry Harrison but once again, he committed a violation, was discharged for theft, and sent to a federal penitentiary in Fort Leavenworth.

After a few years, Panzram was arrested in Montana under the alias Jefferson Davis, for burglary. He was sentenced to 1 year in the Montana State Prison.

Eventually, he was sentenced to death for murdering a prison guard and executed in 1930 by hanging.

6. Edmund Kemper, “The Co-Ed Butcher”

A mugshot of Edmund Kemper.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

Edmund Kemper, also known as “The Co-ed Butcher,” was an intimidatingly tall serial killer who stands at 6 feet, 9 inches. He was also insanely intelligent with an IQ of 145.

Kemper’s violent tendencies had been brewing since his childhood in Montana. At just 15 years old, he made headlines for murdering his grandparents in cold blood by using his grandfather’s rifle.

Kemper was committed to an institution, where he was diagnosed with a personality disorder and eventually released.

Kemper’s murders were marked by their gruesome nature, including dismemberment and necrophilia.

The worst and the last of his crimes was when he murdered his mother in her sleep, decapitated and raped her head, and then used it as a dart board afterward.

But Kemper wasn’t caught until he turned himself in 1973, claiming he was “tired” of killing. He admitted to all of the murders and was convicted on eight counts of first-degree murder.

7. The Zodiac Killer

Side-by-side colored sketches of two different versions The Zodiac Killer.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

The most captivating stories are those that never get uncovered. Such is the case with the infamous Zodiac Killer, whose identity remains a mystery to this day.

The Zodiac Killer terrorized California in the late 1960s, committing a string of murders that remain unsolved. But what many people don’t know is that there may be a connection between the Zodiac Killer and Montana.

One of the Zodiac Killer’s victims, Bryan Hartnell, survived and gave an account of their encounter with the killer. The victim reported that the Zodiac killer claimed to have escaped from a prison in Montana.

This claim has stirred up theories about the killer’s possible connection to the state.

In his interview with police from his hospital bed, Hartnell said that the name was “some double name, like Fern Lock or something.”

The officer interviewing Hartnell suggested the second word might be “Lodge,” which could refer to Deer Lodge, the location of the state prison. This led to several former Montana State Prison inmates being investigated as possible suspects.

While the details of the Zodiac Killer’s case remain shrouded in mystery, what we do know is that they were a cold, calculated killer who left a trail of victims in their wake.

Their possible connection to Montana only adds to the intrigue of this unsolved case.

8. Edward Wayne Edwards

A black and white photo of Edward Wayne Edwards.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

Edwards’ criminal history spans decades and multiple states, including Ohio, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Oregon. He was a serial killer, responsible for at least five murders, and had a penchant for violent crime.

In 1955, Edwards escaped from a jail in Akron and drifted around the country robbing gas stations at gunpoint. He wrote that he never disguised himself during these crimes because he wanted to be famous.

Indeed, he was able to gain that title when he landed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1961.

But what about Edwards’ connection to Montana? Well, it’s not every day that you encounter a serial killer who spent time in Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge.

That’s precisely where Edwards was lodged in the 1950s for burglary charges and was sentenced to three years of life in prison, plus five years of probation in the penitentiary.

Edward’s known murders include that of:

  • William ″Billy″ Lavaco and Judith Straub
  • Tim Hack and Kelly Drew
  • Dannie Boy Edwards

Dannie Boy Edwards is Edward Wayne Edwards’ 25-year-old foster son who he murdered in 1996 by shooting him twice in the face in a scheme to collect $250,000 in insurance money.

In the end, Edwards passed away in 2011 due to natural causes, taking his secrets to the grave.

9. Theodore Kaczynski, “Unabomber”

Young Theodore Kaczynski in a suit standing in front of a building in Montana.
source: commons.wikimedia.org

The case of Theodore Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber, attacked academics, businessmen, and random civilians with homemade bombs which he made in a shack in Montana from 1978 to 1995.

Kaczynski’s anti-government and anti-technological views were at the root of his deadly crimes, which claimed three lives and injured nearly two dozen more.

The Unabomber’s attacks had a profound impact on society, leading to increased security measures in public spaces and a heightened sense of fear among the American public.

The case was also notable for what was tagged as the longest and most expensive investigation involving the FBI and a team of forensic linguists who analyzed the language of the Unabomber’s letters in an effort to identify him.

Finally, in 1996, Ted Kaczynski was captured in a remote cabin in Montana after his brother recognized the writing in the Unabomber manifesto and alerted authorities.

Kaczynski pleaded guilty to all charges and received eight consecutive life terms in prison without the possibility of parole, which he is serving in Florence, Colorado’s ADX Florence “Supermax” prison.

He died last June 10, 2023, by suicide in his prison cell after having served more than 25 years of his life sentence at 81 years old in a North Carolina prison cell.

10. Ronald James Ward

Ronald James Ward was a drifter, always on the move, hitchhiking his way cross country. His modus operandi was simple – he would prey on the unsuspecting and kill them.

At 19, he married a woman named Donna, who herself had six children. But married life didn’t suit either Ronald or Donna and they soon parted ways.

After spending some time on a boat in Alaska for fishing season, Ronald met Hattie Ann Baker in Missoula, Montana, in 1999.

The two fell in love and moved to West Virginia shortly after so Baker could be with relatives, and Ward started driving a garbage truck. It was then that a sinister chain of murders happened.

The case of Kristin Laurite happened when Ward found his girlfriend with another man. He then drove to Montana to seek his mother, and on the way, the highly intoxicated Ward simply chanced upon Laurite, whom he proceeded to beat, strangle, rape and finally stab to death.

Eventually, Ward and Baker moved to Montana, settling in an RV park in Hamilton where he again shot Craig Petrich, a newfound friend of his, on the spot after a night of binge drinking.

Some known murders of Ward are:

  • Kristin Laurite
  • Craig Petrich
  • Jackie Travis
  • Shela Polly

After fleeing Montana, Ward was arrested three months later in Merced in connection with Polly’s murder.

He was extradited back to Montana, where he was tried for the Petrich murder, to which he readily confessed.

On April 11, 2014, Ronald James Ward was found unresponsive in his high-security cell. He was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Montana Serial Killers Final Thoughts

A person with tattoos on their wrists in a jail cell in Montana.

Surely, the above-mentioned killers have left a dark mark on the state, raising concerns about tourist travel and the safety of Montana residents.

While Montana’s natural beauty attracts many visitors, the notoriety of its serial killers serves as an uncomfortable reminder of the harsh realities lurking beneath the state’s serene exterior.

As we conclude this article on Montana’s serial killers, we cannot ignore the significance and repercussions of their actions.

Their brutal and senseless crimes will never be forgotten, and it is important to remember and honor their victims.

Montana’s state prison had a vital role in ensuring the captivity of these criminals. If you are interested, discover more about the key events of Montana State Prison where most of these criminals were held captive.

So while Montana remains a beautiful and enchanting state, it is also a place with a complex past and a fragile present, one that should be approached with caution and deep respect.

Montana Serial Killers FAQs

1. Which Wayne Is a Serial Killer in Montana?

Wayne Nance, also known as the “Missoula Mauler.”

Nance earned his infamous moniker for good reason. He was convicted of killing six people, although it’s believed he may have been responsible for more. 

2. Who Was Montana’s Unabomber?

Theodore ‘Ted’ Kaczynski, the Harvard-educated mathematician who retreated to a dingy shack in the Montana wilderness and ran a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others, died Saturday.

3. Is Wayne Nance Still Alive?

No. Wayne Nance, also known as “The Missoula Mauler”, died in 1986. He was killed in the home of his final intended victims, his boss Doug Wells, and his wife, Kris Wells.

4. Which State Has the Most Famous Serial Killers?

As of 2023, New York has been home to 18 serial killers and has a total number of 677 serial killer victims. It is home to David Richard Berkowitz, known as “The Son of Sam”, New York’s most infamous serial killer.

If you want to investigate further about Montana, then do check out these other articles:

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Written by:

Chris Hall
Hi, I'm Chris Hall, co-founder of PocketMontana.com. Growing up among Montana's breathtaking landscapes ignited my passion for travel. While I've journeyed to many corners of the world, the allure of Montana's wild beauty always draws me back. To me, travel is about understanding the soul of a place, and Montana has a special place in my heart. It's where endless adventures meet raw nature.

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