Cold Climate Murders and the Chilling Films They Inspired
Statistically, people commit crimes when the weather’s nice. Think about it: When it’s spring or summer, you want to be outside, you enjoy going out, you don’t have to wear so many bulky layers. When it’s cold, all you want to do is curl up on the couch with a hot chocolate and a Netflix comedy. You’d think that this would spare places in colder climates from most crime, but the colder nations are oddly home to some of the most chilling murders. It’s what prompts Scandinavian noir authors like Jo Nesbo — whose detective novel The Snowman was adapted into a thriller hitting theaters this weekend — to come up with their most dastardly plots.
In honor of The Snowman, here are five other terrifying cold-climate murders and the movies they inspired.
Catrine da Costa — The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
In the late ’90s, a new movement arose in Scandinavian literature: Scandinavian or Nordic noir is told from the perspective of a policeman or detective or anyone trying to figure out a murder, and is typically quite bleak and nihilistic, exposing not only the dark underbelly of society, but of the law enforcement that runs it. Probably the most famous of these is Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was made into two films — the most recent by David Fincher, starring Noomi Rapace and Daniel Craig.
Larsson’s Millennium series, beginning with Dragon Tattoo and including The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, takes its inspiration from the epidemic of unsolved murders of women in Sweden. He cited the murder of Catrine da Costa, a prostitute whose remains were found in Solna, north of Stockholm, in the summer of 1984.
Da Costa disappeared on June 10, 1984 and on July 18 the first parts of her body were found under a highway overpass, identified using fingerprints. A forensics pathologist and a general practitioner were both accused of the murder, but neither were convicted. Police were stretched thin after the assassination of Prime Minister Olof Palme, and the trial was shelved for a year. Because no cause of death could be determined from the remains, and the statute of limitations had expired, both trials ended without a conviction. Most chilling of all, da Costa’s head and vital organs have never been found.
Andrei Chikatilo — Child 44, Citizen X
Andrei Chikatilo is one of Russia’s most notorious serial killers; he assaulted, murdered, and mutilated at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990 in what is now Russia, the Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. He was known as the Red Ripper, the Rostov Ripper, and the Butcher of Rostov because most of his killings took place in the Rostov Oblast of Soviet Russia.
Chikatilo was born in the Ukraine during the mass famine caused by Josef Stalin’s forced agriculture collectivization, and he came of age during the Nazi occupation of the 1940s. He didn’t become a serial killer until after he served in the Russian military, got married, and worked as a teacher. On December 22, 1978, he murdered 9-year-old Yelena Zakotnova by choking her and stabbing her three times. Three years later, he killed Larisa Tkachenko, beginning a steady string of murders that lasted until he was arrested for petty theft in 1984.
After he was released, he started killing again in 1985, murdering at least five people a year until he was caught by an undercover officer in 1990. The Russian police had figured out that they were dealing with a serial killer, as Chikatilo killed with an obvious pattern. Because the bodies were normally found near train stations in Rostov, officers were stationed at every stop along the route. One undercover officer saw Chikatilo, who had grass stains on his clothes and a red smear on his face, walking back to a station from the woods. Chikatilo confessed to 56 murders and was tried in 1992 for 53 of them. He was sentenced to death and executed in February 1994.
Chikatilo inspired a number of books and films, most notably Citizen X, told from the perspective of the detective investigating the crimes, and starring Stephen Rea, Donald Sutherland, and Max von Sydow; and Child 44, which stars Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, and is loosely based on Chikatilo’s crimes.
Montreal Massacre — Polytechnique
On December 6, 1989 at the École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec, Marc Lépine shot 28 people, killed 14 women, and then turned his gun on himself. He was armed with a hunting knife and a Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
He entered a classroom at the university and separated the male and female students from each other, claimed he was “fighting feminism” and shot all of the women in the room, killing six of them. He then moved through the building and cafeteria, targeting women and killing another 14 and injuring 10 in just under 20 minutes before he turned the gun on himself.
In his suicide note, he blamed feminism for ruining his life and listed 19 Quebec women whom he considered feminists. The attack is known as the Montreal Massacre and is considered the deadliest mass shooting in Canadian history.
The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women is held on the anniversary of the massacre. Denis Villeneuve dramatized the events in the 2009 movie Polytechnique, which is told from the perspective of two students who witness Lépine kill 14 women. At the end of the film, when one of the survivors learns she’s pregnant, she says, “If I have a boy, I’ll teach him how to love. If I have a girl, I’ll tell her the world is hers.”
Robert Hansen — The Frozen Ground
Robert Hansen was an American serial killer who murdered at least 17, and possibly 30 or more women between 1971 and 1983 near Anchorage, Alaska, hunting them through the woods with an arsenal of weapons, including a Mini-14. In the media, he was known as the Butcher Baker.
The investigation of Hansen was kicked off by Cindy Paulson, who escaped imprisonment in his house by breaking out of his car and fleeing to the highway when he tried to load her into his plane on June 13, 1983. She told police that he had tortured and sexually assaulted her, but Hansen, simply a meek and humble baker, said that she was just mad at him because he wouldn’t pay her extortion demands and he was set free.
Later, when detectives were investigating what looked to be a single serial killer based on the pattern of murders on bodies of women they’d found near Anchorage, Hansen was brought up as one of the suspects. The killer’s profile said he’d be a man with low self-esteem who didn’t much care for women, an experienced hunter (Hansen had set a few hunting records after moving to Anchorage), would probably have a plane (he owned a Piper Super Cub), would likely keep souvenirs of his victims, and might have a stutter (Hansen was bullied as a child in school for his stutter and terrible acne).
Law enforcement obtained a warrant to search his house, in which they found pieces of jewelry belonging to a few missing women, as well as an aviation map with little red Xs that Hansen later explained were places he had buried the bodies of those he’d murdered. He was convicted in 1983 for the murders of four out of the 17 women who had been attributed to him, plus the kidnapping and rape of Cindy Paulson, and sentenced to 461 years plus life in prison with no possibility of parole.
John Cusack played Hansen in 2013’s The Frozen Ground, which also starred Nicolas Cage and Vanessa Hudgens (as Cindy Paulson). Cage’s character, based on the detective who eventually found Hansen, teams up with Paulson to find her kidnapper.
Karla Homolka — Karla
Karla Homolka and her first husband Paul Bernardo are notorious Canadian serial killers who kidnapped, raped, and murdered at least three minors — including Homolka’s sister Tammy — from December of 1990 to April of 1992. Homolka’s murder trial drew national media attention after her plea bargain, which led to her only being accused of manslaughter and receiving a lesser sentence.
Homolka and Bernardo’s trials became a media sensation even though — or perhaps because — the trial forbid details of the proceedings to reach the media outside Canada. Naturally, newspapers in Boston, New York City, and overseas caught wind of the details from sources involved in the trial, and copies of Canadian newspapers and tapes of news reels were smuggled over the border. During the trial, Homolka insisted that her role in the murders was minor, and that she was coerced by Bernardo into participating. The conviction of Bernardo relied heavily on her testimony, and by granting her plea she was cast as a victim of his crimes. Her testimony was believable: Bernardo was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of the murder of two of their victims.
After Homolka’s plea bargain was offered, videotapes of the murders surfaced, which showed that she had a much more active role in the killings than she led everyone to believe during the trial. Homolka was convicted of manslaughter in 1993 and ended up receiving 12 years in prison. In December 2001, the tapes, deemed of no further use to law enforcement, were destroyed.
The 2006 film Karla, directed by Joel Bender and starring Laura Prepon as Homolka and Misha Collins as Bernardo, is a psychological thriller based on the serial killings. The film uses Homolka’s conversations with a psychologist about the crimes to frame the narrative. It ends with Homolka being denied parole, and a note from the psychologist stating that he found her artificial, manipulative, and without remorse.