A brief history of murderers and also their chosen eyewear, indigenous Jeffrey Dahmer to the BTK Strangler come the Zodiac Killer


A teenager through red hair swooping over one eye bring away a selfie at one eyeglass store and posts the on Tumblr. “I saw these Jeffrey Dahmer-like glasses,” that writes in the caption. “I feel choose look cute ~ above me. Is that bad?” that tags the picture #serialkiller.

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The list of serial killers who wore glasses is long and bloody, native Dahmer come BTK to Harold Shipman and his professorial frames; also the Zodiac Killer, never ever caught, attract a thick-rimmed pair in a police sketch. The aesthetic of “serial killer glasses” is so pervasive that it mister up everywhere from Urban thesaurus (“Eyeglasses with heavy or significant frames the live somewhere between fashionable and also creepy”) to TV Tropes (where “a man who is cold, emotionless … or even a soulless monster” is offered glasses “to easily tip off the audience to his personality”), and countless Tumblr posts in between.


Search because that “serial killer glasses” top top Amazon and you’ll be directed to the “So In luxe Aviator Retro Fashion Glasses” – perfect for the manic pixie dream serial killer. Naturally, soul Halloween selling a pair, too. It’s a look that signifies “creep” and also “outsider” so well that it’s come to be the punchline to a joke: Amy Schumer and also Conan O’Brien have actually both excellent skits about how males who favor a particular style of glasses tend to be serial killers, molesters, cult leader or all of the above.

Of course, the fact that numerous serial killers wear glasses is simple math: over 60% the Americans use some type of vision correction, and serial killers are just like the rest of us, at the very least when it pertains to their eyesight. But because these killers are regularly exhaustively scrutinized and even fetishized in the media, your glasses have become part of the serial killer iconography. A pair the shiny lenses, perched top top the bridge of a serial killer’s nose, becomes a subtle metaphor for his walled-off nature, for her sociopath’s aloofness. Glasses become a mask that’s acceptable for the killer to wear in public. They become a threat, too: ~ all, the serial killer that wears glasses is reportedly someone who have the right to see us better than we can see them. Who who’s constantly watching.

While serial killers can be found leering behind every little thing from cat-eye glasses to horn-rimmed spectacles, the glasses that Jeffrey Dahmer have definitely come to specify the look. After the whole human being saw a pair that bug-eyed, wire-rimmed, double-bridged, clear-lensed aviators adorning the confront of Dahmer – cannibal, necrophiliac, killer the 17 men and also boys – the style became notorious. This days, Dahmer’s accessory has been taken on by the mainstream; the an ironic explain now, a “lewk” that you can discover not simply on Tumblr but likewise on Pinterest (“Jeffrey Dahmer do me love these glasses”), Reddit (“How would certainly I seek out the “Dahmer” style glasses?”) and even ~ above the faces of kendal Jenner, Bella Hadid and Beyoncé, despite they admittedly could be walking for an ext of a “sexy nerd” look.


Jeffrey Dahmer’s 1991 mugshot. Photograph: ReutersAs an object, the glasses themselves have end up being unnerving, also without the real Dahmer behind them. When John “Derf” Backderf, among Dahmer’s high institution classmates, stopped by the set of My girlfriend Dahmer come see just how filming to be going (Backderf wrote the graphics novel the the film was based on), he discovered it difficult to talk to Ross Lynch, the actor play Dahmer, due to the fact that of his glasses. “He was in his complete Dahmer get-up, and it freaked me out,” Backderf remembered. “I said, ‘Dude, you need to take off those glasses or i can’t talk to you.’”

Dahmer no the only killer lurking behind clear-lensed aviators, though. Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, wore an virtually identical pair as Dahmer, and a woman that fitted him because that glasses at the Spectacle Shoppe in Wichita, Kansas vividly remembers his cold eyes as he stared in ~ her, “sizing her up”. Ed Kemper, the Co-Ed Killer, wore a pair, together did Dennis Nilsen, the kindly Killer; Wayne Williams, the suspected Atlanta kid Murderer; and also even the lesser-known Canadian Robert Hansen, the Butcher Baker, who glasses were because that sale top top eBay in 2008. All these murderers operated throughout the 70s and 80s, decades when serial killers were sprouting prefer weeds throughout the globe, and also the same years that clean aviator glasses occurred to be extremely popular. That no wonder, then, the so many of the decades’ worst offenders finished up in mugshots, glaring the end at a horrified public through spookily similar frames.

Still, that not just ubiquity that doomed the clear aviator. 2020 Magazine, the “optical industry’s top publication”, suggests that over there is something inherently creepy around the glasses’ physical design. It’s every in the curving, lachrymose angles: the bar throughout the peak of the glasses turns suddenly downward at the corners that the eyes, and that, along with the tear-shaped curve the the inward framework edge, “pull the face and also the eye down with them, giving the illusion that most aviator wearers room sad, frowny-faced or otherwise taking care of some type of internal personal problem just start to bubble to the surface”.

Though those eerie, teardrop-shaped lenses seem to symbolize someone that is forever surveilling us – the BTK killer, say, who would study his victims’ houses and also routines prior to coming in because that the slaughter – the reality is that occasionally these serial killers can not bear their own sight. In the courtroom, Dahmer virtually never wore glasses. He took them off because he couldn’t stand to view the deals with of the jury – or the his victims’ parents.


BTK Strangler Dennis Rader. Photograph: HO/REUTERSGranted, not all serial killers wear glasses the scream “I to be interested in hanging her skeleton in my shower”. Now and also then, this murderers blink out at the people from behind lenses that are so entirely unthreatening, for this reason endearing, even, that society finds it hard to believe they’re criminal at all.

Take Dorothea Puente. In the 1980s, Puente cooked incredible tamales, fussed over her climbed garden and killed 7 of she elderly Sacramento boarders – countless of whom to be mentally ill, alcoholics or medicine addicts – before burying castle in her very own backyard. Her round cheeks, cloud of white hair and also huge, clear-framed glasses made the exceptionally difficult for civilization to accept the breadth of her crimes. Ideas – like the stench of death rising from she lawn – were written off for months together “harmless eccentricities”, and also even after ~ she was caught, journalists composed incredulously around the bespectacled figure “with the demeanor that a grandmother and also the rap sheet of a felon”, emphasizing the Puente’s illustration “ not fit the stereotype that a serial killer”. 20 years after her victims’ bodies were dug up, reporter martin Kuz checked out her in jail and described just how the “round-framed glasses too big for her face magnify a pair the pale blue eyes. She resembles a wizened owl”. Hers was no a look the terrified; rather, it to be a look that gave world cognitive dissonance. “Her passivity subdues suspicion,” Kuz noted. “She seems totally harmless.”


Dorothea Puente shows up for arraignment in Sacramento, California municipal court. Photograph: Sacramento Bee/MCT via Getty ImagesAn even less threaten pair that glasses bedecked the kindly challenge of Harold Shipman, or “Doctor Death”, one of the many prolific serial killers of every time. (The government report into his crimes estimated that that may have actually killed end 250 people in between 1975 and also 1998 by offering them lethal doses of clinical heroin.) one of the many unnerving things about Shipman was his “friendly doctor” demeanor, which brought about one writer because that the Guardian come marvel about how the defendant was “the gentlest, sweetest-looking male in the building: a middle-aged, middle-class physician, a dad of 4 with a donnish beard, pebble-thick glasses and, evaluate from his quiet calm, an understated bedside manner”. Shipman’s glasses distinguished him together an education professional, someone you can really trust, someone that was only giving you an excessive dose that diamorphine to assist you sleep a tiny better. How could you are afraid a guy with glasses choose that?

What happens when the serial killer doesn’t require glasses at every – but wears lock anyway? The Zodiac to be (or is?) a serial killer that struck are afraid in the mind of north Californians throughout the 60s and 70s by death at least 5 people, greatly young couples, and also sending a collection of deranged letters and also cryptograms to the press. He’s more than likely the most famous unidentified serial killer of all time, after Jack the Ripper, and a big part that his mystery involves a quite prosaic question: go or walk he no wear glasses?


San Francisco police circulated this composite that the just Area’s Zodiac Killer. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann ArchiveOn 11 October 1969, Zodiac shooting a 29-year-old cab driver called Paul Stine in ~ point-blank range. Three teens saw him looking through Stine’s pockets and gave a summary to the police. The occurring police sketch, released from the san Francisco police department numerous days later, reflects a man with thick-framed glasses – and also since then, a glasses-wearing Zodiac has become the many recognizable Zodiac around.

But some human being think the – plot twist! – the glasses may have actually actually belonged come Paul Stine, the victim, and also that Zodiac hurriedly placed them on because he knew the adolescents were watching and also would describe him to the police. In that case, the glasses end up being a genius last-minute disguise that has actually thrown united state all off the odor for decades. World who think they observed Zodiac on other days don’t remember a male with glasses; a victim who endured him remembers a guy in a hooded costume with sunglasses clipped over the eyeholes. “I look prefer the description passed the end only once I execute my thing,” Zodiac wrote in a letter to the mountain Francisco Chronicle about a month ~ Stine’s murder. “The remainder of the moment I look entirle different. I shall not tell you what mine descise consists of when I kill.”

Robert Rule’s daughter was killed by Gary Ridgway, the eco-friendly River Killer, a meticulous murderer who told investigators that he was missing the component of humanity that makes world care about other people. The Seattle Times explained Ridgway as “so quiet the no one who knew that … glimpsed a hint of the killer who lurked behind the nerdy glasses and also mousy smile”. The strangled at the very least 49 women, consisting of 16-year-old Linda Rule, and while he can direct the police to their bodies, he can not remember their faces. The command investigator referred to as his eye “two dark feet that get in a deep, dark pit”.

Gary Ridgway, the green River Killer, in court. Photograph: ReutersIn the courtroom, Ridgway to be infuriatingly impassive. The referee lambasted him for his “Teflon-coated emotions and complete lack of compassion”. But one day during his long trial, rule stood increase in court to address him. Preeminence worked together a Santa in ~ a mall; he to be plump, with a huge white beard, and for his job in court he had actually put top top a pair the rainbow suspenders. While the family members members of various other victims had sobbed or screamed or wished cancer and also death and also hell ~ above Ridgway, preeminence was preternaturally composed as he faced his daughter’s killer.

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“Mr Ridgway, um, there are people here who hate you,” he said. He take it a deep breath. “I’m not among them. Ns forgive you because that what did you do it done. You’ve made it difficult to live approximately what i believe, and also that is what God says to do, and also that’s come forgive. And also He doesn’t say to pardon just details people, He claims to pardon all. Therefore you are forgiven, sir.”

As the father spoke, Ridgway’s chin started to quiver. He blinked rapidly. He began to weep. And then that took off his glasses.

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