1. Norman Bates, Bates Motel
In Psycho, it’s at least somewhat believable that Norman Bates has never been caught—or even pinged the radar of local authorities. He’s quiet and keeps to himself, and his psychosis more or less means he doesn’t remember the murders he commits in the name of his “Mother.” Psycho also presupposes that Norman murders very rarely, when just the right confluence of events lines up—or he needs to protect himself/Mother from interlopers. On A&E’s prequel series Bates Motel, however, Norman’s psychopathy is already evident as a teenager, to the degree that his mother knows he’s a murderer and has told other people (notably his half-brother) about it. Granted, they’re sworn to secrecy, and Norman still has the whole “quiet and unassuming” thing working to his advantage. But as season two of the TV series wraps up, there’s so much evidence quietly mounting against the kid—not least of which is the fact that people just tend to end up dead when he’s nearby—it’s hard to believe the town’s normally sharp sheriff (who now even has substantial evidence linking Norman to a murder) wouldn’t stop and say, “Wait a second…”
2. Dexter Morgan, Dexter
It’s a common trope for a guilty party to hide in plain sight, and it would be hard to find anyone who pushed that trope as far as Dexter did. For eight seasons, Dexter Morgan operated under the nose of the Miami Metro Police Department, working as a forensic scientist by day and eliminating his fellow murderers by night. Part of this is due to his own efficiency in covering his tracks—his job made him an expert at eradicating any trace of evidence—and part of it was the gross incompetence of Miami Metro in achieving police work—the department missed all the clues behind Dexter’s empty smiles and regular doughnut deliveries. However, as the seasons went on it became increasingly contrived how many passes Dexter got, the writers steering consequences onto everyone but him and allowing him to kill another day. His hobby caused the death of his wife, best friends, half his co-workers, and eventually his sister; but it never touched him. He was able to build his collection of blood slides, keep sleeping with sociopaths, and head for a cushy lumberjack retirement.
3. Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal
As Hannibal continues to trump anything else on NBC with its scrumptious visuals, spontaneous music, and seductive storylines, even the most mesmerized of viewers should be asking themselves how the hell Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter hasn’t been caught by the FBI. In the films, it’s easy to believe Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal remains at large, carefully hiding in plain sight. But Mikkelsen’s biggest advantage here seems to be co-workers like Caroline Dhavernas’ Alana Bloom, who are too busy having sex with the him to do their jobs. Or maybe it’s his perfectly tailored suits, covered with a Patrick Bateman-style clear trench that distracts viewers from the improbable circumstances of his career as a serial killer. (Never mind the probability of stray blood and guts landing on his dapper shoes or high cheekbones.) Perhaps, it’s that expertly coiffed hair that has saved him time and time again, as it must be so well-styled not even a strand of it remains at one of the gruesome crime scenes. No, it’s clearly the incompetence of the FBI, and it’s time for the writers to get to the part of the story where Hannibal is caught and is “quid pro quo”-ing, instead of blatantly killing off the majority of the television cast.
4. Jack Of All Trades, Profiler
Dr. Sam Waters’ reputation as a forensic psychologist for the FBI was already well-solidified when her husband was slain at the hand of a serial killer calling himself Jack Of All Trades, sending her into self-imposed retirement in order to protect her daughter. But after a three-year hiatus, she returns to work at the behest of a former colleague and—not coincidentally—so does Jack. Throughout the majority of Profiler’s four-season run, Jack continues to serve as the series’ predominant antagonist, but he weaves himself into Sam’s life in so many different ways that it becomes increasingly difficult to believe no one’s managed to identify him as the serial killer she and the rest of the FBI have been attempting to capture for the better part of half a decade. Indeed, the ties between Sam and Jack ultimately prove so inextricable that, after the Jack Of All Trades saga finally concludes in the two-part opener of the final season, Sam departs the series as well, returning to a life of retirement.
5. Joe Carroll, The Following
The successful serial killer wages a guerrilla war against society, maintaining a low profile and playing cheap and dirty on the margins of civilization. Serial killers like Henry Lee Lucas, not to mention those whose names remain unknown to the world at large, instinctively understand this. The most remarkable thing about Joe Carroll is that, despite his claiming to have a professorial authority on the subject, he just doesn’t get it. His greatest talent is for charismatic self-promotion, a valuable quality in an author but a disastrous one in a serial murderer, and his book sales would need to dwarf those of J.K. Rowling to support the massive infrastructure he’s built around himself—all those followers carrying out interlocking schemes, the multiple hideouts, the blood-soaked flash mob events. Part of his problem—surprisingly, given his academic pretensions—is just a matter of semantics. It might be easier to take him seriously if he were categorized as a cult-leading mass murderer, in competition not with the Lucas and Ted Bundy crowd, but with Charles Manson and Jim Jones. But he’s the one who declared which league he was playing in.
6. Red John, The Mentalist
After his wife and daughter were murdered by the serial killer known simply as Red John, former faux psychic Patrick Jane made the decision to utilize his skills of observation as an independent consultant for the California Bureau Of Investigation, thereby putting himself in position to keep tabs on the state of his family’s still-unsolved case. The pilot episode of The Mentalist established that Jane’s quest to discover Red John’s identity and extract his revenge began five years prior to the beginning of the series, and it lingered on until almost halfway through the sixth season, when—after pursuing numerous leads that went nowhere and mistaking several of Red John’s operatives for the man himself —Jane finally gets his man. Given his position within the CBI and how many others were working toward the same goal, there’s reason to suspect the delay in finally nailing down Red John’s identity was tied directly to the executive producers’ uncertainty in what to do with the series once its protagonist had finally completed his quest.
7. Ezio Auditore, Assassin’s Creed II and spin-offs
The Renaissance-era hero of Assassin’s Creed II doesn’t merely kill evildoers. Ezio Auditore assassinates entire evil chains of command using his stealth and a wide array of stabbing implements. He tends to cause collateral damage, too—pity the hapless city guardsman who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time when Ezio is in one of his righteous-slaughter moods. As the body count stacks up, though, it becomes more implausible that this character could roam the cities of Europe without being apprehended. After all, a general police order to nab anyone in a fancy hoodie would settle the sinister hegemony’s Ezio problem right quick. The games acknowledge this plot hole to a degree: You periodically have to reduce your notoriety by tearing down wanted posters or bribing the heralds who inform the citizenry. And if your reputation gets really bad, you can kill one of the corrupt officials who are pushing back against your vigilantism. In Assassin’s Creed, there are few problems that can’t be solved with more murder.
8. Annie Wilkes, Misery
With a good-natured smile and an almost childlike aversion to profanity, most people would come away from an initial meeting thinking Annie Wilkes was an eccentric yet sweet woman. The truth, as author Paul Sheldon found out to his horror, was much more sinister. According to her scrapbook she was responsible for the deaths of over 39 people, including her own father, her college roommate, at least one love interest, and—most horrifying—11 infants at the hospital where she was head maternity nurse. She managed to stay ahead of the law on each occasion, eventually retreating to a remote Colorado town where she kept her murderous instincts hidden. However, once Sheldon winds up in her care that facade switches “from sweet solicitude to savage scorn” (as Roger Ebert put it in his review of the 1990 film adaptation), and out comes the physical and mental abuse. Given the amount she deals out to someone she ostensibly admires, it’s amazing she kept her “cockadoodie” cool for so long.
9. Serial Killer X, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Condemned 2: Bloodshot
The Condemned video game series lost a lot of its respectability between installments—what was once a visceral up-close and personal experience turned into a confusing horror/sci-fi hybrid—and one of its most contrived moves was the return of the first game’s antagonist. Leland Vanhorn, a.k.a. Serial Killer X, was driven by otherworldly forces to slaughter serial killers using their own methods and torment the man who was hunting them, SCU agent Ethan Thomas. Vanhorn was so dramatic in his presentation that Thomas should have apprehended him easily, except for the fact that he managed to shift blame for the murders and hide behind the protection of his mysterious uncle Malcolm. And despite ostensibly dying at the end of the first game, he returned with a massive tear across his face and an “X” carved into his forehead, and yet was still able to stay one step ahead of the police. The series halted before a third installment, which was probably for the best—given the direction the franchise was heading in, X looked like he was being elevated into a super-powered sonic monster.