"Well, after the blood had been washed away, I took his head off. Just like a pig. It’s almost the same. You cut through the throat and twist the knife through the back of the neck. There ain’t much mess if you do it properly."
John Martin Scripps, a.k.a. "The Tourist from Hell" and "The Garden City Butcher", was a British serial killer active internationally.
Scripps was born in 1959 in Letchworth, Hetfordshire, United Kingdom, to truck driver Leonard Scripps and his wife Jean, a bar maid. His parents were from London, England, and he grew up there. When Scripps was nine years old, Jean told Leonard that she was leaving him for another man and he committed suicide by placing his head in the gas oven. Scripps, who was very close to his father, was the person who found the body and was affected greatly. He cut off all contact with his childhood friends, developed learning problems, and dropped out of school when he was fifteen, remaining semi-illiterate for the rest of his life. He also gained a compulsion for burglary and was imprisoned several times, both in Britain and abroad. He married sixteen-year-old María Arellanos in Cancun, Mexico, in 1980, but their relationship was soon ruined when he was imprisoned for burglary in 1982 and again for violating probation in 1985, only some months before his term ended. They divorced and Arellanos married a police constable. This was especially disliked by Scripps, who violated probation a second time to burglarize the constable's home and steal his clothes. Afterwards, Scripps escaped to Thailand and ran drugs between Britain and Southeast Asia until he was arrested again in 1990. He was incarcerated in different prisons on the Isle of Wight, where he was a model inmate. He was also taught butchery skills while working in the kitchens.
Murders, Arrest, and Execution
Despite his antecedents and the opposition of his own mother, who knew that Scripps had recently sold all of his belongings to other prisoners, he was granted probation again on October 1994. Scripps then used the birth certificate of a former cellmate named Simon Davis to acquire a passport and use it to flee the country. He arrived in Cancun a month later, where he attempted to reconcile with Arellanos, who had divorced him. To sway his ex-wife, he told her that he had been released earlier on a technicality, that he had found religion while in prison, and that he had a new job as a silk importer from Thailand, but she did not believe him. Two British backpackers went missing in the area a few months later: 24-year old William Shackel, who disappeared in Cancun right after cashing £4,000 in traveler's cheques; and 28-year old Timothy MacDowell, who met Scripps in Mexico and was last heard from when Scripps told Arellanos that they were going together to Belize to take scuba diving lessons. Afterwards, £21,000 was transferred from MacDowell's account to others opened by Scripps in London and San Francisco, California, U.S., using different aliases.
Scripps next surfaced at Singapore's Changi Airport, on March 8, 1995. He approached 32-year old South African engineer Gerard Lowe, who had just arrived for a shopping trip, and convinced him to share a room at the River View Hotel to save money. Once there, he killed Lowe and told the hotel receptionist that he had thrown Lowe out because he was a homosexual who made advances on him. Scripps memorized Lowe's bank account number and signature, and went on a shopping spree for a day before mailing the rest of Lowe's money to his San Francisco account. During the night, he hitched a taxi to Singapore Harbor and threw Lowe's dismembered remains near Clifford Pier. The next day, he took a flight to Thailand. While en route from Bangkok to Phuket, Scripps conversed with fellow passenger Sheila Damude, a 49-year-old Canadian school administrator, and her 22-year-old son Darin, who had gone on vacation with his mother after breaking his leg while traveling with friends. Scripps told them that they could save money if they shared a taxi with him and changed their reservations to Nilly's Marina Inn, a small hotel he was familiar with. Scripps and the Damudes reserved rooms next to each other and went on separate trips for the first day. The next morning, Scripps ambushed the Damudes in their own room while they were returning from breakfast, killed them, and scattered their remains throughout the countryside.
Two human feet, thighs, and a male torso were found in Singapore Harbor on March 13 to March 16. The police suspected that the remains belonged to a foreigner and asked local hotels about foreigners who had checked out without paying. They got confirmation from the River View Hotel, where Scripps and Gerard Lowe had left without paying, and the staff remembered Scripps leaving one night with a large suitcase and returning without it. After checking Lowe's latest account movements and getting a positive identification of the remains by Lowe's wife, who had independently denounced his disappearance in South Africa, the police issued an arrest order against Simon Davis, not knowing he was actually Scripps. Scripps, still under Davis' name, was arrested on March 19 when he returned to Changi Airport from Thailand. An examination of his luggage found a suitcase full of women's clothes and jewelry belonging to Sheila Damude; the Damudes' credit cards and passports with photos of Scripps crudely pasted on them; $40,000 in cash and travelers' checks; and a "murder kit" consisting of a stun gun, a large hammer, a can of Mace, two pairs of handcuffs, thumb cuffs, and four knives. The remains of the Damudes were found between March 19 and March 27, and were identified through dental records. Around the same time, a search of Scripps' properties in Singapore found a large quantity of heroin in a rented safety deposit box, enough to earn him a life sentence under Singaporean law even if he was cleared of the murders. Scripps attempted to commit suicide by slicing his wrists with a piece of glass.
At the trial for Lowe's death, which intentionally ignored everything related to the Damudes, Scripps maintained that Lowe was a homosexual and that he had impulsively killed him with a hammer after being woken up by Lowe's touching his buttocks, which triggered memories of a rape attempt while he was imprisoned in Israel in 1978. Afterward, he claimed that he called an old British friend staying at a hotel in Sentosa Island; this friend got rid of Lowe's body while Scripps cleaned the blood next to his bed. Scripps refused to name this friend and the hotel he stayed in, however, and the crime scene unit found traces of blood in the room's bathroom but none next to the bed. On November 7, Scripps was found guilty of murder and sentenced to die by hanging. He was interviewed while on death row and gave a detailed description of Lowe's murder, but he refused to say anything about the Damudes or the backpackers who disappeared in Mexico. On April 19, 1996, Scripps became the first British national executed in Singapore after its independence. Ironically, his relatives kept his ashes in a room of the River View Hotel before they were thrown away in an undisclosed location.
Scripps targeted Anglo-Saxon tourists. He would pretend to be a fellow tourist to gain their trust and convince them to get a room in a hotel he was familiar with. When he murdered Lowe, Scripps took advantage of Lowe sitting down to write his shopping list, and hit him on the head with a hammer. Scripps then pushed him against the wall and ordered him to give him his bank account number. Afterwards, Scripps forced Lowe to get in the bathtub, severed his spine to paralyze him, and slashed his throat. He washed the blood, dismembered the body with a boning knife, and put the parts in plastic bags that he hid in the room's closet. He cleaned the bathroom meticulously and then sat down to practice Lowe's signature until he could replicate it perfectly. Following his shopping spree, Scripps returned to the room, put the bags in a large suitcase, and hitched a taxi that drove him to the harbor, where he threw the remains away but not the suitcase or the bags.
The Damude killings is not as clearly known, but Scripps is believed to have incapacitated them first with his stun gun. He then killed them by hitting them repeatedly on the head with the hammer, dismembered them, and washed the blood from their bungalow with a hose. Finally, he threw some of the remains in an abandoned mine shaft and dispersed the rest throughout the countryside.
British forensic psychologist Ian Stephen attributed Scripps' criminal career to trauma caused by the death of his father. Untreated, this trauma festered into anger and fantasies of getting revenge. Chao Tzee Cheng, the Singaporean pathologist who performed the autopsy of Lowe's remains, determined that the perpetrator was an experienced serial killer who had trained as a doctor, veterinarian, or butcher.
- January, Cancun, Mexico: William Shackel, 24 (possibly; disappeared)
- January 11, unspecified location in Belize: Timothy MacDowell, 28 (possibly; disappeared)
- March 8, unspecified location in Singapore: Gerard George Lowe, 32 (struck in the head with a hammer, severed his spine, fatally slashed his throat, and dismembered post-mortem; his head and arms were never found)
- March 15, Phuket, Thailand: The Damudes (both fatally bludgeoned and dismembered post-mortem)
- Sheila Mae Damude, 49
- Darin Jon Damude, 22 (only his head was found)
- Note: Scripps was also investigated for the murder of Tommy Wenger, a 25-year-old male prostitute who was found dismembered in San Francisco, California, U.S., on March 28, 1994. Scripps matched a police composite sketch of a suspect, but he was excluded when it was established that he was living in an English halfway house at the time of the murder.
On Criminal Minds
Scripps is similar to Jerry Tidwell, the unsub of the Season Ten episode Beyond Borders. Both were European killers who targeted Caucasian tourists in different tropical countries and had traumatic childhood experiences involving their fathers (Jerry was abused by his father; Scripps' father committed suicide). Tidwell also murdered his victims on a boat while at sea, just like Scripps is suspected to have done to Timothy MacDowell.