Cowboys may have become the icon of the Wild West, but there were plenty of serial killers as well.
When people think about the Wild West era of American history, they usually think of cowboys, dusty towns, and gunslingers shooting it out or living it up in local saloons. Some of the outlaws from the time have gone on to become American folk heroes — Jesse James, Billy the Kids, and Butch Cassidy to name a few.
With so much criminal activity, it should come as no surprise to learn serial killers were active, if not well known. The phrase “serial killer” wouldn’t be coined until the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean serial killers didn’t exit. At a time when a man could become a local hero after an afternoon shootout, people who preferred to live on the edge of society found they could quite literally get away with murder.
At least for a while.
That’s the problem with being a criminal in a lawless time. You may get away with things for a while, but it isn’t always the law you need to worry about.
As a kid, Boone Helm was a bit of a show off. To impress people, he would throw his bowie knife into the ground and then retrieve it while riding his horse at full gallop. A troublemaker from the start, Helm grew into a career criminal with a quick temper. His short lived marriage was marked by near constant fights and violent domestic disputes. By the time he was in his early 20s, Helm was ready to leave Missouri and head to California as part of the great Gold Rush.
Helm asked his cousin, Littlebury Shoot, to come along for the trip. Shoot initially agreed but soon became nervous about undertaking such a dangerous journey with his cousin, who was known to be unstable and violent. When Shoot tried to back out of the trip, Helm stabbed him to death before striking out on his own.
Along his way to California, Helm killed several people, though there is no accurate count. He eventually met up with a group of six other criminals and joined them for a time. He confessed to acts of cannibalism to the group…