We know everything there is to know about spree killers like James Holmes, the Columbine High School shooters, and other sensationalized boogie men whose names grace newspaper headlines and the semi-glossed pages of magazines. These troubled men and women suddenly become a sign of our times, and everything from violent video games, music and films have been attributed as the culprits behind the increase in this alarming trend.
Though statistics may show that spree killings are on the rise within recent years, spree killers are hardly a new phenomena. Historically, spree killers have always existed, but unlike their modern counterparts, their highly publicized trials and the 24-hour news cycle talking head speculations about the accused didn’t. Perhaps this can explain why any knowledge of the worst spree killer of the twentieth century only exists as a few archived newspaper clippings and a short write-up on Wikipedia.
His name was William Unek, and in 1954 the Mahagi, Belgian Congoan constable killed 21 men and women with an ax. As far as what is known, all of the victims were complete strangers to him. Unek managed to flee the scene before he was able to be apprehended and started a new life in the British occupied territory of Tanganyika.
Unek flew under the radar and no one had suspected that he was the man behind the awful massacre that had occurred in the Belgian Congo three years prior. Unek quickly found work while living in Tanganyika and things seemed to be going well for the disgraced African constable.
That all changed in the early hours of February 11, 1957. Unek would go on his second killing spree after an apparent misunderstanding between Unek and his supervisor. This time with the aid of a stolen police rifle, Unek used 50 rounds of ammunition to murder and maim dozens of innocent people within the village of Malampaka, before turning to his ax to finish the job.
Over the course of 12 hours, Unek’s death toll stood at 36 people, not including the 21 he murdered during his first killing spree. 10 men, eight women, and eight children were shot and killed with his stolen police rifle. Additionally, five men were murdered with his ax, another man had been stabbed, two women and a child were burned to death, and a 15-year-old girl was ruthlessly strangled. Among the dead were Unek’s own wife, whom he killed before burning down their hut, and the wife of a high-ranking police officer.
Using clothing he stole from one of his victims, Unek skipped town, hoping he could once again get away with his awful and senseless crimes. In what became the largest manhunt the territory of Tanganyika had ever seen, Wasukuma tribesmen, police officials, and even the King’s African Rifles began piecing together the lurid details of Unek’s past.
For nine days the manhunt continued, using every possible technology and resource available at the time. Dogs were sent to sniff out Unek’s trail and aircraft combed the area in hopes of spotting the two-time spree killer. A monetary reward was also offered to anyone who could lead to Unek’s capture. In spite of the efforts, Unek was still able to dodge his pursuers. It wasn’t until succumbing to starvation and fatigue, that Unek would be captured.
Appearing at the home of lyumbu ben Ikumbu, still heavily armed and in search of food, Iyumbu alerted the police of Unek’s whereabouts. He was instructed to keep Unek within his sights and to alert police if Unek came knocking. Unek appeared at the home of Iyumbu again the following night. Sending his wife to alert the police, Iyumbu fed and made conversation with Unek until the police arrived to the scene two hours later.
Iyumbu fled his home, while a police official tossed a smoke bomb and set fire to the house. Unek sustained third-degree burns during the incident and died as a result of his injuries at an area hospital. Iyumbu received the reward for Unek’s capture as well as a British Empire Medal for his bravery. Charity funds were established to assist families of Unek’s victims and a maternity clinic was built as a memorial for the 57 lives he callously took.