Gianni Versace's murderer, Andrew Cunanan, was not only a serial killer, but also a Virgo. Undeniably so, in fact: he rarely left a messy crime scene, neatly rolling up his victims' bodies in rugs or plastic, and usually hiding them out of sight.
If you believe in astrology (and nowadays, it feels like the millions of people with crystal ball emojis in their Tinder bios do), you'll know that Virgos invest in the smallest of details. Beyond that, Virgos are known to be manipulative – all tied up in being ruled by the planet Mercury, AKA the master trickster – and for going to great lengths to maintain their images. Case in point: Cunanan once bought a pair of designer shoes and gave them to his best friend, asking him to give them back to him as a birthday present, just to keep up appearances in front of their other friends. A Big Virgo Move.
Anyway, I raise all this because ever since I saw it I haven't been able to forget an astrology-related Tumblr post I once saw. It said, and I paraphrase, that most serial killers are born under four zodiac signs: Pisces, Gemini, Virgo and Sagittarius. When I couldn't find the original post, in typical Virgo fashion I created a colour-coded spreadsheet of the names and birthdays of some of the most notorious Western serial killers. Although there are a few outliers – 32 out of 71 – those four star signs are undeniably over-represented.
Others have gone further than making beautiful, colour-coded spreadsheets. An entire community dedicates itself to using astrology to investigate murders. All of them love astrology, but almost none of them are professional astrologers. Instead, they're using self-taught knowledge to try to solve cold cases or attempt to uncover the real reason why someone became a murderer.
Before we get to that community, let's establish a few basics about individuals who commit multiple murders. "There are characteristics which seem to be in common across serial killers," says forensic psychologist Dr Caoimhe McAnena, "like sadistic traits, wanting other people to suffer."
McAnena, considered one of the UK's most experienced psychologists in her field, previously worked with high-profile offenders like Levi Bellfield, who murdered English schoolgirl Milly Dowler. Although there isn't any significant research into the personalities of serial killers yet, she says, she's still able to reel off a list of further traits: "A high level of fantasy, which is very often linked into sexual fantasy. And that might be linked to the murders, but not always. They often have antisocial personality traits, which means they are people who have committed varied types of offending."
Let's cross reference all that with the common traits of the four "murderous" star signs. Geminis are notoriously terrible and incapable of making decisions. Virgos could be called narcissistic or antisocial. Pisces are selfless and kind, so I'm not entirely sure what they're doing here, and Sagittariuses are most likely to take risks. All four signs are known for exhibiting what are known as "mutable qualities" in astrology-speak – meaning they're the most adaptable signs, even though their characteristics are completely different.
Thing is, these are just sun signs. Real heads will already know that if you're an astrology believer, looking only at someone's sun sign – which you work out from just a date of birth – doesn't allow you to dig deep enough into someone's psyche to work out if they're the next Ted Bundy. Your sun sign, after all, "only represents the egotistical and what you want in life", as Mountain Misst – who runs a Facebook group and blog dedicated to analysing crimes through astrology – tells me.
So how do these astrology enthusiasts believe they can use the stars to predict whether someone is a potential murderer?
"I don't believe that can be determined from an original sun sign alone," says Misst, speaking over the phone from Australia. There, she works with a more comprehensive birth chart, which takes into consideration not only your birth date, but also where and at what exact time you were born. Those factors determine exactly where the moon, sun and other planets were positioned when you came bawling into existence – and when all read together, they’re meant to say a lot more about your character than just your sun sign.
There's one major caveat, though: forensic astrologers like Misst likely won't know precisely when and where a perpetrator or victim was born. Instead, Misst uses the "incident" date and time – the moment when the perpetrator murdered the victim.
The more you dig into this world, the clearer it becomes that Misst's is just one of many blogs dedicated to using astrology in a bid to demystify the terrifying unknowns beneath why or how someone was murdered. In some cases, the astrology crime blogs look to go further, and uncover who the killer could be in unsolved cases. One blog, for example, tries to find meaning in the fact that Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot four times when he was assassinated in 2015 in Moscow. "The number four is all over this chart," a paragraph starts, before listing how there are four planets in the chart and four degrees dotted around on it. As can be the case with some of the most insular "detective" work of this kind, ultimately the blog offers no real explanation as to what any of it means, leaving you none the wiser unless you're incredibly well-versed in both birth charts and numerology.
To try to untangle the language of the most detailed blogs, I ask Misst how she usually translates charts to make sense of crimes. "I look for weaknesses in someone's behaviour," she says. How? "I'm looking to see what tension there is between a person's behaviour and the particular pattern in the sky." She says she works backwards, year by year, from the incident, to see what the perp's "normal behaviour" would have been before they committed the crime. "As each year goes by, the chart accelerates one degree per year," she says.
Misst adds that if she did have a killer or victim's original birth chart, she could decipher a lot more about them. "I can determine from a birth chart whether someone is a potential victim or not, in the same way predators can identify potential victims." This… feels like a stretch. Essentially, Misst reckons she may be able to predict cases where someone might be either a perpetrator or victim of a heinous crime in their lifetime.
It's important to remember that forensic astrologers aren't using hypothetical murders – these are real cases, involving real people. The effort made by people like Misst could be seen as trivialising strangers' deaths, especially in cold cases where there are no solid suspects and families are still unaware of what happened to their loved ones. According to Misst, a lot of her following engage purely for entertainment purposes, and aren't too invested in the murder cases themselves. Misst wouldn't let me speak directly with her followers, though passed on messages from them. She claimed they said that astrology "in the hands of a highly skilled and objective astrologer can provide an extremely high percentage of accurate results", whereas some just find "the process of charting fascinating, and the explanations even more satisfying".
McAnena isn't convinced by any of it. Midway through my explanation of blogs like Mountain Misst's, she stops me. "As a scientist, there's absolutely no scientific evidence for astrology or astronomy, so that's not something I would give any credence to at all," she says. Is there any validity to the whole "Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces and Gemini serial killers" thing, then? "Only if they could demonstrate that there is a strong statistical significant correlation between serial killers' star signs and their murders – and I suspect they can't do it," she continues. "They decide what their theories are and then they look at patterns which fit into their theories."
In a way, Misst and McAnena agree on the view that astrology-based sleuthing isn't a science. Though some bloggers focus purely on the charts, Mountain Misst factors in perpetrator behaviour too. As such, she's dubbed her practice "21st century forensic astrology". Throwing "forensic" in there makes it sound a bit more legit, but Misst is well aware that it wouldn't be an accepted form of criminal investigation. "Astrology is a belief system that's used as a tool to present my case," she says. "They [alleged perpetrators] can't sue me," she claims, "because it's not a factual science."
At the end of my chat with McAnena, evidently a non-believer, I ask if she's gleaned a way (astrological or not) of preemptively "knowing" whether someone is likely to be a murderer. "If you take a group of serial killers, you might say that quite a lot of them are loners," she says. "If you were to turn that on its head and say, 'Are people who are loners likely to be serial killers?' No: 99.9 percent of those people will probably go on not to do anything. Just because something is prevalent in people, does not necessarily make it a good predictor of behaviour."
That's not as snappy a Tumblr post, but it does make perfect sense. Still, I get the feeling McAnena's assessment won't dampen the enthusiasm of the forensic astrology community any time soon.