The Five Downton Abbey Characters Most Likely to Be Serial Killers

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Downton Abbey, a house of horrors and bloodshed. (Photo by Richard Munckton)

Ah, Downton Abbey. The wildly popular television drama that Brits found mediocre and Americans assumed was the height of sophisticated entertainment due to the fact that it was a British costume drama featuring Maggie Smith. We continually gave it a bunch of Emmys just to prove to the Brits that yes, we know the difference between a well-written and compelling drama and a slightly fancy soap opera, thank you very much.

To be fair, the first series of Downton was a very well-written and compelling social satire, with touching and well-written drama. Every series after that was probably unnecessary to varying degrees, but I still watched every single episode. Why? One, because it’s actually very difficult for me to stop watching television shows. I don’t know why. Two, because from about series four onward, it was very funny, albeit mostly unintentionally. Three, and most importantly, the one strength that Downton always had going for it was its characters, and I stayed invested in them and their storylines until the very end. And who won it all? My girl Edith Crawley, that’s who. I will also take a moment to give Downton Abbey credit on having a truly fulfilling and enjoyable series finale. But only a moment.

That said, as a vehicle of melodrama, Downton Abbey had many tropes that it relied on again and again. One of those tropes was murder. Downton Abbey — both the show and the physical abbey — was full of bloodshed. From poor sexy Kemal Pamuk (though that was more manslaughter-y, I admit), to Mr. Bates’ seemingly infinite list of victims, no one associated with the Crawleys or their abbey was safe from the Grim Reaper. Just how many serial killers did Downton Abbey house over the years? It’s hard to say for sure. There is a whole slew of extras playing staff who never get to speak, an endless list of guests that bring their own possibly murderous servants, and all those soldiers during the war (including beloved Cousin Melty Face Patrick, who definitely was not their cousin and definitely was a serial killer stealing their dead cousin’s identity). It would be much easier, instead, to review some of the characters we met over the years and identify the ones most likely to have a closet full of corpses somewhere. This list is far from exhaustive — there were, at the very least, ten serial killers living at the abbey at any given time (take my word for it). This list only seeks to identify characters who were likely to be one of the dozens of serial killers to grace Downton Abbey’s grand halls. And though it should go without saying: I have seen every single episode of Downton Abbey. There could be spoilers for any episode of Downton Abbey in this piece, and there will be spoilers for multiple episodes in multiple series. I repeat: This piece contains spoilers for the entire run of Downton Abbey. You have been warned.

5. Anthony Foyle, the Viscount Gillingham

I’ll admit that this is a total bias inclusion on my part. I hate this dude. He shows up approximately fifteen minutes after Matthew’s death and declares his love for Mary. When Mary tells him, very sensibly, that she still needs time to grieve and wants to focus on her son, he just says, “Haha! I’m going to keep harassing you until you give in!” This is Downton Abbey, so of course this is treated as sweet and romantic instead of annoying and creepy. Mary does eventually give in, except that she’s actually just horny and wants to use Lord Gillingham as a booty call. You go girl! Lord Gillingham is totally fine with this arrangement until Mary confirms that she does not want to marry him, at which point this dingdong has the audacity to tell her that her reputation is ruined and that she has to marry him! That’s right, he’s an incel, he’s taken the red pill, and he is about five minutes away from killing her and also a ton of other women for rejecting him. He did go away eventually, though I don’t remember how and I refuse to do any extraneous research for this piece, so I have no choice but to assume that he immigrated to America and proceeded to kill many people.

4. Ethel Parks

I have to admit that I have no memory of what atrocities Ethel committed while employed at Downton, but I remember being annoyed and frustrated by her all of the time. I assume that there was a lot of lying, manipulation, and maybe thievery? Or was she the one who wanted to be an actress and was just kind of uppity and disrespectful? Did she do other stuff? No one can say, and there is no way for me to look this up. I do know that she had the audacity to have sex with a rich guy who died, though I only know that in a hindsight sort of way via her Fallen Woman storyline. Anyway, once she has been punished for having sex, the audience is supposed to forgive Ethel and assume she can no longer do any wrong, so I guess she probably didn’t commit any serial murders post giving birth. But prior to that? Maybe, but I can’t remember.

3. Thomas Barrow

When I refer to Thomas’ “tenure” at Downton, I am using both of the word’s meanings. I am referring to his time working at Downton. I am also referring to the fact that he must have earned tenure at some point and become nearly impossible to fire, because no matter how many truly vicious, cruel, and heartless things this dude does, the Crawleys just will not fire him. Anyway, Thomas has definitely killed at least thirteen people. I have no doubt about this. To be fair, he probably killed some of them at the behest of Sarah O’Brien (we’ll get to her, I promise), and as he is the show’s token Sad Gay Character, we are supposed to absolve him of all of his sins. But c’mon. He kidnapped a dog! A dog! A poor, innocent puppy! I don’t know much about serial killers, but I have seen every episode of Mindhunter, and that sounds like a serial killer to me.

2. Sarah O’Brien

I mean, she purposely put a bar of soap on the floor next to the bathtub so that Cora would slip, fall, and miscarry. What more do you need?

  1. John Bates

Occam’s razor states, “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” In other words, when presented with multiple explanations for an event, you should go with the one that requires the least assumptions. In other other words, if a man visits his estranged wife whom is attempting to ruin his life and thwart his happiness and, after he leaves, said wife is found dead, the hypothesis that said man murdered his wife requires fewer assumptions of other facts than the hypothesis that said wife baked a pie after he left, went to a friend’s house pretending to be afraid for her life, then ingested the purposely poisoned pie to kill herself and frame her husband for murder, therefore ruining his life. At the time that this very unlikely explanation was fed to Downton audiences, I was very pro-Bates and very invested in the love story between Anna and Bates, so I was willing to accept it. Now I realize that the dude definitely murdered his wife.

Another scenario: a horrid, cruel scumbag who raped a man’s wife is, deservedly, pushed into traffic and killed. Said man happened to be in the area of the deserving scumbag’s fortunate death, but says he was just having some lunch in a pub. Which pub? Who can say? Not the man. At any rate, on the same day, at the same time, at the same place, another woman who said scumbag had previously raped also happened to be there, and she pushed him into traffic. All of this comes out, conveniently, after said man has confessed to the murder and gone on the lam. According to Occam’s razor, the hypothesis that the man killed the scumbag requires fewer assumptions than the hypothesis that the other woman did. What I’m trying to say here is that John Bates is 100% a serial killer. We all know it, and we all love him just the way he is. I for one cannot wait to see whose blood he sheds in the upcoming movie. I also hope to learn that he and Anna named their son Norman.

Cat mom, librarian, and writer in Chicago.

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