And Charles Manson didn’t make the list.
Those who delight in the torture and murder of others have long been a subject of fascination for many, and a ripe field of study for psychologists. People often use the word “evil” to describe serial killers, which is certainly understandable given the fact that most of us find it very difficult to get into the minds of such people.
Interest in serial killers invariably revolves around one question; what makes a serial killer? Is it abuse suffered in childhood, an aberration in human evolution, or are they just simply twisted in a way we could never understand?
Research into serial killers has come a long way in the past few decades. Usually, in order for someone to be classified as a serial killer, they must have killed at least three people, and a certain amount of time must pass between each murder. This is to differentiate a serial killer from people who go on short-lived murder sprees.
What motivates serial killers is the main thing that distinguishes them from your average murderer. For example, a professional assassin who kills 50 people for monetary gain would not be classified as a serial killer. Serial killers murder because of an overwhelming compulsion to do so. Usually this compulsion is sexual in nature. They receive a sexual thrill either from the act of killing itself, or from the torture or humiliation of their victims.
In the legal sense, most serial killers are generally not considered to be insane, in that they know what society considers right from wrong. This is evident from the way they attempt to avoid capture, some even go so far as studying police and forensic procedures to stay one step ahead of the authorities.
Much of what drives serial killers is often rooted in their childhood. The official FBI website states that “serial murderers, like all human beings, are the product of their heredity, their upbringing, and the choices they make throughout development.”
A person who experiences neglect, abuse, or other forms of trauma as a child is more likely to be violent as an adult.
The killers on this list were chosen based on their notoriety, the number of victims claimed, the brutality of their crimes, and must have done the deeds with their own hands. So the likes of Charles Manson do not qualify.
7 – Albert Fish, the Werewolf of Wysteria
Albert Fish, the Werewolf of Wysteria (photo: murderpedia.org)
This grandfatherly looking child-rapist, murderer, and cannibal claimed to have molested hundreds of children, and to have “had children in every state” in America. It is unconfirmed whether Fish was lying or not. He did, however, confess to five specific murders, three of which were confirmed by police.
Despite the relatively low number of confirmed killings, Fish has gained a reputation as being one of the world’s vilest killers due to the sheer depravity of his behaviour.
Fish was born in 1870 in Washington DC to a family with a history of mental illness. He was abandoned by his parents early on and was sent to an orphanage where brutal and sadistic beatings were a regular occurrence.
Fish claimed that he started preying on children when he moved to New York at the age of 20, where he would lure children away to torture and rape them.
The case which eventually led to the capture of Fish happened in 1928, when he was 58 years old. Fish had abducted, murdered, and ate a 10-year-old, then sent a letter confessing to the crime, with misspellings and grammatical errors, to the victim’s family.
Part of the letter read: “I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not f*** her tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.”
An x ray of Albert Fish’s pelvis reveals the needles he inserted into his own body (photo: Blogspot.com – elpozodeesparta)
A police investigation into the letter eventually led to Fish’s doorstep.
Fish not only enjoyed the suffering of others, but was also fond of inflicting pain on himself. While in police custody, Fish complained of abdominal pain. When doctors took an x ray, they found 29 needles inserted into his pelvic region. Apparently, Fish liked to insert needles into his own pelvis, delighting in the painful sensation. According to a witness present at Fish’s execution, there were so much metal in his body that the electric chair short circuited.
6 – John Wayne Gacy, the Killer Clown
John Wayne Gacy, the Killer Clown (photo: allthingscrimeblog.com)
On the surface, John Wayne Gacy appeared to be a regular family man. He was a husband and father. He regularly hosted parties for friends and neighbours. He even dressed up as a clown to entertain children at local hospitals.
The Gacy his community knew nothing about, however, had a predilection towards abducting, raping, and strangling to death young men and boys.
Born in 1942 in Chicago, Illinois, Gacy often faced abuse as a child by his alcoholic father, who would often beat him to the point of unconsciousness. At the age of nine, he was molested by a family friend who would take him for truck rides and then fondle him.
On the pretence of hiring boys to work for his contracting company, Gacy would take them to his home, drug, molest, and kill them, before burying them beneath the floorboards of his house. Upon his capture, police dug up 33 corpses from underneath Gacy’s house.
Upon his capture in 1978, he confessed to committing the murders, drawing a map for police detailing where the bodies were buried, although he later denied involvment in the crimes.
He also described in detail how he would carry out the murders. Sometimes he would lure the victims by pretending to be a policeman using a fake badge. After taking them to his house, he would choke them with a rope as he sexually assaulted them. The crawl space beneath the house was starting to get so crowded with corpses that he was forced to dispose of them in another manner. His last five victims were tossed over a bridge into a river.
Right up to the day of his execution in 1994, Gacy denied the charges levelled against him despite the overwhelming evidence.
5 – Ted Bundy, the Lady Killer
Ted Bundy, the Lady Killer (photo: Fox News)
Ted Bundy was not your usual stereotype of what a serial killer looks like. He would use his charm and good looks to lure away young, attractive women to rape, kill, and dismember them. Thirty murders have been attributed to Bundy in several US states, although the actual body count could be much higher.
In order to gain the trust of his victims, Bundy would either impersonate an authority figure or feign an injury.
Bundy was described by people who knew him as a well-adjusted, nice person. Some of the common characteristics of serial killers were absent in Bundy, namely, he did not display reclusive and anti-social behaviour, which is why when his true nature was revealed, it came as a shock to many of those who knew him.
Bundy was born out of wedlock in 1946, and the shame around premarital sex at the time caused his family to deceive people around them, including Ted himself, into believing that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his sister. Bundy’s grandfather, Samuel Cowell, was said to have had a violent temper and was frequently abusive to several of his family members.
Growing up in this volatile environment, Ted displayed signs that he was not a well-adjusted child. At the age of three, he had taken all the knives from a kitchen drawer and placed them on the bed where his teenage aunt was sleeping, with the blades pointing up towards her.
He was described by his school peers as being a stutterer, painfully shy, and did not go out on dates. He displayed none of the charm and confidence he would later become known for as an adult.
Over a period of five years in the 1970s, when Bundy was in his 20s and 30s, he embarked on a murder spree across several Americans states, although some suspect that he committed his first murder at the age of 15.
He made full use of his intelligence to successfully evade capture for years, but he was finally found out when he faced a routine traffic stop by police, and an officer found Bundy’s murder kit in his car, which included masks, rope, a crowbar, handcuffs, and an ice pick. He was eventually convicted of murder and sent to the electric chair.
4 – Jeffery Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal
Jeffery Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal (photo: allthingscrimeblog.com)
Arguably the most notorious serial killer in American history, Dahmer’s claim to fame came from his predilection towards having sex with corpses, dismembering them, and then eating them. Responsible for the murder of 17 men and boys, Dahmer would lure his victims to his home, usually from gay bars, where he would murder and have sex with them. In that order.
Sometimes he would eat parts of his victims, which he said made him feel as if they were a permanent part of him.
As a serial killer, Dahmer is notable in that it does not seem that he suffered abuse or any other significant trauma as a child, which is usually a common precursor to murder for many serial killers. He did, however, display one of the most famous warning signs of a future serial killer; killing animals as a child.
Killing, however, was not the way Dahmer derived his satisfaction.
“The killing was just a means to an end, that was the least satisfactory part, I didn’t enjoy doing that,” Dahmer said during an MSNBC interview following his incarceration. His main objective was to create a living sex doll to do with as he wished, without having to deal with that person’s wants or desires. Towards that end, he would drill a hole in the heads of some of his victims in which he would pour acid, all in order to create the living zombie he longed for. “It never worked,” Dahmer said.
He was captured when one of his intended victims escaped and managed to flag down a police vehicle. When the authorities conducted a search of Dahmer’s home, they found four severed heads in his kitchen, two human hearts, an entire skeleton, seven skulls, two severed hands, two preserved penises, and three torsos dissolving in a drum filled with acid.
Dahmer was eventually tried and received a life sentence on 15 counts of murder. He was bludgeoned to death with a pipe by a fellow inmate in prison.
3 – Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov
Andrei Chikatilo, the Butcher of Rostov (photo: murderpedia.org)
Considered by many as eastern Europe’s most notorious serial killer, Chikatilo is said to have committed 52 murders.
Born in a Ukrainian village in 1936, Chikatilo grew up when much of the Soviet Union was facing starvation and death on a massive scale. He grew up in an environment where atrocities such as cannibalism were commonplace. As a child, his mother told him a gruesome story about how his older brother was cannibalised before Chikatilo was born due to the famine.
Like many serial murderers, Chikatilo’s compulsion to kill was sexual in nature. He first experienced a sexual thrill from killing when he murdered a nine-year-old girl he had kidnapped. He soon came to realize that he could perform copulation only when he was stabbing someone to death.
The investigation into Chikatilo’s murders began when the bodies of three young girls were discovered in the woods of Rostov, Russia. The authorities in Soviet Russia had never dealt with a killer of Chikatilo’s calibre, and were reluctant to admit that the USSR could produce an American-style serial killer.
However, the bodies were starting to pile up, all brutally mutilated and sexually assaulted, and it was becoming clear that this was the work of a single killer.
Chikatilo was very opportunistic in his choice of victims. He would usually choose the path of least resistance, picking up prostitutes or children; people who would not put up much of a fight and could easily be lured to a secluded place.
Despite the extensive resources expended into catching Chikatilo, he remained at large for several years.
He was finally arrested in 1990 when he was caught attempting to lure away a boy in a Rostov marketplace. While in police custody, Chikatilo confessed to 34 murders police had suspected him of committing, as well as 17 additional killings authorities were not yet aware of.
He was eventually convicted of committing 52 murders, and was executed with a bullet to the back of the head.
2 – Pedro Lopez, the Monster of the Andes
Pedro Lopez, the Monster of the Andes (photo: bodyreport.com)
This Colombian killer comes very close to being the most prolific serial killer of all time, with an estimated body count that goes into the hundreds.
Lopez was born in 1949 in Tolmia, Colombia, during a violent period of the country’s history, when rampant political violence made it the most crime-ridden place on earth.
At the age of eight, Lopez was tossed out into the street after his mother, who was a prostitute with 13 children, caught him committing sexual acts with his younger sister. It didn’t take long before an older man found Lopez begging in the street and lured him to an abandoned building where he sodomized him. It was not the last time he was sexually abused by an older male. At age 12, he was molested by a teacher at his day school.
At 18, Lopez started stealing cars, which landed him in prison, where he was gang raped by four fellow inmates. In the weeks following the rape, he used a crudely fashioned knife to kill, one by one, each of the men who raped him.
This final sexual assault on Lopez seemed to have pushed him over the edge. Following his release from prison, he embarked on a murder spree in Peru, where he later claimed to have killed over 100 girls from various native tribes. Members of one of the tribes caught Lopez attempting to abduct a nine-year-old girl. The tribesmen tortured him for hours and planned to kill him, although an American missionary intervened, convincing the tribe to turn him over to the authorities who deported him to Ecuador.
Following Lopez’s deportation, young girls continued to disappear in the area at an alarming rate, creating a state of fear among the local populace.
In 1980, at an Ecuadorian marketplace, Lopez aroused the suspicion of a woman who was shopping with her 12-year-old daughter. The woman had heard about the missing girls, and she didn’t like the way he was ogling her young daughter. With the help of bystanders, the woman detained him until police arrived.
Lopez eventually confessed to the rape and murder of over 300 girls, and led authorities to the gravesites of 53 of his victims.
“I am the man of the century,” Lopez said during a prison interview with National Examiner in 1999. “No one will ever forget me.”
1 – Luis Garavito, the Beast
Luis Garavito, the Beast (photo: vanguardia.com)
Even though its likely you’ve never heard of this killer from Colombia, Garavito has the highest number of confirmed murders in the history of serial killers, yet for some reason he has not received the same attention as some of his American counterparts. Garavito was a child-rapist murderer with a confirmed number of murders comprised of at least 139 boys in the 1990s, though some estimate that the actual toll may have exceeded 300.
Colombia, which is no stranger to political and criminal violence, is plagued with a homeless epidemic among countless of its children. This is the pool from which Garavito snatched up his victims, as missing street children did not attract much attention among the impoverished populace.
Like many other serial killers, Garavito did not experience a pleasant childhood. He faced regular abuse by his father, and was also the victim of sexual abuse by male neighbours.
His preferred method of killing involved luring street or poor children to secluded areas, usually heavily wooded, where he would torture, rape, and murder them by slashing their necks, sometimes going so far as decapitation.
When he was eventually captured he confessed to murdering 139 children, but was under investigation for 172 murders in nearly 60 towns in Colombia. He was convicted of the 139 cases and was sentenced to nearly 2,000 years in prison.
Notable mentions from Egypt
Al-Tourbini, the Express Train
Al-Tourbini (photo: Wikipedia)
One of the few serial killers ever caught in Egypt, Ramadan Abdel-Rehim Mansour, better known as Al-Tourbini, raped and killed at least 32 boys aged 10 to 14. He committed his crimes in various places in Egypt including Alexandria, Cairo, Beni Sweif, and Qalioubiya. His nickname, which translates to the Express Train, came from how he would rape and murder his victims on trains.
Al-Tourbini was a member of a street gang from a young age, and the members of his gang would often participate in the rape-murder of children. He would sometimes dispose of his victim’s bodies by tossing them in the Nile.
When he was arrested in 2006, he claimed that he was possessed by a female djinn (a spirit) who compelled him to kill. He was sentenced to death in 2007 along with one of his accomplices.
Raya and Sakina
Raya and Sakina (photo: The Cairo Post)
Despite being Egypt’s most infamous killers, Raya and Sakina do not actually fit the profile of a serial killer. Even though their motives for killing were financial in nature, their methods were quite close to what you’d see from some of the world’s notorious male killers.
Operating a series of brothels in the early 20th century, Raya and Sakina murdered Alexandrian women with the purpose of robbing them of their money and jewelry. Some of their victims were prostitutes, others were married women who patronised the brothels to commit adultery.
They conducted their gruesome business at a time when the country was seeing political upheaval against the occupying forces of the British Empire. This afforded the two sisters a climate that was quite conducive to their murderous plans.
With the aid of their husbands, Raya and Sakina would strangle the women to death before dismembering and burying them. They were captured when the owner of a building the sisters had previously rented discovered the remains of a woman buried beneath the property.
While in interrogation, Raya broke down and confessed to their crimes, sending police to other locations where more corpses were buried.
The two sisters were tried for the murders and were executed along with their husbands.