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11 of the Most Infamous Serial Killers in History

Image of a late 19th century "Wanted" poster in the case of one of the most famous serial killers in history, Jack the Ripper

The world has seen its fair share of notorious criminals, but few like serial killers have captured the public’s attention.

These individuals have committed heinous crimes, often targeting vulnerable victims and leaving behind a trail of terror.

Their crimes have shocked and horrified people worldwide, and their stories continue to fascinate us today.

From Jack the Ripper to Ted Bundy, history is littered with infamous serial killers who have captured the public’s imagination.

Their motives and methods have varied, but all have left a lasting impact on the world.

In this article, we will delve into the lives and crimes of some of the most notorious serial killers in history, exploring what drove them to commit such atrocities and how they evaded justice for so long.

13 of the Worst Serial Killers in History…Listed

The first in this infamous group is Ted Bundy, one of the most well-known American serial killers.

image of a mugshot photo of serial killer Ted Bundy
Florida Department of Corrections inmate ID photo of Ted Bundy

1. Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

Born Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946, in Burlington, Vermont, he would later become known as Ted Bundy.

He was a charming and intelligent man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women throughout the 1970s.

Bundy’s victims were typically between 15 and 25 years old.

He would often lure them into his car by pretending to be injured or disabled.

Once inside his car, he would strangle them to death with a rope or other ligature.

In some cases, he would mutilate their bodies after death.

Bundy was eventually arrested in February 1978 after being identified by an eyewitness at a crime scene.

After two escapes from prison, he was convicted in 1979 and sentenced to death by electric chair in 1989.

His case has since inspired many novels and films about serial killers.

Bundy still has a cult following today despite his heinous crimes due to his intelligence and charm.

Image of a criminal booking photo
Milwaukee County Sherrif’s Department,
Wisconsin, booking photo of Jeffrey Dahmer, July 1991

2. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal or the Milwaukee Monster, was an American serial killer and sex offender who killed and dismembered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.

Born in 1960 in Bath Township, Ohio, Dahmer had a troubled childhood marked by abuse from his father, alcoholism from his mother, and social isolation.

Dahmer’s victims were mostly African American males aged between 14 and 26.

He would lure them back to his home with promises of money or alcohol before drugging them with sedatives or sleeping pills.

Once they were unconscious, he would strangle them to death before dismembering their bodies and disposing of them.

Sometimes, he would keep body parts as souvenirs or even attempt to create a zombie-like creature by drilling holes into their heads and injecting acid into their brains.

In July 1991, Dahmer was arrested after one of his intended victims managed to escape from his apartment while he was out buying more drugs.

After being taken into custody, Dahmer confessed to killing 17 people over a period of 13 years.

He was found guilty of 15 counts of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1992.

Unfortunately for Dahmer, he was beaten to death by another inmate at Columbia Correctional Institution just two years later, in 1994.

Image of a historical booking photo of serial killer John Wayne Gacy
Des Paines, Illinois Police Department booking photo of John Wayne Gacy, December 1978

3. John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s.

He was born in Chicago, Illinois, to John Stanley Gacy and Marion Elaine Robinson.

Gacy’s father was an abusive alcoholic who frequently beat him and his siblings.

After graduating from high school in 1960, Gacy worked various jobs before opening a construction business in the late 1960s.

Gacy’s first known murder victim was Timothy McCoy in 1972.

Over the next six years, he would rape and murder 33 more victims, mostly teenage boys.

He buried most of them in the crawl space of his home or dumped their bodies into a nearby river.

In December 1978, he was arrested for sodomy after one of his victims escaped from his home.

He was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison but only served 18 months before being released on parole in June 1980.

In December 1978, police began searching Gacy’s house after receiving reports that several young men had gone missing around the area where he lived.

During their search, they discovered 29 bodies buried beneath the floorboards of his home and four more bodies found near a nearby riverbank.

On March 12th, 1980, Gacy was charged with 33 counts of murder and later sentenced to death by lethal injection on May 10th, 1994, at Statesville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.

Image of victim photos of Jack the Ripper
Photos of Jack the Ripper’s victims
(Note: the images above are staged, using simulated blood)

4. Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper was an unidentified serial killer active in and around the impoverished Whitechapel district of London, England, in the autumn of 1888.

The Jack the Ripper murders occurred in the East End of London and were a series of sordid killings that shocked the city.

The name “Jack the Ripper” caught on immediately after a letter was made public by police, turning these gruesome murders into an infamous legend.

The Whitechapel Murderer is believed to have killed at least five women between August and November 1888.

His victims were call-girls living in poverty-stricken areas of London’s East End.

He became known for mutilating their bodies before leaving them in alleyways and dark corners.

Forensic scientists recently claimed they had finally identified Jack the Ripper, a legend among scary historical figures, with a new genetic analysis, although this has yet to be confirmed.

Although over 130 years have passed since these horrific events occurred, Jack the Ripper remains one of history’s most notorious unsolved mysteries.

Image of the Russian city Rostov-on-Don
The Russian city Rostov-on-Don, home of Andrei Chikatilo before his murder spree

5. Andrei Chikatilo

Andrei Chikatilo, also known as the Rostov Ripper and the Butcher of Rostov, was a Soviet (Ukrainian) serial killer who committed at least 50 murders between 1978 and 1990.

He was born in 1936 in Yablochnoye, a village in rural Ukraine within the USSR.

During his childhood, he witnessed the devastation of World War II and its aftermath, which may have impacted his later actions.

Chikatilo’s victims were mostly children and young vagrants whom he lured with promises of alcohol or money.

He would then stab them to death and sometimes mutilate their bodies afterward.

His gruesome acts earned him the nickname “Rostov Ripper” because most of his killings occurred in the Russian SFSR’s Rostov Oblast.

1990 after years of investigation, police finally arrested Chikatilo for murder and other charges.

He confessed to 56 murders when caught and was eventually executed by firing squad in 1994.

To this day, Andrei Chikatilo remains one of the world’s most prolific serial killers.

Image of a photo taken during a crime booking
King County, Washington Police booking photo, May 1981

6. Gary Ridgeway

Gary Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, is an American serial killer and sex offender born on February 18, 1949, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He is known for being one of the most prolific serial killers in United States history, having been convicted of murdering 48 women in Washington state during the 1980s and 1990s.

Ridgway’s victims were primarily call-girls or runaways he would pick up along Pacific Highway South near Seattle.

He would strangle them to death with his bare hands and dump their bodies in wooded areas near the highway.

In 2001, DNA evidence linked Ridgway to four of his victims, and he was arrested.

During questioning by police, Ridgway confessed to killing 71 women over a 20-year period.

In 2003, Ridgway pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

He remains incarcerated there and has never expressed remorse for his crimes.

Image of a front and side criminal booking photo
Ecuadoran National Police booking photo of Pedro Alonso Lopez, March 1980

7. Pedro Alonso Lopez

Pedro Alonso Lopez, also known as the Monster of the Andes, is a Colombian serial killer and child rapist convicted of murdering at least 110 young girls between 1969 and 1980.

He was born in Santa Isabel, Colombia on October 8th, 1948.

Lopez’s victims were mostly young girls between the ages 8 and 12.

He would often lure them away with promises of gifts or money before raping and killing them.

After his arrest in 1980, he confessed to over 300 murders but could only be charged with 110 due to lack of evidence.

In 1981, Lopez was sentenced to 16 years in prison by an Ecuadorian court for the murder of 57 girls.

However, he was released after serving only 14 years due to good behavior.

Since then, his whereabouts have been unknown, and it is feared that he may still be active as a serial killer.

Image of a booking photo of serial killer David Berkowitz
The booking photo of David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam

8. David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam” and “the .44 Caliber Killer,” is an American serial killer who terrorized New York City from July 1976 to August 1977.

He was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York on June 1st, 1953.

His mother had him out of wedlock when she had an affair with a married real-estate agent named Joseph Klineman.

Berkowitz’s reign of terror began on July 29th, 1976, when he shot two young women sitting in a parked car in Queens.

Over the course of the next year, he would go on to shoot six more people and wound seven others.

On August 10, 1977, police finally arrested Berkowitz after finding his car parked near one of his crime scenes and connecting him to a series of letters he had sent to the media claiming responsibility for the shootings.

At his trial Berkowitz pleaded guilty to all eight shootings and was sentenced to 25 years to life for each count, serving his sentence at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York.

Since then, he has become a born-again Christian and renounced violence.

In 2002 he was denied parole for the 14th time but remains eligible for parole every two years.

Image of a criminal profile photo
Booking photo of Albert Fish in New York City (c. 1903)

9. Albert Fish

Albert Fish was an American serial killer, rapist, child molester, and cannibal who committed at least five murders between 1924 and 1929.

He was born Hamilton Howard Fish on May 19, 1870, in Washington D.C., but changed his name to Albert after he had been given the nickname “Ham & Eggs”.

Fish’s victims were mostly children, whom he lured with stories of jobs or free rides.

He would then torture them before killing them and sometimes eating them.

His most famous victim was 10-year-old Grace Budd in 1934, who he killed after responding to an ad placed by her family looking for work.

Fish was arrested in 1934 and sentenced to death by electrocution at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York.

During his trial, he confessed to several other murders and claimed to have killed a child in every state.

He also admitted that he enjoyed torturing his victims and even sent letters detailing his crimes to their families after the fact.

Image of Leeds Medical School building
Leeds Medical School (UK), where Harold Shipman received his medical training

10. Harold Shipman

Harold Shipman, born Harold Frederick Shipman on January 14, 1946, in Nottingham, England, was a serial killer and general practitioner believed to have killed over 250 of his patients.

He attended Leeds School of Medicine and began working as a physician in 1970.

Between then and his arrest in 1998, he is thought to have murdered at least 218 of his patients through lethal injections of diamorphine.

Shipman was eventually charged with the murder of 15 women and found guilty on 31 January 2000.

It was clear that he had covered his tracks by altering records and forging documents to make it appear as if the victims had died from natural causes.

After being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, Shipman took his own life by hanging himself in his prison cell at Wakefield Prison on 13 January 2004, just one day before his 58th birthday.

The public inquiry into Shipman’s crimes concluded that he killed at least 218 patients between 1975 and 1998.

The inquiry also revealed that he had likely been killing since 1970 when he first began practicing medicine.

The true extent of Harold Shipman’s crimes remains unknown, but he certainly was one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers ever known.

Image of a police booking photo of serial killer Harold Shipman
Booking photo of Dennis Rader, aka the BTK Killer

11. Dennis Rader

Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK Killer, is one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

Born on March 9, 1945, in Pittsburg, Kansas, he was active from 1974 to 1991 and is believed to have killed at least ten people.

His nickname “BTK” stands for “bind, torture and kill,” which accurately describes his modus operandi.

Rader’s victims were mostly women and children whom he would stalk for months before attacking them in their homes.

He would bind them with rope or other materials before torturing and killing them. He often sent letters to the police and media boasting about his crimes.

After a 31-year manhunt, Rader was finally arrested in 2005 after DNA evidence linked him to the murders.

Rader pleaded guilty to all ten counts of murder and was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences without parole.

He remains incarcerated at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, where he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Image of a historical three story hotel in Chicago
H.H. Holmes’ World’s Fair Hotel – local papers later called it the “Murder Castle.”

12. H.H. Holmes

Born Herman Webster Mudgett, H.H. Holmes was one of America’s first serial killers.

He operated in the late 19th century and is said to have killed as many as 200 people.

He was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in 1861 and gained notoriety for his “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois.

Holmes’ “Murder Castle” was a three-story building with trapdoors, gas chambers, and a basement dissecting table where he would dissect his victims’ bodies.

He lured victims into the hotel by advertising it as a place to stay during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

After killing them, he often sold their skeletons to medical schools or used their body parts for insurance fraud schemes.

In 1896, Holmes was hanged for the murder of his business partner Ben Pitezel and confessed to killing 27 people before his execution.

His story has been retold many times through books and movies such as The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson and House of Horrors: The Life of H.H. Holmes by Adam Selzer.

Despite being dead for over 120 years, H.H. Holmes remains one of America’s most notorious serial killers whose legacy continues today.

Image of a police booking photo of serial killer Edmund Kemper
Santa Cruz County (CA) Sherriff booking photo of Edmund Kemper, April 1973

13. Edmund Kemper III

Edmund Kemper, also known as “The Co-Ed Killer,” is one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

Born on December 18, 1948, he was a large man standing 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighing over 300 pounds.

He had an IQ of 136 and was known to have a booming voice.

Kemper began his killing spree in 1972 when he murdered six young women in the Santa Cruz area of California.

He then killed his mother and her friend before turning himself in to the police.

During his trial, he pleaded not guilty because of insanity but was found guilty of eight counts of first-degree murder.

Kemper is currently serving life imprisonment without parole at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California.

In 2021, a documentary titled “Mind of a Monster” was released, following the story and reality of Edmund Kemper’s life as a serial killer.

Image of a postcard sent by one of the most notorious serial killers in history, Jack the Ripper, to the London police
A postcard sent by serial killer Jack the Ripper to London police

Wrap-up: Infamous Serial Killers

In conclusion, the world has seen its fair share of serial killers, each with unique motivations and methods.

From the infamous Jack the Ripper to the heinous acts of Ted Bundy, the legacy of these killers remains etched in history.

While we may never fully understand the psychology behind their actions, it is important that we continue to study and learn from them to prevent such atrocities from occurring in the future.

Check out my post From Diamonds to Dollars: The 11 Largest Heists in History for more crime-related content!

Image of fingerprint files from a criminal case.
Fingerprints belonging to a cold case file

FAQs: Infamous Serial Killers

1. What defines a serial killer?

A serial killer is an individual who commits a series of murders over a period of time, with a cooling-off period between each killing.

They often share specific psychological and behavioral patterns.

2. What motivates serial killers to commit their crimes?

Motivations can vary among serial killers, but common factors include a desire for power, control, dominance, and a twisted fascination with violence and the suffering of others.

Psychological and environmental factors can also contribute.

3. How are serial killers caught?

Serial killers are often caught through a combination of meticulous detective work, forensic evidence analysis, and the development of criminal profiles.

Tips from the public, patterns in the killings, and advanced technology have also played crucial roles in apprehending these criminals.

Sources: Infamous Serial Killers