In the dark recesses of history, the world has been plagued by the presence of some of the most heinous individuals, who have left a trail of terror and devastation in their wake. From twisted minds like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer to the unidentified and infamous Jack the Ripper, the list of the worst serial killers is grim and bone-chilling. Even in modern times, the likes of Charles Ray Hatcher and Gary Ridgway continue to haunt the collective consciousness. Join us as we delve into the depths of their malevolence and uncover the truly unnerving stories behind these monsters. Brace yourself for a journey into the twisted minds of the worst serial killers in history.
Ted Bundy (1946-1989)It is not necessary to be American or have lived in the 1970s to be familiar with the name Ted Bundy.
Bundy is certainly one of the most disturbed serial killers (not to mention kidnappers, rapists, burglars, and necrophiles) known to humanity. His signature method involved abducting his female victims, sexually assaulting them, and then dismembering their bodies. Disturbingly, he would often preserve their heads as macabre souvenirs.
Before his execution in 1989, Bundy admitted to kidnapping and murdering 30 women, although it is highly likely that the actual number of victims far exceeded this estimate.
Harold Shipman (1946-2004)Known as "Doctor Death," Harold Shipman is believed to have murdered 218 of his patients between 1972 and 1998. However, the true number of his victims is believed to be significantly higher.
As a practicing physician, Shipman had unparalleled access to potential victims, which allowed him to carry out his killings without arousing suspicion.
Eventually, due to the suspiciously high number of patient deaths linked to Shipman, people began to suspect foul play. Most of his victims were elderly women, whom he claimed had passed away in their sleep. However, numerous deaths occurred during daytime hours, which raised eyebrows. Additionally, Shipman requested an unusually large number of cremation certificates, catching the attention of an undertaker who reported the suspicious circumstances.
Shipman was finally convicted in 2000, thanks in part to a report from a victim's daughter stating that he had attempted to coerce her mother into naming him as the beneficiary in her will. He died by suicide while in prison in 2004.
Andrei Chikatilo (1936-1994)Between 1978 and 1990, Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo brutally assaulted, murdered, and mutilated more than 50 young women and children. Chikatilo's preferred method of killing involved stabbing and slashing his victims with a knife, even targeting victims as young as nine years old.
Chikatilo disturbingly revealed that he could only achieve sexual gratification by stabbing women, making his murderous impulses nearly impossible to resist.
Chikatilo earned monikers such as the "Butcher of Rostov," the "Red Ripper," and the "Rostov Ripper." Although he confessed to a total of 56 brutal murders, he was tried for 53 of them. Chikatilo was ultimately sentenced to death and executed by firing squad in 1994.
Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994)No compilation of the most disturbed serial killers would be complete without including Jeffrey Dahmer.
Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was ultimately convicted of killing 17 young men over a span of 14 years. However, his crimes extended beyond murder, as he also engaged in rape, dismemberment, and even cannibalism of his victims.
During his trial, Dahmer shockingly admitted to drilling holes into his victims' skulls in an attempt to create compliant, brainwashed sex slaves. While he likely would have received the death penalty for his heinous acts, Dahmer was ironically beaten to death while in prison in 1994.
Albert Fish (1870-1936)When a serial killer is referred to as "The Brooklyn Vampire," "The Moon Maniac," "The Werewolf of Wysteria," "The Gray Man," and "The Boogey Man," it is certainly evident that they are profoundly deranged.
Fish stood trial and was found guilty of raping, killing, and cannibalizing three children during the early 1900s. However, he boasted about murdering approximately 100 children and claimed to have had victims in every state.
One particularly disturbing aspect of Fish's crimes is a letter he sent to the mother of one of his victims, 10-year-old Grace Budd. In the letter, Fish meticulously described how he lured the young girl, strangled her, and then methodically dismembered her over the course of nine days.
John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994)There are varying degrees of derangement, but few can rival the level of depravity exhibited by serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Gacy earned the moniker "Killer Clown" due to his gig as a performer named "Pogo the Clown" at children's birthday parties and charitable events. This sinister occupation granted him chillingly easy access to potential victims.
Gacy was convicted of sexually assaulting, torturing, and murdering 33 teenage boys over a six-year period. He would lure them to his home, where he would strangle or asphyxiate them before burying their bodies on his property. Gacy met his demise through execution in 1994.
Jack the Ripper (Unidentified Serial Killer ∼1888)Jack the Ripper is a name that has become synonymous with mystery and malevolence, as the true identity of this individual remains unknown. Regardless of who he/she may have been, Jack the Ripper's actions were undoubtedly those of a disturbed mind.
In 1888, Jack the Ripper instilled terror in the Whitechapel neighborhood of London through the brutal throat-slitting and abdominal mutilation of at least five prostitutes. In some instances, he even removed the uterus of his victims as a macabre token.
It is unlikely that we will ever definitively determine the true identity of Jack the Ripper. Nonetheless, the study of "ripperology" - the examination and analysis of these murders - has inspired numerous hypothetical novels and films throughout the years.
Joachim Kroll (1933-1991)German serial killer Joachim Kroll took the lives of at least 14 individuals, including young children, between 1955 and 1976. Kroll would strangle his victims with his bare hands, then engage in necrophilic acts and proceed to dismember their bodies for consumption.
Ironically, Kroll's reign of terror came to an end when a neighbor reported a plumbing blockage. The pipes were found to be clogged with human remains, leading to Kroll's eventual capture.
At the time of his arrest, Kroll was in the process of cooking body parts from his most recent victim, four-year-old Marion Ketter.
Gilles de Rais (1404-1440)Gilles de Rais was a wealthy knight, renowned military leader, and loyal companion-in-arms to Joan of Arc. However, beneath the surface of this prestigious image, de Rais concealed a chilling secret - he was a truly deranged serial killer.
Between 1432 and 1433, Gilles reportedly sodomized and murdered (or ordered the murder of) at least 40 children. The gruesome scene at his estate in 1437 revealed numerous naked bodies of young boys.
A 1971 biography on de Rais vividly describes how he would entice the boys to their doom. He would dress them in elegant garments, provide them with a lavish feast accompanied by copious amounts of wine. Ultimately, de Rais would reveal the true malevolent nature of their situation and carry out their murders.
Richard Ramirez (1960-2013)For over a year during the 1980s, Richard Ramirez spread terror throughout neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Named the "Night Stalker," Ramirez would break into homes and ruthlessly execute his victims, often preceded by sexual assault. These victims ranged from their early twenties to a 79-year-old woman. Ramirez had a wide array of weapons at his disposal, including handguns, knives, a tire iron, a machete, and even a hammer.
Ramirez displayed no remorse for his heinous acts. While he was sentenced to death, he succumbed to lymphoma before the execution could be carried out.
Dennis RaderTravis Heying / Getty Images In January 2022, a newly released documentary delved into the origins, motives, and eventual capture of Dennis Rader, also known as the "BTK Killer," who inflicted terror upon Wichita, Kansas, starting in the mid-1970s.
"I led a conventional life, yet my mind harbored a deeply sinister nature," Rader expresses in the documentary, aired on A&E earlier this month.
Over a 17-year period culminating in 1991, Rader was linked to a series of ten murders.
In the accompanying image, Dennis Rader appears on a video screen during his initial court appearance on March 1, 2005, in Wichita.
Joseph DeAngelo Jr.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, has been identified as the East Area Rapist and the "Golden State Killer," responsible for a series of crime sprees spanning the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s.
In June 2020, in order to avoid the death penalty, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder, as well as 13 counts of kidnapping. He subsequently received multiple consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
DeAngelo briefly expressed remorse, stating, "I have carefully listened to every statement, and I am genuinely apologetic to everyone I have caused harm to."
Robert Lee YatesSpokane Police Robert Lee Yates confessed to the murder of 13 women in Spokane, Washington. He disposed of their bodies in remote areas. Yates was later convicted for two additional murders.
Following the abolition of the death penalty in the state, Yates' sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Chester TurnerCalifornia Department of Corrections Chester Turner was convicted of murdering 14 individuals in Los Angeles during the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of his victims were subjected to rape and strangulation.
Prosecutors labeled Turner as "one of the most prolific serial killers in the city's history." He is currently on death row.
Ángel Maturino ReséndizFBI Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, better known as "The Railroad Killer," carried out at least 15 murders across the United States and Mexico during the 1990s.
Reséndiz would target victims near train tracks, jumping off trains to trespass into nearby residences. Armed with weapons such as knives, a pickaxe, rocks, and other blunt objects, he would assault and murder his victims. Reséndiz often robbed his victims and at times subjected females to sexual assault.
He was executed in Texas in 2006.
Randy Steven KraftFair use Randy Steven Kraft, popularly known as the "Scorecard Killer," masterfully manipulated, assaulted, tormented, and terminated the lives of at least 16 young men between 1972 and 1983. He unleashed most of his lethal acts in California.
Kraft's moniker originated from his habit of leaving behind a cryptic enumeration of his victims. Authorities concluded, based on this index and corroborative evidence, that Kraft is accountable for the deaths of 67 men, yet he was solely convicted for 16 murders.
He now resides on death row.
Charles Ray HatcherBettendorf Iowa Police Department Charles Ray Hatcher committed the heinous acts of violating and exterminating a minimum of 16 individuals, mostly young males and boys, across Missouri, California, and Illinois from 1969 to 1982.
He met his end by his own hands while incarcerated.
Zebra MurdersHandout Between October 1973 and April 1974, San Francisco was stricken with a string of racially motivated homicides. The occurrences attained the label "Zebra Murders," alluding to a unique police frequency employed during investigations into these heinous acts.
In due course, four individuals, namely Manuel Moore, Larry Green, Jessie Lee Cooks, and J.C.X. Simon, were found guilty of terminating the lives of 15 individuals; they identified themselves as the "Death Angels," while authorities categorized them as members of a cult.
Death AngelsBettmann The Death Angels sowed unwavering panic throughout San Francisco, their actions wreaking havoc for a total of 179 days.
Pictured here is mayor Joseph Alioto, addressing the press conference on May 1, 1974, as he divulges that these murders are products of a concealed plot masterminded by an formerly unknown cult.
Anthony LaRetteCHRIS O'MEARA/AP Technically, Anthony LaRette was convicted of ending the life of one individual in St. Charles, Missouri, in 1980. However, he later confessed to 31 other homicides perpetrated in 11 different states that spanned from the late 1960s. Fifteen of these cases were concluded based on information voluntarily provided by LaRette to the authorities.
LaRette, presented here in a 1976 police mugshot, engaged in multiple meetings with Pinellas County Detective Patricia Juhl, divulging details regarding more than two dozen instances of rape, assault, and murder.
The state of Missouri terminated LaRette's existence via lethal injection.
Carroll ColePolice mugshot Carroll Cole asphyxiated a minimum of 15 women and one adolescent male across different states between 1948 and 1980.
In his confessions, he acknowledged that the actual number could be higher since he would often be intoxicated during the commission of these heinous acts.
He met his end via capital punishment in 1985.
Robert HansenPolice photo Robert Hansen, famously referred to as "The I-5 Killer," was tied to 18 killings in Washington, Oregon, and California between 1971 and 1983, with the potential for up to 44 victims. His female victims frequently fell prey to sexual assault.
He breathed his last breath behind bars in 2014.
Randall WoodfieldFair use Randall Woodfield, commonly known as "The I-5 Killer," was connected with 18 homicides in Washington, Oregon, and California between 1979 and 1981, and the suspected number of his victims could reach up to 44. He was notorious for sexually assaulting his female victims.
He is currently serving a life sentence in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.
The "Ripper CrewDenise Crosby/ Chicago Tribune/Getty Images During the 1980s, a quartet of individuals from Chicago gained infamy as "The Ripper Crew."
According to investigators, these four men, namely Thomas Kokoraleis, Andrew Kokoraleis, Robin Gecht, and Edward Spreitzer, formed a satanic gang that is believed to have committed up to 20 homicides against women. They cruised around in a crimson van, looking for unsuspecting victims on the streets. Each of the four was found guilty in connection to a portion of these offenses, including charges of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, or rape.
Thomas Kokoraleis, seen here, was released from prison in 2019. His brother Andrew was executed in 1999, while the other two members remain incarcerated.
Samuel MasonPublic Domain Following his service in the American Revolutionary War, Captain Samuel Mason, a native of Virginia, emerged as the head of a criminal organization known as the Mason Gang, notorious for the demise of over 20 individuals.
The gang operated primarily in the regions surrounding the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Patrick KearneyThe Daily Breeze Patrick Kearney, also known as the "Freeway Killer," confessed responsibility for 21 murders committed during the 1970s. He acknowledged an additional seven victims. Currently, he is serving a life sentence.
His typical modus operandi involved picking up young male hitchhikers or individuals from gay bars and subsequently subjecting them to fatal gunshots, often accompanied by sexual assault.
Larry EylerPolice mugshot Larry Eyler was convicted of murdering a 15-year-old boy and confessed to taking the lives of at least 21 more young men and boys between 1982 and 1984 across five states. His encounters with the victims often involved violent acts during sexual encounters.
He succumbed to AIDS-related complications while on death row in 1994.
William BoninWally Fong/AP William Bonin, commonly recognized as the "Freeway Killer," terminated the lives of at least 21 boys and young men in 1979 and 1980.
His method involved enticing victims, aged 12 to 19 years old, into his van, where he subjected them to sexual assault before ultimately killing them, often employing strangulation as the means.
He met his demise through execution in 1992.
Coral Eugene Watts
A minimum of 14 murders have been officially connected to "The Sunday Morning Slasher," or Carl "Coral" Eugene Watts, who operated between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s. Prior to Watts's demise in prison in 2007, authorities suspected him of being responsible for as many as 100 homicides in total. In this 2004 photograph, Watts waits for the commencement of closing arguments in his murder trial in Pontiac, Michigan.
Earle Nelson, known as "the Gorilla Man," was found guilty of murdering 22 individuals in the U.S. and Canada between 1926 and 1927. The majority of his victims were landladies; Nelson would falsely claim he wished to rent a room and then launch his attack. On occasion, he engaged in sexual activity with the bodies and concealed them beneath the nearest bed. He was executed for his crimes.
Ronald Joseph Dominique
Ronald Joseph Dominique admitted to raping and murdering a minimum of 23 men in Louisiana over a ten-year period commencing in 1997. He claimed that killing his victims was a way to avoid getting caught. He is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Belle Gunness, an American serial killer of Norwegian descent, was active in Illinois and Indiana from 1884 to 1908. It is estimated that she murdered 14 people, predominantly men who were enticed to her residence in Indiana with the promise of marriage.
Juan Corona, a Mexican national, was convicted of the murders of 25 individuals, all of whom were found buried in peach orchards along the Feather River in Sutter County, California, in 1971. His victims were primarily migrant farm workers. In this 1973 file photo, Corona waves to supporters as he departs the Solano County Hall of Justice in Fairfield, California, after receiving 25 consecutive life sentences. In 2019, Corona passed away at the age of 85 due to natural causes at an external medical facility.
Dean "Candy Man" Corll gained notoriety as the individual responsible for the Houston Mass Murders. Between 1970 and 1973, Corll killed a minimum of 28 young boys.
Dean Corll, aged 24, shortly after entering the US Army in August 1964.
Corll, an electrician and former proprietor of a candy store, engaged the assistance of two teenage accomplices, David Owen Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, in luring young boys to his apartment. There, the victims were restrained, subjected to sexual assault, and ultimately killed. In 1973, a dispute broke out between Corll and Henley at Corll's residence, resulting in Henley shooting the Candy Man several times with a .22 caliber pistol. Subsequently, Henley confessed to all their crimes and directed the police to the mass graves across Houston containing the bodies of their victims. Some of the bodies exhibited signs of mutilation, while others were buried with their mouths taped shut or their necks bound by cords. Additionally, there remains one unidentified victim of Corll's, known only as "John Doe 1973."
Library of Congress
Filipe Espinosa, a Mexican-American killer from the 19th century, was suspected of committing approximately 32 murders in the Colorado Territory during the summer of 1863. No specific motive has been determined for his killing spree, which also involved his brother, Vivian. A tracker named Tom Tobin ultimately located Espinosa, killed him, and brought his and Vivian's heads to Fort Garland, Colorado, as depicted in this historic photograph.
Al Berhman / AP
Dubbed the "Angel of Death," this former nurse's aide received multiple life sentences after confessing in 1987 to the murders of three dozen hospital patients in Ohio and Kentucky during the 1970s and '80s. In 2017, a fellow inmate named James Elliott was charged with fatally beating Harvey. In this photograph from September 1987, Harvey stands before a judge during his sentencing in Cincinnati.
The Horrible Harpes
Courtesy of Library Special Collections, WKU
Some historians classify these brothers, born as Joshua and William Harper around 1750 and also known by the surname Harpe, as two of the earliest recorded serial killers in America. Loyal to the British crown during the Revolutionary War, the brothers embarked on their murderous spree after completing their military service. Archival records suggest they may have taken the lives of around 39 individuals, although the number of their victims could have reached 50 across Tennessee, Kentucky, and Illinois.
Gary Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 after confessing to the murders of 49 women in the 1980s and 1990s. Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, spread terror in Seattle by strangling his victims, mostly prostitutes. He disposed of their bodies in dump sites and along the Green River, occasionally returning to engage in necrophilia. It took nearly 20 years for DNA evidence to link him to the crimes, leading to his arrest in 2001.
Serial killer Samuel Little was recognized as one of the most prolific murderers in American history. Over several decades, Little managed to evade detection, but in 2019, he confessed to killing 93 victims in 19 states between 1970 and 2005. According to the FBI, 50 of these confessions have been substantiated. The majority of Little's victims were marginalized young Black women.
In this handout photo provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, serial killer Samuel Little is seen in a composite image depicting multiple mug shots/booking photos from 1966-1995.
FBI via Getty Images
In 2012, Little was apprehended at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, on a narcotics charge. He was subsequently extradited to California, where he was convicted of the murders of three women in Los Angeles during the late 1980s after DNA evidence found at the crime scenes linked him to the crimes. The FBI reported, "In all three cases, the women had been beaten and then strangled, their bodies dumped in an alley, a dumpster, and a garage." Little was serving a life sentence at a state prison in Los Angeles County when he passed away in 2020 at the age of 80. While the FBI continues its efforts to confirm several of Little's confessions and identify many more of his alleged victims, here are the names of some of his confirmed victims: Annie Lee Stewart, Mary Jo Peyton, Carol Elford, Guadalupe Apodaca, Audrey Nelson Everett, Zena Jones, Rose Evans, Denise Christie Brothers, Mary Jo Brosley, Sarah Brown, Clara Birdlong, Patricia Parker, Melinda "Mindy" LaPree, Frances Campbell, Jolanda Jones, Alice Denise Duvall, and Roberta Tondarich.
David Berkowitz, also known as the infamous Son of Sam, instilled fear and terror throughout the streets of New York City during the years of 1976 and 1977, triggering one of the most extensive manhunts ever conducted in the history of the city.
In his personal diary, Berkowitz confessed to igniting approximately 1,500 fires in various locations across New York City during the mid-1970s. He attributed his heinous acts to the influence of malevolent entities. Berkowitz ruthlessly claimed the lives of six individuals, leaving many more injured, with a preference for targeting couples. Additionally, he took to writing letters to newspapers, arrogantly identifying himself as the Son of Sam. This particular moniker was derived from a pet dog owned by his neighbor, Sam Carr. According to Berkowitz, he believed that a demonic presence dwelled within the canine.
A photograph taken at the time of David Berkowitz's arrest, showcasing his facial features and side profile. Berkowitz, infamously known as the 'Son of Sam', was a convicted serial killer in New York City. Forensic psychology professor, Dr. Katherine Ramsland, theorizes that Berkowitz may have been motivated by a desire for thrills, although the extent of his true intentions remains elusive due to his constantly shifting narrative.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In 1977, following a rigorous and extensive manhunt, Berkowitz was apprehended a mere 11 days after his final murder. Ultimately, he confessed to all of the murders he was accused of. Presently, Berkowitz is serving a staggering 365-year prison sentence in New York.
Victims attributed to Berkowitz include: Jody Valenti (survived), Donna Lauria, Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan (both survived), Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino (both survived), Christine Freund, John Diel (survived), Virginia Voskerichian, Valentina Suriani, Alexander Esau, Judy Placido and Sal Lupo (both survived), Robert Violante (survived), and Stacy Moskowitz.
Richard Cottingham, infamously known as the Torso Killer, unleashed a wave of barbaric murders upon the streets of New York City throughout the late 1970s and early 80s.
Over the course of several months, predominantly targeting sex workers, Cottingham left behind a gruesome trail of victims brutally slain within hotel rooms. Inflicting horrific mutilation, he earned the moniker Torso Killer, as he frequently dismembered his victims' heads and hands.
An official photograph taken upon the booking of Richard Francis Cottingham in the year 1980. Cottingham was recognized as a serial killer.
Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, New Jersey
In 1984, Cottingham stood trial and was found guilty of five murders. As a result, he received a prison sentence of 200 years. Subsequently, he admitted to numerous other killings, with speculation suggesting that his true victim count may range between 80 and 100. In April 2021, Cottingham even confessed to the drowning of two girls in New Jersey back in 1974. At present, Cottingham is 75 years old and serves his sentence within the confines of the New Jersey State Prison.
While many of Cottingham's victims remain unidentified, the following names are associated with his atrocious acts: Nancy Schiava Vogel, Jacalyn Harp, Lorraine Marie Kelly, Mary Ann Pryor, Maryann Carr, Deedeh Goodarzi, Valerie Ann Street, and Jean Reyner.
In the dark annals of crime, these names echo with chilling infamy, representing the very worst of humanity. From the calculated brutality of Ted Bundy to the terrifying spree of Jack the Ripper, they are etched into our collective consciousness as reminders of the monsters that walk among us. But as shivers run down our spines, let us not forget that behind the headlines and horrifying details, there are stories of victims, justice sought, and communities forever scarred. In the depths of our fascination with these infamous names, may we also find the resolve to stand united against the darkness that dwells within our fellow beings.