Despite the fact that they’re absolutely abhorrent human beings, serial killers captivate the public’s attention. They are the closest thing that we have to a movie (in real life) and some of them become so notorious that they become (in)famous whilst in prison. As you will see, there was a huge increase in serial killers in and around the 1970’s. While that’s a topic for a different day, it’s really interesting that so many men went mental back then. It was probably because of Disco. Either way, hunker down and get ready to read about 15 of the most notorious serial killers known to man…
15. Arthur Shawcross
Arthur Shawcross’ infamy grew thanks to his Netflix Documentary Interview with a Serial Killer. Shawcross was known as the Genesee River Killer and operated in (prepare to get used to this) the 1970’s. He, like many others, targeted prostitutes but he also murdered small children when he was younger. He was somehow only convicted of manslaughter for the death of an 8 year old girl and only served 14 years in prison. After he was released he killed 12 prostitutes between the ages of 22 and 59. He has zero empathy and if you have the nerve to watch his documentary you’ll see what a complete sociopath looks like. He received 250 years in prison and thankfully died of a heart attack in 2008.
14. Peter Sutcliffe
Jack the Ripper eat your heart out. Peter Sutcliffe was known as the “Yorkshire Ripper” and operated for a short period of time but still left his terrible, terrible mark on society. In 1981 Sutcliffe was convicted of murdering up to 13 women and attempting to murder 7 others. Like Jack the Ripper, he targeted prostitutes. He wasn’t the brightest bulb as somehow getting pulled over for having a false license plate lead to him confessing his crimes. Luckily for people in places like Leeds and Bradford, that confession stuck despite the fact that he plead not guilty (on the grounds of diminished responsibility). He’s still alive to this day living it up in a Maximum Security Mental Hospital.
13. Richard Ramirez
The “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez haunted Los Angeles in 1984 and 1985. He’s extremely famous but because he only operated for about a year, he doesn’t crack the top ten (this is such an odd way to rank people!). Ramirez’s MO was to break into the homes of small girls and then rape, stab/shoot/mutilate them. He was infamous because he often referenced the Devil and painted pentagrams on the walls of his victims houses with their blood. He was a different kind of killer as his victims ranged from a 9 year old girl to a 60 year old couple; he just wanted to kill and wanted the attention. He got it, and was sentenced to death but actually ended up dying of cancer in 2013.
12. Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen and Jeffrey Dahmer (number 4 on this list) would’ve been the best of f(r)iends. Often called the “British Dahmer”, Nilsen was a homosexual killer who murdered around 15 gay men in London between… sigh… the late 70’s and early 80’s. Like Dahmer, he mutilated his victims after they died and would attempt to flush their chunks down the toilet. Of course that didn’t work and when his sewage system backed up and was full of human parts he was arrested. He was convicted of six counts of murder in 1983, and received life in prison without a plunger for his toilet.
11. H. H. Holmes
Herman Webster Mudgett (aka Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) is often called the first serial killer in America. He built a house/hotel of horrors across the street from the world’s fair in Chicago, that essentially was built as a maze and torture chamber. He was a bit different than other serial killers on this list as his motive was financial; he sold the bodies to scientists for a profit. He was also a gigantic con-artist and bigamist (he was married to two different women at the same time) and often called America’s Jack the Ripper. There’s been a book written about Holmes titled Devil in the White City. Apparently it is being turned into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Martin Scorcese. After that, I’m sure he’ll end up a lot higher on lists like this.
10. Aileen Wuornos: The Monster
The only woman to make this list, Aileen Wurnous was a “lot lizard” (aka a truck stop prostitute) who snapped and decided to murder a handful of her clients. The fact that she was a woman brought a ton of attention to her case. She claimed that she was raped, or was about to be raped, by each of the men she shot in cold blood. In reality, she was a lesbian who was killing people for money so she could run away with her much younger girlfriend. She ended up killing seven men and screamed at the judge when she was sentenced to death, yelling that he was putting to death a “raped woman”. She was immortalized in the Oscar winning picture, Monster, and will forever be remembered as the top female serial killer of all-time.
9. Andrei Chikatilo
Nicknamed the Butcher of Rostov, Chikatilo was convicted of sexual assault, murder, and mutilation of at least 52 women and children in Russia from the late 70’s through the early 90’s. The police had a feeling that he was the killer and put him under surveillance, which worked as they finally got enough evidence to arrest him (as an undercover cop caught him trying to lure young women at a bus stop, with rope and a knife in his pocket). However, they had to let him go as his blood type didn’t match the semen samples type (A vs. AB). He murdered many women after he was released in 1984, but was finally caught and arrested in 1990. He was caught directly after murdering and mutilating a 22-year-old woman by another undercover officer, bringing his death total to over 50. He was convicted of murdering 52 women and was executed in 1994.
8. Gary Ridgway
Ridgway was one of the most prolific serial killers, really ever. After being caught for the murder of four women in 2001, he admitted to killing at least 70 women through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Somehow, because he showed the police where he buried the bodies, he received a life sentence in lieu of the death penalty. He brought the police to the dumping sites of five more of his victims, which were in or around the Green River. That’s where he got his moniker, the Green River Killer. Unlike other serial killers, who inflate the number of people they’ve killed as a projection that they take perverse pride in their deeds, Ridgway was actually convicted of killing 49 people and was sentenced to life in jail without parole. Yeesh.
7. Ed Gein
When movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre say that they’re based on “true events” they’re mostly talking about Ed Gein. Gein was the original Jeffrey Dahmer and ironically was also from Wisconsin. Known as the Butcher of Plainfield, he was not only a murderer but was also a “body snatcher” (meaning he dug up dead bodies and collected body parts). He used those body parts as trophies and keepsakes, and some even say he had a human skin lampshade. He was found unfit to stand trial in 1957 and ended up in a mental institution for the rest of his life. He got lucky and should’ve faced the electric chair, even if death was something that would’ve satisfied his perverted urges.
6. BTK Killer
The BTK Killer is like a few others on this list in that he sent letters to the media/police to taunt them and also increase his visibility. In some sort of twisted way, some of these men kill because they like the attention it brings (and the power that comes with it). The BTK Killer could’ve been a lot higher on this list, as he operated heavily in the state of Kansas from 1974 through 1991 (again the 70s). BTK stood for “Bind, Torture, Kill” and that was essentially his M.O. with the women that he murdered. Coming out of hiding in the early 00’s, Dennis Rader actually asked the police if they could trace him if he sent them a used floppy disk with a letter on it. They, of course, said no, so he did.. The floppy disk had files from Christ Lutheran Church (where he was the President of the church council) so they finally tracked him down and he confessed to his terrible crimes (and apparent low IQ). Ha.
5. Ted Bundy
Some psychopaths have the ability to be “superficially charming” as they have no real personality or real human emotion, so they feign whatever emotion is necessary to achieve their ends. The best looking of all serial killers, Bundy was a highly intelligent individual that represented himself in court with limited success. His story is probably the most movie-like as he actually escaped from captivity TWICE. The first time he used the fact that he was representing himself to his advantage and jumped out of the law library’s window. The second time, he lost almost 40 pounds and escaped by cutting through his cell bars and wiggling through, despite the fact that he probably would’ve been acquitted because there was a lack of evidence. He was eventually arrested and convicted and spent his last moments trying to ruin “adult-movies” for everyone, stating that it was pornography that made him a rapist/murderer. A manipulator til the end, somehow marrying a state worker from Washington before he was executed via the electric chair. Zap.
4. Jeffrey Dahmer
Every Millenial knows Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee cannibal. Dahmer operated mostly with impunity from the late 70’s until 1991, which is ironically the same year that Silence of the Lambs premiered. He was a homosexual who targeted mostly minority homosexuals and essentially was attempting to create a sex-zombie through twisted experiments that’d make the Nazi’s say, “Chill, Bro”. One of those experiments included drilling a hole in a man’s head and pouring acid on his frontal lobe, which obviously didn’t work. His apartment was truly a house of horrors, with bodies and body parts strewn throughout, including in the refrigerator and a cooking pot. His acid experiments killed the three men that he used it on, which he said wasn’t his intention. His Wikipedia page is awful and shows that he truly was one of the most twisted human beings to ever exist. Karma caught up to him in prison when he was beat to death with a barbell in 1994 in a situation that many figured was a set-up by the prison guards. So be it.
3. John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy is definitely the creepiest entry on this list. Known as the “Killer Clown” (that explains EVERYTHING), Gacy would often dress up as a clown named “Pogo” at children’s birthday parties. He had a construction business and was able to lure multiple young men to his house under the guise of offering them a job. He even ended up hiring a multitude of his eventual victims. The police essentially knew that he was the killer but couldn’t prove it (as multiple victims told people they were going for an interview with him, or they worked for him), despite the fact that Gacy had one of the victim’s cars and sold it for $500. His excuse was always that the boys “ran away” and the police searched his house but found nothing. Completely overwhelmed by the police pressure, Gacy actually showed up at the police station drunk and confessed to killing “around 30 boys”. The worst part? He buried all of the victims in shallow graves in the crawl space of his home, he even had some of them dig their own graves. He would essentially tell the boys to put on a pair of handcuffs for a “trick” and then strangle them to death/torture them. He is one of the worst people, ever.
2. Jack the Ripper
There is probably no better known serial killer than Jack the Ripper. Even to this day, people spend their entire lives attempting to figure out who the Ripper actually was. What we do know about him is that he operated in mostly poor parts of town, specifically the Whitechapel district of London in and around 1888. His name, ironically, came from a letter that was sent to the media that is, and was, widely considered to be a hoax. Before the letter he was known as the Whitechapel Murderer and the Leather Apron. He attacked mostly prostitutes and was thought to have some medical training as he surgically removed internal organs from at least three of his victims. Because of those letters (especially the “From Hell” letter) and the way he murdered his victims, the Ripper became a legend in his own right. For example, there are over 100 active theories as to the identity of the Ripper. And, while he was clearly a terrible person, it’s really fun to try to solve the mystery behind his identity.
1. The Zodiac Killer
Speaking of guessing a person’s identity… It’s sort of gross to say that one person is the “best” serial killer out there, based on objective realities, the Zodiac Killer is the most infamous serial killer of all time. He haunted the Bay Area in the late 60’s and early 70’s, writing taunting letters to both the police and the Bay Area press. Like many serial killers he claimed to have killed almost 40 people, while the newspapers could really only confirm seven deaths. There was an awesome movie made about his exploits that came out about a decade ago, and it posited many theories as to who the Zodiac was, but because no one knows for sure who he was, or where he went, he gets the top spot on this list essentially because he’s one of the few who actually got away with his crimes… For now.