Throughout history, serial killers have made lasting impressions not only for the numbers of people they victimize, but also for the gruesome ways they operate. Diabolical killers each leave their own unique signatures on the crimes they commit. And when multiple victims surface, their notoriety grows. Our unquenchable thirst for details about heinous criminals keeps the media scrambling for ways to showcase sensational crimes, spawning made-for-TV movies and documentaries about the world’s infamous killers. As a result, serial killers live in infamy, as household names associated with some of humanity’s darkest moments. These examples stand-out among history’s most depraved serial killers, landing them among our top ten.
1. Jeffrey Dahmer
Dahmer’s own end only added to the bizarre circumstances surrounding his case. He was eventually beaten to death in prison, fulfilling the death wish he had expressed multiple times while incarcerated. But the tale of his gruesome exploits started years earlier when he was exposed for a lengthy crime spree. Dahmer’s case had all the hallmarks of a twisted serial murder plot, complete with cannibalism and necrophilia. The contrast between the seemingly normal public life Dahmer lived, and the unspeakable acts occurring behind closed doors made the case all the more unusual. In the end, being beaten to death in a prison bathroom was a fate many thought Dahmer had coming.
Details of Dahmer’s crimes continued to emerge for months after initially coming to light in the early 1990’s. Dahmer, it turns out, had been trolling for victims at homosexual nightclubs, successfully luring them to his small urban apartment with promises of sex and drugs. Once there, Dahmer engaged in various perversions including killing, dismembering and sometimes eating parts his victims. By drugging his victims and killing them, Dahmer sought to possess them somehow, even freezing body parts to revisit later. Drums of acid and other heinous instruments of horror were removed from his apartment in the days following Dahmer’s arrest, cementing his place as one of history’s most evil villians. Jeffrey Dahmer Files explores the life of the killer in a quasi-documentary format.
2. John Wayne Gacy
The façade presented by serial killers leaves the public aghast at the nature in which pure evil moves through society. Neighbors, friends, and local characters go from beloved to bedeviled when their unspeakable acts are revealed. John Wayne Gacy was a well-liked local figure, so it was particularly disturbing when the series of murders he committed came to light.
Gacy was a visible public figure, even donning the costume of “Pogo the Clown” to participate in magic shows for children. He ran a string of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, and was popular enough to consider a run for mayor in his hometown. But Gacy had perverse appetites which slowly came to light. He was a sexual deviant, pursuing wife-swapping and prostitution, as well as sex with young men. To feed his depravity, Gacy eventually kidnapped and murdered more than 30 men and boys, torturing and killing them after sex. Over the course of many years, he buried the bodies below and around his home, leaving a trail of evidence for prosecutors. Gacy was tried and put to death for his heinous killing spree and psycho-sexual exploits. Recently revealed tapes contain never before heard Gacy commentary.
3. Ted Bundy
The heinous nature of their crimes does not always indicate slow-minded killers. In-fact, serial killers like Ted Bundy are usually of above average intelligence, sometimes by a significant measure. Unfortunately, using I.Q. for evil, rather then good, often leads to prolonged killing sprees among criminals clever enough not to get caught right away. Ted Bundy, born Theodore Robert Cowell, stands as one of the most prolific killers in history, eluding capture long enough to end the lives of at least 30 victims. The true number of Bundy’s victims remains unknown and probably exceeds the specific killings he confessed to.
Like John Wayne Gacy, Bundy was a sexual deviant who eventually succumbed to his perverse desires, kidnapping and killing a string of women and girls throughout the 1970’s. He was an attractive, charismatic individual who presented himself with a cast or crutches to lure women to his aid. He’s kill them with blows to the head, and admitted to keeping parts of their bodies and having sex with their corpses. He moved around in Washington, Utah and Oregon focusing on college campuses as sources for young female victims. His trials were bizarre, and Bundy successfully escaped during one, by acting as his own lawyer and running from the unsecured law library. Ted Bundy earned multiple death sentences for his serial killing spree, eventually being put to death by lethal injection, without taking responsibility for many killings believed to be his doing. There is strong support for findings indicating Bundy killed more than 100 people.
4. Edward Gein
Time tempers the impact of heinous crimes, but serial killers live long in infamy. Ed Gein committed his twisted acts in the 1950’s, but remains the subject of fascination today. In part, the gruesome nature of his crimes have served to keep them in the public eye. Like his sick Wisconsin counterpart Dahmer, Gein was cannibal and necrophile haunted by bizarre obsessions. In the end. exposing his seven year killing spree would bring some of history’s most depraved acts to light.
Gein’s obsessions included female anatomy, Nazi experiments on people, and an overwhelming desire to change his sex from male to female. He initially robbed graves to support his bizarre desires, but his crimes eventually escalated into the murders of women and girls. Clippings about the disappearances were found on his farm at the time of his arrest, along with a partially dismembered body. As the investigation continued, unspeakable items were uncovered at Gein’s home. Human body parts were utilized as household items, including skull-bowls and upholstery made of human skin. A human heart was found in a pot on the stove. Gein was institutionalized for the rest of his life, where doctors tried to uncover explanations for his psychotic, murderous behavior.
5. Aileen Wuornos
Serial killers are typically men, but the disturbing practice extends to the fairer sex as well. Because of the violence and physical strength required to subdue victims, men are better equipped to commit serial crimes than women are, but Aileen Wournos provides a fascinating study into the twisted mind of a female serial killer.
Wuornos emerged from a troubled childhood with emotional scars and a young history of promiscuity. At 14, she was sent to a home to give birth to a child, which was adopted. She was a petty criminal early on, engaging in theft forgery and prostitution, while moving through a series of failed relationships. In 1989, when bodies started appearing under suspicious circumstances, it foreshadowed the unfolding tale of a female killer on a spree. Wuornos killed at least 7 men, using firearms to carry out her crimes. She was eventually put to death and was portrayed by Charlize Theron in a Hollywood movie about her murderous spree.
6. Gary Ridgway
DNA advances changed outcomes for many modern day serial killers. Linking criminals to victims using advanced DNA technologies provides the smoking gun responsible for bringing down some of history’s most notorious villians. But the technologies have not been court-worthy for all that long. Gary Ridgway was linked to his early-80’s crimes well before he was definitively tied to them with DNA evidence in 2001. Ridgway had been killing since 1982 when he strangled a sixteen year-old victim to death.
Ridway’s death toll is disputed, but he pleaded guilty to 48 counts of murder. It is widely believed he killed as many as 60 women in Washington State. His killing spree was so prolific he cannot remember all his victims. Most were young, many prostitutes that were picked up along Route 99. To avoid the death penalty, Ridgway took police to four graves of his victims and confessed to many other murders. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2003. In his own twisted mind Ridgway thought he was performing a valuable service, ridding the streets of vile prostitutes. His victims were commonly in their teens and early twenties. He is known colloquially as The Green River Killer, for dumping remains near the site.
7. Donald Harvey
Serial killers satisfy unique perversions as they kill. For some, it is a sexual gratification tied to misplaced feelings of affection and desire. Others are obsessed with the human body, killing as a way to explore it in sadistic ways. And killers have their own methods to their madness – some using guns to kill victims, while others engage in more personal slaying practices. Donald Harvey is a notorious 1970’s killer that claimed is victims from a position of trust – as a nurse’s aid.
Using his access to patients to satisfy his sickness, Harvey poisoned hospital patients with cyanide and arsenic. He eventually confessed to more than 70 murders, occurring before 1978. An anonymous tip and police search of his home led to his arrest and convictions. It is said that Mr. Harvey also infected patients, before nursing them back to health.
8. Henry Lee Lucas
Lucas and an accomplice carried out untold murders – ranging in the hundreds by many accounts. Their motivation appears to have been primarily justified as “thrill killings” conducted simply for the adrenaline rush. Eventually convicted of 10 murders, Lucas avoided the death penalty when his sentence was commuted. The decision to spare his life relates to doubts about the conviction that was to end it. The killer was convicted in 1984 for the rape and murder of a victim clad only in orange socks. The “Orange Socks” verdict was called into question by eveidence showing Lucas may have been in another location when the crimes were committed.
The prolific killer started close to home, claiming his own mother as his first murder victim. His claims of self-defense were rejected, and he was sentenced to 20-40 years in jail. After serving ten years of his sentence, Lucas was released. There is no real way of knowing how many people Lucas actually killed, he was well-known for exaggerating his claims, and at various times confessed to murders numbering in the thousands. Plausible victims stand in the hundreds, but Lucas’ death in 2001 took his secrets to the grave.
9. Charles Manson
No list of infamous serial killers is complete without references to the crimes of Charles Manson. The famed leader of a remote hippy cult is responsible for some of the most high-profile killings in world history. Manson was the leader of a commune, enlisting followers to do his dirty-work. The sensational nature of the group’s murders and the antics of the ensuing trials stayed in the public spotlight for years.
Manson was a failed musician with enough charisma and intelligence to dupe followers into thinking he was the second coming. Two famous crime scenes provide the Hollywood backdrops for atrocious acts of violence committed there. Manson followers, both men and women, participated in gruesome murders at the home of Sharon Tate, an actress and husband of film director Roman Polanski. She was pregnant at the time of her death, which resulted from multiple stab wounds. Several people died there, and at the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca who aslo fell victim to the Manson “family” killing spree. Cryptic clues scrawled in blood of victims were left behind at the crime scenes, which were horrific. Manson was eventually linked to the crimes. During his trial followers conducted organized demonstrations and his co-defendents mutilated themselves in shows of support for Manson.
10. Dean Corll
Known as the Candy Man in his home neighborhood, due to his family’s candy business, Corll was in fact a brutal serial killer. In the early seventies, Dean Corll raped and killed at least two-dozen young men and boys. The “Houston Mass Murders“, as his crimes came to be known, were carried out with the help of accomplices in the Houston area. In fact, Corll’s involvement in the crimes did not come to light until he was shot by one of his co-conspirators.
Corll, an Army veteran, had a predilection for sex with young boys, who he raped and killed with the help of accomplices. A steady-stream of victims were furnished by Corll’s associates, who also sometimes participated in the attacks. During a falling-out, Corll was shot to death by one of these associates. After his death, the magnitude of Corll’s crimes started to unfold. He had sadistically abducted, raped, tortured and killed dozens of boys under the age of 18. As his accomplices identified victims and led police to bodies, the heinous nature of this serial killer was exposed.