The FBI did not start formally analyzing criminal behavior until the 1970s, and nobody knows exactly when the phrase “serial killer” was first coined. Since the 1970s, however, the FBI has learned a lot about the Worst Serial Killers, including some popular but false myths about them:
- Serial killers want to be captured
- All serial murderers travel and operate across state lines
- All Serial killers are either evil geniuses or insane
- Serial killers are driven only by sex
- Serial killers are societal outcasts and loners
- Serial killers are white males
- Serial killers cannot stop themselves from killing
For each of these fictions, a serial killer exists or has existed to disprove it. Excluding military and political murderers (Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Stalin and the like), here are ten men and women who, for all the wrong reasons, make the Top Ten Worst Serial Killers:
#10—Dr. Harold Shipman
Dr. Shipman makes the list of Worst Serial Killers because he betrayed one of the deepest trusts society bestows: he was a medical doctor who systematically murdered (and then abused) his elderly patients. Shipman, who died hanging from a knotted bedsheet in his prison cell, was an arrogant, uncompassionate man who drugged to death his patients for, apparently, the shear control it offered.
In playing his role of compassionate doctor, he liked to pretend to call for emergency services in front of upset relatives without actually calling. Of some 500 patients who died under his care, suspicion attaches to 215 of them.
Ed Gein appears as one of the Worst Serial Killers not because of number of victims (possibly only two), but because of his role as muse. His horrific 1957 crimes were the inspiration for one of the greatest thrillers ever made, Psycho, and for a character in the book and movie, Silence of the Lambs. Gein’s crimes were a startling eye-opener to Americans that weird killers walk amongst us.
Beginning as a corpse-mutilating grave robber, Gein “graduated” to murder and his own grisly handcrafting. Police discovered tanned human skins, a woman’s torso “vest,” soup bowls made from skulls and a ceiling lamp pull made from human lips, among other atrocities.
Rader, the BTK (Blind, Torture and Kill) killer from Wichita, Kansas, disproves the “dysfunctional, withdrawn loner” myth. Boy Scout leader, member of the Air Force, president of his church, and a family man, Rader seemed to be an upstanding member of the community. He was also, of course, a killer of at least ten people over 17 years. He deliberately taunted the police about his exploits. He also disproves that serial killers cannot stop—he ended his habits in 1997 but was not arrested until 2005. His particular weirdness that lands him as one of the Worst Serial Killers was repeatedly strangling and reviving his victims until ultimately strangling them to death.
Wuornos dispels the idea that the Worst Serial Killers are male. She was the first female to fit the FBI’s serial killer profile. Wuornos killed men in Central Florida starting in 1989, confessing to six murders committed in less than a year. She shot the men to death while working as a highway prostitute, claiming self defense as they tried to sexually assault her. The state of Florida did not believe her, tried and then executed her in 2002 using lethal injection.
Russia’s contribution, Chikatilo drew sexual satisfaction from violence against women. “The Red Ripper” killed 53 women and children (boys and girls) starting in 1978 by stabbing, strangling or beating them to death, then mutilating them. After his 1990 apprehension, he was shot in the back of the head after his 1994 trial.
#5—Dr. H. H. Holmes
Informal designation as “America’s first serial killer” lands “Dr. Holmes”—born Herman Webster Mudgett—on the list of Worst Serial Killers.
Sometimes events, people and places collide to produce the worst possible outcome. Mudgett wormed his way into the employ of a Chicago pharmacist, who later disappeared at exactly the time of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Capitalizing on the popularity of this world’s fair, Mudgett became “Dr. H. H. Holmes” and built a unique building that came to be known as “Murder Castle.”
He designed and oversaw construction himself, firing workers frequently to avoid anyone learning the whole blueprint. The multi-story building had hidden trapdoors and chutes into the basement, and even an airtight vault in which to suffocate victims.
Mudgett’s “hotel” had many visitors check in but never check out, though most named him as beneficiary on their insurance policies. Many of Mudgett’s victims ended up as skeletons he sold to local medical schools.
Holmes disproves the myth that serial murderers want to be caught. He went to great lengths—and distances—to avoid capture. Once caught, he basked in the notoriety, even writing a book. Holmes was hanged in 1896; his building was set afire by persons unknown.
Pedro makes the list because he may still be out there. After being convicted of murdering 110 young girls in Ecuador, Lopez served 20 years in prison (Ecuador’s maximum sentence). He was released at the Colombia border, and in a perfect world Colombian authorities would have tried him for the 100 murders he confessed to committing in that country. Peru would come next, where he apparently committed at least another 100 murders of little girls.
Alas, he served some time in a Colombian mental hospital and was released in 1998, never to be seen again.
#3—Theodore “Ted” Bundy
Charismatic, endearing, even personable—Bundy the sociopath typifies the screenwriter’s idea of a serial killer. “Evil genius” Bundy was intelligent enough to trick many women (30 confessed; possibly many more) into becoming his unwilling victims. He impersonated police and fire personnel to use the young women’s natural respect for authority against them.
Bundy slept with the mutilated corpses and even displayed their severed heads in his apartment. Florida electrocuted him in 1989.
#2—Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Báthory
Aileen Wuornos does not bear the sole burden of representing women serial killers. Countess Báthory was a well educated, privileged Hungarian woman of the late 1500s who became infamous for supposedly bathing in the blood of young virginal girls as a way to stay young. Whether that aspect is true or not, she was discovered torturing young girls, including members of the nobility (few cared that she abused and killed her own servants in truly gruesome ways).
While her accomplices were found guilty of some 80 murders and executed, Countess Báthory was merely bricked up inside her bedroom in her castle with only small holes for air and food. In 1614 the Countess, one of the Worst Serial Killers in history, was found dead in the room.
Who is the worst of the Worst Serial Killers? Luis Garavito fits the bill. Convicted of 139 murders of young boys and suspected in over 300 more, Luis “The Beast” Garavito is serving 1,853 years (and 9 days) in Colombian prison from his 2001 conviction…but…Colombia is struggling to keep him in prison because of the country’s 30-year maximum sentencing laws. As Garavito confesses to more murders, each becomes a prosecutable case and extends his sentence.