Most Notorious Serial Killers: Strictly speaking, a serial killer is someone who has murdered at least two people in separate events occurring at different times. Although “serial murder” is not officially defined by any legal code, the crimes committed by serial killers have often captured the attention of the media and the public consciousness, particularly in cases where there are numerous victims or the killings are carried out in a gruesome manner. The following list presents some of the most notorious serial killers in history.
1: Jack the Ripper
Known as “Jack the Ripper,” the true identity of this notorious serial killer remains a mystery. The killer terrorized London’s Whitechapel district in 1888, targeting and murdering five women, all of whom were prostitutes. The victims’ corpses were mutilated, leading the police to believe that the killer had surgical skills or expertise with a scalpel. Jack the Ripper taunted the community and law enforcement by sending letters describing his acts. Despite numerous suspects over the years, the killer’s identity has never been definitively established.
2: Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer began his killing spree in 1978 when he was just 18 years old. However, he wasn’t arrested for murder until 1991 when one of his intended victims managed to escape, leading the police to Dahmer’s residence in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Inside, authorities discovered photographs depicting mutilated bodies and dismembered body parts scattered throughout the apartment. Dahmer even had a vat of acid that he used to dispose of his victims. In total, Dahmer took the lives of 17 people, predominantly young men of color. He was imprisoned twice, first for molestation and then for murder. In 1994, Dahmer was killed by a fellow inmate.
3: Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman, also known as “Dr. Death,” is believed to have killed a minimum of 218 patients, although the actual number is likely closer to 250. Shipman practiced medicine in London and worked in two different offices between 1972 and 1998, all the while continuing his killing spree. His crimes went unnoticed until several people raised concerns, including an undertaker who was surprised by the unusually high number of cremation certificates involving Shipman, particularly elderly women who were found dead during the day in bed rather than at night. Due to mishandled police investigations, Shipman continued to kill until his greed led him to forge a will naming himself as the beneficiary, arousing suspicion from the victim’s daughter. He was finally convicted in 2000 and committed suicide in prison in 2004.
4: John Wayne Gacy-Most Notorious Serial Killers
John Wayne Gacy, a construction worker who appeared outgoing to his suburban neighbors, was involved in politics and even entertained as a clown at birthday parties. However, his true nature was far from amusing. In 1978, Gacy came under suspicion when a 15-year-old boy, who was last seen with him, went missing. While it wasn’t the first time families of missing boys had pointed fingers at Gacy, it was the first time authorities took the accusations seriously. A subsequent search warrant led police to Gacy’s home, where the stench of nearly 30 bodies buried in a crawl space under the house filled the air. Gacy was convicted of 33 counts of murder, along with additional charges of rape and torture. He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.
H.H. Holmes, a pharmacist, created a chilling legacy in Chicago. Prior to the 1893 World’s Fair, Holmes relocated to the city and transformed a hotel into a castle of torture. The three-story building was equipped with various sinister devices, including gas lines, secret passages, trapdoors, dead-end hallways, basement chutes, soundproofed rooms, and torture implements scattered throughout a complex maze. The gas allowed Holmes to render his guests unconscious before subjecting them to unspeakable horrors, often on his surgical tables. He disposed of the bodies by burning them in the hotel’s furnace, selling skeletons to medical schools, and perpetrating life insurance scams. Holmes confessed to over 30 murders, which were only discovered after an accomplice turned him in for failing to meet a financial agreement. He was hanged in 1896.
6: Pedro Lopez-Most Notorious Serial Killers
Pedro Lopez is one of the world’s most prolific serial killers, whose whereabouts are still unknown. He is linked to over 300 murders in his native Colombia, as well as Ecuador and Peru. Approximately one-third of his victims were indigenous women. After Lopez’s arrest in 1980, police discovered the graves of more than 50 of his preteen victims. He was ultimately convicted of murdering 110 girls in Ecuador and confessed to an additional 240 murders in Colombia and Peru. Despite his heinous crimes, Lopez was released for good behavior in 1998 after serving less than 20 years in prison. Over 20 years later, his current location remains unknown.
7: Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy thrived on the attention his murders garnered, and many individuals in the United States were more than willing to provide him with that attention. Bundy’s hunting grounds spanned across the western U.S., with an unknown number of victims, primarily college-age women, accumulating from Washington and Oregon to Utah and Colorado. Bundy was initially arrested in Colorado and convicted of kidnapping, but he managed to escape custody. He then relocated to Florida, where he continued to kill. Bundy’s final arrest and its aftermath captivated the nation, as he represented himself during what is believed to be the first televised murder trial. He relished in interviews and boasted about the fanbase he had amassed. Bundy was ultimately executed in the electric chair in 1989.