The Macabre True Stories Behind 33 Of The Worst Serial Killers Of All Time

Published September 14, 2023
Updated March 12, 2024

From Ted Bundy to Pedro Lopez to Gary Ridgway, go inside the disturbing true stories of the world's worst serial killers.

The worst serial killers in history are more terrifying than any horror movie. No make-believe monster will ever match the ferocity of murderers like Ed Kemper, who killed 10 people in California, including his own mother, or Belle Gunness, who lured hopeful bachelors to her Indiana farm only to murder them and feed them to her pigs.

So, who is history’s worst serial killer? There are certainly many candidates, including Luis Garavito. The so-called “Beast” of Colombia, Garavito murdered anywhere from 100 to 400 boys, all between the ages of six and 16, and he may be the most prolific serial killer in human history.

Then again, there are other depraved serial killers, such as Gary Ridgway. Between 1982 and 1998, he targeted women in Washington State as the so-called “Green River Killer,” killing as many as 71 people before he was caught. By some estimates, Ridgeway is the worst serial killer in U.S. history, though his record may be surpassed by the prolific murderer Samuel Little.

Still, though Ridgway or Little may be the deadliest serial killers that America has ever seen, many believe that the “worst serial killer” title surely belongs to Ted Bundy. While Bundy didn’t have quite as high of a kill count — he murdered an estimated 30 women in the 1970s — his ferocity toward his victims has made him one of the most infamous criminals of all time.

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The Macabre True Stories Behind 33 Of The Worst Serial Killers Of All Time
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Luis Garavito: "The Beast" Of Colombia

In 1997, a mass grave was discovered in Pereira, Colombia, with 25 bodies in such a brutal state that police initially suspected a Satanic cult was behind it. But it was the work of a single man: Luis Garavito. And the corpses in that grave made up just a small portion of his hundreds of alleged victims.

Born in 1957, Garavito and his brothers were allegedly abused by their father. And as an adult, Garavito started abusing young boys himself. He targeted homeless and orphaned young boys, many of whom had ended up on the streets because of a decades-long civil war that tore through Colombia.

Garavito preyed on hundreds of boys across dozens of Colombian towns, though he focused largely on Pereira. There, he often disguised himself as a priest, farmer, elderly man, or street vendor, and lured in his unsuspecting victims with promises of money, candy, or employment.

Worst Serial Killers

Public DomainLuis Garavito, who may have killed as many as 400 children, is widely considered one of the worst serial killers in history.

Once he got them away from the crowds, Garavito earned their trust by asking them questions about their lives. Then, he attacked.

As Colombian police would eventually discover, Garavito often subjected his victims to horrifying torture before murdering them. He'd tie them up, rape them, bite them, and sometimes cut off their genitals.

By the time he was arrested in 1999, Luis Garavito had brutalized hundreds of victims. He confessed to killing 147 boys, and drew maps to lead police officers to their bodies, but Colombian authorities suspect that Garavito's victim count is much higher. In fact, he may have killed as many as 400.

That makes Luis Garavito one of the world's worst serial killers, judging by the jaw-dropping number of his victims. But in the United States specifically, that title belongs to another murderous monster.

The Horrifying Crimes Of The "Green River Killer"

In the United States, the worst serial killer may be Gary Ridgway, who is commonly known as the "Green River Killer." Between 1982 and 1998, he murdered at least 49 women and girls in and around Washington State — but may have actually killed more than 90 victims total.

Born in 1949, Ridgway had a seemingly normal childhood marred by his chronic bed-wetting. His mother reportedly washed his genitals after these incidents, which is why some psychologists believe Ridgway developed a deep hatred of his mother (who escaped his killing spree) and other women.

After stabbing a boy at the age of 15 just to see how stabbing "worked," Ridgway became a murderous adult who targeted vulnerable women and girls. He started killing in 1982 by murdering 16-year-old Wendy Lee Coffield, a foster home runaway, and his crimes rapidly escalated from there.

The Green River Killer

Getty ImagesGary Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison in 2003, after narrowly avoiding the death penalty.

Ridgway often targeted runaways and sex workers, who he usually picked up at bars or truck stops along Highway 99 outside of Seattle. He would try to earn his victims' trust by talking about his son. Then, Ridgway would have seemingly normal sex with them before strangling them to death and then dumping their bodies, typically near the Green River.

By the time he was finally arrested in 2001, Ridgway had reportedly lost count of his victims. He was eventually convicted of 49 murders, but he confessed to 71, and he may have killed even more people. "I killed so many women, I have a hard time keeping them straight," Ridgway admitted.

Gary Ridgway is certainly one of America's worst serial killers and has long been considered the most prolific murderer in the country. But there's another killer who might have gruesomely outdone him: Samuel Little.

Samuel Little

Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty ImagesSamuel Little being convicted of murder on September 2, 2014, in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Little confessed to killing 93 women between 1970 and 2005 across multiple states, and the FBI was able to verify that he'd been involved in the deaths of at least 60 of his alleged victims. Eerily, the authorities were able to confirm many of Little's kills thanks to drawings he'd made of his victims.

When it comes to the worst serial killer in the United States, then, both Gary Ridgway and Samuel Little are potential candidates given their large (and somewhat vague) number of victims. But based on notoriety alone, the worst killer in the United States might be Ted Bundy.

Ted Bundy: One Of America's Worst Serial Killers

All of the killers in the gallery above murdered people in horrible, gruesome ways. But Ted Bundy stands apart for the depraved ways he slaughtered his victims. In just four years between 1974 and 1978, Bundy raped and murdered dozens of women across multiple states. He confessed to killing 30 young women and girls, but his true victim count could be much higher.

Bundy, who was born in 1946 and had a turbulent childhood, attacked his first known victim in 1974. Then, he broke into the apartment of 18-year-old Karen Sparks in Washington State and bludgeoned and sexually assaulted her with a metal rod from her bed frame. Sparks survived the brutal attack — just barely — but Bundy's future victims would not be so lucky.

Ted Bundy

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesTed Bundy waves to television cameras during his trial for the assault and murder of several women in Florida in 1978.

He continued attacking young women in Washington and Oregon, often luring them in by pretending to struggle with crutches or a stack of books near his infamous Volkswagen Beetle, before he left to study at the University of Utah. There, Bundy continued to kill, often targeting teen girls.

While traveling to other states like Idaho and Colorado, Ted Bundy continued his spree. Arrested in 1975, he was able to escape from prison twice — murdering more victims while on the run — before his final arrest in 1978 ensured that he'd never walk free again. One investigator noted: "I would describe him being as close to being like the devil as anyone I ever met."

But Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, and Luis Garavito are just a few of the world's worst serial killers. Look through the gallery above to learn about more real-life monsters who once stalked the dark streets in the night.

For more nightmare fuel, check out some of the creepiest quotes from serial killers. Then, read about the most terrifying female serial killers of all time.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.