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Edmund Kemper's murders began in 1964 when, at 15, he killed his own grandparents, saying he "just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma." Released after just six years, Kemper rained terror on California, raping, murdering, and desecrating the corpses of eight women, the second-to-last of which was his own mother, who he bludgeoned with a claw hammer before defiling her severed head. He then confessed and remains in prison to this day.Wikimedia Commons
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Rodney James Alcala was a lady-killer — literally. The outwardly charming Alcala landed a spot on The Dating Game in 1978 while in the middle of his murderous reign, later earning him the nickname "The Dating Game Killer." Alcala was eventually given the death sentence by the state of California for the murder of five people. The killer himself, though, says that number is low. He claims that he raped, tortured, and murdered well over 100 victims.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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Leonarda Cianciulli murdered several women in Italy in 1939-1940 — and turned their bodies into soap and teacakes. Her murder spree started after a visit to a fortune teller left her convinced that she had to perform human sacrifices to keep her son alive. She murdered three women, getting rid of their bodies by gifting the soap and cakes to her friends. The clumsy third murder led the police to her door and locals were rocked by the news that their neighbor was a killer — and that they'd been washing their bodies with human remains.Wikimedia Commons
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From the 1920s until the 1950s, Nannie Doss, a.k.a. "The Giggling Granny," murdered an estimated 11 people. She killed her four husbands, two of her four children, her two sisters, her mother, a grandson, and a mother-in-law. When she was finally caught, Doss could hardly talk about the murders without cracking a smile and laughing.Bettmann/Getty Images
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Pedro Rodrigues Filho
By the time he was 18, Pedro Rodrigues Filho had already committed 10 murders in his native Brazil. He was just getting started, though — he would kill at least 61 more before he was arrested in 1973. But Filho lived by a code: He only went after criminals and those who had wronged him. That included his own father — when Filho found out his father had killed his mother, he cut out his heart and ate it.YouTube
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Gilles de Rais
Gilles de Rais was considered a hero for his service in the French military alongside Joan Of Arc — until the world found out that he had murdered more than 100 children. Rais is believed to have kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and mutilated young peasant boys in his attempt to summon demons. He was hanged for his crimes on October 26, 1440.Wikimedia Commons
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Even for a serial killer, Richard Chase is disturbing. Dubbed "The Vampire of Sacremento,"
Chase killed six people in California in the 1970s — but he didn't stop there. After they'd died, he defiled their bodies, drank their blood, and ate their internal organs. Ultimately, Chase was caught and killed himself in prison in 1980.YouTube
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The "Monster of the Andes," Pedro López was convicted of killing 110 girls, but some criminologists believe he may have killed as many as 300. López traveled between Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador throughout the 1970s, picking up and murdering his victims. López claims that, at his peak, he was killing up to three people a week. But the most disturbing part of this story is the aftermath. In 1998, López was released from his psychiatric unit for "good behavior." His whereabouts are currently unknown.YouTube
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Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She tried to convince the jury that every murder was in self-defense against men who'd tried to rape her. But they didn't buy it and she was sentenced to death by lethal injection.YouTube
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John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy is known as "The Killer Clown" for his hobby of painting clowns and performing at birthday parties as Pogo the Clown. Gacy is believed to have lured as many as 33 teenage boys and young men into his suburban Illinois home in the 1970s. With his clueless wife in the other room, he sexually assaulted them, strangled them to death, and buried their bodies in the crawl space under his house before he was caught and finally executed in 1994.Tim Boyle/Getty Images
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Richard Speck left a nation in terror in 1966 when he murdered eight nursing students in a single night. Speck already had a lengthy criminal record of robbery, rape, and murder when he broke into the Chicago townhouse where the nursing students were living. He tied up and stabbed or strangled eight of the women before fleeing at dawn. Speck spent the rest of his life in prison before dying on the eve of his 50th birthday in 1991.Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
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In the remote Alaska wilderness, Robert Hansen kidnapped and murdered at least 17 women in the 1970s and '80s. Inspired by the short story "The Most Dangerous Game," Hansen released his victims into the wilderness and hunted them. Hansen was eventually apprehended in 1983. He spent the rest of his life in an Alaskan prison, where he died in 2014.Wikimedia Commons
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They call Luis Garavito "The Beast" — and he earned it. Between 1992 and 1999, Garavito preyed upon street children in his native Colombia, most of them orphans who had lost their parents in the country's civil war. Eventually caught, Garavito is currently serving a 1,853-year sentence in a Colombian prison for the rape and murder of 138 children — though, by some counts, he may have killed as many as 400.Wikimedia Commons
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Known as Russia’s “Red Ripper,” Andrei Chikatilo murdered up to 56 women and children between 1978 and 1990. Often, he would gouge his victim's eyes out, convinced that his image would be left on the eyes of the dead. Ultimately, he was caught and executed in 1994.Georges DeKeerle/Sygma/Getty Images
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One of the most infamous serial killers in history, Ted Bundy has been linked to more than 30 murders and rapes committed across the U.S. in the 1960s and '70s. And Bundy didn't stop when his victims were dead — he liked to decapitate them and have sex with their remains. This grisly murderer eluded law enforcement for years, even escaping a Colorado jail and going on to kill again. But finally, in 1978, a captured Bundy was sentenced to death.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images
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"Candy Man" Dean Corll terrorized Houston in the 1970s as he and two teenage accomplices raped and murdered no less than 28 teenage boys. Corll lured these victims into his van with candy, alcohol, and promises of parties, then forced them to write postcards to their families falsely saying they'd run away — before torturing and killing them. Eventually, the nightmare ended when one of Corll's accomplices, unwilling to kill anymore, stole his gun and shot him in the head.Wikimedia Commons
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In 1918, Fritz Haarmann "The Vampire of Hanover" embarked on a series of 27 savage murders in Germany. He cannibalized his victims, who were mostly young boys, by biting into their throats. And if the rumors are to be believed, he may even have sold some of their flesh on the black market as mincemeat. It took until 1924 before Haarmann was finally brought to justice and executed by guillotine.Wikimedia Commons
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Myra Hindley, the "most evil woman in Britain," helped her lover Ian Brady sexually assault and murder five children in the mid-1960s. In committing the so-called "Moors Murders," the couple lured children into their car under the pretense of offering them a ride home. From there, the couple would brutally murder the children and bury their bodies in the English countryside. The two were caught and put in prison, where Hindley died in 2002.Greater Manchester Police via Getty Images
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Jeffrey Dahmer the "Milwaukee Cannibal" murdered 17 people between 1978 and 1991, most of them gay, black men. He would dismember his victims, eat their flesh, and molest their corpses. In some cases, he would try to "zombify" his victims by drilling holes into their head and pouring in hydrochloric acid. Even other killers were disgusted by him. In 1994, Dahmer was murdered in prison by another inmate.Curt Borgwardt/Sygma/Getty Images
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Joseph James DeAngelo
It took 40 years, but in April 2018, the suspected "Golden State Killer" was finally arrested based on DNA evidence. Now 72, Joseph James DeAngelo is accused of committing at least 12 murders and more than 50 rapes between 1974 and 1986. DeAngelo, a retired police officer who used the same diamond-shaped knot to tie up his victims before killing them, is currently sitting in a Sacramento jail until his trial.Sacramento Police Department/Wikimedia Commons
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Denis Rader taunted the police and the media for decades. He sent them letters, calling himself "The BTK Killer," an acronym for his modus operandi: "bind, torture, kill." Using that method, Rader killed 10 people in his home state of Kansas between 1974 and 1991, all the while blending into society as a church-going family man, before he was finally finally caught in 2005. He is currently serving life without parole.El Dorado Correctional Facility/Wikimedia Commons
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Like many killers, Arthur Shawcross had a troubled childhood. He struggled with below-average intelligence and depraved sexual tendencies, including bestiality and cannibalism. Those dark urges turned into a killing spree in 1972, when he raped and murdered his first victim. It would take until 1990 for New York state police to stop this 300-pound killer. By then, he'd already killed at least a dozen women.Getty Images
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"The Green River Killer," Gary Ridgway, committed at least 71 murders in Washington state in the 1980s and '90s. Like many serial killers, Ridgway targeted sex workers, hitchhikers, and runaways, all of which he would strangle and then dump in the woods or the Green River. Police finally caught Ridgway in 2001 (years after Ted Bundy had helped authorities profile the suspect), at which point he was sentenced to life in prison.Wikimedia Commons
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Alexander Pichushkin was dubbed "The Chessboard Killer" for his love of the game, but his real hobby was something far more sinister. By the time he was caught in 2006, Pichushkin had already killed at least 48 people in his native Russia, but he'd planned on killing more. His goal, he confessed, was to get 64 kills: one for each space on the chessboard.Sergey Shakhidzanyan/Laski Diffusion/Getty Images
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Macedonian serial killer Vlado Taneski evaded police for years by using his day job as a journalist to stay in the loop on homicide investigations. Neither his coworkers nor his wife of 31 years ever could have imagined that he was living a double life, torturing and murdering women who worked as house cleaners between 2005 and 2008. His secret life came out when police connected his DNA to semen at the scene of one of his crimes. With everything lost, Taneski killed himself in his prison cell.YouTube
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The "Beast of Ukraine," Anatoly Onoprienko confessed to killing 52 people between just 1989 and 1996. And unlike most serial killers, Onoprienko didn't wait until his victims were alone. On multiple occasions, he executed entire families at once. But Onoprienko was finally stopped by police in 1996. He died in prison of heart failure in 2013.YouTube
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Dr. Harold Shipman was only convicted of killing 15 people, but some estimates put the number of patients he murdered at more than 250. "Dr. Death" worked as a general physician in England from 1975 to 1998, during which time he would falsify his victims' medical records to show them to be in poor health, then administer lethal doses of diamorphine. Shortly after his conviction in 2000, Shipman hung himself in his prison cell.Wakefield Prison/Wikimedia Commons
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Over a span of 20 years starting in 1955, German serial killer Joachim Kroll committed 14 murders, going after victims as young as four and as old as 61. The brutal Kroll preferred to strangle his victims before having intercourse with their corpses. He also confessed to police that he would occasionally slice off parts of their flesh to eat later on. He was arrested after police learned that the guts from one of his victims had clogged the plumbing in his apartment.YouTube
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Russian serial killer Sergey Golovkin raped and murdered 11 young boys between 1986 and 1992. Golovkin would kidnap his victims at knifepoint and drag them into the woods before committing his savagery. Mere murder, though, got dull. Golovkin, wanting to prolong their suffering, turned his basement workshop into a dungeon. There, he could torture his victims for as long as he wanted before allowing them to die. Finally, in 1996, after his capture, he became the last person in Russia to be executed before capital punishment was abolished.YouTube
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Tiago Gomes da Rocha
Tiago Gomes da Rocha carried out an estimated 39 murders in his native Brazil between 2011 and 2014. He would ride up to one of his victims on a motorbike, shoot them, and speed off. They were like gangland killings, except that his targets were people he'd never met. Most were either homeless or members of the homosexual community. In the end, he was convicted for 11 of his alleged 39 murders, and was only given a 25-year sentence for his crimes.YouTube
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The most prolific serial killer in modern Chinese history, Yang Xinhai was found guilty of 67 murders carried out between 1999 and 2003. Authorities believe that Xinhai would enter the homes of his victims at night and use tools from his job as a day laborer to bludgeon them to death, sometimes raping them in the process. Each time, he would wear different sized clothes and shoes in an attempt to hide his identity. He was eventually arrested and then executed by firing squad in 2004.YouTube
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Tommy Lynn Sells
Tommy Lynn Sells was only convicted of one murder, but authorities believe that he's responsible for another 21 homicides. The perpetually homeless Sells hitchhiked back and forth across the United States throughout the 1980s and '90s, killing those who were unfortunate enough to cross his path. He was apprehended when one of his victims managed to escape and describe him to police. He was executed by lethal injection at Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas in 2014.Texas Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons
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Over the course of just one year between 1984 and 1985, Richard Ramirez had the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles in a near constant state of fear. Ramirez, dubbed "The Night Stalker", was an avowed Satanist when he began burglarizing homes and raping and killing his victims. He used a variety of weapons to carry out his twisted crimes, ranging from handguns and hammers to machetes. It wasn't until he fled a convenience store after seeing his face on a newspaper that he was eventually captured in 1985. He died while still on death row in 2013.San Quentin State Prison/Wikimedia Commons
The 33 Worst Serial Killers Ever To Stalk The Earth
The stories of history's worst serial killers are more terrifying than any horror story could ever be. No make-believe monster will ever match that soul-chilling feeling that seeps in when we read a headline that says “Serial Killer on the Loose.”
It’s not just that serial killers are real and not at all make-believe. It’s something else that truly drives the terror into our souls. It’s the thought that they actually enjoy it.
Perhaps that’s why they fascinate us so much. We can understand a crime of passion. The idea of bursting into a rage and losing control is only too familiar – but a serial killer is different.
A serial killer doesn’t kill out of hate or anger. A serial killer moves from victim to victim, purely out of a desire to kill. For them, it’s a joy, or at least a compulsion. It is — as Edmund Kemper, one of the worst serial killers of all time, put it — a thrill:
“There was actually a sexual thrill. You hear that little ‘pop’ and pull their heads off and hold their heads up by the hair. Whipping their heads off, their body sitting there. That’d get me off.”
That’s where the terror of serial killer stories truly lies. It’s not just the gore and the violence of the act – it’s the joy. It’s the disturbing glee that a man like Edmund Kemper gets when he drives a blade through another person’s neck.
For many serial killers, it's not just that they want to kill, it's also that they have to. It’s a pulsing urge that beats inside of them. It’s a demon torturing them from the inside, one that won’t stop until they kill.
And then they do – and there’s release. For the worst serial killers, there’s no horror or fear in the act of killing. When the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, killed his first victim, he was so filled with euphoria that he sang on his way home. He felt nothing but release.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around something like that. It’s hard to imagine that any human brain could go so wrong that taking another person’s life could bring him great joy, or even be his sexual awakening.
But these people exist. They’re real. They’re not some horror conjured out of a writer’s fantasy. Even the worst serial killers of all are people, made of the same flesh and blood as you and me.
We don't always even have the comfort of being able to easily distinguish what separates us from them. Most often it’s likely some combination of trauma and misfiring brain cells — and that’s it. A few bad experiences and a little damage to an organ in our heads and the line that separates us and the killers burns away.
And perhaps that thin line is what we most hunger to understand. That’s why we’re so enthralled every time we hear about Dennis Rader tying a woman up or Jeffrey Dahmer chewing on human flesh. Because we know that the real terror behind the worst serial killers is just how close they are to us.
See more in the gallery of history's worst serial killers above.