The most notorious serial killers in US history and why we are fascinated by them (2023)

Society has always been fascinated by serial killers.

But the near-constant release of films, TV shows, documentaries, and podcasts delving into our country's most horrifying crimes over the past 50 years means the fascination is growing. Real crime junkies have been banned from it latelyNetflixSerieDahmer - Monsters: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer.

As stunned as the fans were, the real families ofDahmer's victims have criticized the show and its supporters for glorifying a killer.

The most notorious serial killers in US history and why we are fascinated by them (1)

The line between the thirst for knowledge and the glorification of blood seems to be getting narrower and narrower. Rather than simply remembering serial killers as perpetrators and acknowledging their victims, some truly brutal serial killers have been viewed with horrified fascination and even a certain appeal - Evan Peter's acting skills and good looks have earned him a dedicated fan base, but his portrayal of Dahmer was Subject of some discussion about the romanticization of the actor in the role he plays.

dr Scott Bonn, a criminologist and author of the bookWhy We Love Serial Killers: The Weird Appeal of the World's Wildest Killersunderstands the fascination well.

"On one hand, the things they do, and Jeffrey Dahmer in particular, are so over the top and incomprehensible that it's mind-blowing and very, very scary at the same time," Bonn saidnews week."So part of the interest is trying to answer the question of why."

But you could just as easily watch a fictional horror movie or TV seriessilence of the LambsorDexter,Bonn said the adrenaline rush viewers get from watching True Crime is the same. "For the people sitting in their lounge chair at home, it's just entertainment. Jeffrey Dahmer doesn't become real until he knocks on your door," Bonn said.

The fascination with serial killers is a dangerous propensity that could change the way society views current and future serial killers like themStockton Killer currently in California.

dr Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University and author of the bookHow to catch a killer, toldnews weekthat because there are so many variations on any serial killer, one cannot generalize beyond the simple definition of what makes them a serial killer.

"All serial killers have killed at least two victims on at least two occasions," Ramsland said. "That's the only thing you can say about all serial killers, because that's what it means to be a serial killer."

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While some TV shows and films have been accused of glorifying these killers, their crimes are a story to be acknowledged and remembered because the real people and families are affected.

(Video) America Is Obsessed With Serial Killers

Below are 10 of the most notorious serial killers in US history and the people who killed them.

1. Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK Killer

Dennis Rader was a Kansas serial killer who murdered 10 people over a period of three decades and called himself BTK for tying up, torturing, and killing his victims. He committed his first murders in January 1974 when he strangled four family members, including two children.

He is known for hiding in plain sight as he was the president of a church congregation and a seemingly loving husband and father. But he also wanted attention for his crimes, and in 1977 Rader wrote a letter to a local television station that said, "How many people do I have to kill before I get a name in the newspaper or national attention."

He was arrested in 2005 after sending a floppy disk to police, who traced it to the church that Rader served. He confessed to stalking and murders, as well as sexual fantasies that fueled his crimes. The BTK killer was sentenced to 10 consecutive life sentences in Kansas.

His victims: The Otero family - Joseph, Julie and two of their young children - Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian, NancyFuchs, Marine Hedge, Vicki Wegerle and Dolores Davis.

2. Ted Bundy

been the subjectseveral films and documentaries,Ted Bundy is known for his crimes.

Described as intelligent and charming, Bundy used his good looks to lure his victims by sexually assaulting and killing at least 36 women in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Florida between 1974 and 1978. Some have estimated that he could be responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Bundy was eventually sentenced to death in 1979 for the murders of two college students and again for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. He was executed in the electric chair in Florida in 1989.

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The names of 26 identified victims: Joni Lenz, Lynda Ann Healy, Donna Gail Manson, Susan Rancourt, Roberta Parks, Brenda Carol Ball, Georgeann Hawkins, Denise Naslund, Janice Ott, Nancy Wilcox, Melissa Smith, Laura Aime, Carol DaRonch, Debra Kent, Caryn Campbell, Julie Cunningham, Denise Oliverson, Melanie Cooley, Lynette Culver, Susan Curtis, Margaret Bowman, Lisa Levy, Kathy Kleiner, Karen Chandler, Cheryl Thomas, Kimberly Leach.

3. John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy was responsible for the deaths of at least 33 boys and young men in Chicago in the 1970s, but was also used as a media character due to his appearances as a party clown at children's parties and social events.

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Gacy was arrested several times for sexual assault in the '60s, the first being a teenager. After being paroled in the early 1970s, Gacy was able to buy a house in a suburb of Chicago that neighbors later recalled had a terrible stench.

In 1978, 15-year-old Robert Piest went missing, and police discovered that Gacy was the last person to see him. After further investigation, police discovered the bodies of 29 boys and young men at or near Gacy's home and four others near the Des Plaines River.

(Video) The Most Notorious Serial Killers Of All Time

He pleaded not guilty to insanity, but the jury rejected the psychological reports, and Gacy was found guilty of all 33 murders. He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.

Die Namen der 28 identifizierten Opfer: Timothy Jack McCoy, John Butkovich, Darrell Julius Samson, Randall Wayne Reffett, Samuel G. Dodd Stapleton, Michael Lawrence Bonnin, William Huey Carroll Jr., James Byron Haakenson, Rick Louis Johnston, Kenneth Ray Parker, Michael M. Marino, William George Bundy, Francis Wayne Alexander, Gregory John Godzik, John Alan Szyc, Jon Steven Prestidge, Matthew Walter Bowman, Robert Edward Gilroy Jr., John Antheney Mowery, Russell Lloyd Nelson, Robert David Winch, Tommy Joe Boling, David Paul Talsma, William Wayne Kindred, Timothy David O’Rourke, Frank William Landingin, James Mazzara, Robert Jerome Piest.

4. Sam little

Serial killer Samuel Little was known as one of the most prolific killers in American history. After going undetected for decades, Little confessed to killing 93 victims in 19 states between 1970 and 2005FBIIn 2019, law enforcement verified 50 of the confessions; Most of his victims were marginalized young black women.

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In 2012, Little was arrested on narcotics charges at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, and extradited to California, where Los Angeles police convicted him of the murder of three women in the late 1980s after DNA evidence found in had been connected at the crime scenes.

"In all three cases, the women were beaten and then strangled, their bodies dumped in an alley, a dumpster and a garage," the FBI said in a report at the time.

He was serving a life sentence in a Los Angeles County state penitentiary when he died in 2020 at the age of 80.

While the FBI is still working to confirm some of Little's confessions and to identify many more of his alleged victims, these are the names of some of his confirmed victims: Annie Lee Stewart, Mary Jo Peyton, Carol Elford, Guadalupe Apodaca, Audrey Nelson Everett, Zena Jones, Rose Evans, Denise Christie Brothers, Mary Jo Brosley, Sarah Brown, Clara Birdlong, Patricia Parker, Melinda "Mindy" LaPree, Frances Campbell, Jolanda Jones, Alice Denise Duvall, Roberta Tondarich.

5. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was a notorious murderer and sex offender who killed and dismembered 17 boys and young men between 1978 and 1991.

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Dahmer was arrested in 1991 after aMann namens Tracy Edwardswas found by police running down the street in handcuffs after narrowly escaping Dahmer's clutches.

policelater went to Dahmer's apartment, where they found photo albums containing dismembered bodies, human heads in the fridge and freezer, several skulls, and a 57-gallon drum full of acid and decomposing bodies inside. Police also found evidence that Dahmer may have eaten some of his victims.

Dahmer's victims were typically Black, Hispanic, or Asian men and boys.

He confessed to a total of 17 murders and was sentenced to 15 life sentences, but Dahmer was killed in prison by another inmate in 1994.

Dahmers Opfer: Steven Hicks, Steven Tuomi, Jamie Doxtator, Richard Guerrero, Anthony Sears, Raymond Smith, Edward W. Smith, Ernest Miller, David C. Thomas, Curtis Straughter, Errol Lindsey, Anthony „Tony“ Hughes, Konerak Sinthasomphone, Matt Turner, Jeremiah Weinberger, Oliver Lacy, Joseph Bradehoft.

(Video) The 5 Worst Serial Killers In American History | World's Most Evil Killers | Absolute Crime

6. David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, brought fear and terror to New York City in 1976 and 1977 and was the cause of one of the largest manhunts in NYC history.

Berkowitz wrote in his journal that he had set around 1,500 fires in New York City in the mid-1970s and claimed to have been driven by demons. He killed a total of six victims and injured others, often against pairs. He also wrote letters to newspapers and signed them Son of Sam, a reference to a black Labrador Retriever owned by his neighbor Sam Carr. He believed that a demon lived inside the dog.

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He was arrested in 1977 after a major manhunt just 11 days after his last murder and confessed to the murders. Berkowitz is currently serving a 365-year sentence in a New York prison.

His victims: Jody Valenti (survived), Donna Lauria, Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan (both survived), Christine Freund, John Diel (survived), Virginia Voskerichian, Valentina Suriani, Alexander Esau, Judy Placido and Sal Lupo (both survived), Robert Violante (survived) and Stacy Moskowitz.

7. Richard Cottingham

In the late 1970s and early '80s, Richard Cottingham, aka the Torso Killer, left a trail of brutal murders in New York City.

For several months, women, mostly sex workers, were found in hotel rooms, their bodies horribly mutilated. He was given the name Torso Killer because he often chopped off his victims' heads and hands.

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In 1984, Cottingham was found guilty of five murders and sentenced to 200 years in prison, and has since confessed to many more. Some believe his casualty count is between 80 and 100. In April 2021, Cottingham confessed to drowning two girls in New Jersey in 1974. He is currently 75 years old and serving his sentence in the New Jersey State Penitentiary.

Many of Cottingham's victims are unidentified, but the names of some of his victims are as follows: Nancy Schiava Vogel, Jacalyn Harp, Lorraine Marie Kelly, Mary Ann Pryor, Maryann Carr, Deedeh Goodarzi, Valerie Ann Street, Jean Reyner.

8. Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness, who was known as "Hell's Belle," is different from the other killers on this list. One of the most notorious women in the US, Gunness is believed to have killed at least 14 people, but some believe she had as many as 40 victims.

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In the late 1800s, Gunness moved from Chicago to a pig farm in Indiana. She reportedly murdered both her husbands and collected the life insurance money, and later her foster daughter's body was found with several other dismembered bodies buried in her pigsty. Gunness advertised wealthy, single Norwegian-American men to invest in and court her farm, and nearly all disappeared shortly after arriving.

In 1908 her home burned down—but so did her previous home in Chicago and a candy store she and her first husband ran—and the bodies of their three children were found in the burned home. Inside the house, they also reportedly found the headless body of a woman believed to be Gunness, although some believe she escaped.

One of her handymen, Ray Lamphere, was arrested and charged with setting fire to her home after the couple had an argument, and Lamphere later in life confessed to helping Gunness kill 42 people and bury them in the pigsty.

(Video) The 5 Worst Female Killers In Modern History | World's Most Evil Killers | Absolute Crime

While many of her victims have not been identified and some were children, her two husbands, Mads Sorensen and Peter Gunness, as well as Andrew Helgelien and others are suspected to be among her victims.

9. Dean Corll

Dean "Candy Man" Corll made a name for himself as the perpetrator behind the mass murders in Houston. Between 1970 and 1973, Corll killed at least 28 boys.

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Corll was an electrician and former candy store owner who used two teenage accomplices, David Owen Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, to lure boys into his apartment, where they were tied up, sexually assaulted, and killed.

In 1973, a fight broke out between Corll and Henley at Corll's home, and the Candy Man was shot multiple times by Henley with a .22 caliber pistol. Henley then confessed to all of her crimes and led police to the Houston-area mass graves where the bodies of her victims were being kept. According to the Associated Press, some of the bodies had been mutilated, others buried with tape around their mouths or cords around their necks.

A final, unidentified victim of Corll's has yet to be identified and is known only as "John Doe 1973".

Einige von Corlls identifizierten Opfern: Jeffrey Konen, James Glass, Danny Yates, Donald Waldrop, Jerry Waldrop, Randell Harvey, David Hilligiest, Gregory Winkle, Ruben Watson Haney, William Branch, Jr., Frank Aguirre, Mark Scott, Johnny Delome, Billy Baulch Jr., Steven Sickman, Roy Bunton, Wally Jay Simoneaux, Richard Hembree, Richard Kepner, Joseph Lyles, William Ray Lawrence, Raymond Blackburn, Homer Garcia, John Sellars, Michael Baulch, Marty Jones, Charles Cary Cobble, James Stanton Dreymala.

10. Gary Ridgway

Gary Ridgway became known as the Green River Killer and was later considered the deadliest serial killer convicted. He claims to have killed over 80 women in Washington in the 1980s and 90s but pleaded guilty to killing 48 in 2003.

In 1980, Ridgway was arrested for choking a prostitute, although no charges were ever brought. He was arrested again for incitement in 1982, and experts believe his killing spree began shortly thereafter. His first alleged victim was said to be a 16-year-old girl whose body was found in the Green River.

Over the next two years, Ridgway raped and killed over 40 women, many of whom were sex workers. His last murder occurred in 1998.

Ridgway has been a suspect in several different murders over the years, but DNA technology has failed to identify him, and he reportedly even passed a lie detector test in 1984. He was finally arrested in 2001 when he confessed to wanting to kill prostitutes. In 2003, he received a plea bargain and was sentenced to 48 life terms, despite saying he had killed more than 80 women.

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Einige von Ridgways identifizierten Opfern: Wendy Lee Coffield, Gisele Ann Lovvorn, Debra Lynn Bonner, Marcia Fay Chapman, Cynthia Jean Hinds, Opal Charmaine Mills, Terry Rene Milligan, Mary Bridget Meehan, Debra Lorraine Estes, Linda Jane Rule, Denise Darcel Bush, Shawnda Leea Summers, Shirley Marie Sherrill, Rebecca „Becky“ Marrero, Colleen Renee Brockman, Sandra Denise Major, Wendy Stephens, Alma Ann Smith, Delores LaVerne Williams, Gail Lynn Mathews, Andrea Marion Childers, Sandra Kay Gabbert, Kimi-Kai Pitsor, Marie M. Malvar, Carol Ann Christensen, Martina Theresa Authorlee, Cheryl Lee Wims, Yvonne „Shelly“ Antosh, Carrie Ann Rois, Constance Elizabeth Naon, Kelly Marie Ware, Tina Marie Thompson, April Dawn Buttram, Debbie May Abernathy, Tracy Ann Winston , Maureen Sue Feeney, Mary Sue Bello, Pammy Annette Avent, Delise Louise Plager, Kimberly L. Nelson, Lisa Yates, Mary Exzetta West, Cindy Anne Smith, Patricia Michelle Barczak, Roberta Joseph Hayes, Marta Reeves, Patricia Yellowrobe.

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Why are we so fascinated with serial killers? ›

John Douglas, the author of Mindhunter and the father of modern profiling, states that true crime is the perfect representation the human condition, and we love these mysteries because they become their own morality play, complete with heroes and villains and victims–often with a happy ending (the killer is caught.)

Who is the number 1 serial killer in US history? ›

1. Dennis Rader, AKA the BTK Killer. Dennis Rader was a serial killer in Kansas who murdered 10 people over the span of three decades, dubbing himself BTK because he bound, tortured, and killed his victims. He committed his first murders in January of 1974 when he strangled four family members, including two children.

Why do we romanticize serial killers? ›

Romanticization and delusions ensue when the physical attraction to serial killers makes it difficult for the audience to connect the killer's appearance to their actions. Such romanticization encourages fantasies and infatuations that would otherwise not develop if the serial killers were not publicized.

Why is America obsessed with true crime? ›

True crime gives an insight into our culture and norms as well as our anxieties and values. Researcher and author Coltan Scrivner states the popularity of true crime, the success of horror films and the quantity of violence in the news suggests that “morbid curiosity is a common psychological trait”.

Why are people interested in true crime? ›

True crime teaches consumers many things, but it's also shaping real lives and court cases. Amanda Vicary, the author of the study, told Forbes the consumption of true crime is likely a subconscious effort to protect and educate oneself. Some women say they have a healing experience when watching true crime.

Who is the most evil serial killer in America? ›

Ted Bundy: America's Most Evil Serial Killer.

Who is the first ever killer? ›

H. H. Holmes
Mugshot of Henry Howard Holmes, c. 1895
BornHerman Webster MudgettMay 16, 1861 Gilmanton, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedMay 7, 1896 (aged 34) Moyamensing Prison, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
13 more rows

Has there ever been a female serial killer? ›

Since men perpetrate about 90% of the world's homicides, it makes sense that nearly all of history's most notorious serial killers are men. But they do have a small number of female counterparts, and they are just as deadly. Today, we look at some of the most horrifyingly ruthless women serial killers ever.

Who is the biggest serial killer of all time? ›

  • Ted Bundy (1946-1989) ...
  • Harold Shipman (1946-2004) ...
  • Andrei Chikatilo (1936- 1994) ...
  • Jeffrey Dahmer (1960- 1994) ...
  • Albert Fish (1870-1936) ...
  • John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994) ...
  • Jack the Ripper (Unidentified Serial Killer ∼1888) ...
  • Joachim Kroll (1933-1991)

Who is the oldest serial killer in history? ›

Sister Agatha: The World's Oldest Serial Killer by Domhnall O'Donoghue - Book Tour. Sister Agatha is 118 years of age, whose vim and vigour would put the most robust athletes to shame.

What serial killer was a genius? ›

Few of us would use the word 'genius' when describing Jeffrey Dahmer, but maybe we should. The Milwaukee Cannibal is one of history's most disturbed and infamous serial killers. But he was also, according to his IQ tests, damned clever too.

What is it called when you're attracted to serial killers? ›

Hybristophilia is a sexual interest in and attraction to those who commit crimes, a paraphilia in which sexual arousal, facilitation, and attainment of orgasm are responsive to and contingent upon being with a partner known to have committed a crime.

Why do serial killers have high IQ? ›

In general, the results indicated that serial killers with higher IQs display organized crime scene characteristics and are motivated primarily by enjoyment with or without rape as they commit these heinous acts.

How are serial killers glorified? ›

The entertainment aspect that people associate with murder causes desensitization of brutality in a way that absolutely can be avoided. A lot of people justify making media about real serial killers by saying that it (1) raises awareness and (2) allows us to understand the mind of a killer.

Why do girls enjoy true crime? ›

“Women are fascinated by true crime because it's a facing your fears thing. “It's knowledge is power. Your worst possible fear - understanding it, confronting it, knowing everything you can about it. That's a major thing I hear again and again from women.”

Why does watching true crime relax me? ›

It's like true crime exposure therapy. You face what you're afraid of over and over again in small doses, from the security of your couch, to make the stories less scary. It can relieve your anxiety of being a victim and serve as a form of magical thinking: You escaped. You cheated death.

Is it wrong to be interested in true crime? ›

It's OK to like true crime

I admitted it, and you can too: Americans are obsessed with true crime for reasons beyond “morbid curiosity,” as so many assume. So, don't hide your love of true crime from others. At its crux, true crime tales are compelling stories that often offer a satisfying resolution in the end.

What percentage of people enjoy true crime? ›

According to YouGovAmerica, half of Americans enjoy watching true crime tv with 1 out of 3 people admitting that they watch them at least one a week, with women being more likely to watch than men. But why do we like these shows that may be fearful and disturbing?

Is true crime popular by gender? ›

According to research titled "The Podcast Consumer 2019" by Boling and Hull, true crime audiences are about 73% female. It's hard for women to not feel guilty about their obsession with true crime.

How does true crime affect the brain? ›

The effects of true crime can include increased fear of leaving the house, being paranoid around people, and higher anxiety. An article from the Cleveland Clinic on the effects of true crime stated: “Too much true crime ceases to be about curiosity and starts becoming fear-based instead.

What is an obsession with serial killers called? ›

One of the most infamous examples of hybristophilia is the large number of women attracted to Ted Bundy after his arrest. He often drew scores of women at the jammed courtrooms of his trials each day.

How often do you pass a serial killer in your life? ›

According to Buzzfeed, the average person walks past 16 murderers in the course of a normal lifespan. So a good guesstimate would be probably three to five of them would be serial killers.

What is it called when you romanticize serial killers? ›

Hybristophilia is a physical sexual attraction to those who have committed crimes. It stems from an attraction to situations involving danger or risk, which occurs more often in women than in men. Many forms of media discuss true crime, ranging from podcasts, documentaries, movies, novels and more.

What is a passion serial killer? ›

A 'passion killer' is someone who succeeds in lowering the morale of a person (for instance, someone passionate about their hobby or work) so much so that they gives up their passion. Note: It's not the person who is killed here. It's their passion.

At what age do serial killers start killing? ›

Over the course of his work, which began in 1979, Vronsky has deduced that serial killers generally develop the personality and compulsion befitting a killer when they're young — by the time they're 14, they're basically fully formed; they generally start killing in their late twenties.

What are the five signs of a serial killer? ›

5 Common Traits of Serial Killers
  • 1- Antisocial Behavior:
  • 2- Asserting Power:
  • 3- Torturing Animals:
  • 4- Manipulation:
  • 5- Predatory Behavior:
Jul 6, 2021

What are the three signs of being a serial killer? ›

The Macdonald triad refers to the idea that there are three signs that can indicate whether someone will grow up to be a serial killer or other kind of violent criminal: being cruel or abusive to animals, especially pets. setting fire to objects or otherwise committing minor acts of arson. regularly wetting the bed.


1. Samuel Little: The Most Prolific Serial Killer In U.S. History - In His Own Words
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4. Get Into The Psyche Of Infamous Killers | World’s Most Evil Killers S1 Marathon | Real Crime
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5. Ed Gein: The Killer That Inspired Many Horror Films | World’s Most Evil Killers | Real Crime"
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6. Wanted Serial Killer Who Is A Master Of Disguise | FBI Files | Real Responders
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