This list ranges from a psychopathic serial killer who became the lawyer at his own trials, to a deranged serial killer who managed to get a picture with the First Lady of the United States.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most notorious serial killers that have ever walked the earth, and why they became so infamous.
Related: Check out our list with the most famous Roman Emperors!
Top 13 most notorious serial killers
1. Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy was arguably one of the most deranged people that has ever lived. What’s striking about Bundy, and what puts him into an entirely different category in itself, is that he actually appeared to be very normal on the surface.
He studied law, had a job in a radio station while in college, joined the republican party, and had a girlfriend. Yet, he had a secret life in which he was a ruthless killer and took the life of dozens of young girls and women.
It’s this duality that makes Ted Bundy one of the scariest serial killers of all. He actually fired his lawyer during his murder trial in Florida and even though he wasn’t a qualified lawyer, took on his own defense.
In his final interview, he blamed his early exposure to pornography and invited a renowned critic of the matter in an ultimate effort to avoid the death penalty. His final manipulative attempt didn’t work out and he was executed the day after in Florida’s electric chair.
2. Ed Gein
While Ted Bundy appeared to be quite normal to most people, this certainly can’t be said about Ed Gein. He is referred to as the “Butcher of Plainfield” or the “Plainfield Ghoul” and his horrendous crimes sent out shockwaves throughout the United States.
While he was only convicted of 2 murders, the officers that searched his house found the following:
- 4 noses.
- Skulls on each of his bedposts.
- Human skin covering several chair seats.
- A belt made from female human nipples.
- A pair of lips on a window shade drawstring.
- A lampshade made from the skin of a human face.
- Nine vulvae in a shoebox.
Ed Gein wasn’t just a murderer, he was also a body snatcher and went to local graveyards to dig up dead bodies. He then used them to create the most sickening artifacts imaginable. he was sent to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life in 1957 and died in 1984.
His story is so notorious that various movies have been inspired by it, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and the character named “Leatherface” in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise.
3. Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer is commonly known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal” or the “Milwaukee Monster” and was an American serial killer who murdered at least 17 young men and boys between 1978 and 1991.
At a young age, he already experimented with dissecting dead animals and even went as far as to collect roadkill from the roads around his house. This in combination with an unhappy childhood and early alcohol abuse resulted in Dahmer becoming a predator who found his victims in the Milwaukee gay bar scene.
What makes Dahmer so notorious is that he kept the bodies of the men he murdered, often for many months. When he was finally caught, police found 4 severed heads and at least 7 skulls lying around in his apartment.
Dahmer went on to confess to all of the crimes he committed and openly talked about how things went so wrong. he even conducted prison interviews together with his father, appearing to be quite a normal guy, just before he was beaten to death in prison in the year 1994.
4. Jack the Ripper
Jack the Ripper is the nickname of the serial killer that terrorized the Whitechapel district of London in the year 1888. He got this name later on because, at the time of the murders, he was being referred to as the “Whitechapel Murderer” or “Leather Apron.”
The identity of the man remains a mystery, which is what makes these gruesome murders so intriguing. Various theories are floating around as to who brutally murdered at least 5 women and removed the organs of multiple of them.
Hundreds of letters were written to the police and newspapers in the period that the murders occurred, many of them were deemed useless except for 3. One letter, which was titled “From Hell,” included part of a human kidney. The writer had claimed to have eaten the other part.
The murders occurred in an impoverished slum of London and all the victims were poor prostitutes who were working the streets at night. This resulted in these slums being cleared and for the most part, demolished in the following decades.
5. John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy was another serial killer who managed to combine a successful career with a secret life as a ruthless murderer. In fact, he even managed to get a picture with the First Lady of the United States, Rosalynn Carter, on May 6, 1978, just 6 months before he got caught.
Gacy was known as the “Killer Clown,” because during his spare time he liked to dress up as a clown and perform on events such as children’s birthdays or in hospitals. That makes it all the most sickening when it came out that he was responsible for the murders of at least 33 young boys and men.
He managed to build a successful construction company and was married twice. His first marriage ended when he was convicted of sodomy and was sent to prison in the late 1960s.
Remarkably, after being released way too early for his crime, he simply moved to another area and started a new life. He got married again and picked up his secret life too. He scoured the Chicago area to find victims, lure them to his house, and brutally rape and murder them.
Even though many of his victims were buried below the crawl space of his house, and he had pointed officers to where the bodies could be found, he remained in denial about his crimes until his execution by lethal injection in the year 1994.
6. Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez was born on February 29, 1960, in El Paso, Texas, and suffered from an abusive father during his childhood. His father Julian, who was an ex-police officer in the city of Juarez in Mexico who moved with his family to the United States.
Ramirez was the youngest of 5 children and was actually loved by his sisters as a child, who would refer to him as “Richie.” Not many people would have believed that he would turn into one of the most notorious serial killers in American history who would murder 14 people and attempt to murder 5 more, while raping 11 women (and probably a lot more).
Things went really downhill when he started hanging out with his cousin Mike who often boasted about the atrocities he committed during the Vietnam War. He even showed pictures of the women he raped and killed in Vietnam and ended up killing his wife at home as well, in front of the young Ramirez.
This followed a life of petty crime which landed Ramirez in prison in 1984, just after his murder spree had started. He ended up becoming one of the most hated serial killers in the United States as he was dubbed “The Night Stalker” by the media because of his tactic to sneak into people’s houses and murder them in their sleep! He was sentenced to death but died from cancer in 2013.
7. Aileen Wuornos
The story of Aileen Wuornos can easily be described as one of the most tragic stories in history. She was abandoned by both her parents at the young age of 4 and dropped off at and raised by her alcoholic grandparents. Her grandfather was abusive and sexually assaulted her at a very young age.
The moment she went to high school she started working as a prostitute by doing “favors” for other students in exchange for drugs or cigarettes. She started this behavior at the young age of 11, just as she turned from a child to an adolescent.
Her life was filled with tragedy as she lost her grandmother and brother during her early teens as well and she was kicked out of the house by her abusive grandfather at the age of 15. She lived on the streets for multiple years while working the streets to make ends meet.
All of this culminated in a murder spree that would last 12 months and leave 7 men dead. All of them were murdered with her .22 gun as they attempted to engage in the services she was offering. Wuornos claimed that she shot the men in self-defense as they attempted to rape her. Regardless of her obvious mental issues, she was sentenced to death 6 times after being found guilty of 6 First-degree murders and finally executed in October 2002, nearly 12 years after the final murder occurred.
8. Gary Ridgway
Gary Ridgway was dubbed the “Green River Killer” by the media after 5 of his first victims were found in the Green River in King County in the US state of Washington. He would end up murdering dozens more and deposit them all around the Seattle area, but the name stuck.
Ridgway confessed to killing 71 prostitutes that he had picked up, making him the second-most prolific serial killer in American history. He was eventually convicted of 49 murders and managed to make a plea deal with prosecutors and received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Most of his murders happened between 1982 and 1984 while he was divorced, but his murder spree spanned 2 decades until he was caught because of DNA material in 2001.
One of the creepiest facts about Gary Ridgway is that he appeared to be completely normal to the outer world. He had a steady job for over 30 years, was married for 17 years at the time of his arrest, and went out on camping trips numerous times with his family. He managed to get away with his crimes because of his extremely pragmatic approach to killing his victims.
9. The Zodiac Killer
The identity of the Zodiac Killer is one of the greatest crime mysteries in American history. He is responsible for the brutal murder of at least 5 people and seriously injuring 2 more during 4 confirmed attacks. The death toll is much probably a lot higher as he claimed to have killed 37 people himself.
What makes the Zodiac Killer notorious is the fact that he sent dozens of taunting letters to newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area where the murders occurred, as well as to the local police stations. In it, he not only confessed to the murders but also seemed to play games with authorities.
He often included cryptograms of which only one has been resolved, and which contained disturbing messages of a deranged killer who killed for fun and for a higher purpose. Many of these elaborate riddles have never been conclusively resolved, even though the killer left many clues in each letter.
The identity of the Zodiac Killer has remained a mystery for over 5 decades now as the 5 confirmed murders happened in 1968 and 1969. The popular cop movie Dirty Harry, which features Clint Eastwood, was based on the Zodiac Killer, as well as the detective on the case, Dave Toschi, and some parts of the plot.
10. Israel Keyes
Israel Keyes has been referred to as one of the most meticulous serial killers in American history, this for the simple fact that he carefully planned each step related to the crimes he committed.
In one of the cases, he flew across the country from Alaska to Chicago, rented a car to drive over 1,000 miles to the state of Vermont, just to murder a couple of strangers he had no connection with what so ever.
The extremely scary part about Keyes is that he did it just to enjoy himself as he saw it as a form of entertainment. That’s why he also didn’t give much information about other crimes he committed, included several murders, burglaries, and a couple of bank robberies.
Keyes ended up committing suicide in his jail cell in Anchorage in Alaska after being arrested in 2012 while he was driving around in a rented car and spending money from a girl he just murdered. He left a creepy suicide note and drawings with 11 skulls, something detectives believe is related to the number of people he killed.
11. BTK Killer
BTK Killer is the nickname that Dennis Rader gave himself after he started a murder spree that started in 1974 and would end in 1991, eventually leaving 10 people dead including 2 children. The nickname means “Bind, Torture, Kill,” and refers to both the fantasies of this deranged killer and the way he killed his victims.
Rader was born in Pittsburg, Kansas, on March 9, 1945, and grew up in the biggest city in the state, Wichita. His childhood was relatively normal compared to that of some other of the most notorious serial killers in history and apart from feeling a little grudge towards his mother for nothing giving him enough attention, nothing noteworthy happened.
He started developing weird fantasies as a kid, though, and these involved torturing and killing helpless women. he ended up fulfilling this fantasy multiple times, starting in 1974 when he murdered 4 members of the Otero family, including the parents and 2 young children.
He also copied the Zodiac Killer and sent multiple letters to the media and police. This would bring him down because even though the case of the BTK Killer was cold in 2004, he couldn’t resist sending out communications with the press 11 times in 2004. This eventually ended up in his arrest in 2005, and his conviction and sentencing to 10 consecutive life sentences.
12. Samuel Little
Samuel Little has officially been declared as America’s most prolific serial killer by the FBI in 2019, having at least 50 confirmed murders on his record. This means he killed at least 1 more person than the Green River Killer. He claims that he murdered a grand total of 93 women between 1970 and 2005, a horrific number.
The life of Little, who refers to himself as Samuel McDowell, is one of a continuous crime. He lived a nomadic lifestyle, traveling from one place to the other to commit a series of burglaries and robberies and moved on. This was his daytime job, and during the night, he started looking out for women to rape and murder.
His crime spree could have ended multiple times, especially in the 1980s when he was the main suspect in 2 murder cases, but both times, he got off easy. Later this decade, he served just 2 and a half years for the kidnapping and strangling of 2 women, another time he should have been put away for decades considering his extensive criminal record at the time.
He was finally arrested in 2012 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of paroleless than 2 years later. He found himself a peculiar hobby as he started drawing his victims, something the FBI hopes will help to solve multiple cold cases which are linked to him. In one instance, this even happened as a murder in Akron, Ohio, was solved because of his painting.
13. Andrei Chikatilo
Andrei Chikatilo (1936-1994) was born in a small village in Soviet Ukraine. His parents were farmers who had barely enough food to eat because of the extreme policies of the Stalin Regime. His childhood was filled with misery because shortly after he was born the Second World War broke out and Germany occupied Ukraine.
His father was recruited for the Red Army in 1941, leaving his mother alone which made the situation even worse. She was repeatedly raped by the Nazis which resulted in his sister Tatyana being born in 1943. As a teenager, he found out he was impotent as well and was constantly ridiculed at school because of his poverty.
Remarkably, he became an honorable student and managed to get a degree, one of the only of his background to ever achieve this. His sister also introduced him to his wife because his shyness and impotence wouldn’t allow him to find a wife. They also had a daughter and son together in 1965 and 1969 respectively.
Things went downhill when he committed his first crimes after he became a school teacher and he started molesting children. He discovered that the only way he could receive sexual pleasure was to stab his victims repeatedly with a knife, a discovery that culminated in at least 52 murders between 1978 and 1990. He was executed with a single gunshot behind the ear on February 14, 1994.
This concludes the list with the top 13 most notorious serial killers in history, a list of deranged human beings that unfortunately lived among us!