The most prolific serial killers of all time
Genocide and mass murder have been a fact throughout history, but one thing we tend to overlook are those few who kill so many others all on their own. Serial killers, though rare, are a terrifying aberration in society; they’re predators roaming the streets along side us, picking off their prey one at a time. They often take years to get caught, and some are never apprehended at all. The flowing individuals are the 20 absolute most prolific serial killers of all time.
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994)
In just six short years, John Wayne Gacy managed to rape and murder 33 boys – and that’s just the confirmed lot. At the time of his arrest, 27 of his victims’ bodies were found in the crawl-space beneath his Illinois home. Others would be found later in a nearby river. As if this weren’t frightening enough by its own merit, Gacy’s nightmarish aliases “Pogo the Clown”, and “the Killer Clown” were earned by his in fact working as a clown at children’s parties. On May 10th, 1994 he was put to death by lethal injection.
Theodore Robert Bundy (November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989)
Though he himself was snuffed out of life by a Florida State electric chair in 1989, Ted Bundy’s name lives on as a disturbing reminder of the brutal killing-spree he embarked upon in 1974. Ending in 1978 with this final apprehension, Bundy’s spree had taken at least 29 lives; he confessed to over 30, but remains suspected of up to 100 murders. He didn’t simply kill his victims outright either. Bundy preferred strangulation and sometimes beat them to death. He often raped them, and his sexual preference didn’t include any taboo on whether the person was alive or dead.
Serhiy Tkach (1952 – Present)
A worst-case scenario for police gone bad, Tkach was a Ukranian police investigator who spent more than two decades killing at least 29 girls, usually teens or preteens. He was apprehended in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison. The body-count attached to Tkach isn’t certain, as he claims to have actually killed between 80 and 100 people. He blamed his former wives for his animosity toward women, and often raped his victims before killing them.
Donald Harvey (April 15, 1952 – Present)
Currently serving time in Southern Ohio, Donald Harvey used to be a hospital orderly, and called himself the “Angel of Death.” Officially, he’s credited with somewhere between 36 and 57 deaths, but he claims to have killed 87 people over a period of two decades. Harvey preferred to poison his victims, usually by way of arsenic, cyanide or even insulin, causing slow and painful deaths. He didn’t limit himself though, and often resorted to violence as well. He had suffocated victims, and even resorted to puncturing internal organs with a coat-hanger at one point.
Moses Sithole (November 17, 1964 – Present)
Called the “South African Strangler,” Sithole is currently serving a 2,410 year sentence for luring upwards of 38 victims to their deaths, after overpowering and raping them in seclusion. The combined punishments of over 40 rapes added to these murders may seem ridiculous, but he likely won’t even live to old age as he’s been diagnosed with AIDS since 2000. Sithole is notable for the speed in which he managed to kill so many – beginning his spree in 1994 after a previous release from prison, he was apprehended just one year later in 1995.
Belle Sorenson Gunness (November 11, 1859 – April 28, 1908)
Thought to have killed more than 40 people over the course of decades, Belle (born Brynhild) epitomized the term, “crazy female”. Drifting through life from one insurance payout to the next, Belle grew to over 200 lbs (at only 5′8″ tall). She had begun her life-long trail of death with her own husband and children, and continued the spree by killing the men who would be her suitors. Times must have been different back then, considering there were so many suitors left dead by this extremely stocky woman. In the end, Belle’s death was surrounded by controversy, as her body had been discovered beheaded and burned. The bodily remains of Belle Guiness remain under suspicion to this day, as there wasn’t enough DNA evidence left to get conclusive results when tested.
Ahmad Suradji (1951 – July 10, 2008)
An Indonesian cattle-breeder, Suradji confessed to the killings of 42 women of all ages over a period of 11 years. He didn’t just hunt them and kill them like a usual predator, but had a ritual in which he would bury his victim up to their neck and proceed to strangle them with a cable. He had three wives, and they were arrested along with him for assisting in the rituals. He claimed that his father had come to him in a dream, and had told him that he needed to kill 70 women and drink their saliva so that he might become a healer. The irony of this is slightly overwhelming, but Suradji didn’t see it that way. He was put to death by firing squad in 2008.
Alexander Pichushkin (April 9, 1974 – Present)
RUSSIA-CRIME-MANIAC-PICHUSHKIN. Also called the “Chessboard Killer,” Pichushkin was driven to attempt to kill as many people as there were squares on a chessboard. He claims to have fallen just short of his 64-body goal by killing 63 people, but estimates are in the range of 50. He was convicted in 2007 of 48 murders, mostly homeless men, and received a sentence of life in prison. The first 15 years are to be spent in solitary confinement. Going along with his chess-fetish, in order to avoid getting blood on his clothes he would try to use the bottle of vodka he had lured the homeless with as a bludgeon, killing them through head-trauma.
Gary Leon Ridgway (February 18, 1949 – Present)
“The River Man” claims to have killed more than 90 women during his 16-year spree in Washington State. He was finally convicted of 48 such murders, all of which he confessed to. His methods were gruesome and brutal: he used ropes, fishing lines, or cables to strangle the women only after he was sated by rape and torture. He didn’t stop at the victims’ deaths either, as he often indulged in necrophilia if he hadn’t had his fill. He’s been serving a life-sentence since his conviction in 2003, which would have resulted in lethal injection, had he not plea-bargained.
Anatoly Onoprienko (July 25, 1959 – Present)
Termed “the Terminator,” Anatoly Onoprienko confessed to murdering 52 people during a 6-year madness-driven spree. His killings formed a cross on the Ukrainian map, and he said he’d been urged by several voices in his head. When he was arrested he had a hunting rifle on his person that matched the weapon thought used in many of the killings, along with belongings of some of the victims. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1999 but this was later commuted to a life-sentence in prison, which is now serving.
Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo (October 16, 1936 – February 14, 1994)
Another Ukrainian, Chikatilo racked up such impressive nicknames during his spree as the “Butcher of Rostov”, the “Red Ripper” or the “Rostov Ripper”, and killed at least 52 people between 1978 and 1990. His victims were mostly women and children. He raped or attempted to rape his female victims, and reportedly suffered from sexual impotence which only drove him to further violence. He typically killed his victims by stabbing them to death, usually during rape – which was often the only way he could achieve orgasm. In 1994 he was executed, killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head.
Pedro Alonso López (October 8, 1948 – Present)
López’s story is nothing short of terrifying because it’s not over yet. Living a tragic life since his early years, he grew up both as molester and molested, he was beaten, raped, and in retribution against those who raped him, he began killing at a young age as well. He began to be known as the “Monster of the Andes” as his suspected body-count grew to record numbers. He was once convicted of killing 110 girls, but by his own admission the true numbers of his life-long spree of rape and murder are likely to number several hundred. López spent 14 years in prison for his conviction, only to be released after 3 extra years in a Colombian hospital. His current whereabouts are unknown.
Yang Xinhai (July 1968 – February 14, 2004)
Over a period of four years, Chinese Xinhai was convicted on 67 counts of murder. Beginning his criminal career as a petty thief, he soon graduated to rape, and then finally murder. His methods included home invasion, and it was not unusual for him to kill entire families in brutal, bloody massacres using farm equipment like axes and saws. He raped pregnant women and killed children, he was dubbed the “Monster Killer” by the Chinese. He was put to death in 2004.
Pedro Rodrigues Filho (1954 – Present)
Dubbed “Pedrinho Matador,” Filho claims to have killed over 100 people, a great deal of whom were prisoners serving time in the same prison he had been. In 2003 he was convicted of killing 70, his own father among them, and sentenced to 128 years. By Brazilian law, however, he can serve no more than 30 of those 128 years in prison.
Elizabeth Báthory (August 7, 1560 – August 21, 1614)
Known to History as the “Blood Countess,” Countess Báthory was accused, along with 4 accomplices, of killing over 600 women, mostly virgins, after the death of her husband at the hands of the Turks. Báthory was convicted, though never formally tried, of killing 80 such young women, and as punishment was walled into a section of the castle under house arrest. She died four years later, but stories would continue on for centuries making her out to be a counterpart to Vlad the Impaler, and painting her as bathing in the blood of virgins. She is regarded as the most prolific female serial killer the world has ever known.
Javed Iqbal (1956 – October 8, 2001
Iqbal committed suicide in 2001 while in a Pakistani prison, and his body showed signs of torture upon autopsy. He had been convicted of molesting or raping, then killing 100 children, but his case has come under scrutiny since a quarter of the alleged victims were found alive after his death. Prior to his arrest, he had confessed to the killing of 100 young boys, and said that he had dismembered them after strangling them. He claimed he had disposed of their bodies using vats of acid, which were found along with photographs and belongings of victims when police searched the location mentioned. Due to this process of eliminating evidence, the true number of victims may never be known.
Thug Behram (ca. 1765 – 1840)
Believed to have strangled to death nearly 1000 victims in the 50 year span between 1790 and 1840, Thug is known today as the historically fabled centerpiece of the Thuggee cult of India. Largely criminal, the cult revolved around the ritualistic slayings of travelers using a ceremonial cloth to strangle them, so that their belongings could be pilfered afterwards. Thug’s legacy lives on today in movies like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos (January 25 1957 – Present)
Known as “La Bestia” or “the Beast,” Cubillos is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence in Colombia. In 1999 he confessed to the rape and murder of 140 boys, but numbers are suspected to be as high as 300. Colombian law’s maximum sentence of 30 years had been knocked down to 22 because he helped police locate bodies and other evidence. Recent developments in the country’s legal system have begun to allow for discussion of lengthening his sentence, on the grounds that they believe he has killed far more than he has already admitted.
Gilles de Rais (1404 – 1440)
Gilles de Rais is historically known best for two things: Fighting along side Joan of Arc at Orléans, and being a serial killer. He is credited with the deaths of up to 200 children, and in court he had explained his actions as influenced by the Occult. He was excommunicated and condemned to hanging in 1440.
Harold Frederick “Fred” Shipman (January 14, 1946 – January 13, 2004)
By technicality, Harold Shipman is the most prolific serial killer in known history. He has been positively linked to upwards of 250 murders, with actual numbers thought to be much higher. He killed via lethal injection and was known as “Doctor Death” for being a general practitioner and targeting his patients, most of whom were female. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2000, but hung himself in his jail cell four years later.