A serial killer is defined as someone who kills three or more people over a long period of time. They are usually male and possess a "mask of sanity," which means that on the surface, they appear to be normal law-abiding citizens with a pleasant demeanor. However, beneath their facade serial killers are sociopaths who lack the capability to empathize with the suffering of their victims.
Read on to learn about ten of the scariest serial killers ever captured!
1John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy, also known as "The Killer Clown," was a husband and father, but he was also a repeated sex offender who victimized countless people during his lifetime. He was caught sexually assaulting two teenage boys in 1968 and sentenced to 10 years in jail, but due to his exemplary behavior as an inmate he was released on parole after serving just 18 months.
Once he was released from jail, Gacy briefly remarried (they divorced when she discovered that he was secretly gay) and became a popular and jovial member of society. He enjoyed dressing up as "Pogo the Clown" and volunteering at children's parties, parades, and other community gatherings. He was a respected businessman and well-liked by his neighbors.
During the six years between the time he got out of jail and when he was finally arrested again for suspicion of kidnapping, Gacy murdered an astounding 33 young men. He buried most of the bodies in the crawl space of his house, in his yard, and later (when he started to run out of space), he dumped them in a nearby river. He would lure hitchhikers, male prostitutes, and other young men and boys into his car or his home, then torture, rape, and murder them.
After he was arrested and the police found the bones in his basement, Gacy issued a full confession and was executed in 1994.
Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the scariest serial killers in U.S. history. Over the course of thirteen years, Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys; worse yet, his murders involved rape, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism. Despite the fact that several of Dahmer's victims managed to escape, he was not caught until one victim ran into the street and flagged down a police car. Once inside his apartment, police made a series of disturbing discoveries; Dahmer had been trying to create a "mindless sex slave" by drilling into the skulls of his still-living victims. When they died, Dahmer would perform grotesque acts on the bodies, including sexual assault and in some cases, eating pieces of them.
Dahmer was eventually brought to justice, and on November 28, 1994 he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution, where he had been incarcerated.
Ted Bundy was a good-looking guy, and seemed very friendly and charismatic. However, behind his handsome face lurked the twisted mind of a serial killer, and between the years of 1974 and 1978 Bundy kidnapped and murdered 30 young women in the U.S. Those were just the women we know of; experts agree that he could have been responsible for up to forty disappearances and murders to which he didn't confess.
To lure in his victims, Bundy would often pretend to be disabled or would pose as an authority figure. Other times, he would simply break into his victim's homes and bludgeon them to death as they slept. After killing them, he would rape, torture, and dismember them, often keeping souvenirs (like their heads) in his apartments for months at a time.
After a thrilling police chase, Bundy was finally arrested and brought to justice in 1979 and was killed in the electric chair in January 1989, in Starke, Florida.
Known as the "Green River Killer," Gary Ridgway strangled at least 71 women in Washington state during the 1980's and 90's. His first five victims were discovered in the Green River, which is how he earned his nickname. He was finally arrested after DNA evidence linked him to several missing women, and he took a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. In exchange, Ridgway agreed to disclose the location of all of his victim's bodies.
Ridgway would pick up prostitutes and runaways, earn their trust by showing them a photo of his son, and then strangle them either with his bare hands or with ligatures. He would often return to the bodies to have sex with them or arrange them in various poses. Despite having an IQ of only 82, Ridgway managed to avoid being caught for over a decade until he was finally caught in November of 2001.
Ridgway is still alive and serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in Washington state.
Though Ed Gein only confessed to two murders and does not fit the typical definition of "serial killer," his horrific acts have made him the inspiration for countless horror stories, including Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jame Gumb from The Silence of the Lambs.
Ed Gein lived in Wisconsin with his mother and brother. He was suspected of murdering his brother, but police could not prove it. After his mother died, Gein began visiting the local cemeteries, digging up bodies of middle aged women who he thought resembled his mother, and assembling a "woman suit" out of their skin. He eventually killed two local women, and when police came to his home to investigate they found body parts everywhere.
Police discovered human noses, vulvae, skulls made into bowls, skin masks, human heads in sacks, lamps and chairs upholstered in human flesh, organs in the refrigerator, and a belt made of human nipples.
Gein was arrested in 1957 and spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital after being ruled criminally insane. He died of heart failure and cancer in 1984 at the age of 77.
6Henry Lee Lucas
Once listed as America's most prolific serial killer, Henry Lee Lucas killed at least 350 people over the course of twenty years, though he confessed that he was involved in up to 600 murders. Lucas was the inspiration for the movie Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer.
After murdering his own mother, Lucas spent 10 years in jail but was eventually released due to overcrowding. Once he got out, he became a drifter in the southern states of the U.S., making friends with Ottis Toole, a man who would become his accomplice in over 108 murders and other crimes.
In 2001, Lucas died in prison of natural causes at the age of 66.
One of the few female serial killers on record, Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute who murdered at least seven men between 1989 and 1990. Actress Charlize Theron won a Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Wuornos in the movie Monster.
Wuornos lived a life of abuse and neglect, having a baby at age 15 (who was put up for adoption) and engaging in an incestuous relationship with her brother. She was briefly married and spent time in jail for petty robberies and assault. Eventually she fell in love with a woman and supported them both by turning tricks as a prostitute. During her years of prostitution Wuornos shot and killed seven men who she claimed were trying to harm her during their sex sessions.
Wuornos was arrested in 1991 and confessed to the murders three days later. She was killed by lethal injection in 2002.
8Richard Trenton Chase
Nicknamed "The Vampire of Sacramento," Richard Trenton Chase was most famous for drinking the blood of his victims and eating parts of their bodies. He killed six people over the course of one month in northern California in 1977. Chase spent time in a mental hospital after being caught capturing small animals and devouring them raw, sometimes blending the corpses with Coca Cola in a blender to make a milkshake. After being treated with anti-psychotic medications he was released, and that's when he started killing humans.
Chase murdered six people, including two children, and engaged in sex with their bodies after he murdered them. He would also drink and bathe in their blood and eat their internal organs. Chase was finally caught in 1979 after murdering an entire family. His defense tried to get him a lesser charge due to his history of insanity, but a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to death by the gas chamber. Chase then killed himself in jail in 1980 by saving up his prescription antidepressent medicine and taking a lethal overdose in his cell.
Ukranian-born Soviet killer Andrei Chikatilo was nicknamed the "Butcher of Rostov," "The Red Ripper" or "The Rostov Ripper." He killed at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990 and was convicted in 1992 and executed in 1994.
Chikatilo first killed a 9 year old girl in 1979, and during the experience he discovered that he could only achieve sexual satisfaction by stabbing and slashing women and children to death.
Chikatilo was in and out of jail and suspected of crimes for many years, but there was never enough evidence to put him away for good. Finally, in a well-orchestrated police snare, Chikatilo was caught in 1990 and eventually confessed to killing 36 people. He was charged with killing 53 women and children between 1978 and 1990 and was convicted of 52 murders in 1992. In 1994 he was executed by a single gun shot wound behind the right ear.
Between 1974 and 1991, Dennis Rader killed at least ten people in the Wichita, Kansas area. Rader was known as the BTK Killer, which stands for "bind, torture, kill." Rader also sent notes to local authorities and media outlets describing the killing process, taunting them for not catching him. It was these letters that lead to his eventual capture in 2005.
After Rader kidnapped his victims he would bind them and strangle them until they passed out. Then he'd let them wake up and do it again, repeating the near-death experience and getting sexual gratification from it. He would eventually strangle the victim to death and masturbate into an article of their clothing.
Rader was caught because police were able to extract a deleted file from a floppy disk the killer had sent them. On the disk was information about Rader's church, an organization of which he was an active member. It was DNA evidence that eventually busted Rader, and he later confessed to the crimes. He was convicted of 10 counts of murder in 2005. He is still in jail serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.