Jack The Ripper
When we say “Jack,” we mean “every man Jack,” for this unidentified killer might have been anyone. In 1888, Jack the Ripper terrorized the Whitechapel district of London, an area of the East End that at the time was marked by poverty and struggle. The vilest sort of predator, Jack preyed upon the vulnerable.
Also called “Leather Apron,” a name reminiscent of a butcher’s garb, Jack the Ripper slashed his victims’ throats before cutting out vital organs from their bodies, some of which were never to be found (keepsakes, perhaps?). These dissections led Scotland Yard to speculate he may have been a surgeon of some kind, but we will likely never know for certain. The “Whitechapel murderer” had five confirmed victims, all in 1888, but experts suspect he may have killed up to a dozen with his spree stretching to 1891.
One of the first serial killers to capture widespread media attention, Jack the Ripper’s murders put late-Victorian England to a tough moral test. You see, his victims were sex workers. In a time of upturned noses and rigid moral pride, the everyday man might wonder why he should care. After all, it’s only ‘those people’ being slashed and dissected. But his brutal legacy has shown that when anyone in a community is targeted by evil, the whole community suffers. Jack the Ripper is a chilling reminder that injustice against one is injustice against all.
Ted Bundy (1946-1989) might have been remembered today for his charisma, handsome features, and remarkable ingenuity, had he not abused these inherent qualities as tools for conducting some of the most gruesome murders in American history.
Throughout the mid-1970s, Bundy held America in a state of fear. His killing spree spanned seven U. S. states, stretching from Oregon to Florida. To date, it remains unclear just how many victims he bludgeoned, raped, murdered, and dismembered (not always in that order; Bundy was a necrophile). However, after maintaining a claim of innocence for years, he ultimately confessed to thirty killings while on death row in Florida.
A high-functioning sociopath and a textbook narcissist, Bundy’s reign of terror involved two successful escapes from jail and a nationally televised public trial, during which he elected to represent himself. He was executed by electric chair in January of 1989 to the sounds of the gathered masses celebrating with fireworks outside the prison.
Can you have sympathy for a monster? Should you? It’s hard not to when you consider a killer like the “Damsel of Death.” Aileen Wuornos’s life story is one of dark tragedy. Born to a 15-year-old mother in Michigan in 1956, she never met her 17-year-old father. A sex offender, he was imprisoned by the time she was born. Abandoned by her mom at age 4, Aileen was raised by her maternal grandfather, an alcoholic who sexually abused her, impregnating her at just 14.
After escaping to Florida, Wuornos spent her 20s as a sex worker and committing many crimes, both violent and petty. By 1989, however, prostitution was more than a means of making money for her. It became her method for murder, and she was prolific at it. Under the pretense of soliciting sex, Wuornos lured, isolated, and murdered seven men with a revolver in less than a year. Some had been shot six times (a revolver only holds six bullets).
Later, she claimed that her killings were all self-defense against attempted rape or sexual assault. Some experts suggest she suffered from severe PTSD. With a tragic childhood marked by sexual abuse and a family history of mental illness, it is possible that her experiences as a sex worker may have triggered her PTSD, leading to her violent murders. Wuornos was executed by lethal injection in Florida in 2002.
John Wayne Gacy
In a world with scary stories like Stephen King’s ‘IT’ and American Horror Story’s ‘Freak Show,’ where Halloween stores sell out of “killer clown” costumes every year, it’s strange to think that the clown was once a wholesome part of American culture. Once, they were a fun circus attraction, a must for a good birthday party. But there’s a reason those scary stories were written, and a reason why they’re so captivating: John Wayne Gacy, the real life “Killer Clown.”
Raised in Chicago by an alcoholic father who beat him at any sign of weakness or unmanliness, Gacy learned early to put on a happy face and internalize his turmoil. When he realized he was gay, for example, he agonized over his sexuality and worked to keep it hidden. He had a wife, a family, a stable career, and even moonlighted at birthday parties as Patches the Clown. But as he would later say to the police: “Clowns can get away with murder.”
Throughout the 1970s, Gacy raped and murdered 33 young men and boys, possibly more. Sometimes in his clown costume, he would lure them inside and convince them to wear handcuffs for a “magic trick,” after which he would torture, rape, and kill them. He buried their bodies beneath his house. At the time of his conviction, 33 was the highest known number of homicides by a single perpetrator in American history. Gacy was executed by lethal injection in Illinois in 1994.
"The only motive that there ever was was to completely control a person– a person I found physically attractive– and keep them with me as long as possible, even if it meant just keeping... a part of them."
Jeffrey Dahmer was purportedly a normal, happy child. By age six, however, his family had moved from Milwaukee to a rural suburb outside Akron, Ohio, and Dahmer had become an eerily quiet loner. Essentially friendless, he spent his youth collecting carrion, roadkill, and dead animals from the woods, which he dissected and turned into personal trophies.
Dahmer spiraled through his late teens, struggling with his homosexuality and nurturing dark, sadistic fantasies. He became a belligerent alcoholic, joined and was kicked out of the Army, and in 1978, at age 18, he murdered his first victim. He killed another 16 men and boys by 1991. A dangerous psychopath, Dahmer became known as “the Milwaukee Cannibal” for his habit of preserving the dismembered bodies of his victims in his refrigerator, which he would use to gratify his necrophilic urges before eating them.
Dahmer was eventually sentenced to 16 life sentences for murders committed in Wisconsin and Ohio. He was himself murdered by a fellow inmate in 1994.
Harold “Fred” Shipman: “Dr Death”
Nicknamed “Dr. Death,” Harold Shipman was a British doctor believed to have murdered over 200 of his patients. At 17, Shipman witnessed his mother die of cancer, easing painlessly into her death under the heavy influence of morphine. It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that opioids became the method by which he murdered his victims.
From 1975-1998, Shipman habitually took in patients and injected them with deadly doses of diamorphine (A.K.A. heroin). Following their deaths, he authorized the cremations of their bodies, destroying any forensic evidence. Investigators were ultimately able to find testable samples of the remains of 15 women, confirming a horrific pattern: “Dr. Death” had administered killing doses to each of them before altering their medical records to disguise the fact that they were in reasonably good health.
As these 15 were the only victims whose remains could be examined, Shipman was convicted in 2000 of only 15 counts of murder, but over 450 total patients died in his ‘care.’ It’s estimated that at least half of those were murdered. Shipman never confessed, and he hanged himself in his cell just four years into serving his 15 life sentences. Since his arrest, the official authorization form for a cremation in England asks: “Do you know or suspect that the death of the person who has died was violent or unnatural?”
Andrei Chikatilo: “The Butcher of Rostov”
“I was like a crazed wolf… I just turned into a beast, into a wild animal.”
You’d see him in the local train station, an unassuming businessman with a briefcase, and you wouldn’t give him a second glance. But Andrei Chikatilo wasn’t a businessman, and you’d never know his ‘briefcase’ was a custom murder kit with rope, rags, an 8-inch knife, and a bottle of lubricant: the tools he used to bind, gag, stab, mutilate, and sexually assault his victims.
Chikatilo was an expert at maintaining appearances. He served years in the military with a clean record, held a stable job as an engineer, and had a wife and two children. But behind the scenes, he was mentally deranged and sexually frustrated. His marriage was sexless due to his extreme erectile dysfunction (his children were manually conceived); as it turned out, he only attained sexual gratification from cutting and stabbing young girls. In the 12-year span from 1978 to 1990, “The Butcher of Rostov” murdered and mangled the bodies of at least 52 women and girls in and around the Ukrainian SSR. His victims were found mutilated beyond recognition, their eyes gouged out and their genitals removed.
With no freedom of press under Cold War Communism, his murders were not widely publicized, even suppressed to maintain the appearance of a pleasant society; Chikatilo went uncaught for perhaps years longer than he would have with proper media attention. He was executed by gunshot in 1994 for 52 counts of murder.
Charles Edmund Cullen: “The Angel of Death”
Charles Cullen may be the most prolific serial killer in recorded history, but as his murders were committed in hospitals over a 25-year-period, it is impossible to know his victim count for certain. His early life was marked by death and abuse. His father died when he was an infant, and he became extremely attached to his mother, who died when he was just 17. He was relentlessly bullied throughout his childhood, to the point that he attempted suicide at age 9.
Later, Cullen joined the Navy, somehow clearing the meticulous psychological evaluations required to join the crew of a submarine. Friendless, he was hazed in the Navy, and attempted suicide several more times until he was medically discharged. He became a nurse in New Jersey, married, and had a daughter.
Cullen’s wife eventually divorced him, unnerved by his abusive tendencies towards their pets and his obsession with death. While working as a nurse, Cullen was “an angel of death,” poisoning IV bags and administering lethal doses of various drugs to his patients. He confessed to no less than 40 murders, but later interviews revealed that there were far, far more. Experts suspect his victims number over 400. Arrested in 2003, Cullen is currently serving 18 consecutive life sentences in New Jersey State Prison.
The Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer murdered at least 5 victims in and around San Francisco in the late 1960s. An egomaniacal narcissist, he contrived cryptic messages and cipher letters, which he sent to local newspapers in order to taunt the authorities and terrify the public. Threatening further murders if his words went unpublished, Zodiac dominated the media cycle for nearly a year.
A sign of his narcissism, Zodiac is perhaps unique in that his confessed victim count is actually higher than experts believe likely. In his messages, he claimed to have killed 37 people, but the number is probably at most 28, with 5 murders confirmed. He targeted isolated young couples, whom he usually shot with a pistol, though some were stabbed.
Though his canonical killing spree lasted from December 1968 to October 1969, Zodiac’s legacy continued to hold the community in fear for years, since he was never caught or definitively identified. Since Zodiac, most media outlets have changed their protocol with regards to demands from violent criminals. Rather than risk encouraging them by letting them drive the narrative and granting additional attention, it’s now clear that it is best to consult crime experts.
Donald Henry “Pee Wee” Gaskins: “The Hitchhikers’ Killer”
“Pee Wee” Gaskins’ was in and out of prisons for most of his adult life. His criminal history began in his youth with simple con schemes, but soon escalated to armed robberies, aggravated assaults, and rapes. In 1969, he developed a habit of cruising highways along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, where he would pick up hitchhikers. Once in his car, Gaskins would drive his victims to isolated areas to beat and torture them for as long as possible until, finally, they succumbed to their injuries and died.
Unlike many serial killers, Gaskins had no particular type when it came to choosing victims. They were both men and women, aging from young teenagers to middle-age. He killed them using whatever tools were available– anything from guns or knives to hammers, puddles of water, or just his bare hands. He was not meticulous or especially careful, even killing people he was personally connected to (his very first victim was his own niece). He had 15 confirmed victims, but may have killed over 100.
During a manhunt for a missing girl in 1975, police discovered a mass grave of 8 bodies near his home. He was sentenced to the electric chair in a court session that lasted less than an hour. He eventually escaped death row in order to serve a life sentence instead, but couldn’t resist murdering a fellow inmate in 1982, which sent him to the chair once again. He was executed in 1991.
Tsutomu Miyazaki: “The Human Dracula”
In 1962, Miyazaki was born in Tokyo, Japan, premature and suffering from a disfigurement that limited the use of his hands. His family was prominent, running a successful newspaper. His grandfather, to whom he was particularly attached, was a local councilman. Bullied for his disfigurement, Tsutomu was a socially disinterested loner with little ambition. Despite the many educational opportunities afforded him, he failed to get into university. Instead, he became obsessed with photography. Before long, he was sneaking nude photos of young girls, and nurturing a latent fascination with hyper-violent pornography.
When Miyazaki’s grandfather died in 1988, his mental state plummeted rapidly. First, he ate his grandfather’s ashes in order to “retain a part of him.” Then, within months, he devolved into kidnapping and murdering little girls. A necrophile, cannibal, and a ‘clinical vampire,’ Miyazaki came to be known as “the Human Dracula.” He sexually assaulted his victims both before and after killing them, ate portions of their corpses, and drank their blood. Following his crimes, he terrorized the dead girls’ families, sending them photographs of their bloody clothing and body parts he’d kept as trophies.
Miyazaki murdered four girls in the span of ten months. At trial, he blamed “Rat Man,” an alter ego he had created in his mind, though this may have been an attempt to bolster a plea of insanity. The court found him sane enough to comprehend his crimes, and therefore guilty. He was executed by hanging in 2008.
Pedro Lopez: “The Monster of the Andes”
The son of a Colombian prostitute, Pedro Lopez was forced at a young age to watch his mother participate in often-violent sex acts. He himself was sometimes molested by the men, which he later claimed was a primary cause for his radically damaged psyche. At 9 years old, he was kicked from his home for molesting his own younger sister. By 1970, age 22, he had begun to rape and murder young girls.
In 1980, Lopez was arrested for an attempted abduction, and willingly confessed, unprompted, to killing over 100 girls in Ecuador. He even led police to a mass grave with remains of 53 bodies, all girls around age 12 who had been assaulted and strangled. He was convicted and imprisoned, but was somehow released on bail in 1994. He was arrested again in ‘98 and confessed to 240 further murders in Colombia and Peru. He was sent to a psychiatric facility, which, incredibly, released him after a few short years for ‘good behavior.’
In 2002, Interpol listed him as the primary suspect for a new murder. Dubbed “the Monster of the Andes,” Lopez is believed to have killed over 350 young girls. To this day, his location remains unknown.