Human depravity is hardly new. According to the Bible, murder was the second greatest sin of humanity, with Cain spilling the blood of his brother Abel. In almost every society at almost every epoch, murder was seen as the worst crime imaginable and was treated to the harshest degree. Murderers were drawn and quartered, hung, shot, burned alive, or tortured to death. Even after the implementation of so-called “soft” measures like prisons and mental health facilities, murderers still get the roughest edge of the state’s sword, whether it be lethal injection or prolonged stays in solitary confinement.
The worst kind of murders are the mass murderer and the serial killer. The former is a relatively new phenomenon. Mass murderers spread their hatred through short, punctuated moments of violence that typically end in capture or suicide. As attention spans in the West have declined, mass murders have increased. Serial killers, on the other hand, are methodical carnivores who take pleasure in hunting their prey. Serial killers like the still-unknown Zodiac Killer and Jack the Ripper also delighted in taunting the police as a way to prove their intellectual superiority. Although the definition of “serial killer” wasn’t born until the 1970s – thanks to an FBI profiler named Robert Ressler – serial killers have been around since the dawn of time.
15. Zu Shenatir
Zu Shenatir is one of the earliest known serial killers in recorded history. During the fifth century A.D., Shenatir was a wealthy nobleman in the Arab nation of Yemen. At the time, Yemen was mostly a Christian merchant nation that relied heavily on trade from the Red Sea. Shenatir’s relationship to this merchant economy is unknown. Similarly, his religion has never been reported.
What is known about Shenatir is the fact that he was a voracious pedophile. Shenatir would lure his young victims up to his home with promises of food and money. Once inside, Shenatir would forcibly sodomize the boys before throwing them out of his window. It is not known for sure how many young men Shenatir killed, but it is widely believed that one of his intended victims fought back. Specifically, a youth named Zerash stabbed Shenatir through his anus, thus killing him.
14. The Witch of Kilkenny
Dame Alice Kyteler of Kilkenny, Ireland was one of the first women to ever be brought before a European judge on charges of practicing witchcraft. Born into a Flemish family in 1280, Kyteler soon came to the attention of authorities after one of her four husbands died mysteriously. When Sir John le Poers became very ill, he and his step-children suspected that Alice had poisoned him. Other accusations included the assertion that Alice, her servants, and her son had all denied Christianity and were known to carry amulets and decorate their possessions with skulls. Several people even claimed that Alice had intercourse with a demon named Robin, who appeared as a black, shaggy dog.
Along with the accusations that she practiced witchcraft, local judges also accused Kyteler of killing all of her previous husbands. After the trial, Kyteler was found guilty. She, along with her maidservant Petronilla de Meath, was flogged and burned at the stake.
13. Peter Stumpp
The Holy Roman Empire of the 16th century was a hotbed of religious violence. Following Martin Luther’s publication of his Ninety-Five Theses, Protestant and Catholic princes and electors engaged in various battles that decimated the countryside. In this anarchy appeared highwaymen and murderers. One such individual was Peter Stumpp (sometimes spelled Stump or Stubbe).
Known as the “Werewolf of Bedburg,” Stumpp ultimately admitted to a bevy of crimes, including murder, incest, cannibalism, rape, and keeping a succubus. Furthermore, Stumpp earned his nickname because he confessed that demons (or the Devil himself) had given him a magic fur belt that allowed him to transform into a wolf. Of course, Stumpp’s confession most likely came after a lengthy torture session. On Halloween day in 1589, the citizens of Cologne had Stumpp broken at the wheel, beheaded, and burned. His daughter and mistress shared the same fate, as well.
12. Catherine Monvoisin
Like the earlier “Witch of Kilkenny,” Catherine Monvoisin, or Catherine Deshayes, was a killer tried for witchcraft. Born sometime around 1640, Monvoisin was, for a time, the wife of a jeweler in Paris. Following the death of her husband, Monvoisin earned money by telling fortunes and performing palm readings. Monvoisin was also a midwife, a dispenser of medicine, and an illegal abortionist.
Monvoisin was accused of leading black masses. Monvoisin’s chief crime however was selling poison to her customers. Specifically, Monvoisin sold both love potions and poisons to the French aristocracy. These customers in turn either tried to make people fall in love with them or they used Monvoisin’s liquid to kill off their rivals or spouses.
For these crimes, Monvoisin was convicted of witchcraft and was burned alive in Paris. After her death, Monvoisin’s daughter gave French authorities the list of her mother’s clients. On top of this, Monvoisin was not only connected to an attempted assassination of the king, but an associate named Adam Lesage admitted to performing child sacrifices with Monvoisin.
11. Lewis Hutchinson
Lewis Hutchinson, known as “The Mad Doctor,” was a Scottish immigrant who became the first serial killer in Jamaica’s history. After landing on the island, Hutchinson built a castle in Saint Ann’s Bay that he called Edinburgh Castle. Although a practicing doctor, Hutchinson soon became a livestock thief. Moreover, like the main antagonist in the short story The Most Dangerous Game, Hutchinson began killing people for fun.
For the most part, Hutchinson would shoot travelers who rested at or near his isolated castle. Later, Hutchinson would invite his victims inside so he could kill them in a more intimate setting. Hutchinson enjoyed inventing new and increasingly grizzly ways of disposing of his victims. Sometimes he had his slaves dismember the bodies and put them in a sinkhole. On other occasions the corpses were stuffed into a tree. Supposedly, Hutchinson enjoyed drinking the blood of his victims.
Hutchinson’s fatal mistake came when he killed a soldier named John Callendar. After the Royal Navy nabbed Hutchinson during a last chance swim towards freedom, the “Mad Doctor” was sent to the gallows. Although his bodycount is unknown, British authorities did find 43 watches inside of Hutchinson’s castle.
10. Gilles Garnier
Like Peter Stumpp, French serial killer Gilles Garnier was accused of being a werewolf. Called the “Werewolf of Dole,” Garnier was a hermit who lived in the eastern region of Franche-Comté. A recluse, many villagers whispered about the weird Garnier behind his back. Unfortunately, the rumors about Garnier proved to be terrifyingly true, as French authorities discovered that Garnier was both a killer and a cannibal.
Possibly because he and his family were starving, Garnier began abducting children from the countryside. Suspecting that a rabid wolf was in their midst, authorities told villagers to hunt the beast. A group of hunters from Dole found what they believed to be the wolf hunched over the body of a child. As it turned out, the wolf was Garnier. In his confession, Garnier claimed that a demonic entity gave him an ointment that helped him to be a master hunter. Once applied, Garnier believed that the ointment turned him into a strong wolf. The court agreed that Garnier was both a lyncathrope (a werewolf) and a devil worshipper. He was burned at the stake on January 18, 1573.
9. Crown Prince Sado
Like many of the people on this list, Prince Sado likely suffered from a mental affliction. As the son of the Korean King Yeongjo and a member of the royal house of Joseon, Sado was destined for a cushy life. However, the deeply disturbed Sado was so superstitious that he took to burning his own clothes, oftentimes including new, fine silk. Much worse was Sado’s affinity for murder. In fact, it is believed that Sado sought relief in violence. He murdered not only male servants, but also female concubines. All of this activity was known to the king and the royal court, but when Sado started making moves towards his own sister (plus loudly praying for the death of his father), King Yeongjo decided to act swiftly.
8. Delphine LaLaurie
Delphine LaLaurie was born as a Creole socialite named Delphine Macarty. A noted beauty in her hometown of New Orleans, Delphine was thrice married: once to a Spanish diplomat, once to a wealthy banker, then finally to the city’s only dentist, Dr. Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie. The couple resided in the city’s splendid French Quarter. At 1140 Rue Royale, Delphine built the mansion of her dreams. The three-story structure was finally completed in 1831.
Inside of the house, Delphine and her family hosted magnificent parties that included the upper echelon of New Orleans society. The one constant blemish was Delphine herself. Known for her fierce temper, people began to talk about Delphine’s harsh treatment of her slaves. Despite routine checks from the police, Delphine’s neighbors continued to believe that the mistress of the house was killing off her servants.
Then, after a 12-year-old slave named Leah fell to her death from the house’s top floor, LaLaurie’s reputation took a major hit and people stopped attending her parties. When a fire ravaged the mansion on April 10, 1834, fire marshals found a cook in chains who admitted to starting the fire as a suicide attempt. Upon entering the slave quarters on the top floor, investigators found not only slaves chained to the walls or trapped in cages, but also amputated body parts, organs, and severed heads.
7. Theodore Durrant
By the 1890s, the scientific study of crime and criminals was coming into its own. While many theories can no longer withstand the smell test today (phrenology, for example), parts of Victorian era criminology are still in place. Take for instance the conception of the sexual, or lust murderer. These killers kill for sexual gratification. Theodore Durrant was one such killer.
Born in Toronto, Durrant headed out to California in order to make a name for himself. By 1895, Durrant was living in San Francisco and enrolled in the Cooper Medical College. Durrant was also a member of the California Militia (a precursor to the National Guard). On top of all of this, Durrant was an active member in the Emanuel Baptist Church. Durrant used his position as an upstanding citizen in order to lure young women towards him. One such woman was Blanche Lamont.
On April 3, 1895, Durrant picked Lamont up from school and walked her to the church. Mrs. Caroline Leak would be the last person to see Lamont alive. Leak also claimed that she saw a pale Durrant come down from the steeple sometime during the late afternoon. A few days later, on April 12th, Durrant took another woman to the church. This time, a passerby saw Durrant arguing with Minnie Williams. Williams still went into the church with Durrant, however.
On Saturday, April 13th, cleaning women found Williams’ body stuffed in a cabinet, while police investigators found Lamont’s partially nude body in the belfry. For the rape and murder of both women, Durrant was executed on January 7, 1898.
6. Francisco Guerrero
Francisco Guerrero is often cited as Mexico’s first serial killer. Also known as Antonio Prida, Guerrero earned the savage nickname of the “Slitter of Women’s Throats” for killing approximately twenty prostitutes between 1880 and 1890. According to most accounts, Guerrero was driven to kill by pure misogyny. The only way to alleviate his hatred of women was to kill and mutilate them. Amazingly, despite his open contempt for women, Guerrero was not only married, but had numerous children with both his wife and several mistresses.
During his first trial in 1890, Guerrero was made into a type of working class hero who bucked the elites of Mexico City. This image remained even after Guerrero killed again, after serving a long sentence in prison. Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso considered Guerrero a “born criminal” whose simian-like face indicated that he was a mental and physical monster.
5. Manuel Blanco Romasanta
Manuel Blanco Romasanta, known as the “Werewolf of Allariz,” is the first documented serial killer in the history of Spain. Born in 1809 in the Galician province of Ourense, Romasanta was raised comfortably and could read and write during a time when both were rare in rural Spain. Romasanta’s parents thought he was a girl, and called him “Manuela” because of it. For six years, this gender confusion reigned in the Romasanta household.
When not being treated like a girl, young Romasanta was mostly left alone and neglected. Making matters worse was the fact that Romasanta only grew to be 4’11. Despite these handicaps, Romasanta eventually married and worked as a traveling salesman. By the 1840s however, something in him snapped. In 1844, Romasanta was charged with killing a police constable named Vincente Fernandez. After going into hiding, Romasanta worked odd jobs for rural peasants. After befriending many of these people, Romasanta killed them and sold their clothing and possessions. Even more grotesque was the fact that Romasanta made soap out of the body fat of his victims and sold these bars of soap to unsuspecting villagers.
In September 1852, Romasanta was arrested and brought to trial. In court he claimed that he was a real werewolf. The court didn’t believe him, although because four of his victims showed signs of having been killed in real wolf attacks, Romasanta was only convicted of nine murders. He was executed via a garrote.
4. Johann Otto Hoch
Johann Otto Hoch was one of history’s many “Bluebeard” killers. Like the villain in the French folktale, Hoch killed his many wives and collected their valuables in order to increase his own wealth. A native of Strasburg, Germany who was born in 1860, Hoch was almost a Protestant minister until he abandoned the calling and went to America.
In the U.S., Hoch took the name John Schmidt and settled in Philadelphia. He married Caroline Streicher on October 20, 1904, but soon disappeared. Between 1890 and 1905, Hoch married some 55 different women. All of these women were duped into marrying Hoch, who in turn bilked them for massive amounts of cash. In order to maintain his ruse, Hoch got married in numerous cities, from Chicago and New York City to Wheeling, West Virginia and San Francisco. Many of these women wound up dead. In fact, the exact total of Hoch’s bodycount has never been confirmed. Many believe that Hoch killed over fifty women. On February 23, 1906, Hoch was executed in Chicago.
3. The Harpe Brothers
Micajah “Big” Harpe and Wiley “Little” Harpe were a pair of brothers who traveled the backcountry of Kentucky, Illinois, Tennessee, and Mississippi. As the children of Scottish immigrants who tried to tame the land of Orange County, North Carolina, neither Harpe brother had much of a chance for economic advancement. So, in the 1770s, they set out for Virginia in order to become slave overseers. When the American Revolution erupted, the Harpe brothers became Loyalist irregulars who delighted in burning down Patriot farms, pillaging their houses, and raping their women.
During the 1780s, the Harpe brothers actually fought alongside British regulars in North and South Carolina. At the same time, they continued their vicious ways. At one point, because he had earlier wounded Wiley with a bullet, the Harpe boys abducted the daughter of Captain James Woods and another girl to become their brides on the frontier. When the women gave birth to sons, both Harpe brothers killed their own children. Until the end of the war, the Harpe brothers fought alongside the Cherokee during their brush war against the Patriot colonists in the South.
In 1798, the Harpes took to the wilderness of the South and began indiscriminately killing travelers for sport. The Harpe Brothers were serial killers who stole hardly anything at all from their victims. They liked to disembowel their victims, fill their stomachs with rocks, and throw them into rivers or streams. The Harpe Brothers even proved too vicious for the river pirates of the Samuel Mason Gang.
Finally, in 1799, the Harpe brothers met their match in Kentucky. After killing slaves, farmers, and one entire family as they lay sleeping in their camp, Kentucky Governor James Garrard put up a $300 bounty. Driven by both greed and anger over the killing of the four-month-old child of the Stegall family, a posse decapitated Micajah. Wiley managed to escape and joined other outlaw gangs. However, when he and another criminal tried to claim a reward by presenting the decapitated head of Samuel Mason, they were both hung and their bodies were left in Natchez Trace as a warning to other outlaws.
2. Jesse Pomeroy
Jesse Pomeroy may have been one of the most evil men to ever live. Born in 1859 in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Pomeroy was the son of a laborer at the Boston Naval Yard who later changed trades and became a butcher. At birth, Pomeroy was a very sickly child who became a scrawny, thin young man. When his health recovered, Pomeroy seemed like any other child in the city. People still felt that there was something “off” about him, including a playmate who claimed that he saw Pomeroy stab a cat to death before throwing its body into the Charles River.
By the 1870s, Pomeroy was considered aloof from other kids and a malingerer in school. In truth, Pomeroy was a teenage terrorist who made a habit out of brutally attacking neighborhood kids with his fists, his belt, and sometimes his knife. Many of these kids were left permanently scarred after encountering Pomeroy. After his family moved to South Boston, Pomeroy finally got caught and was sentenced to attend a state-run reform school.
When he was released at the age of 14, Pomeroy began his killing spree. On March 18, 1874, Pomeroy abducted nine-year-old Katie Curran. Then, on April 22nd, two boys playing in a marsh near Dorchester Bay found the mutilated corpse of four-year-old Horace Millen. Millen had been stabbed thirty-three times and had been castrated. Following this discovery, police uncovered the remains of Curran in an ash heap in the basement of the dress shop run by Pomeroy’s mother.
All throughout his trial, Pomeroy never showed any remorse for his actions. Even after he was sentenced to death, Pomeroy didn’t breathe a word of sympathy. Eventually Pomeroy died in the Bridgewater Hospital for the Criminally Insane after his sentenced was commuted to life.
1. Karl Denke
Until his death, Karl Denke was affectionally known as “Pappa Denke” in the Prussian town of Munsterberg. A devout churchgoer, an organist, and a door-to-door salesmen, Denke seemed like the perfect neighbor. Better yet, as part of his business, Denke kept locals in steady supply of clothing and fresh meat (especially pork).
The facade didn’t break until December 21, 1924. At that time, a bloodied homeless man named Vincenz Olivier went to police in order to accuse Denke of attacking him with an axe. In order to make a thorough and uninterrupted search of Denke’s house, the police put Denke in a holding cell overnight. Here Denke committed suicide by hanging himself with either his own handkerchief or suspenders.
On Christmas Eve 1924, Prussian police officers discovered a meat processing plant inside of Denke’s home. Forensic scientists discovered that the meat was human. An official report concluded that Denke had killed somewhere around forty men. The meat taken from these corpses was either consumed by Denke or sold to unsuspecting locals.