What causes the making of a serial killer is still a mystery. Is it environmental or genetic? According to Minnesota Professor of Psychology, Thomas Joseph Bouchard, Jr, studies have shown that psychopathy is 60 percent hereditary. That means it’s likely that psychopathic traits are due more to DNA than to upbringing and genetic determination.
If this is true then serial killer’s brains should look different from that of a “normal” individual and interestingly enough, they do. Brain scans of criminals showed a decreased connectivity in the sub-cortical structure of the brain, which is responsible for processing negative stimuli. When this connection is low, negative emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, remorse, etc., are not translated correctly. Most serial killers do not feel these emotions.
Whether it is mostly genetic, the environment does play a part as you can see by our list. Most of these killers had tragic childhoods and questionable beginnings, but then again many serial killers do grow up in perfectly normal and supportive households and yet still turn out the same way. We may never know definitively what makes a serial killer. The very idea of the acts they commit without regret or remorse makes most of us uneasy and ill. Join us for a look at some of most heinous and bloodthirsty killers that ever lived.
10 John Wayne Gacy Jr. “The Killer Clown”: 33 Confirmed Murders
John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17th, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in an abusive household with his father frequently getting drunk and delivering beatings to the children as well as his wife. Gacy was born with a congenital heart condition which further alienated him from his peers as he was unable to run and play like a normal child. Growing up, Gacy realized he was sexually attracted to men and this was a great source of inner conflict through his life.
He lured his victims to his home with the offer of construction work, sexually assaulting them and strangling them with rope. During the murders, he would dress as his alter ego, “Pogo the Clown,” a character he used to entertain at children’s parties. Most of the remains of the 33 boys and young men were found buried under his house and garage. Gacy went to trial on February 6th, 1980 after having confessed to the crimes. Both sides brought mental health professionals to the stand to testify whether or not Gacy was sane. Ultimately, he was executed on May 10th, 1994, at the Stateville Correctional Center, in Crest Hill, Illinois.
9 Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy: 36 Confirmed Murders
Born November 24th, 1946, in Burlington Vermont, Ted Bundy grew up to be one of the most prolific murderers of our time. The confirmed number that he confessed to is 36, but authorities believe the number is well over 100. His mother had him out of wedlock and for the first part of his life Ted thought his grandparents were his parents and his mother was his sister. Eventually, his mother married and although his stepfather reached out to him many times, Ted became withdrawn and aloof preferring to spend his time alone. Although, later he would overcome his social anxiety and become quite popular with the opposite sex as well as in local politics.
His killing spree spanned over several states including Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon and Florida. He raped and killed young women, preferring a certain type that resembled his first girlfriend. In 1978, Bundy was finally caught after murdering a 12 year-old girl named Kimberly Leach. He was well-spoken and charismatic, which accounts for his celebrity status during his trial. In 1979, he was convicted and received several death sentences. Despite his appeals he was executed on January 24th, 1989 at the Florida State Prison.
8 Karl Denke: 40 Confirmed Murders
Karl Denke was born August 12th, 1870 in what is now Ziębice, Poland. He grew to be a well-liked man among the locals, earning him the nickname of “Vatter Denke” (which means Father Denke or Papa Denke). Unfortunately, this man was a practicing cannibalism for most of his life, killing and eating over 40 victims. Although not proven, it is believed he sold human meat as “pork”.
Most of his victims were homeless, providing him a reason to invite them to his home on Stawowa Street where all his killings took place. After one victim managed to cry out and escape, authorities invaded Denke’s home and found papers, clothing and other personal items from his victims. They also found two large tubs of meat in pickling brine with bones and pots of fat. Analysis revealed it contained the remains of 30 of his victims. Denke killed himself in prison the night of his capture, hanging himself with a handkerchief.
7 Gary Leon Ridgway “The Green River Killer”: 49 Confirmed Murders
Gary Leon Ridgway was born February 18th, 1949 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Later his family moved to Washington State. Although he was a poor student, Ridgway had an uneventful childhood. He later told detectives and psychiatrists that he was always attracted to his domineering mother, who remained a major influence for most of his life, controlling many of his adult decisions including purchasing his clothing and controlling his checking account.
It took authorities over 20 years to stop this killer and although Ridgway was charged with 48 counts of murder, he confessed to killing over 71 women. He also confessed to having sex with six of his victims after he killed them. One killing actually took place while his son was in his truck waiting and unaware. His killing method of preference was strangulation. Ridgway was sentenced to 480 years on December 18th, 2003 without possibility of parole and is serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary.
6 Anatoly Onoprienko “Citizen O”: 52 Confirmed Murders
Born July 25th, 1959 in the Ukraine, Anatoly Onoprienko also earned the nicknames “The Beast of Ukraine" and “The Terminator”. Onoprienko was the youngest of two brothers, his father was decorated for bravery in World War II, and his mother died when he was only 4 years old. He was raised by his grandparents and aunt until he was taken to an orphanage.
Onoprienko had a definite pattern for his killings, choosing an isolated house, creating a commotion to draw the attention of the occupants and then killing all the inhabitants of the house starting with the adult male. He would then turn his attention to the wife and children, killing over 52 victims in a six-year period. He told authorities he was commanded to do so by voices in his head. Onoprienko was arrested on April 16th, 1996 and died in prison on August 27th, 2013.
5 Andrei Chikatilo “The Red Ripper”: 53 Confirmed Murders
Andrei Chikatilo was born on October 16th, 1936 in the Ukraine state of the USSR. He had a challenging childhood filled with bullying and painful shyness. Despite his difficult childhood he became a schoolteacher, married and had two children of his own. Chikatilo focused on runaways, both male and female. He befriended them at bus and train stations and after winning their trust he would lure them to nearby wooded areas where he would rape and torture them, mutilating their bodies before murdering them.
He removed eyeballs, tongues and tips of noses. Chikatilo ate several of his victim’s sexual organs as well. He was arrested on November 20th, 1990 and after being declared sane he stood trial on April 14th, 1992. During his trial, Chikatilo was held in an iron cage for his own protection from his victim’s relatives. His behavior in court confirmed “the maniac” nickname with his crazy singing, speaking gibberish and dropping his trousers to wave at the crowd with his genitals. He was executed on February 14th, 1994.
4 Yang Xinhai “The Monster Killer”: 67 Confirmed Murders
Born July 17th, 1968, in Henan, China, Yang Xinhai sometimes used a hammer to beat his victims to death. He killed men, women and children in four provinces. Xinhai preferred to kill at night breaking into his victim’s homes and using axes, meat cleavers, hammers and shovels to kill them. Relatives told authorities he was obsessed with writing stories of murder and that he would write on anything he possessed. He was arrested on November 3rd, 2003 and told authorities since he was rejected by his girlfriend he was “taking his rage out on society.” He was executed on February 14th, 2004.
3 Pedro Rodrigues Filho “Killer Petey”: 71 Confirmed Murders
Born in Brazil in 1954, Pedro Rodrigues Filho would grow up to be one of the most heinous serial killers of all time. He earned the nickname of “Little Pete, the Killer” during his murderous spree. Police suspect he has tortured and killed over 100 people, although only 71 murders can be confirmed. According to authorities, Filho murdered his own father and ate part of his heart, and afterwards he stabbed his mother with a machete. Arrested in 1973, he was convicted of killing 71 people and sentenced to 128 years in prison. While serving his time he has murdered 47 inmates.
2 Pedro Alonso Lopez “Monster of the Andes”: 110 Confirmed Murders
Pedro Alonso Lopez was born October 8th, 1948, in Santa Isabel, Colombia. His mother was a prostitute with 13 children. When she discovered him touching his younger sister inappropriately at age 8 she threw him out of the house. Eventually Lopez was preyed on by a pedophile and brutally sodomized. Eventually he was sheltered by an American family and enrolled in school, but he ran away after a teacher allegedly molested him.
His victims were young girls, ages 9 – 12. Living in Colombia, Peru and then later in Ecuador, he was averaging the killing of three girls per week. Although the confirmed count of his victims’ stands at 110 it is believed he is responsible for the murders of over 300 young girls. He never killed at night because he preferred to see the life fade from his victim’s eyes as he strangled them. Afterward he confessed to playing tea party with their corpses until he grew bored and left to find another victim.
Arrested on March 9th, 1980, in Ecuador, Lopez was sentenced to 16 years in prison. After his release in 1994 he was picked up an hour later as an illegal immigrant and handed over to Colombian police. Charged with murder, he was found to be insane and confined to a psychiatric wing of a hospital in Bogota. In 1998 after being declared sane he was released. His whereabouts are unknown.
1 Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos “La Bestia”: 138 Confirmed Murders
Born on January 25th, 1957 in Genova, Quindio, Colombia, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos is number one on the list. His victims were poor children, some living on the streets, between the ages of 6 and 16. He would befriend them, offering them a gift of food or money and then take them for a walk. After the children were tired, he would attack, torturing, raping and killing them. Cubillos preferred to cut their throats and dismember them when he could.
He was finally captured on April 22nd, 1999 and he confessed to the murders of 140 children, but it is believed the number is much higher with an additional 172 cases still being investigated. Unfortunately due to Colombian law restrictions he was only sentenced to 30 years, which, was reduced to 22 years after he cooperated with authorities.