Whether we like to admit it or not, serial killers have a certain unmistakable draw that lures even the most sensitive soul in. What drives them? What is it about the path their lives have taken that leads them to committing these depraved acts? And how can we know if one walks among us?
Many infamous serial killers led perfectly normal lives until their horrific crimes were revealed. Neighbors of Milwaukee's cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, told reporters after a freezer full of human body parts was wheeled out of his apartment that the man who worked at a local chocolate factory was "shy" but didn't bother anyone.
Speaking of neighbors, Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz believed that his neighbor's dog commanded him to kill, so you might want to keep an eye on that sketchy-looking cat always coming into your yard just in case.
A serial killer is one who has committed at least three murders, usually over a span of time that can range from one week to years. Many of them have mental issues, of course, but can also be well-spoken and frank with investigators after their crimes are found out. This is when the really crazy stuff comes out.
15 Jeffrey Dahmer "The Only Motive There Ever Was, Was To Completely Control A Person"
"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."
On July 21, 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer's reign of terror came to an abrupt end when he lured a man into his apartment under the guise of taking some nude photographs. The man, Tracy Edwards, agreed to chill with him but immediately noticed the apartment smelled awful. Whatever, Dahmer was a bachelor, maybe it was just dirty dishes. As the evening progressed, Dahmer held a knife to Edwards' chest and told him he planned to eat his heart. Worst first date ever. Edwards was able to get away from Dahmer by punching him in the face, fled the apartment, and flagged down two Milwaukee police officers.
A quick search of Dahmer's apartment by police revealed Polaroids of decomposing human bodies and a freshly-severed head in the fridge, while a more thorough search uncovered four heads in the kitchen, two human hearts in the fridge, seven human skulls in his bedroom, human torsos marinating in acid in a 57 gallon drum in his bedroom, and various other people parts stashed throughout his crib. "It was more like dismantling someone's museum than an actual crime scene," said the chief medical examiner.
Dahmer confessed to murdering 16 men in Wisconsin and a 17th in Ohio. He was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences, but was killed in prison by another inmate in 1994.
14 Albert Fish "I Like Children, They Are Tasty"
"I like children, they are tasty."
Born May 19, 1870 in Washington DC, Hamilton Howard Fish adopted the name Albert after a sibling of his who had died. As a child, Fish said he enjoyed eating feces and drinking urine, and by young adulthood he was interested in raping young boys.
Fish was tried for the murder of 10-year-old Grace Budd, who he said he choked and then cut "into small pieces" so he could "take the meat, cook it, and eat it." He received the death penalty in that case, and was electrocuted in 1936.
Fish also confessed to killing an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, and it was suspected he killed at least five other children from the ages of 5 to 17.
13 Aileen Wuornos "They're Daring Me To Kill Again"
"They're daring me to kill again."
Aileen Wuornos -- about whom the movie Monster was made -- killed seven men within a year span from 1989-1990. She claimed each of her victims attempted to assault her and that their murders were done in self-defence. She was later sentenced to six death sentences.
Her first murder was a 51-year-old man named Richard Mallory, a convicted rapist who she shot in Volusia County, Florida in late 1989.
In a petition to the Florida Supreme Court in 2001 to dismiss her pending appeals and proceed with her death sentence, Wuornos wrote "I killed those men, robbed them as cold as ice. And I'd do it again, too."
She died by lethal injection on October 9, 2002 at the age of 46.
12 Edmund Kemper "[I Wonder] What Her Head Would Look Like On A Stick"
"When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things. One part wants to be real nice and sweet, and the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick."
Edmund Kemper -- also known as the co-ed butcher -- is most known for his large size (6"9', 250+ lbs) and high IQ of 145. Well, that and the fact that his first victim was the family cat who, at 10, he buried alive, then later dug up, decapitated, and stuck its head on a spike.
At 15, he shot and killed his grandmother after an argument, and then did the same to his grandfather when the elder Kemper returned from a trip to the grocery store. He was committed to the Atascadero State Hospital, where he remained until he turned 21. Upon his release, his juvenile records were expunged.
By 1972, Kemper was picking up hitchhikers, murdering and dismembering them, and engaging in sex acts with their corpses. In 1973, he murdered his mother and tossed her tongue and larynx into the garbage disposal. That night, he also called a friend of hers to come over and murdered her, too. That would be the end of Kemper's killing spree, with a total of ten victims logged.
Kemper's quote is mistakenly attributed to another cannibal killer -- Ed Gein -- in the movie American Psycho.
11 John Wayne Gacy "Clowns Can Get Away With Murder"
"Clowns can get away with murder."
If you, like countless people, suffer from a condition called coulrophobia or fear of clowns, you can agree that serial killer John Wayne Gacy didn't help the matter.
From 1972-1978 the creepiest clown in America raped and murdered at least 33 boys and young men, and buried 26 bodies in his own crawl space.
In 1975, Gacy began performing as "Pogo the Clown" at fundraisers and parties, saying dressing up as a clown allowed him to "regress" into childhood.
Everything fell apart in 1978 when 15-year-old Robert Piest went missing after he was seen speaking to Gacy at the local pharmacy earlier in the day. Detectives started searching his home and vehicle, and interviewed Gacy at length. At a meal out with surveillance detectives in the early morning hours December 18, 1978, Gacy flippantly said "You know… clowns can get away with murder."
Gacy was executed by lethal injection in 1994.
10 Richard Ramirez "Even Psychopaths Have Emotions... Then Again, Maybe They Don't"
"Even psychopaths have emotions if you dig deep enough. But then again maybe they don't."
Richard Ramirez -- the Night Stalker -- scared the absolute crap out of Los Angeles from 1984-1985, sneaking into homes, but actually started out in life as an altar boy in Texas. He'd sleep in a cemetery some nights to get away from his abusive father, and started spending a lot of time with a cousin who was also a Vietnam veteran. Ramirez was present when his cousin shot his own wife to death.
In an interview with reporter Mike Watkiss shortly after he was sentenced to death for 13 murders, an unhinged Ramirez said a lot of creepy things, not least of which "these are bloodthirsty times." But it was his reflection on the alleged emotions of psychopaths that will send a chill down your spine.
Ramirez died in prison of lymphoma in 2013.
9 David Berkowitz "I Didn't Want To Hurt Them, I Only Wanted To Kill Them"
"I didn't want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them."
David Berkowitz -- also known as the Son of Sam -- terrorized New York City in the 70s, seeking out women and couples as victims. His brief but terrifying killing spree began on July 29, 1976 when he shot two teen girls sitting in their car in front of one of the girls' apartments.
He was apprehended in summer of 1977 after he attacked Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante, killing Violante. A witness happened to notice that the car fleeing the scene had a parking ticket tucked under the windshield wiper; only a few tickets were issued that day, and the NYPD was able to track him down.
He later claimed that his neighbor's black Labrador retriever Harvey commanded him to kill. In an interview with Dr. David Abramson, Berkowitz revealed that he unsuccessfully attempted to kill two women in 1975, but was upset by their struggle. It was then he said to the doctor that he didn't want to hurt them, only to kill them.
8 Ted Bundy "What's One Less Person On The Face Of The Earth, Anyway?"
"What's one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?"
Ted Bundy's crimes were so numerous and heinous that the former director of the FBI once called him "perhaps society’s most infamous and notorious serial killer." Perhaps part of this is due in part to the fact that Bundy possessed a certain charm that made him seem more like a guy you might swipe right on if he popped up on Tinder rather than a psychotic maniac who would definitely kill you.
Bundy admitted to 30 murders of young women and girls during the period of 1974-1978, although it is believed he may have committed more.
He often spoke about his obsession with pornography, and told biographers that he used to cruise the neighborhood as a kid peeping in windows and searching for tossed away nudie mags. "I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence just like me. And without exception, without question, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography," he once said.
Bundy was electrocuted in the state of Florida on January 24, 1989.
7 Carl Panzram "Brains Were Coming Out Of His Ears"
"I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it."
Carl Panzram, who joined the Army at 15 and went on to claim to have murdered 31 people and sodomized at least one thousand boys and men, started his career as a murdering psychopath in 1920. He would lure drunken sailors in New York to his yacht, rape them, shoot them in the head, and then toss them into the Long Island Sound. To hear him tell it, he killed 10 men in this manner.
After New York, Panzram traveled to Africa where he said he murdered a young boy whose "brains were coming out of his ears" when Panzram left him. He went on to say he raped and killed at least five more young boys between Connecticut and Washington, DC.
When he was arrested for burglary and sent to Leavenworth, he killed another prisoner there and received the death penalty for that crime. It is said that at his hanging, he declared "I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!" as the executioner was readying the noose.
6 Dennis Rader "Maybe You Can Stop [The Monster]. I Can't"
"Maybe you can stop him. I can’t."
Dennis Rader is more commonly known as the BTK ("Bind, Torture, Kill") Killer, an otherwise unassuming Kansas gent who you probably wouldn't notice if he passed you on the street, which he won't any time soon as he's doing ten consecutive life sentences.
From 1974-1991, Rader killed ten people, all while working for a home security company, serving on the church council, and being a Cub Scout leader.
He killed the Otero family -- mom, dad, and their two children -- in early 1974, and left a clue at the public library later that fall. It seems Rader wanted attention, often pestering the local news taking credit for the murders he committed but of course never actually revealing who he was. It was this urge to brag that would eventually get Rader busted; a floppy disk he sent to police a television station contained metadata cops were able to use to figure out his identity.
He later said his urge to kill was "a monster in my brain" over which he had no control. "How does one cure himself? I can’t stop it, the monster goes on, and hurts me as well as society. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t.”
5 Andrei Chikatilo "The Blood And Agony Gave Me Relaxation"
"The blood and the agony gave me relaxation and a certain pleasure."
Scarred by a rough upbringing in Ukraine, Andrei Chikatilo had some unresolved issues that he says led directly to him murdering 52 people. Of these, it seems he had some trouble getting it up.
His first murder happened in 1978 when he lured 9-year-old Yelena Zakotnova into his house, tried to rape her but couldn't... uh... you know, stabbed her, and apparently got off on the murder itself.
After murdering countless more from 1978-1984, he was arrested and held on suspicion of being the creep who was luring young people away from bus stops and murdering them, but the remedial testing of the day didn't show a blood-type match.
Finally, in late 1990, he was spotted leaving a crime scene by an undercover cop, which meant he was now known as suspicious. Cops kept an eye on him, and caught him trying to lure a bunch of different kids away from bus stops.
On Valentine's Day 1994, Chikatilo was executed by a single gunshot to the back of his head.
4 Ed Gein "She's Not Missing, She's At The Farm"
"She's not missing, she's at the farm."
Ed Gein is not technically a serial killer as his body count is a mere two people, however he is easily one of the most notorious killers in the world.
His brief but bizarre stint as The Mad Butcher of Plainfield began in December 1954 when Gein murdered bar owner Mary Hogan in her tavern and removed her body, leaving locals wondering what happened to Hogan. When a fellow townsperson brought up her disappearance in small talk to Gein weeks after she went missing, he casually quipped "she's not missing, she's at the farm."
Long before Lady Gaga wore a meat dress to make a statement, Gein was quite the connoisseur of meat decor. When his home was searched after local hardware store owner Bernice Worden went missing, they found her body strung up like a dressed deer as well as a horrifying collection of human body parts strewn throughout his place in the most curious way.
The collection included a trash can made of human skin, a belt made of nipples, and a lampshade made of someone's peeled off face. None of which is available at Ikea, obviously.
Gein admitted to police that he sometimes wandered over to the graveyard and snatched bodies that reminded him of his mother and, you know, made furniture and stuff out of their parts. As so many completely normal sons do.
He was later tried for Wolden's murder, declared not guilty by reason of insanity, and died in a Wisconsin mental institution in 1984.
3 Albert DeSalvo "Killing Somebody's A Fun Experience"
"I had a lot of fun, killing somebody's a funny experience."
Albert Henry DeSalvo, who was stabbed to death in prison in 1973, is known by many names; Mad Strangler of Boston, The Measuring Man, The Green Man. Most people, however, know him as the man widely believed to be The Boston Strangler.
Like many other serial killers, he first started out torturing animals as a child. He then progressed to peeping, and would try to convince women in dressing rooms he was a model scout. He went on to rape and murder up to 13 woman, though some say it isn't possible DeSalvo was the sole Strangler, or the Strangler at all.
When interviewed by police, DeSalvo could describe each crime scene attributed to the Boston Strangler in detail. Asked why he murdered an innocent 75-year-old woman, he replied "attractiveness had nothing to do with it."
2 Gary Ridgway "I Would Talk To Her And Get Her Mind Off The..."
"I killed so many women I have a hard time keeping them straight."
Gary Ridgway was another one of those normal guys who you wouldn't look twice at if he were sitting on the barstool next to you chugging a Budweiser. Turns out the guy confessed to murdering approximately 80 women along Route 99 outside of Seattle beginning in 1982.
He wasn't caught until 2001 when DNA testing connected him to several victims.
Ridgway preferred runaways and prostitutes, calling murdering them his career. He also said he tried to make their murders slightly more pleasant for the victims, saying "I would talk to her... and get her mind off of the, sex, anything she was nervous about. And think, you know, she thinks, 'Oh, this guy cares'... which I didn't. I just want to, uh, get her in the vehicle and eventually kill her."
Ridgway is considered the most prolific serial killer in United States history.
1 Jane Toppan "If I Had Been A Married Woman, I Would've Had [My Family] To Take Up My Mind"
"If I had been a married woman, I probably would not have killed all of those people. I would have had my husband, my children and my home to take up my mind."
Known as The Angel of Death, Jane Toppan was known by colleagues at Cambridge Hospital in Massachusetts as "Jolly Jane" before everyone realized she was actually a crazed killer. "Miss Toppan was so expert in her knowledge of how to employ drugs and poisons that she was able to escape detection for years," wrote the New York Times in 1902 after Toppan was declared insane in her murder trial.
It's said that Toppan enjoyed using her patients as guinea pigs in experiments to see just how close to the brink she could get them before bringing them back and then killing them. Though her behavior wasn't believed to be sexual in nature, she would hold her victims close and caress them as they died.
Oh, and she offed her landlord to get out of paying rent.
Toppan claimed she murdered 31 people, only ten were ever confirmed. Why? Well, according to her, it's because she never married and didn't have a husband and children to keep her busy.
Sources: nytimes.com, salon.com, biography.com
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