Serial killers are basically everywhere, blending in with totally normal, everyday people like you and I. It’s one of the many, many reasons why there’s only two places I go outside of the house and they’re both private venues that require passwords. I’m fairly certain one of the neighbors is a serial killer, the mailman too, and my Lyft driver yesterday was most definitely a serial killer.
Okay, maybe they’re not everywhere but according to fear mongering news sources and the Internet, they are. Serial killers are no longer easily defined by some Hollywood clichés and they’re lurking around every other corner evenly spaced between zombies, killer bees, and sexy vampires who continuously wage war with equally sexy werewolves for domination of LA’s leather clad underground goth scene which totally exists.
Unfortunately serial killers, unlike the rest of said archetypes, are real and unless it’s Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, or Michael C. Hall charming us with clever banter and "devil may care" colloquia, serial killers are globally considered the worst kind of human beings. Probably because of all the unchecked habitual killing.
Which brings us back to why they’re so terrifying and why I don’t go outside to get the mail anymore. They could be anyone. If I were a serial killer my first rule would be "Don’t act like a serial killer" which I assume is one of the first things a real serial killer thinks to themselves.
In fact, blending in to society is usually paramount when earning the title of Serial Killer and it’s those normal routines that these killers depend on to keep suspicions at a minimum. At least until they’re finally caught and brought to some form of justice, but let’s face it, there really is no punishment that fits the crimes committed by these 15 serial killers with whose normalcy almost kept them from getting caught.
15 John George Haigh AKA The Acid Bath Murderer - Gifted Pianist
Luckily for us, most serial killers get labeled with a colorful nickname that usually saves us a few initial questions like “are you a murderer?” or “what’s your favorite method of killing someone?” Such is the case with John G. Haigh, otherwise known as The Acid Bath Killer, for whatever reason.
Mr. Haigh was raised within the confines of a conservative and religious home but was a gifted pianist and classical music enthusiast. He earned several scholastic scholarships before taking high ranking positions at an insurance company and advertising agency.
Things fell apart when he was fired from the ad agency for suspicion of theft and was later arrested on unrelated fraud charges. His wife left him and put their newborn daughter up for adoption, his parents disowned him, and upon release in the mid 1930s, John left the suburbs of Yorkshire and moved to London.
Once in London, he went to prison several more times for fraud. It was there he somehow concocted a blend of acid perfect for dissolving flesh and bone. Because prisons in England allow inmates access to the chemicals necessary for making body-dissolving formulas, apparently. Needless to say this set The Acid Bath Killer on an acid bathing murder spree from 1944 until his capture in 1949, in total claiming nine lives. The motive behind most of the killings was financial; Haigh would assume identities and collect checks as well as liquidate the assets of his victims.
He was convicted by trial and hung the same year of his capture.
14 Dean Arnold Corll AKA The Candy Man - A Local Hero
With absolutely no relation to the Candyman film franchise, this guy was the owner and operator of a candy factory built across the street from an elementary school. No, really. He was popular among the youths in the area and recruited many of them to hang out and work in his factory. He even installed a pool table and gave away free candy to anyone who stopped by. As far as Houston, Texas was concerned he was their local and far more normal Willy Wonka.
He was so popular and influential that he was able to convince two of the neighborhood boys to start luring other boys back to his home so that he could assault and torture them, sometimes for days before finally putting them out of their misery.
Between 1970 and 1973 Dean and two teenage accomplices tortured and murdered what is estimated at 29 boys in a killing spree, infamously known as the Houston Mass Murders.
Corll was eventually gunned down by one of his young protégés, ending the three year rampage.
13 Karl Denke AKA The Cannibal of Ziebice - Ran A Boarding House
Karl was a popular church organist who retired early to run a boarding house in his hometown of Ziebice, Poland. He was so loved by his tenants and community that he was given the nickname “Papa.”
For six years, Papa ran his boarding home for both temporary and permanent tenants until one afternoon in 1924, a traveler ran into the local police station, hysterical and covered in blood. He claimed Papa had, without provocation, attacked him with a pick axe. Despite the man’s claims, the police found it hard to believe the accusations of some vagabond against such a pillar in the community.
Nevertheless the police went to Papa, who claimed he did it in self-defense and was subsequently brought in for further questioning. In the meantime, he was detained in a holding cell where he hanged himself. Needless to say the police found this a bit confusing and went to his personal flat to look for any clues as to why he might've killed himself.
It was there they discovered the remains of up to 24 bodies in various stages of meal preparation. Some body parts were in jars being preserved and pickled. It is speculated he murdered up to 40 people over the years, often times feeding remains to guests and tenants.
He left no indications of a motive or reasoning for the killings.
12 Keith Hunter Jesperson AKA The Happy Face Killer - A Family Man
Keith Jesperson was a loving and devoted father. He was the type of dad who could be seen in the front yard teaching his kids to ride their bikes without training wheels. Even after an amicable divorce, he would adjust his trucking route so that he could visit his family as often as possible. For the most part, he was well liked by coworkers and the community.
That’s why friends and especially family were shocked to discover Keith was The Happy Face Killer, responsible for strangling eight women in six different states between 1990 and 1995.
Jesperson was apparently kinda bummed when his first murder didn’t bring him national attention so he branded himself The Happy Face Killer and began signing notes and various clues with the incredibly clever alias and… you guessed it, a happy face.
This walking wellspring of wit decided to turn his alter ego in and surrender to police when he felt the heat coming down on him. He’s currently serving life without parole.
11 Rodney Alcala AKA The Dating Game Killer - Successful Photographer
Contestant and winner Rodney Alcala was first introduced on a 1978 episode of the rather raunchy series, The Dating Game as “a successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at age 13 ‘fully developed.’” The host Jim Lange went on to describe him as an avid skydiver and motorcyclist.
What Lange had omitted from the brief bio was that Rodney was already a convicted rapist and registered sex offender and unbeknownst to the Hollywood community (who could never [ever] do wrong [ever!]…), had already killed four women. Apparently after winning The Dating Game the female contestant refused to go out with Rodney on account of him being indescribably creepy.
It was said, this scorn spurred a killing spree with the death toll reaching the dozens within the following year alone, up until his capture. Rodney was after identified by witnesses in a police sketch for the murder of a 12-year-old girl.
DNA tests held as recent as 2016 have put Rodney Alcala in connection with 130 murders. He was sentenced to death in 2010 and currently resides on death row or whatever they’re calling it now.
10 Dr. Henry Howard Holmes AKA America’s First Serial Killer - Local Business Man
Dr. Holmes was a real mensch about town in Chicago during the late 1880s. With the world's fair coming into town, Holmes built a large mixed use building where he hired many of the men and women who flocked to Illinois, hoping for a sweet lick of that shiny brass.
He did seem to have a rash of bad luck with being able to keep contractors, secretaries, stenographers, even tenants in the giant fortress he built. Partly because he would stiff various construction companies on bills, often refusing to pay employees for what he felt was subpar performance, and partly because he had actually built his castle to be one giant death trap.
There, he would kill people in a multitude of ways before dumping their bodies down laundry style shoots he had built within the walls. Once in the basement he would strip the bodies of their flesh, and sell their skeletons to various educational institutes who didn’t care where they got their medical cadavers.
In all, it is said H.H. Holmes is responsible for the deaths of over 100 people, though he was convicted of nine before being sentenced to death and hanged in 1896
9 Ted Bundy AKA The Lady Killer - Law Student, Suicide Hotline Worker
Ted Bundy is probably one of the most well known serial killers in America. His capture and trial were in the media limelight for years, making him one of the most interviewed and studied killers to date.
As a child, I vividly recall his trial on television: Ted would stare vacantly at the camera with his evil little smirk, as if he might as well have been in an ice cream shop and devoid of guilt or humanity.
Bundy, who preferred to strangle his victims before mutilating them, was a prolific killer who committed acts of burglary, rape, kidnapping, murder, and necrophilia, with a death toll reaching over thirty. However, going back a few years, prior to his pursuits of the macabre, Ted was considered quite the humanitarian and professional.
In fact, one of the definitive biographies on Bundy was written by retired police officer Ann Rule. The two became close friends while working together at the Seattle Suicide Hotline Crisis Center. That’s right, Mr. Bundy worked the phones for quite some time, literally talking people off ledges. He was considered “kind, solicitous, and empathetic”
Ted was also a raging republican who rose the political parties ranks so far as to become the assistant to the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party.
Things seemed to be going well for Bundy but it all abruptly changed in the early 70s. He broke off all contact with his fiancé, began skipping classes at the law school he was attending, and women throughout the Pacific Northwest began to disappear. The rest is history.
8 Albert Fish AKA The Werewolf of Wysteria - Beloved Neighbourhood Grandfather
Albert Fish was a grandfatherly type that exuded a kind and harmless air, putting strangers (especially children) at ease. A friendly and well spoken elderly man, Fish would often approach families with children and quickly gain their trust so that he may acquire some alone time with the kids.
Albert Fish is responsible for assaulting over 100 children but since his reign of terror took place in the early part of the 20th century, records are sketchy at best and there’s no actual way of quantifying the scope of his crimes. In the end he was only convicted of killing 3 children.
He was captured after a letter he wrote to the parents of one of his victims was traced back to him. In it he describes the murder and consumption of the 10-year-old girl. It was discovered after his capture that Fish was an extreme masochist who enjoyed self mutilation as much as inflicting it. His autopsy would show 29 needles inserted into his body, put there by Fish himself, which also hindered his execution by electrocution.
In the end he would be convicted of sadism, masochism, cunnilingus, anilingus, fellatio, flagellation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, cannibalism, coprophagia, urophilia, pedophilia, cannibalism, necrophilia, and infibulation.
7 John Wayne Gacy AKA The Killer Clown - Franchise Owner
Do you have an irrational fear of clowns? I don’t. I would say my deep seeded fear of clowns is 100% rational. Just like my fear of KFC proprietors and aspiring politicians. Read on…
Gacy is another notorious serial killer and beyond the well known fact that he was a professional birthday clown who went by the name “Pogo,” he was also heavily involved in the communities he lived in, as well as politics and local business associations. At one point, early on in his career as a serial killer, Gacy was even given Special Service Clearance and was known to associate with then U.S. President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter.
He owned and operated several KFC restaurants and was a prominent democrat. His position within the party as well as his impressive reputation around the community, would keep many of the accusations of molestation against him at bay until the numbers were too great to ignore.
In the end, Pogo The Clown was executed by lethal injection for the rape and murder of over 30 young men, many of which were discovered buried under his house, after his arrest.
6 Raymond Fernandez & Martha Beck AKA The Lonely Hearts Killers - Loving Father Meets Lonely Single
Before Raymond answered Martha Beck’s lonely hearts classified add in the newspaper, he was a marine in Spain who worked for British Intelligence during WW2. He was married to a loving wife and had four children, who before being totally abandoned, had a strong and positive relationship with their supportive father.
After the war, his search for employment took him overseas to America. Within the first few days of his voyage, he was struck on the head by a steel hatch, giving him permanent brain damage, which was most likely the catalyst for his bloodlust.
Once in the States, he cut off communication with his family in Spain and became obsessed with voodoo and black magic which he believed gave him super powers and made him irresistible to women.
He found blind devotion, servitude, and homicidal jealousy in meeting his new morbidly obese wife Martha Beck. It was her tainted love that would aid and contribute in the murders of what is believed to be 17 victims, each sought out by placing singles ads in various classified rags.
They were both executed by electric chair on the same day.
5 Jeffery Dahmer AKA The Milwaukee Cannibal - Class Clown
Probably the most well known player in the serial killer game, you would have to live under a rock, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears, humming to not have heard of this guy.
Much like Ted Bundy, I also recall watching the news, as the scope of Dahmer’s crimes unfolded. The image of investigators in hazmat suits leaving his apartment carrying biohazard containers was branded into my adolescent mind.
But Jeffery wasn’t always a serial killing, necrophile, or cannibal. In high school, just a few years before his 12 year killing spree, he was considered the class clown. So great was his comedic reputation amongst his classmates, the term “doing a Dahmer” became synonymous with pulling off a great prank.
In the end, the pranks were considered a cry for approval from his peers. The tip of a very damaged iceberg, that was a small part in a perfect storm, responsible for creating one of the most infamous psychopaths in modern history.
In 1994, Dahmer was bludgeoned to death while serving multiple life sentences.
4 Ed Gein AKA The Butcher of Plainfield - Handyman
The name Ed Gein may not sound familiar but he is the inspiration behind the films Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of 1000 Corpses, the Devils Rejects, Silence of the Lambs, and of course Ed Gein.
But before he would go on to inspire basically every movie involving backwater cadaver collectors and cannibals, Ed was considered somewhat of a mascot in his hometown of Plainfield Wisconsin. A quiet simpleton, Ed was known for being the resident handyman and jack of all trades.
He was an active member of the local Lutheran church and model citizen who would help the elderly with errands and neighbors with various farm work. Anyone who knew Ed considered him harmless and friendly until a local woman’s butchered body was accidentally discovered in his basement.
Upon his arrest, police discovered a house filled with human remains including furniture, sculptures, and various household items made from the exhumed bodies of dozens of women, including two women he killed himself.
Gein died in 1984 while in prison from lung cancer complications.
3 Alexander Pichushkin AKA The Chessboard Killer - Gifted Chess Player (Shocking, We Know)
As a child, Alexander was a gifted chess player. His grandfather would take him to the local parks so that he may compete with the elderly men at the public chessboards. It was there that he gained a reputation for being a highly intellectual and savvy gamer, able to beat some of the most experienced chess players in the area.
Oddly, Alexander is one of the few serial killers in history that got his start in the shadow of another serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo AKA The Butcher of Rostov (coming soon). Alexander was so impressed by the Butcher's career that he decided to try it himself. Still on the murder fence after the fact, he wouldn’t kill again for nine years.
It was then in 2001 that he decided he would attempt to kill one person for every square on the chessboard (64).
Unfortunately for him, but fortunate for the rest of humanity, Alexander’s death toll reached 49 before being arrested in 2006. He’s currently spending the first 15 years of his life sentence in solitary confinement.
2 Dennis Rader AKA The BTK Killer - Cub Scout Leader
For 14 years, Dennis Rader installed home security systems for ADT and was a field representative for the 1990 Federal Census. Both positions gave him access to private locations and information that he would later use to his advantage while stalking his victims. He was also an active member of the local Lutheran church and a Cub Scout leader, another model citizen who could do no wrong. Supposedly.
BTK stands for bind, torture, kill which was his preferred method of killing. Rader is responsible for the deaths of approximately 10 people between 1974 and 1991. Mostly women and families. He wrote numerous letters to police and media taunting them and describing his crimes in great detail. In several of his letters, he suggested different nicknames the media might use. BTK killer stuck.
Prior to being caught he worked as a dogcatcher in Park City Utah. He was fired five days after his arrest for not showing up for work.
1 Andrei Chikatilo AKA The Butcher of Rostov - Literature Professor
In his hometown of Rostov, Russia, Andrei was in charge of organizing and producing sporting events for local and visiting teams. He also managed various youth sports teams in the area. As a family man with two children of his own, Andrei was considered a friendly role model to his peers and children under his tutelage. From there he would move on to a professorship at Rostov University, teaching Russian language and literature. It was at the university that things began to take a darker turn.
With over a decade of reports of groping and molestation building up, Andrei was forced to resign his position as a professor. Rostov University decided to brush the incidents under the rug after Andrei left his job quietly and without instance. Years later it was discovered that Andrei had already murdered a 9-year-old girl and although he was a suspect, another man was wrongfully convicted and executed.
Over the next decade, Andrei committed countless acts of rape, molestation, and murder. By his own admission, Andrei could not achieve sexual arousal without inflicting torture and ultimately death upon his victims.
In the end, Andrei was tried and convicted of the murders of 52 women and children. He was executed in 1994 from a single gunshot to the head.