Serial killers have always been the subject of much fascination. We may never know what makes them click, what makes them commit these heinous acts of cruelty. Yes, there is always a pattern. Most of the serial killers have an unpleasant childhood and a history of abuse. They are also suspect to bizarre showmanship and narcissism. While some of them are clinical psychopaths who like to hunt (Dexter fans would know!), some of them are shaped by circumstances and revenge, and most of them are driven by a sense of superiority (that explains why all of them are men). While, nothing could justify the deplorable acts they commit, the stories of such people will always be a subject of enchantment, however repulsive. Well, I bring to you the stories of 10 of the most popular and prolific serial killers of last century.
1. The Proof Reader – The subject of four books and three documentaries Charles Sobhraj would be remembered for his effortless celebrity and nonchalant handling of judiciaries of about half a dozen countries.
Also known as ‘The Serpent’ or ‘The Bikini Killer’ Charles was born to a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father in Saigon. The charming psychopath killed a string of western tourists throughout Southeast Asia in 1970s. He was convicted and jailed in India from 1976 to 1997. He then retired to Paris, but returned to Nepal around 2003 and was caught and convicted.
Sobhraj has been famous for his extravagant lifestyle outside and inside jail, the way he handled his trials as shows and his famous ‘walk-out’ from the Tihar Jail. Currently, he is serving a life term in Nepal.
2. Ted Bundy – He once described himself as ‘the coldest hearted son of a bitch you will ever meet’. The man who liked to charm his victims is probably the most famous serial killer in history. He was not the deadliest, neither the cruelest but the charming, manipulative psychopath made a name for himself during his decade-long trial after he was caught in 1975. He even managed to escape once.
He finally confessed to 30 of the murders, but the real body count is still a matter of debate. Bundy’s modus operandi was to pick out young women from public places, often by winning their trust or sympathy. He used to rape his victims and then bludgeon them to death and decapitate their heads. He was also necrophilia and has a special affinity for the body parts of his victim that he used to visit many times at the dumpsite. He said he would lie with them for hours applying makeup to the corpses and having sex, before abandoning them.
Ted Bundy had widely publicized trial after he was caught for the second time in 1978 after serial murders in Florida. He used argue his own cases and liked to make a show of them. He even married during his incarceration and had a daughter. He was executed in the electric chair on January 24, 1989.
3. The Milwaukee Cannibal – Jeffery Dahmer committed his first murder when he was 18. The victim was 19 year old hitchhiker Steven Hicks whom Dahmer invited to his house and killed him because he did not want Hicks to leave.
By 1991 Dahmer has started on a killing spree. He killed about a total of 17 men and boys between 1978 and July 1991 when he was finally caught, overpowered by a man named Traci Edwards while trying to handcuff him. His acts of killing included forced sodomy, necrophilia and act of cannibalism that earned him the name ‘The Milwaukee cannibal’. Police found several acid vats filled with organs in his house, and a refrigerator full of heads and an altar supposed to manufacture ‘Zombies’.
Dahmer was sentenced to 937 years of prison on 15 counts of murder and rape, but fellow inmate Christopher Scarver in Colombia Correctional beat him to death in 1994.
4. The Butcher of Rostov – Also known as the Red Ripper, Andrei Chikatilo killed 53 women and children between 1978 and 1990 in USSR. He was able to escape justice for a long time because state media in USSR suppressed crimes like child rape and Serial Murders, as such crime belonged only in ‘hedonistic capitalist states’.
His women victim were mostly prostitutes, hence the name Red Ripper, while the children victims were of both sexes. The motive of the crimes was sexual assault. Apparently, Chikatilo was unable to achieve an arousal without hurting his victims, so he knifed and killed his victims to have sex with them.
The police finally managed to catch him, while trying to lure a victim under surveillance. He went to trial in 1992, and was famously kept caged in the middle of courtroom for his disruptive behavior. He was executed by firing squad on February 14, 1994.
5. Harold Shipman – Dr. Shipman is considered one of the most prolific serial killers, in terms of sheer number of victims, which arguably range from anything from 250 to 400. Despite the gravitas of his crimes and their confirmation in the law of the court, Shipman never confessed his crimes and died in denial by committing suicide in January 2004.
The respected community doctor, who later came to be known as the angel of death targeted elderly women. His youngest victim was a 41-year-old man. He came under scrutiny after undertakers and doctors raised question over a large number of elderly women dying in Manchester area whose death certificates were countersigned by Dr. Shipman.
The daughter of his last victim Kathleen Grundy got suspicious and had her mother’s body exhumed. Traces of Diamorphine were found in the body. Upon investigation, it was established that Diamorphine injections were Dr. Shipman’s modus operandi.
He was arrested, tried and sentenced to equivalent of 15 life terms in 2000. He was incarcerated in Wakefield prison, Yorkshire at the time of his suicide.
His first murder was at the age of 13, the victim an older cousin. The next victim was a mayor whom he killed for sacking his father. Before he was 18, he was already on a killing spree of local drug lords to avenge his girlfriend’s death. He killed his father too, to avenge his mother’s death. He cut a piece of his father’s heart, chewed it and threw it away.
What makes him distinctive from other serial killers is his motive, which was mostly revenge and his victims, most of whom were hardened criminals, murderers, and drug dealers. He was arrested in 1973. Interestingly his killing career continued inside the prison too, where he killed about 47 of the inmates.
He was released from prison in 2007. But he was arrested again in 2011 from home on charges of rioting. Filho’s modus operandi, motive and choice of victims definitely make him one of the most unique serial killers in history, and the body count makes him one of the deadliest.
7. Donald Henry Gaskins – The ‘meanest man in America’ is the probably only man who killed a man already sentenced to death. A legacy of a childhood full of parental neglect and torture, Gaskins committed his first crimes, a series of assault and robberies in school. While in the correctional facility he was repeatedly raped which further hardened the already developed mirthless criminal inside the boy.
He was incarcerated and released many times until 1961, even managing to escape once. After getting out on parole, he started his serial killing career, where he lured hitchhikers, tortured, mutilated and killed them. He confessed to killing 80-90 of such victims. He said he killed for pleasure, and he would go ‘hunting’ every few week. In 1970’s Gaskins started what he called his “serious murders’, killing acquaintances, enemies, people who owed him money, even killing for payments. His last victim, the death row inmate, was a paid kill.
Gaskins wrote an autobiography while in a prison called ‘Final Truth’. He was executed on September 6, 1991 in electric chair.
8. The Nithari Killers – In December 2006, two residents of Nithari village (UP, India) searching for their missing kids found a decomposed hand in the tank drain of house D5 and contacted the authorities. What followed is a sadist account of pedophilia and brutal serial killings that shocked the world and made headlines for months.
The CBI found a total of 19 skulls and various other body parts from the house (and nearby land) of businessman Moninder Singh Pandher in Nithari, all of them belonging to children except one. Pandher’s servant Surender Koli confessed to all the murders while giving his employer a clean chit. However, later evidence tied Pandher to five of the murders. Evidence was also found of child pornography racket and cannibalism. Surender Koli is serving a life sentence as of now, and Moninder Singh Pandher’s case is sub judice.
9. The BTK killer – Serial killers have an affinity for showmanship and narcissism as evident from many examples in this article. Dennis Raider, the BTK killer became famous for his exploits around Wichita, Kansas mostly through his own The man who killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991, liked to write taunting letters to media and police providing detailed descriptions of his adventures. The letters were signed BTK which is an acronym for ‘Blind, Torture and Kill’. Often, he would enclose trophies he had collected from victims, serial killer literature or improvised pop culture references with the letters. He vanished in 1991 without being caught and the trail of BTK killer went cold until 2004.
He reappeared again in late 2004 in his super-narcissistic avatar, writing letters to media and police about his past exploits and boasting about a comeback. A floppy disk sent to the police became this overconfident killers’ downfall and the Police traced it back to him.
Raider was arrested and readily accepted his crimes. He is currently serving 10 counts of life imprisonment.
10. The Vampire of Sacramento – Richard Trenton Chase was, in medical terms a paranoid schizophrenic. He gained notoriety for killing six people in a single month in December ’77. The motive for his crime, as explained by him, was to drink the blood of his victims, to prevent the Nazis from turning his blood into powder.
Chase was a drug addict, and he had a penchant for drinking the blood of animals since a young age. He was a classic case of hypochondriac. He would keep oranges on his head, so his brain could suck up the vitamin C. At, the age of 25 he was institutionalized, where he continued to kill rabbits to drink their blood prompting the inmates to christen him ‘Dracula’.
Chase progressed onto murders after getting out of the asylum. Apart from drinking the blood of his victims, he also indulged in necrophilia and defacing their bodies in graphically bizarre ways.
He stood trial in 1979 and was sentenced to death. He appealed against the sentence on grounds of insanity. While in prison, he was feared by other inmates due to his reputation. Chase died by committing suicide by overdosing on Anti-depressants in 1980.