Psychologists are still trying to figure out why some people become serial killers. Is there a genetic factor? Is the person’s upbringing to “blame” for their behavior? Or is it a combination of variables that transforms some people into horrific killers?
Nobody knows for sure, but it is a known fact that all serial killers share some common characteristics; most were abused as children, experienced some form of head trauma, experienced violent sexual events as children, grew up isolated and alone, and acted out their violent fantasies on animals before moving on to humans.
The serial killers on today’s list committed, particularly horrendous crimes and are all suspected of much higher body counts than those they were ultimately convicted of. We have listed them according to their number of confirmed victims.
Here are 25 Most Terrifying Serial Killers Of All Time
13+ confirmed victims - Leonard Lake and Charles Ng
The names Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer are well known, but Leonard Lake and Charles Ng may be new to you. Lake and Ng joined their murderous minds in 1983 at Lake’s secluded cabin outside Wilseyville, California, where Lake had built an extensive underground dungeon. This dungeon imprisoned their prey while they were tortured and raped for months on end. They even abducted two families: Harvey and Deborah Dubs and their infant son, Sean, and later Lonnie Bond and Brenda O’Connor and their 2-year-old son, Lonnie Jr.
The abducted men and infants were executed promptly, while the women were used for their personal pleasure in a twisted operation the two nicknamed Operation Miranda. The most horrifying aspect of Lake and Ng’s murdering spree was that they painstakingly documented their acts on film.
14+ confirmed victims - Joachim Kroll
Between 1955 and 1976, German serial killer Joachim Kroll butchered at least 14 people, including children. Kroll would have intercourse with his victims’ corpses after strangling them with his bare hands, then cut them up into pieces for later consumption.
Interestingly, Kroll was arrested after a neighbor complained about a plumbing backup. Human remains had obstructed the pipes.
When Kroll was apprehended, he was in the midst of boiling body parts hacked from his most recent victim, Marion Ketter, a 4-year-old girl.
15 confirmed victims - Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman, later dubbed “Doctor Death,” may just be the worst serial killer on today’s list. The medical doctor was convicted of murdering 15 elderly patients in 2000. However, a public inquiry concluded that there were most likely several hundred more. In his 27-year killing spree, the GP administered lethal injections of morphine to his victims, who ranged in age from 41 to 93. Four years after his conviction, Shipman hanged himself in his prison cell.
16+ confirmed victims - Randy Kraft
Kraft, an unsightly IT consultant with an IQ of 130, would pick up hitchhikers and feed them drugged beer to incapacitate, torture, sexually assault, and murder them. His reign ended after California Highway Patrol officers discovered a drugged hitchhiker inside his Toyota. They also came across a coded list of his victims while searching his vehicle. Investigators would later find his prized collection of trophies and the pictures he took of his victims, many of whom could never be identified.
Although his lawyers tried to declare him incompetent to stand trial, a jury found him guilty of 16 murders. He was sentenced to death in 1989 after prosecutors presented evidence suggesting his total victims surpassed 65.
17+ confirmed victims - Jeffrey Dahmer
Without Jeffrey Dahmer, no list of the most terrifying serial killers would be complete. Dahmer, aka the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” was found guilty of murdering 17 young men over 14 years. But he did more than just murder them. He also sexually assaulted, dismembered, and occasionally ate his victims. During his trial, Dahmer confessed to drilling a hole in some of his victims’ skulls to transform them into mindless sex slaves.
After being convicted of 15 murders, Dahmer was sentenced to 15 consecutive lifetimes in prison, a sentence that amounts to 941 years; however, he died in prison in 1994 after an assault by another inmate.
22+ confirmed victims - Mohammed Bijeh
Muhammad Basjee, known as Bijeh, grew up in a big family with six brothers and six half-brothers. Bijeh never knew his mother and said his father was an abuser who regularly beat him and shackled his legs as a toddler. Bijeh admitted to sexually assaulting and murdering 16 boys aged 8 to 15 over a year. He would lure the boys into the desert under the guise of hunting animals, then torture and assault them before murdering them. Their remains would be left to decompose in the desert, with the remains of animals on top to divert any attention away from the odors.
Bijeh was apprehended on September 24, 2004, and sentenced to death. Over 5000 people came to witness his public execution.
22+ confirmed victims - Gerald Stano
Gerald Stano was a badly neglected child that grew up to be a monster. His terrible childhood resulted in stunted development, a distorted mind, and a frightening pattern of conduct that lasted into adulthood. His psychotic murdering rampage began in the late 1960s and lasted more than seven years before he was captured. Stano would pick up hitchhiking women and murder them by shooting, stabbing, or strangling them. Stano was apprehended in 1980 and eventually prosecuted for 33 murders, although he was also linked to the murders of a further 88 women. The lead investigator actually believes his true number of victims was three times that.
He was sentenced to life in prison before being executed by the electric chair in Florida in 1998.
32+ confirmed victims - Ramadan Abdel Rehim Mansour
Born in 1980, Ramadan Abdel Rehim Mansour was bullied terribly as a child. The bullying eventually ended with him being sexually assaulted and flung off a moving train. In the attack, Mansour sustained severe injuries, including permanent damage to his right eye. After his release from the hospital, he joined a street gang and quickly rose through the ranks. Mansour and his gang would entice their victims, mostly disadvantaged street children, onto the roofs of trains, where they would sexually assault and torture them with razor blades. Once they grew bored with their victims, they would fling the young children, either dead or barely alive, onto the tracks of approaching trains to finish them off.
33+ confirmed victims - John Wayne Gacy
There’s terrifying, and then there’s the kind of terrifying that describes the Killer Clown, John Wayne Gacy. He earned his moniker because of his work as “Pogo the Clown” at children’s birthday parties. But the man didn’t just do things to humor young children; he also rubbed shoulders with important politicians and saw to it that his profession provided him with easy access to victims.
Gacy was found guilty of raping, torturing, and murdering 33 teenage boys over the course of six years. He would entice them to his house, strangle or asphyxiate them, and then bury them underneath his house. Gacy was executed in 1994 via lethal injection.
35+ confirmed victims - Ted Bundy
You don’t have to be an American or a child of the 1970s to be familiar with Ted Bundy. Bundy is, without a doubt, one of history’s most heinous murderers (not to add kidnappers, rapists, burglars, and necrophiles). His modus operandi involved kidnapping, raping, and dismembering of his female victims. He frequently held onto their heads as keepsakes and enjoyed playing with them in various ways.
Hours before his execution in 1989, Bundy confessed to abducting and murdering 30 women; however, it is widely acknowledged that the actual number was much higher.
36+ confirmed victims - Hadj Mohammed Mesfewi
In Morrocco, 1906 presented a gruesome news story: a Moroccan man killed over 36 women. His name was Hadj Mohammed Mesfewi. Mesfewi’s case drew international attention. The killer would target and drug younger women before killing them brutally with a dagger. He would keep their remains beneath his store for his after-hour activities. After the victims were uncovered, Mesfewi was sentenced to death by being walled up alive. After being walled up, he had to stand up straight in a very narrow space and had no food, water, and a minimal supply of air.
Reports from the time stated that his screams could be heard for two days before he perished on the third.
38+ confirmed victims - Serhiy Tkach
Serhiy Tkach, a Ukranian police officer, was caught after he attended the funeral of one of his victims. The deceased girl’s friends recognized Tkach as the man who had spoken to her before her disappearance and death. Serhiy Tkach would later be tried for the rapes and murders of 37 Ukrainian girls and young women. He’d claim to have killed at least 100 women. From 1980 through 2005, he used his abilities as an investigator to slip under the authorities’ radar, killing scores of young women and girls as young as eight. Tkach would kidnap them, strangle them with a cord or similar device, and sexually assault them before, during, or after death.
38+ confirmed victims - Moses Sithole
Moses Sithole is South Africa’s most infamous serial killer, who committed what is known as the “ABC Murders” since his victims were found in the cities of Atteridgeville, Boksburg, and Cleveland. Known for his charisma and handsome appearance, he enticed his victims into deserted areas under the pretense of taking them on job interviews, only to overpower, rape, and murder them. In one particularly horrific event, he left the toddler of one of his victims at the crime scene, where the child later succumbed to the elements. The socioeconomic circumstances in South Africa made it easy for him to find women desperate for work, and his sophisticated demeanor added to the frightening nature of his crimes.
He was finally charged with 40 rapes and 38 murders. Many of his victims were never identified. In 1997, Sithole was sentenced to 2,410 years in prison.
42+ confirmed victims - Ahmad Suradji
Ahmad Suradji, also known as the “Black Magic Killer,” allegedly began his murder spree in 1986 after his late father appeared to him in a vision and instructed him to kill 70 women. He did everything he could for 13 years to reach that number. Suradji practiced witchcraft, and some victims came to him, hoping his powers would help them solve their issues. Instead, he enticed them into a field and persuaded them that burying them up to the waist was part of his magical cure. Instead, he strangled them and drank their saliva after they had died, believing it would increase his powers. Finally, he would bury them entirely with their pointing toward his house. Suradji was arrested in 1998 and convicted of 42 murders. He was executed by firing squad in 2008.
49+ confirmed victims - Gary Leon Ridgway
Between the 1980s and the 1990s, investigators battled to apprehend the infamous “Green River Killer,” who preyed on prostitutes and adolescent runaways in King County, Washington. The serial killer would strangle his victims during or after he had sex with them, then dump their bodies near the Green River. For years, police suspected a man named Gary Ridgway, but they couldn’t construct a case against him until DNA technology allowed them to connect him to some of the victims in 2001.
Ridgway confessed to 48 murders in 2003 to avoid the death penalty and received several life sentences. He has since admitted to several more homicides, claiming a body count of 75 to 80 victims.
53 confirmed victims - Andrei Chikatilo
The movie “Citizen X” chronicled the Russian investigator’s hunt for our next killer and his ultimate capture. Andrei Chikatilo, the Russian serial killer, sexually assaulted, murdered, and dissected over 50 young women and children between 1978 and 1990. Chikatilo stabbed and slashed his victims to death with a knife before leaving them in remote forest areas next to train stations. The youngest victim was a mere nine years old. Chikatilo later admitted that he could only reach orgasm by stabbing women, making resisting his intense desire to kill impossible.
Even though he confessed to 56 brutal murders, he was tried and convicted of only 53 in 1994 and executed by firing squad.
67+ confirmed victims - Yang Xinhai
Yang Xinhai may have been China’s most prolific serial murderer, with a body count of 67 murders and 23 rapes. His three-year murdering spree included Henan, Anhui, Shandong, and Hebei provinces. He killed with a hammer and occasionally murdered entire families. Yang famously stated after his trial on Chinese television, “I have no desire to be part of society. Society is not my concern”. Chinese police apprehended Yang, a migrant worker, during a routine inspection of entertainment establishments. His trial lasted less than two hours, and he was found guilty in 2004.
He was executed by firing squad a few weeks after the verdict.
60+ confirmed victims - Samuel Little
American serial killer Samuel Little is the most prolific killer in US history. That’s saying a lot in a country with such a long history of serial murders. Also known as the “The Choke and Stroke Killer,” Little killed young women between the ages of 17 and 35, predominantly African-American sex workers. After his arrest, Little confessed to 93 murders, and all of his admissions are believed to be believable by FBI crime experts. Law enforcement has verified 60 of his victims, with many more awaiting final confirmation. Little’s victims were usually disconnected from their families and battling unemployment and addiction.
Little died on December 30, 2020, at the age of 80, in a hospital in Los Angeles.
72+ confirmed victims - Daniel Camargo Barbosa
Many criminologists believe that Colombian serial killer Daniel Camargo Barbosa strangled more than 180 girls between 1973 and 1985. He was found guilty of murdering 72. Camargo’s mother died while he was a child, and his father was domineering and emotionally detached. He was raised by an aggressive stepmother who frequently clothed him in girls’ clothes, making him a target of mockery in front of his peers. He preyed on virginal young girls, often from low-income households, and lured them to remote areas before raping and killing them.
He justified his decision to target and kill young girls; he preferred virgins “because they cried,” which gave him more satisfaction. In 1994, he was murdered in prison by another inmate. In an almost theatrical twist, one of his victims’ nephews stabbed him to death.
78+ confirmed victims - Mikhail Popkov
The Russian police officer Mikhail Popkov, convicted of 56 murders between 1992 and 2017, is currently serving his second life sentence in prison. Popkov had already been imprisoned for the murder of 22 women in 2015. The murderer, known as “‘The Werewolf,” employed a similar strategy for most of his crimes. While off-duty, he would stop women and offer them a ride. If they climbed into his vehicle, he would rape and murder them using weapons such as a hammer and an axe. Popkov described himself as a “cleaner” who believed he was ridding his neighborhood of undesirables. Chilling home videos of himself attest to the fact.
Police believe Popkov may eventually confess to dozens more victims as his tally is believed to be closer to 200.
84+ confirmed victims - Bruno Ludke
Bruno Ludke, a German serial killer, was a mentally ill sadist who found violent pleasure in torturing animals. When he was eighteen, he switched to human victims, pursuing girls and women who stimulated his frenetic sexual impulses. Although he occasionally robbed his victims, rape was typically his primary motivation.
Nazi police apprehended Ludke at the end of WWII after they discovered him in necrophilic acts with the remains of one of his victims. He eventually confessed to several unsolved murders and was declared insane. He was committed to a hospital in Vienna and subjected to medical experimentation that ended with his execution by lethal injection in 1944.
100+ confirmed victims - Javed Iqbal
In 1999, Javed Iqbal, a middle-aged resident of a working-class neighborhood in Lahore, Pakistan, sent a letter to the police, claiming that he had sexually abused and murdered over 100 juvenile runaways between the ages of 6 and 16. When authorities searched his home, they discovered the mangled bodies of at least two victims and photographs and bags containing his victims’ clothes. During his subsequent trial, he boasted, “I have no regrets. I killed 100 children”. He showed no remorse for his actions.
A judge sentenced him to be strangled 100 times and his body to be dismembered and dissolved in acid, identical to what he had done to his victims.
100+ confirmed victims - Gilles de Rais
Gilles de Rais was a wealthy knight and lord, a commander in the French army, and Joan of Arc’s companion-in-arms. He was also a thoroughly insane serial killer. Hundreds of children went missing in the areas surrounding de Rais’ castles between 1432 and 1433. Because it was common for the aristocracy to hire young boys as servants, the parents of his victims were utterly unaware of their children’s fate.
De Rais confessed to the accusations after his arrest and described how he ritually tortured hundreds of youngsters over a roughly ten-year period. De Rais appeared to take particular delight in the killings. After cutting their throats, he would sit on the victims’ bellies to watch them die. On October 26, 1440, he was sentenced to death by simultaneous burning and hanging and died in Nantes.
110+ confirmed victims - Pedro López
Even more terrifying than Pedro López‘s inhuman killing spree is the fact that we don’t know where he is today. The Colombian claims to have raped and murdered around 300 women throughout Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. At least a hundred of them were native women. The “Monster of the Andes” was apprehended in 1980 and led authorities to the graves of 53 victims aged nine to twelve. A jury convicted Lopez of murdering 110 girls in Ecuador. On top of his conviction in Ecuador, he confessed to an additional 240 murders in Colombia and Peru and was declared insane.
Despite being a convicted serial killer, Lopez was released from prison in 1998 for “good behavior.” While several theories surround his whereabouts, no one can confirm where he is today.
142 confirmed victims - Luis Garavito
Luis Garavito, aka “The Beast,” has the highest number of confirmed victims among serial killers worldwide. Garavito initially confessed to murdering 140 boys between the ages of six and sixteen between 1992 and 1999. He is, however, accused of murdering nearly 300 people. Authorities launched an investigation into the deaths after discovering a mass grave containing 35 young children. Most were boys whose bodies exhibited signs of binding, sexual assault, and long-term torture.
After his conviction, Garavito was sentenced to the longest prison sentence in Colombian history, 1,853 years. Nonetheless, Colombian legislation was changed in the following years to limit imprisonment to a maximum of forty years – and his sentence was further reduced to 22 years as he cooperated with the authorities to locate his victims’ remains. He will now become eligible for parole in 2023.