Serial killers have appalled our society for many years. There have been approximately 400 serial killers in the United States alone in the past century, with anywhere from 2,526 to 3,860 victims according to a recent FBI study. While some of these serial killers were notorious for their brutality, others will be remembered for the number of “killings,” but one common trait that defines most serial killers is that, until they are caught, few people suspect anything sinister about them. The general public always wonder what could be the rationale or motive behind such heinous crimes.

Since “Jack the Ripper” disemboweled his victims in London in the late 1880s, serial killers have struck terror and awe into the hearts of the public. Movies are made of these monsters and their stories are told in books and songs. A hit cable series features a “good” serial killer that only kills “bad” serial killers. The public’s fascination remains due, in part, to the mystery that surrounds the mind of the serial killer.

Who is a Serial Killer?

The term “serial killer” was coined in the mid 70s by Robert Ressler who was the former director of the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. Serial killer could be defined as “a person who has killed three or more people committed at separate events over a period of more than a month, with down time (a “cooling off period”) between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification”. Serial killers usually commit these crimes alone but there could also be more than one offender, oftentimes a sexual element is involved but sex is not always the motive, anger, financial gain, seeking attention and thrill are common motives for such crimes

It is important to differentiate between serial killers and mass murderers or spree killers. While serial killers involves the cases of extended series of killings over periods of weeks or months usually with “cooling off” period or “return to normalcy” in between, mass murderers commit murders in two or more locations with virtually no break in between, this article explores in particular, the top 10 most famous serial killers in the US

Top 10 most famous serial killers in the US

10.) The Night Stalker – Richard Ramirez – Read more about this serial killer on Crime Library

Richard Ramirez was convicted in 1989 for 13 murders he committed in California between June, 1984 and August, 1985. Ramirez claimed to be a worshiper of Satan, he started using heavy drugs before his 18th birthday, having been arrested for numerous drug and theft charges, Ramirez moved to southern California and advanced from simple theft to breaking and entering into homes, it was while in California that his burglaries turned into something far more sinister.

On April 10, 1984, the body of a 9-year-old Mei Leung was found lying dead in a hotel basement where Ramirez was living at the time. 25 years later Ramirez’s DNA was matched to DNA obtained at the crime scene.

On June 28, 1984, 79-year-old Jennie Vincow was found dead in her apartment after she was stabbed repeatedly. According to Philip Carlo’s book, ‘The Night Stalker,’ The act of killing aroused him sexually that he had sex with the corpse before he left.

On February 21, that same year, sisters Christina and Mary Caldwell, aged 58 and 71, were found dead in their home, they were stabbed a couple of times.

Ramirez killed a total of 13 people until he was eventually identified and arrested by the police.


9.) Zodiac – More about this Serial killer on Crime Library

Zodiac, also known as the Zodiac Killer was never identified. The Zodiac murders were committed in California between December of 1968 and October of 1969. Zodiac killed five people but soon became notorious after sending the local newspapers letters claiming that he had murdered 37 victims. After 50 years, the five murders have remain unsolved and the truth behind Zodiac’s “confessions” still remains unknown.


8.) The Boston Strangler – More about this serial Killer

From mid-1962 to the end of 1964, a total of 13 women in Boston were strangled by who many thought was a serial killer. Thirteen women between the ages of 19 and 85 were sexually assaulted and strangled in their own homes during this time. A man named Albert DeSalvo confessed to 11 of the murders. DeSalvo was sentenced to life in prison for the murders. However, many law enforcement officials believe that the stranglings were the work of more than one person especially because of the wide gap in the victims’ ages; however much of the public believed the crimes were committed by one person.

All of the women were murdered in their apartments, they had all been sexually molested, and were strangled with articles of clothing. There were no signs of forced entry in all the cases which could also imply that the women knew their assailant(s) or, at least, voluntarily let him (them) in their homes. These were respectable women who for the most part led quiet, modest lives.


7.) John Wayne Gacy (Killer Clown) – Read more on Crime Library

John Wayne Gacy was an American serial killer and sex ofender also known as the Killer Clown for his charitable services at fundraising events, parades and children’s parties where he would dress up as “Pogo the Clown”, a character he devised himself to entertain children.

John Wayne Gacy lived in the Chicago area, he was a business owner and a well respected member of the community. That was until the bodies of 29 murdered boys and young men were found in the crawl space of his suburban Chicago home in 1978, the bodies of his last four known victims were discarded in the Des Plaines River bringing it to a total of 33 murders. Gacy was finally caught after one of his targets escaped his home and alerted police. He was sentenced to death for 12 of these killings on March 13, 1980. He spent a total of 14 years on death row before he was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.


6.) The Green River Killer – Gary Ridgeway – More on this serial Killer

The man who is also known as The Green River Killer is believed to have committed 48 murders in Washington before being arrested in 2001 making him one of the most prolific serial killers in US history, he later confessed to nearly twice that number. An additional conviction was added as part of his plea bargain bringing the total number of convictions to 49 after he agreed to disclose the location or whereabouts of the women that were still missing, he was spared the death penalty and received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, even though law enforcement long suspected Ridgeway was the killer of several women, mainly prostitutes, the evidence was finally compiled against the killer in 2001. Gary Ridgeway attained the name of “The Green River Killer” when the bodies of two women were found in The Green River in 1982. Gary would strangle the women, usually with his arm but atimes he would use ligatures, he would then dump their bodies throughout forested and overgrown areas in King County and would often return to the dead bodies to have sexual intercourse with them.

“I hate most prostitutes. I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing.” These were the words of one of one of the most prolific serial killers in US history — Gary Ridgway.


5.) The Son of Sam – David Berkowitz – More on this Serial Killer

During the summer of 1977 in New York City, six murders were committed by David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam or .44 Caliber Killer. Berkowitz was a sharpshooter who claimed that his neighbour’s dog spoke the voice of Satan to him, telling him to kill. Berkowitz notified the media and police about his crimes. Berkowitz eluded police manhunt while leaving brazen letters which promised further murders.

4.) The BTK Killer – Dennis Rader – More on Crime Library

Dennis Rader appeared to be an upstanding member of the community as he was the president of the church counsel at a Wichita, KS Lutheran church until he was arrested and charged in 2005 for the murders of 10 people between January, 1974 and the beginning of 2005. The BTK Killer also sent anonymous letters to news outlets and the police, taking credit for the murders. The BTK killer was finally caught when police were able to trace a floppy disk to the church in Wichita where he was an official.

3.) Charles Manson – Read more

Charles Manson was the head of a cult known as The Manson Family. Manson dreamed that, one day, a racial revolution would erupt and the “Family” would take control of the world, he believed his murders would help achieve that. The “Family” was composed mostly of young women who appeared to be under the “spell” of Manson. Charles Manson was ultimately convicted for seven murders, the most notorious victim being the actress Sharon Tate.


2.) Ted Bundy – More on Crime Library

Described as “The most frightening of serial killers“, Ted Bundy was known to be an attractive, educated, charismatic and charming gentleman, not the kind of qualities you would expect from any serial killer. His charisma and good looks allowed him to attract young women who would become his victims, A vicious serial killer, rapist, kidnapper, and necrophile who assaulted and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. Bundy typically approached these women in public places, pretending to have some form of injury or disability, or in some cases he would impersonate an authority figure, before assaulting them at a more secluded location. He would sometimes revisit his crime scenes and performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses until such a time when it will no longer be possible for him to do so because of decomposition of the bodies. In total, he decapitated at least 12 victims and kept some of the severed heads in his apartment for a period of time as mementos.

All told, Ted Bundy was convicted of killing 30 women before he was arrested and jailed. However, many experts believe he killed more. Bundy was executed in 1989.


1.) Jeffrey Dahmer – More about this serial killer on Crime Library

Jeffrey Dahmer is perhaps the most notorious American serial killer in history. Jeffrey Dahmer was a mild mannered, polite young man who did not appear to have any sort of anger issues, from all indication, he was a happy child who enjoyed most activities every toddler would wish for, However, Dahmer killed and dismembered 17 young men between 1978 and 1991 with the majority of the murders occurring between 1987 and 1991. Dahmer then cannibalized parts of the victims’ bodies. On November 28, 1994, he was beaten to death by an inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution, where he had been incarcerated. Dahmer’s victims were usually young, poor minority men in the Milwaukee, WI area.


Image Sources/References

All Serial Killers on Crime Library

Serial Killers on Wikipedia

Serial Killers by Country

Image Credits: Wikipedia via The Green River Killer

Image Credits: Wikipedia