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Serial killers have long been a subject of fascination and terror in popular culture. These individuals commit multiple murders over a period of time, often with a certain method or motive. While these cases are thankfully rare, they have left a lasting impact on society. The scariest serial killers have terrifying stories that stick with people for decades.
According to a report by the FBI, there were 89 known active serial killers in the United States in 2019, and the number of victims of serial killers reached an all-time high in 2018 with 6,251. The term “serial killer” was first coined in the 1970s, and since then, numerous high-profile cases have captured public attention. It’s found that male serial killers are motivated by sex while female serial killers are motivated by money.
With an unfortunate prevalence of serial killers in modern history, and the fascination behind them – especially among Millennials – people have turned to the genre of true crime and as a result found themselves better equipped for real-life situations. Coltan Scrivner, a research scientist at Recreational Fear Lab, feels there’s an almost primal reason people are endlessly fascinated by true crime content. Morbid curiosity about dangerous people likely began some 300,000 years ago when humans began using language and engaging in proactive aggression instead of reactive aggression. Therefore, it’s no wonder the genre of murder mystery and true crime draws so much attention.
You may be among those who are morbidly curious about these psychos, so StudyFinds set out to do the research for you, visiting 10 expert websites to put together this list of the scariest serial killers of all time. If you’ve got your own suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!
The List: Scariest Serial Killers of All Time, Per Crime Experts
1. Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy was an American serial killer and rapist who was active in the 1970s. He confessed to killing at least 30 young women across seven states. His facade is one of the reasons he was so scary as All That’s Interesting notes, “they dismissed Ted Bundy as a suspect, thinking it unlikely that a clean-cut law student with no adult criminal record could be the perpetrator; he didn’t fit the profile. These types of judgments benefitted Ted Bundy many times throughout his murderous career as one of history’s most infamous serial killers, which saw him take at least 30 victims across seven states in the 1970s. For a time, he fooled everyone — the cops who didn’t suspect him, the prison guards whose facilities he escaped from, the women he manipulated, the wife who married him after he was caught — but he was, as his final lawyer said, ‘The very definition of heartless evil’.”
The victim list was long, “Bundy himself told authorities that his first attempt in the kidnapping was in Ocean City, New Jersey in 1969. However, he did not kill anyone until the year 1971 in Seattle. While he admitted to killing 30 women, reports show that he might have killed at least 90 to 100 women through these years. Throughout his trials, Bundy always hinted stories of the women that he killed, but never elaborated on the details. To this day, authorities still haven’t identified these unknown victims,” says Facts.net.
Prison couldn’t even contain him at first as his escape was detailed by Insider, “Rather than hire a lawyer, Bundy intended to represent himself and so was given access to the law library in the Pitkin County District Courthouse where his trial was to be held. According to local paper, The Post Independent, he escaped by jumping out a second-story window in the library.”
2. Jeffery Dahmer
An American serial killer and sex offender who murdered and dismembered 17 young men and boys between 1978 and 1991. “Some say he was the devil incarnate. Others attempt a sympathetic, more banal picture, that of a timid boy next door. However as Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint (one of the main characters from the 1995 movie ‘The Usual Suspects’) had once said, ‘The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.’ Behind the placid and sympathetic facade, was a shrewd, calculating, and cold-blooded murderer who viewed his victims as prey and didn’t possess even an ounce of empathy,” explains Economic Times.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Season 2. COMING SOON!!! pic.twitter.com/HkQwtT2DQd
— Hiller (@HillaryMilimu3) April 19, 2023
His murders didn’t stop at that act alone, “Jeffrey Dahmer ferociously killed seventeen young people, fifteen of whom were confirmed, choosing them mainly from the lower social classes, in an environment where he could make his unnatural desires for cannibalism and necrophilia go unnoticed,” says Aural Crave.
Men’s Health sums it up here, “‘Dahmer’ has become a kind of shorthand in popular culture for pure evil. As such, even if you know the name Jeffrey Dahmer, it can be hard to grasp who the actual man was, his crimes, the saga of catching him, and what ultimately happened to him.”
3. John Wayne Gacy
An American serial killer and rapist, known as the “Killer Clown”, who was convicted of the rape and murder of 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. Daily Mail outlines his crime here, “Gacy – who became known as the ‘serial killer clown’ due to his penchant for dressing up as a circus entertainer – lured his young male victims to his home, before raping, torturing and strangling them. The remains of 29 victims were found buried in the crawl space under Gacy’s property. Four others were dumped in a nearby river. The depravity of Gacy’s crimes shocked the nation, and he was executed at Stateville Correctional Center in Illinois in 1994 after spending more than a decade on death row.”
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His clown persona is well known, “John kept himself busy by joining a Jolly Joker clown club, whose members performed at fundraising events and visited sick children in hospitals. He created two clown personas—Pogo the Clown and Patches the Clown—and no one had any idea that by this time, he had secretly committed at least three murders,” says Cosmopolitan.
Refinery29 expands on this when they say, “Gacy worked at children’s parties as a character named Pogo the Clown. He was then dubbed ‘the Killer Clown’ by the media during his trial. Gacy was jailed until his execution by lethal injection in 1994, and while incarcerated he painted numerous portraits of Pogo that are beyond creepy. Gacy, as Pogo, shaped his mouth into pointy tips, the Miami New Times reports, rather than rounding them to be kid-friendly. He lured young men to his home under the premise of offering them construction work and sometimes dressed as Pogo the Clown when he killed them, Biography reports.”
4. Ed Gein
An American murderer and body snatcher who was known for his fascination with human remains. He confessed to killing two women, but was suspected of several other murders in Wisconsin in the 1950s. HowStuff Works says it plain, “Ed Gein was, by any civilized culture’s definition, a sicko. Here was a man, clearly in the unforgiving grip of mental illness, who performed horrible, despicable, unspeakable acts on bodies, both living and dead.”
His crime scenes were stomach churning, “Imagine walking into a home and finding a woman decapitated and hanging from her ankles. Now imagine stumbling upon chairs and lampshades upholstered with human skin. That is the grisly reality that Plainfield Police found when they entered Ed Gein’s house in November 1957,” says Collider.
Hollywood has, unfortunately, learned from his depravity, “Ed Gein’s behavior inspired numerous books and movies, notably three of the most influential horror/thriller films ever made: Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on Robert Bloch’s powerful 1959 book; The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974); and The Silence of the Lambs (1991),” adds Encyclopedia Britannica.
5. Andrei Chikatilo
An Ukrainian Soviet serial killer, known as the “Butcher of Rostov”, who was convicted of murdering at least 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. His victims were often mutilated, and he was known for his extreme brutality. The LA Times has a headline about him that reads, “Andrei Chikatilo looks like a harmless schoolteacher. But 53 murders make him the most horrible serial killer Russia–perhaps the world–has ever seen.”
Aural Crave talks about him here, “A man with a particular childhood and history behind him, that over the years became a real monster, committing execrable acts. His murders, a true manifestation of his mental depravity, shocked the whole world, destroying the lives of many people and throwing the population into terror for years.”
“Open a deck of playing cards. Cut them, fan them, shuffle them. After you’ve finished amusing yourself, hold the entire deck in one hand. Using your other hand, lift the first card. Rub it between your thumb and forefinger for a few seconds. Ponder it. Allow its uniqueness to sink in, then drop it on the table. Do this with each card until you’ve depleted all the aces, all the face and number cards, every last diamond and club. Mull over the big pile spread out motionless on the table. Fifty-two cards. That’s how many people Andrei Chikatilo snuffed,” says Thought Catalog.
You might also be interested in the:
- The Best Murder Mystery Movies
- The Best True Crime Podcasts
- The Best Thriller Movies
- The Best Horror Movies
- All That’s Interesting
- Economic Times
- Aural Crave
- Men’s Health
- Daily Mail
- HowStuff Works
- Encyclopedia Britannica
- The LA Times
- Thought Catalog
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.