These killers performed murders you’d think could only happen in horror movies.
Norman Bates (from Psycho), Leatherface (from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (from Silence of the Lambs) are three of the most iconic fictional horror characters of all time – and they’re all loosely based on one man: Ed Gein. Also known as the Butcher of Plainfield, Gein collected women’s bodies through grave-robbing and murder from around 1945 to 1957, when he was finally caught. He used the women’s remains to decorate his isolated Wisconsin farm and to make various items of clothing. Gein passed away in 1984 in a mental institution.
One of the most infamous ringleaders in history, Charles Manson used psychopathic manipulation to gain his cult followers in the 1960s. Not only did he murder people on his own, but he convinced his deepest admirers to commit the same brutal acts he did, resulting in some of the most notorious murders of celebrities and entertainment industry heads, including director Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, as well as coffee heiress Abigail Folger. Manson and his cronies were sentenced to death, but California abolished the death penalty afterward; they’ve spent their lives in prison instead.
Ted Bundy is one of those names that is practically synonymous with “serial killer” and “psychopath.” He was known to be very sly and charming, which was the shiny veneer he used to lure his many victims. He killed at least 30 people across the United States, but it took years for the authorities to catch him, because no one was able to believe such an “upstanding” young man could do such horrible things. He is most famous for his necrophiliac tendencies, and his own lawyer described him as a “heartless evil.”
Ivan Milat, aka the Backpacker Murderer
Richard Ramirez, aka “The Night Stalker”
According to thoughtcatalog.com, Ramirez’s victims ranged in age from nine to eighty-three, and he did not have a particular preference for gender. He ravaged Los Angeles in the ’80s with his brutal, Satanic killings, simply because he was fascinated by it. That’s not to say it had nothing to do with his upbringing, however. When he was just 11-years-old, he witnessed his cousin murder his wife – and was asked to participate in the clean-up afterward.
Part of the reason psychopath and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer captivated the world was because he appeared very polite and unassuming. According to the New York Times, he evaded police detection simply because they believed whatever excuse he fed them. Dahmer is most famous for being not just a killer, but a cannibal. When the authorities finally raided his home, they found human heads in the refrigerator. Dahmer was murdered in prison in 1994.
The first Australian woman to be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, Katherine Knight already had a track record of psychopathic behaviour long before she committed her most chilling crime, including trying to strangle her first husband and attempted to kill her newborn baby. But it was the shocking murder of her partner John Price that horrified the world. On the evening of February 29, 2000, the mother of four stabbed Price 37 times, skinning his corpse and hanging his skin from meat hooks. His decapitated head was boiling in a pot on the stove and Knight had sliced off his buttocks and cooked his flesh with vegetables and gravy before setting the dinner table with Price’s children’s names on place cards. Knight had planned to feed Price to his own children.
Albert DeSalvo, aka “The Boston Strangler”
Albert DeSalvo was a serial murderer who killed women by strangulation, many times using a simple ruse to get through their front doors, according to the Boston Globe. At an early age, he would torture animals – one of the classic warning signs of a psychopath. His extreme misogyny increased as he got older and had difficult relationships with the female figures in his life. DeSalvo ended up being stabbed to death in prison in 1973.
Dennis Rader, aka “The BTK Killer”
Bind, torture, kill – that’s what Dennis Rader was known for. Like The Zodiac Killer, he played games with the press. Where the two differ is that Rader got caught while he was trying to be clever. The police were able to trace a disc he had sent to the media back to his church in 2005. His killings were centred around the sexual thrill and fantasy of bondage scenarios.
Jack the Ripper
London’s Jack the Ripper was never properly identified, but he is world famous. Not only did he kill prostitutes in the late 1800s, but he removed their sex organs as well. Not much is known about him, but it is clear that he had a severe hatred of women, particularly prostitutes, which has led some people to theorise that his mother might have been one as well. He left his victims on full display on the street for police and citizens to discover.
The Zodiac Killer
Like Jack the Ripper, no one knows who The Zodiac Killer really is. Unlike Jack, the Zodiac did not seclude himself to the shadows, however. One reason that his murders were so sensational was that he would frequently reach out to various media outlets, teasing them with codes and riddles. The killer was active in the ’60s and ’70s, but there has been no trace of him since his final letter to the press in 1974. Even though psychologists never had the chance to examine him, his crimes showed the lack of empathy of a psychopath.
David Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam”
In the mid-1970s, New York City-based serial killer David Berkowitz sent the entire city into a panic when he began randomly shooting people – mostly young women with long brunette hair – with a .44-calibre revolver. No one knew when or where the “Son of Sam” would strike next, which is what made him so terrifying. He actually started off as a serial arsonist but was not caught until he went on his killing spree. Berkowitz might have displayed signs of psychosis rather than psychopathy – he has since become a born-again Christian in prison and started acting as a peer mentor for fellow inmates.
Vlad the Impaler
This 15th-century Transylvanian ruler is the basis for the Dracula myth. He didn’t have the bat wings, but he was extremely brutal and bloodthirsty. As his name suggests, he would often leave people impaled and put on display outside his castle as they suffered a slow, painful death. It is estimated that he impaled roughly 20,000 people and killed a total of 80,000.