40+ Disturbing Serial Killers Who Will Keep You Up at Night

Lock the doors, bar the windows, and read on if you dare.

The Lineup team has covered sadistic serial killers from across the globe. While each murderer committed horrific crimes, some stand out as being particularly terrifying. These 40 serial killers are among the most terrifying and the most disturbing. From well known modern killers like John Wayne Gacy to one of the earliest lonely hearts serial killer, Béla Kiss, these serial killers will haunt your dreams.

1. 33. Gone in the Dark: The 40-Year Hunt for the Golden State Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

He’s known many names, but after over 40 years, Joseph James DeAngelo has finally been caught for the hideous crimes he committed in California throughout the late 70s and 80s. The Original Night Stalker committed at least 50 known rapes and 12 murders before disappearing in 1986. READ MORE.  

2. Inside the Demented Mind of John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

A contractor known around his neighborhood as a friendly figure who enjoyed dressing up as a clown and entertaining children at hospitals and fundraising events, John Wayne Gacy had an unimaginably dark side. The sadistic killer murdered 33 men, and hid many of their corpses in his Chicago home. Learn more about the killer clown in Tim Cahill's Buried Dreams. READ MORE

3. The Zodiac Killer 

serial killers still on the loose
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Zodiac Killer has evaded the police since his crimes in the 60s and 70s, which makes his crimes and communication with the press all the more chilling. He claimed responsibility for 37 murders, but investigators can only agree on five confirmed victims. The Killer is most known for the letters and cryptograms he sent to the press, which unfortunately never led to his capture. READ MORE.  

4. Bathed in the Blood of 650 Virgins: Elizabeth Bathory, The Blood Countess

Elizabeth Bathory
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Elizabeth Bathory's vanity and quest for eternal youth reportedly knew no bounds. Known as The Blood Countess, Bathory is believed to have tortured and murdered 650 young girls in order to receive the restorative properties of bathing in their virginal blood. READ MORE.

5. Mary Ann Cotton: England’s First Serial Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

England's first female serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton killed her three husbands, her mother, her lover, and 11 of her 13 children. Her weapon of choice? Arsenic. She took advantage of the 19th century's high mortality rates for children, rampant infection, and poor record-keeping to sow a path of murder behind her. READ MORE.

6. Joseph Vacher: The Killer of Little Shepherds

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This demented killer cut a trail of death across the French countryside in 1897, claiming 11 known victims. But France’s answer to Jack the Ripper was no match for Alexandre Lacassagne, a brilliant criminologist and real-life Sherlock Holmes. READ MORE.

7. The Red Ripper: Russia’s Deadliest Serial Killer

red ripper Andrei Chikatilo
  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

By the time Andrei Chikatilo was first taken into custody in 1984, he had claimed 32 victims. But it was discovered that his blood type didn't match the blood found at the scenes of some unsolved crimes, so he was released, an error that would have unimaginably deadly consequences. Russia's most evil serial killer was on the prowl again, and would take dozens of lives before being apprehended at last in 1994. READ MORE

8. Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck: The Lonely Hearts Killers

lonely hearts killers raymond fernandez and martha beck
  • Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

Lethal lovers Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck are believed to have claimed up to 20 victims during a two-year span in the 1940s. The two found their female victims through personal ads, earning them the moniker 'The Lonely Hearts Killers.' READ MORE.

9. The Harpe Brothers: America’s Original Serial Killers

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  • Illustration by Frederic Remington

    Photo Credit: Murder by Gaslight

Meet the Harpe Brothers, two murderous frontiersmen whom many believe are America’s first serial killers. This deadly 18th century duo left a swath of utter destruction behind them as they traveled, killing men, women, and children indiscriminately. READ MORE.

10. 8 Bodies in the Attic: The True Crimes of Serial Killer Kendall Francois

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  • Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of the State of New York

In 1998, eight women were murdered and stashed in the attic by Kendall Francois. Author Fred Rosen set out to tell their story in his book, Body Dump. READ MORE.

11. The Copycat Killing Spree of the Yorkshire Ripper

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The Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, is nothing if not brutal. He murdered 13 women, mostly sex workers, but also left a bloody trail of badly injured women in his wake. After evading arrest for many years, Sutcliffe was arrested in 1981 when he was caught with a sex worker. He was sentenced to 20 life sentences without parole. READ MORE.

12. Hotel of Horrors: The Murder Castle of Dr. H.H. Holmes

creepy serial killers
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The mad doctor will see you now. H.H. Holmes killed at least nine people, confessed to as many as 30 slayings, and may have been responsible for up to 200. Yet it wasn’t just the body count that earned Holmes his place in serial killer history—but the ghoulish way the deeds were done. READ MORE.

13. Death Shift: The Texas Infant Murders of Nurse Genene Jones

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  • Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of author Peter Elkind

Nurse Genene Jones is believed to have murdered upwards of 40 newborns in medical facilities across Texas in the 1970s and 80s, avoiding capture thanks to a hospital cover-up. READ MORE.

14. The Perfect Psychopath: Dr. Petiot’s Heinous Crimes During World War II

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Dr. Marcel Petiot murdered people who were looking to escape Nazi-occupied France during World War II. His defense? He only killed collaborators and members of the Gestapo. Author Thomas Maeder examines this chilling case, and explains why Petiot is the “perfect psychopath.” READ MORE.

15. Gary Ridgway: The Green River Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

He was convicted of killing 49 women over the course of the 90s and 80s, confessed to killing almost twice that number, and later claimed that he took so many lives he lost count. READ MORE.

13. Kiss of Death: The Bloody Case of Béla Kiss

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Hungarian sadist Béla Kiss enticed dozens of women to his home in Budapest via personal ads, selecting those who were the most lonely and vulnerable. Instead of finding love, these women met their death at the hands of a mysterious maniac. To this day, the fate of this horrific serial killer is still unknown. READ MORE.

16. The One, Tiny Mistake That Finally Took Down The Night Stalker

night stalker richard ramirez
  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, evaded capture for over a year as he terrorized people down the coast of California. READ MORE.

17. Death in the Heartland: The Murder Spree of Charles Starkweather

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Nebraska misfit Charles Starkweather aspired to emulate his rebel model, James Dean. Unfortunately, his 'rebellious' streak led him to murder 11 people and two dogs for the hell of it. Read on to learn more about one of the most notorious killers in American history. READ MORE.

18. Aileen Wuornos: Depraved Serial Killer Or Countercultural Icon?

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  • Photo Credit: Open Road Media

When she was arrested in 1990, Aileen Wuornos forever altered the public perception of serial killers as exclusively male. Between 1989-1990, Wuornos murdered seven men by shooting them at point-blank range. READ MORE.

19. This Serial Killer Murdered 13 Women in Their Own Homes Without Breaking and Entering

Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo
  • Photo Credit: Bettmann / Getty Images

In November 1963, serial killer Albert DeSalvo came looking for his next victim, Joann Graff, and her neighbors led him straight to her door. DeSalvo's unimaginable crimes and the frantic quest to catch him are chronicled in The Boston Strangler, Gerold Frank’s bestselling, Edgar Award-winning true crime chronicle. READ MORE.

20. Fritz Haarmann: The Vampire of Hanover

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Fritz Haarmann claimed more than 24 male victims between 1918 and 1924, taking advantage of the confusion of war-torn Germany to commit his particularly nightmarish acts. Haarmann killed many of his victims through a fatal bite to their Adam's apple, earning him the nickname "The Vampire of Hanover." READ MORE.

21. John Christie: The Whispering Killer of England

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  • Photo Credit: Hulton Archive / Getty Images

In 1953, John Christie was hanged for the murder of his wife … but she was just one of his many victims. READ MORE.

22. Angels of Death: Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham

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  • Photo Credit: Kent County Sheriff’s Department

When Cathy Wood and Gwen Graham met through their job as nurses at the Alpine Manor senior living facility in Michigan, the two fell hard for each other, and pledged to stay together for "forever and five days." But their toxic romance had lethal consequences for their elderly patients, whom the nurses murdered ruthlessly. Go inside their violent love in Lowell Cauffiel’s true crime novel Forever and Five Days. READ MORE.

23. Date with the Devil: Paul John Knowles, the Casanova Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

With his tousled auburn mane, Paul John Knowles may have looked like a rockstar. But the truth is, he was a stone-cold killer, responsible for the deaths of up to 35 people. READ MORE.

24. Teen Bride Turned Serial Killer: The Judith Neelley Case

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

At 19, Judith Ann Neelley became the youngest woman ever on death row. The torture murders Judith committed with her much-older husband Alvin Howard are chronicled in Thomas H. Cook’s Early Graves. READ MORE.

25. Dennis Nilsen: Britain’s Kindly Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

British serial killer Dennis Nilsen claimed numerous lives inside his home, then hid the bodies beneath floorboards or propped them in armchairs while he watched TV. According to the Nilsen himself, he sought someone who would never leave.  READ MORE.

26. Madame Delphine Lalaurie: The Most Evil Woman in New Orleans

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  • Photo Credit: Via melty.es

Socialite Delphine Lalaurie was the toast of Louisiana–until her neighbors discovered the appalling secret torture chamber hidden in the attic of the home she built. READ MORE.

27. Michigan Murders: The Heinous Crimes of the “Ypsilanti Ripper”

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

From 1967 to 1971, a serial killer referred to as the “Ypsilanti Ripper” murdered and dismembered half a dozen women in Southeastern Michigan. The perpetrator, John Norman Chapman, was a former frat member whose sadism knew no end. READ MORE.

28. Leonarda Cianciulli: The Deadly Soap-Maker of Correggio

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Desperate to protect her children from a family curse, fortune-teller Leonarda Cianciulli took drastic measures. Believing that human sacrifice would be required to protect her remaining children from premature death, she killed three of her clients then baked their remains into soap and teacakes. READ MORE

29. Robert Berdella: The Butcher of Kansas City

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  • Photo Credit: Kansas City Police Department / Murderpedia

Robert Berdella was the epitome of your kind and quiet guy next door. But his unassuming facade belied Berdella's true violent nature. READ MORE.

30. Belle Guinness: The Black Widow of the Midwest

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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Motivated by an insatiable desire for monetary gain, Belle Gunness murdered her many suitors in cold blood, as well as possibly taking the lives of her husbands and children. The calculating killer enticed suitors to her hog farm, ominously warning them to "come prepared to stay forever." The brutal black widow escaped capture in 1908, and her ultimate fate is unknown. READ MORE.

31. The Acid Bath Murderer of England

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Run yourself a hot bath before reading the grisly tale of England’s Acid Bath Murderer, John George Haigh, who disposed of his unfortunate victims' remains via bubble baths full of acid. READ MORE.

32. American Boogeyman: The Disturbing Case of Albert Fish

real-life cannibals
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Just because the Boogey Man never came for you as a child doesn’t mean all monsters are make-believe. Meet Albert Fish, a real-life nightmare from the turn of the century with an uncontrollable hunger for the flesh of small children. READ MORE.

33. Steve Wright 

british serial killers
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Known as the Suffolk Strangler, Steve Wright murdered five sex workers by strangling them. In a specialized operation, Wright was caught and prosecuted for his crimes in a very public trial. He was found guilty and sentenced to several life sentences. READ MORE.   

34. House of Horrors: The Heinous Crimes of Fred and Rosemary West

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This murderous husband and wife tortured and killed at least nine people together - including some of their own children. The couple was known for violent tendencies, incest, and physical and emotional abuse towards their sons and daughters. The couple was arrested in 1994, much to the relief of the people they tortured for so long. READ MORE.  

35. Nightmare in Kansas: The Chilling Case of BTK Serial Killer Dennis Rader

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Blind, Torture, and Kill. When Dennis Rader was caught almost thirty years after his reign of terror in Wichita, Kansas, the world was shocked. What looked to be an ordinary father was in fact an evil madman who killed at least ten people in the most cruel of ways. Though he communicated with the police and the public many times, it took years to catch him. READ MORE.  

36. David Parker Ray 

David Parker Ray
  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Also known as the Toy Box Killer, David Parker Ray is known as one of the most sadistic killers in history for his methods using sexual torture devices. After years of torturing and murdering over 30 people in his special toy box room, Ray was finally caught after a victim escaped and called the authorities. READ MORE.  

37. Jeffrey Dahmer

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He’s infamous for being one of the best known cannibals in history. He murdered 17 men in a 13-year period, but it’s the rape, necrophilia, cannibalism, and preservation of human remains that has made Jeffrey Dahmer so horribly captivating to the public eye. Dahmer was arrested in 1991 and was murdered by a fellow prison inmate in 1994. READ MORE.  

38. The Twisted Case of Robert Hansen, an Alaskan Serial Killer Who Hunted Down His Victims

how serial killers choose their victims
  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

The Butcher Baker, Robert Hansen, terrorized Anchorage, Alaska from 1971 to 1983. While many knew him as a timid baker and avid hunter, Hansen’s secret life was one of murder, violence, and literally hunting women as prey. He was sentenced to 461 years in prison, but died there at the age of 75 in 2014. READ MORE.  

39. The Creepy Case of Serial Killer Tony Costa and His Garden of Horrors

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  • Photo Credit: capecast / YouTube

Every serial killer has an extra evil twist, and Tony Costa was known for cutting up the bodies of his victims and burying the parts in his garden. Terrible fertilizer, but Costa got away with his crimes for years despite media attention and international infamy. Costa is known to have killed at least four women, but it’s thought that there could be even more victims. READ MORE. 

40. Metal Fang: Russia's Serial Killer Cannibal

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Why is Nikolai Dzhumagaliev known as Metal Fang? It’s because he used his metal dentures to eat his victims after drinking their blood. The Russian serial killer murdered during a time that Russians denied the existence of such serial killers, but he existed and killed at least four victims in his years long rampage. READ MORE.  

41. Alexander Pichushkin, Russia's Chessboard Killer

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  • Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Also known as the Chessboard Killer, Alexander Pichushkin’s main goal in life was to claim enough victims to fill a chessboard. He made it to 50 out of 64, but the number is still staggering. The Russian murderer killed homeless and elderly men as well as some women and at least one child. READ MORE.  

Published on 5 Dec 2016