Mental instability, troubled childhoods, rejected love—there are multiple theories that seek to explain why a person is compelled to kill again and again. Unsettling as it is, psychologists still struggle to comprehend the mind of a serial killer. While we may never know the truth behind a serial killer’s motives, we do know these crimes will forever haunt our nightmares. Here are 10 of the worst serial killers the world has ever seen.
1. Luis Garavito
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 138 confirmed (possibly more than 300)
Known at La Bestia (“The Beast”) Garavito is the world’s most extensive killer, having murdered upwards of as many as 300 victims. He preyed mostly on street children (none older than 16) over a period of five years. His method was to lure young boys with gifts or pocket change, taking them on long walks until they were very tired, after which he would torture, rape, and ultimately dismember them. He was apprehended in 1999, though he could potentially be eligible for early release based on good behavior—news that most Colombians didn’t take lightly.
2. Pedro López
WHERE: Colombia, Ecuador and Peru
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 110 confirmed (though he confessed to 420)
López likely had more victims than Garavito, though it may never be known. Born in Colombia, he was the son of a politician and a prostitute, and showed signs of sexual deviancy by the age of 8. López would go on to become known at “The Monster of the Andes” after admitting to the rape and murder of over 300 girls in Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru (and possibly other nearby countries). His story was widely covered in the North American press due to the sheer number of victims he had. Of his Ecuadorian victims he said: “I like the girls in Ecuador, they are more gentle and trusting, more innocent.” López was declared insane and admitted to a psychiatric hospital, from which he was released in 1998. Today his whereabouts remain unknown.
3. Daniel Camargo Barbosa
WHERE: Colombia and Ecuador
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 72 confirmed (more than 150 suspected)
Camargo’s troubles began with a sadistic stepmother who sometimes dressed him in girls’ clothes as punishment. His wounded childhood would set the stage for a life of crime. His victims of choice were young, lower class girls and women. He often pretended to be a foreigner in search of a Protestant church at which he needed to deliver a large amount of money. He’d show his female victim the money, suggesting he’d give her some of it if she’d help lead the way to the church. Camargo would then take the girl into the woods (claiming he was searching for a shortcut) and rape and strangle her. In 1994, he was murdered in prison by a fellow inmate.
4. Pedro Rodrigues Filho
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 71 confirmed (more than 100 suspected)
Filho was born with a wounded skull because his father beat his mother so violently while she was pregnant. That same abusive man went on to kill Filho’s mother with a machete. In retaliation, Filho would go on to kill his own father and eat a piece of his heart. Born in the state of Minas Gerais, Filho committed his first murder when he killed the vice mayor of Alfenas. His victims did not fit any particular profile, as he often killed for revenge and pleasure—taking the lives of 47 prisoners during his various stints in jail. He was released from prison in 2007 only to be arrested again in 2011 on accusations of rioting.
5. Kampatimar Shankariya
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 70
Shankariya’s one motive was pure pleasure—which he gained from killing 70 people with a hammer alone. In particular, he preferred to strike his victim near the Eustachian tube—a tender area near the cheek where the nasopharynx links to the middle ear. He was executed by hanging in 1979. His last words were: “I have murdered in vain. Nobody should become like me.”
6. Yang Xinhai
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 67
Xinhai was known as the “Monster Killer”—and for good reason. His plan of attack was to enter his victims’ homes during the night and kill everyone inside with axes, shovels, and meat cleavers. His reason? Revenge on society because his girlfriend broke up with him. He is quoted as saying: “I don’t care whether they deserve to live or not. It is not of my concern. I have no desire to be a part of society.” He was sentenced to death by firing squad in 2004.
7. Abul Djabar
WHEN: 1970 and earlier
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 65 confirmed (more than 300 suspected)
Little is known about the details of Djabar’s murders. What is known, however, is that he preferred to kill boys after raping them and strangling them with a turban. His ability to evade capture kept people in fear, and two innocent men were executed for his crimes before he was ultimately apprehended. He was hanged in 1970.
8. Andrei Chikatilo
WHERE: Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 53 (and possibly more)
Chikatilo was known by many names—”Butcher of Rostov,” “The Red Ripper” and “The Rostov Ripper.” His crimes of sexual assault and murder of women spanned the borders of three former Soviet republics. Born to a poor family, Chikatilo would go on to become a model student and staunch communist, but was troubled by unexplained sexual dysfunction. It wasn’t until he became a teacher that his dark spree began. His first murder occurred in 1978 when he killed 9-year-old Yelena Zakotnova. He would later confess to 53 murders saying that hearing a girl’s cries would “drive him into a state of sexual frenzy.” He was executed in 1994.
9. Anatoly Onoprienko
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 52 (and possibly more)
Onoprienko’s mother died when he was four. His father would later turn him over to an orphanage, while keeping his older brothers under his care—a sad reality that haunted Onoprienko for the rest of his life. When he was arrested in 1996, Onoprienko was found to be in possession of numerous weapons and artifacts from his victims, and he would eventually confess to the murder of 52 people. His pattern of killing was to find an isolated home, cause a loud ruckus outside, before killing the entire household starting with the husband, then the wife, and finally the children. He would then burn the house down. If there were any witnesses at all, they, too, would be killed. Onoprienko was found guilty but escaped capital punishment, as Ukraine had recently abolished it. He died in prison in 2013 at the age of 54.
10. Gary Ridgway
WHERE: United States
NUMBER OF VICTIMS: 49 (and possibly more than 90)
He was known at the “Green River Killer” and he haunted the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years. Ridgway’s prime targets were helpless sex workers and female runaways from the Seattle area who he typically strangled by hand before burying their bodies along the Green River or in nearby forests. Most of the time he would return to his victims’ bodies to have sex with them. It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA profiling eventually revealed his identity in connection with the murders of four women. Ridgway was convicted for the murders of 49 women, though he confessed to killing more than twice that amount. Today he’s imprisoned at a high security federal prison in Colorado.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons