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. Thankfully, all of the horrifying serial killers on this list have been apprehended and have paid for their crimes. Although these murderers have been captured, the astounding number of lives they have taken will leave you shocked. 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. Taking advantage of the decades of civil war in Colombia, Garavito would target orphaned, poor, or homeless boys. 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 murder and dismember them. Police didn’t take notice until 1997 when mass graves containing bodies of the victims were uncovered. After investigating into the matter, the bodies of two young boys were found in Génova, Colombia with an address that would lead back to Garavito’s girlfriend.
Garavito’s girlfriend explained that she hadn’t seen him in days, but provided the police with evidence that would make him a primary suspect. After being spotted attempting to attack another victim, Garavito was tracked down and apprehended in 1999. Although he was convicted, Garavito 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).
During his spree, López was briefly captured by a native tribe who were prepared to execute him for his crimes. However, an American Christian missionary somehow managed to convince the tribe to hand López over to Peruvian police. Instead of prosecuting him for his crimes, the police deported him back to Colombia where he continued to murder.
He was arrested in 1980 when he failed to lure a market trader’s daughter away from her family. Upon being taken into custody, the killer admitted to his many crimes. Police doubted López’s confession considering the large number of women he claimed to have killed. The discovery of a mass grave filled with the bodies of over 50 young girls soon made it clear that López was telling the truth.
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.
In the beginning of his crime spree, Camargo had a partner in crime—a woman named Esperanza. Esperanza would lure young girls to an apartment, drug them, and let Camargo rape them without killing them. However, after their fifth victim reported the attack, the duo was sent to prison in 1964.
After being released eight years later, Camargo made his first kill. He kidnapped a 9-year-old girl, raped her, and then killed her to prevent her from reporting the attack. After being arrested again in 1974, Camargo was sent to prison for this crime alone, although it was believed he killed more than 80 girls. In 1984, Camargo escaped from prison and was presumed dead. However, the misinformation would allow him to continue to attacks.
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. Camargo was arrested in 1986 and convicted in 1989. 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 bruised skull because his father beat his mother so violently while she was pregnant. Born in the state of Minas Gerais, Filho was only 14 when he killed the vice mayor of Alfenas, his first murder. The man fired Rodrigues’s father from his position as a school guard for allegedly stealing food. In response, Rodrigues shot and killed him in front of City Hall. Shortly afterwards, Rodrigues killed the school guard who he believed was actually responsible for the theft.
After escaping to Brazil, Rodrigues killed a drug dealer and committed robberies in São Paulo. After his first love was killed by gang members, Rodrigues's rage would cause him to track down and murder the people who were involved with her death.
From there, Rodrigues would go on to his next target: his abusive father. Rodrigues learned that his father had been imprisoned for killing his mother with a machete. In retaliation, Filho would go on to kill his own father and eat a piece of his heart.
His victims did not fit any particular profile, as he often killed for both 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 only 26 years old when he was finally captured for his crimes. 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.
Yang was captured in 2003 after authorities observed him acting suspiciously. When the authorities learned he was a wanted criminal in other nearby areas, he was arrested. Yang confessed to 67 murders and 23 rapes.
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 reported, however, is that he preferred to kill boys after raping them. His ability to evade capture kept people in fear, and two innocent men were executed for his crimes.
Djabar was arrested by police when he was attempting to kill another victim. After he was apprehended, he was sentenced to death and 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 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.
Chikatilo would remain out of the police’s eye for several years to continue his crime spree. Taking advantage of the tumult in Soviet Russia society during the 1980s, he was able to lure poor and unsuspecting victims into his clutches.
He was arrested in 1984 after a police officer saw him molesting a girl at a train station. Chikatilo did have one of his murder weapons on him at the time of his arrest, but the police did not correctly match his blood type to the DNA found at the crime scene. He was released after three months, and went on to continue his killing spree.
Chikatilo was finally arrested in 1990 after police suspected him of being the culprit behind dozens of killings. 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 fact that haunted Onoprienko for the rest of his life.
fHis 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.
In 1996, 26-year old Yury Mozola would die for Onoprienko’s crimes at the hands of Ukraine police. The police were trying to force a confession by beating the young man, but he refused to confess to crimes he had not committed. Seventeen days later, Onoprienko was arrested after one of his relatives discovered the killer's murder weapons and reported the matter to police.
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)
Ridgway, known as the “Green River Killer”, haunted the Pacific Northwest for over 20 years. Ridgway’s prime targets were sex workers and female runaways from the Seattle area whom he typically strangled before burying their bodies along the Green River or in nearby forests. He would frequently return to his victims’ bodies to have sex with their corpses.
Ridgway’s first victim was believed to be a 16-year-old girl who went missing from her foster home in 1982. For the next two years, he went on to kill over 40 women, many of them sex workers and runaways. The police made several attempts at trying to pin him down as the culprit, but they didn’t have enough evidence to link Ridgway to the murder scenes.
It wasn’t until 2001 that DNA profiling finally connected Ridgway to the murders of four women. A subsequent investigation revealed more victims. Ridgway was convicted for the murders of 49 women, though he confessed to killing more than twice that amount. He remains imprisoned at a high security federal prison in Colorado to this day, where he was sentenced to life with no chance of parole.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons