Throughout American history, serial killers have both captivated and horrified their fellow citizens. They’re capable of altering the daily lives of large populations in a way that’s only rivaled by natural disasters. If they’re caught, we’re left wondering what possessed such seemingly harmless people – many times they look like your average Joe with a nine-to-five job – to become such monsters. Unfortunately, there have been numerous serial killers who have lived among ordinary Americans since this country’s beginnings. The most notorious of them just happened to receive the most press coverage during the last century when the media became most pervasive. Below is a list of 20 of the America’s most notorious serial killers; the ones who truly kept us watching our backs and cringing in disgust.
- Jeffrey Dahmer
Dahmer was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At the time of his arrest, few people imagined the polite man with blond hair, blue eyes and thick glasses was capable of killing, dismembering and cannibalizing 17 young men. But his murders remain among the most gruesome in American history. Most of his victims were poor Asian, African-American and Latino men from the Milwaukee area.
- Ted Bundy
It might have been Bundy’s good looks and charm that helped lure his victims into positions of vulnerability. He confessed to roughly 30 murders by the time of his 1989 execution, but criminal justice experts estimate that he committed several more. The victims were strangled and mutilated, and he slept with their corpses until they became unbearably decayed. But that didn’t deter thousands of women from sending him letters of adoration while he was in prison.
- Charles Manson
Manson and his gang of four people most notoriously killed actress Sharon Tate in 1969. The Manson Family, which was mostly composed of naïve and troubled young women, was convicted of killing seven people in total. The charismatic leader dreamed of a racial revolution that would eventually result in the Manson Family ruling the world.
- Dennis Rader
The BTK Killer was finally caught in 2005 after murdering 10 people between January of 1974 and January of 2005. Rader sent several letters during that time period to police stations and media outlets, anonymously taking credit for the acts. He managed to cover his tracks until investigators finally traced a floppy disk he had sent to a Wichita TV station back to the Christ Lutheran Church where he was the president of church council.
- David Berkowitz
The summer of 1977 was the Summer of Sam in New York City when the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, killed six people while alerting the police and media – not unlike the BTK Killer – detailing his crimes. The 24-year-old sharpshooter claimed that howls from dogs from around his neighborhood were messages from demons that demanded him to kill women.
- Gary Ridgway
Two bodies found in Seattle’s Green River in 1982 were the first of dozens of bodies – many of whom were young female prostitutes – discovered throughout Washington during the next several years. The culprit was Gary Ridgway, or The Green River Killer, who wasn’t officially identified until 2001 despite being subject to suspicion not long after his first crimes were committed. He would eventually confess to 48 murders.
- John Wayne Gacy
Before the bodies of 29 young men and boys were discovered on his property in 1978, Gacy was known around Chicago for being nothing more than a friendly neighbor. He dressed up as Pogo the Clown and was the chaplain of the Jaycees. Because of his reputation, many people failed to consider that he was arrested for sodomy with a minor during the ’60s.
- Boston Strangler
The Strangler’s reign of terror in Boston lasted from the summer of 1962 to the winter of 1964. A total of 13 women were killed, ranging from 19 to 85 years of age. It’s believed that the women allowed him into their apartments, where he sexually assaulted and strangled them. Albert DeSalvo confessed to the 11 Strangler killings and two others, and was sentenced to life in prison in 1967. But doubt remains that he was the killer, and some believe that more people may have been involved.
- Zodiac Killer (identity unknown)
The crimes of the Zodiac Killer remain unsolved more than 40 years after they occurred. He killed five people in Northern California from December 1968 to October 1969, and sent a series of cryptic letters to newspapers taking credit for the murders. He claimed credit for 37 murders in total; but police have never found his identity, so the truthfulness of his confessions is in question.
- Richard Ramirez
Ramirez became a heavy drug user and Satan worshipper by the age of 18, and by the age of 24, he was a full-fledged serial killer. In 1989, He was convicted for 13 murders in California that occurred between June of 1984 and August of 1985. His nickname, the Night Stalker was inspired by his favorite rock group – AC/DC.
- Coral Eugene Watts
Watts is the most notorious American serial killer who you don’t know about; his deeds rival those of Gacy, Bundy and Dahmer. He confessed to more than 80 murders in total, and he received immunity in 1982 for confessing to 12 of them. His string of killings lasted from 1974 until 1982, and his victims were women ranging from age 14 to 44.
- Dean Corll
The Candy Man – a nickname he acquired because he worked in his mother’s candy store – was responsible for killing more than 27 boys and young men. Corll’s crimes became known as the Houston Mass Murders during the early ’70s. He employed the help of two teenage boys who assisted him in his abductions; one of whom eventually killed him and confessed his role in the murders.
- Richard Angelo
Angelo wasn’t receiving the praise he thought he deserved at Long Island’s Good Samaritan Hospital in 1987, so he decided to put himself in the best position to save lives. Unfortunately, that entailed poisoning patients with Pavulon and Anectine until they were near death. As a result, 25 people were estimated to have died, and just 12 people survived.
- Albert Fish
Fish’s vile deeds included pedophilia, cannibalism and murder. When he was captured, he admitted to molesting more than 400 children. Many of his victims were African-Americans; he believed he would be less likely to get caught because they wouldn’t be missed. There were just three known murders committed by Fish, though he confessed to killing hundreds.
- Eddie Gein
The body parts of 15 different women were found on his property; many of which were made into household items, including a chair composed of human skin upholstery and a skull that was used for a bowl. Gein accumulated the body parts after two murders and while grave-robbing.
- Belle Gunness
Very few serial killers are female, but Gunness was just as heartless as her male counterparts. It’s believed that she killed more than 40 people on her Indiana farm, including her own two children, husbands and potential suitors who she lured to her property through personal ads. She is said to have died in a fire in 1908, but many claimed she fled the state with the money she had accumulated from the men she killed.
- Angel Maturino Resendiz
Resendiz was responsible for at least 24 deaths in the US from 1986 to 1999. Also known as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez and The Railcar Killer, he used n
umerous aliases as he traveled the country by rail, murdering and robbing people in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky and Georgia. He also confessed to killing more people in Mexico.
- Derrick Todd Lee
Responsible for at least seven deaths from 1992 to 2003, Lee focused his carnage on the Louisiana State University area in Baton Rouge. Charlotte Pace, a 22-year-old LSU student, was stabbed 81 times with a knife and screwdriver in 2002. Lee was eventually sentenced to death despite his IQ of 65.
- John Allen Muhammad
The Washington DC area was kept in a constant state of fear during October of 2002 when a series of random sniper killings occurred. Muhammad along with his 17-year-old accomplice, Lee Malvo, killed 16 people in total; most of the murders occurred in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Muhammad was put to death in November of 2009.
- Herman Webster Mudgett
Nineteenth century serial killer Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, confessed to murdering 27 people. Killing was a profitable business for Mudgett, who lured women into his Chicago castle, where he tortured and killed them after forcing them to sign over their life savings. He also performed abortions and made skeletal models using his victims’ bones, which he sold to medical schools.