Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most notorious serial killer of all times, but who are the worst? The following five surely fulfil this category, and though they may not have the highest body counts in some cases, the nature of their crimes is disturbing enough to warrant this mantle.
Norman Bates, Buffalo Bill, Leatherface, Ezra Cobb, Bloody Face and Eddie Gluskin. These are all fictional killers that were inspired by Ed Gein. Ed Gein was arrested in November 1957 when police entered his farmhouse suspecting him of being involved in the robbery of a local hardware store and disappearance of the owner Bernice Worden. As they entered the dilapidated house, they were overwhelmed by the smell of filth and decomposition and they were forced to wade through junk and rotting garbage. In the shed, the local sheriff discovered a carcass dangling upside down the beams – decapitated, slit open and gutted. The sheriff had seen familiar sites before as this was deer hunting country, but after a moment he realised that the body was human. He soon realised it was the decapitated body of Bernice Worden.
As the police searched the rubbish and detritus the farmhouse was filled with, they began to realise that among the general rubbish were human body parts. There was a bowl fashioned from a human skull; lampshades, wastebaskets and an armchair made from human skin; a belt made from nipples; a shoebox of female genitalia; a human head; four noses; and a heart.
Gein was not only a murderer, but a grave robber and he exhumed several recently interred corpses from a local graveyard. Having an obsession with his mother, he longed to know what it would feel like to be a woman and so used to wear their skin and was apparently fashioning a skin suit so he could walk around as his mother.
It is not known exactly how many people Ed Gein killed, but he was only found guilty of two murders. He was suspected of being involved in a number of other deaths and disappearances in the local area (including some have suggested the death of his own brother) so it was almost certainly more.
Harold Shipman – also known as “Doctor Death” – was one of the most prolific serial killers of modern times. He was found guilty of fifteen murders at his trial, but it has since be proven he killed 250 people between 1975 and 1998 (but it has been speculated he killed much more). His victims were all elderly and mostly women. They all came to see him voluntarily and died fairly peaceful deaths. Because Harold Shipman was their GP. As a Doctor, Shipman had access to deadly drugs and could sign death certificates to cover his tracks.
Shipman was finally stopped by suspicions raised by a local undertaker, a funeral director, another local GP and the daughter of one of his victims – Angela Woodruff. Angela’s mother Kathleen Grundy had been found dead in her home and Dr Shipman was called. It turned out that Shipman had visited her earlier that day and had been the last person to see her alive and Shipman claimed a postmortem was unnecessary as he saw her before her death. After Kathleen’s burial, Angela received a phone call from a firm of solicitors who claimed to have a copy of Kathleen’s will that left £386,000 to Shipman. Angela however was a solicitor and her firm had the original copy of Kathleen’s will. The new will was poorly typed and badly worded and the signature did not look right when compared to Kathleen’s.
The police exhumed Kathleen and discovered that the cause of death was a fatal overdose of morphine. Police found the typewriter that typed Kathleen’s new will in Shipman’s home. Shipman was charged with the murder of Kathleen Grundy and fraud. It was only then that police truly realised the extent of Shipman’s crimes, and he was charged with 14 other murders as “test cases” as they continued to investigate further deaths he may have caused.
Fred and Rose West
“You’ll end up under the patio like Heather” was the chilling threat Fred West would give to his children if they misbehaved. Heather West, sixteen year old daughter of Fred and his wife Rose (though possibly actually fathered by Rose’s father Bill in an incestuous relationship with his daughter) disappeared in 1987. The family said she moved to Devon for work or that she had run away with another woman. She had actually been raped and murdered by Fred and buried under the patio of their home in 25 Cromwell Street Gloucester. Between 1967 and 1987 Fred and Rose would rape and murder ten other girls, disposing of their bodies in their homes – first 25 Midland Road, and then later Cromwell Street. Fred would also torture and rape his own children while Rose watched.
In 1992 Fred filmed himself raping one of his daughters who told her school friends. Fred and Rose were arrested for rape and child cruelty in August 1992, but the trial against them collapsed in June 1993. However, while in foster care their children mentioned the “joke” about Heather being under the patio, which led police to begin to investigate Heather’s disappearance and current whereabouts. In February 1994 police began excavating the house and garden, uncovering human bones and arresting Fred for murder the next day. He initially confessed to the murder, and subsequently retracted and reconfessed multiple times and denied Rose was involved, but she was arrested in April 1994, initially for sexual offences but later for murder. Fred West eventually confessed to ten murders, but police charged him with eleven. Rose was charged with 10 murders. Fred hung himself in his prison cell before he could stand trial, leaving Rose to stand trial alone – she was found guilty on all counts. The house at Cromwell Street was demolished and redeveloped as a landscaped pathway. Every brick was crushed and timber burnt so no one could take them as grisly souvenirs of the West’s house of horrors.
Gilles de Rais
Not many people have heard of Gilles de Rais, possibly because he died in 1440, but he was one of the worst serial killers of children history has ever known. de Rais was a knight and leader in the French army, fighting alongside Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years’ War. Between 1432 and 1440 he sodomised, killed and mutilated somewhere between 80 and 200 children, having his servants dispose of the bodies afterwards, by burning them and disposing of ashes in a cesspit.
In 1440 Rais kidnapped a cleric during a dispute at a Church, prompting the Bishop of Nantes to investigate him and evidence of his crimes were uncovered. His co-conspirators testified against him and orders were given for him to be tortured for a confession, however Rais confessed voluntarily before this could occur. He was executed by hanging and burning in October 1440 – his body was hung and then he was cut down and burnt on a pyre.
Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian noblewoman who tortured and killed at least 650 girls between 1585 and 1610. She has often been called The Blood Countess or Countess Dracula as she was thought to have bathed in the blood of virgin girls as she believed it would keep her young. She is the most prolific female serial killer in history and her crimes are verified by the testimony of more than 300 witnesses and physical evidence such as the mutilated corpses of her victims and dying and imprisoned girls found in her captivity at the time of her arrest. Because of her status, it took 8 years for the authorities to bring her to justice. After her trial she was confined in her castle for four years until her death in 1614, in a bricked up room with small slits to allow for ventilation and the passing of food.