Morbid fascination is an intrinsic part of the human condition. It could be argued that it is this curiosity that heightens our sense of suspicion and prudence, and serves to make us more vigilant in dubious situations. As a result of this proclivity, vicious evil doers, like Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, have found their way into the collective psyche, and everybody knows their names, and are familiar with their crimes. A 2014 study estimated that, at any given time, there are between 25 and 50 active serial killers in operation in the United States. Serial killers seem to be as much a part of our society as the law makers, and the peace keepers are. With this in mind, who, aside from the Bundys’ and Mansons’ are you aware of? If you are interested in whetting your macabre appetite, read on. We have compiled a list of some of the most barbarous, perverse and brutal serial killers ever caught, but who failed to achieve the infamy of the aforementioned psychos and sociopaths. Be warned, what you are about to read is both 100% true and 100% unsettling. Readers should continue on with caution, this is not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for younger readers.
Robert ‘Willy’ Pickton
Canadian serial killer Robert Pickton is described as being one of the worst serial killers in the world. He was a pig farmer based in Port Coquitlam, in British Columbia, and his crimes are known as The Pig Farm Murders. Outwardly quiet and introverted, Pickton was harborouing a terrible and savage secret. By the time of his arrest in 2002 he had viciously butchered 49 women on his farm, before grounding their remains into mince, at a meat rendering plant. Most of it was fed to his pigs, however, he sold some of it for human consumption. The depraved killer was arrested in 2002, after items belonging to a number of missing women were found on his farm. Officers made the discovery after a chance visit to the farm, in search of illegal firearms. Following his arrest, DNA of at least 26 women who had been reported missing were found at the property. Many of these women were thought to be prostitutes who Pickton had picked up in Vancouver’s Red Light District. It is alleged that he brought them back to his farm to have sex, before brutally murdering them. He unintentionally confessed to the murders after he was put in a cell with an undercover police officer. Irritated at being caught, he complained to his cellmate: “I made my own grave by being sloppy. Doesn’t that just kick you in the ass now. I was just gonna [expletive] do one more, make it even, I wanted one more to make the big 5-0.”
Alexander Pichushkin is a Russian serial killer nicknamed The Chessboard Killer. He was caught in 2007, in Moscow, and convicted of killing 48 people. During the investigation, detectives found a chessboard with dates on all but two of the squares. These dates were connected to the murders Pichushkin had already committed. Pichushkin said he wanted to kill one person for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard, and crossed out a square for every kill, earning him his nickname. At the time, Russian authorities considered reinstating the death penalty, due to the gruesomeness and number of murders. Pichushkin targeted the weak, elderly and hopeless. He would lure his victims to a local park, to reportedly drink with him at his dead dog’s grave. He would then wait until his intended victim was drunk, then he would begin his attack. He would hit them repeatedly with a blunt object until they were dead or lost consciousness. He would then, often, throw his victims into a sewer pit. On occasion, some of his tragic victims were alive when thrown in, and died from drowning, rather than from blunt force trauma. Over time, Pichushkin’s attacks grew even more savage. He began leaving a broken vodka bottle, protruding from the skulls of some of his victims. He also became more lackadaisical when it came to disposing of the bodies. He left many of them out in the open, without bothering to try to conceal them. Authorities finally caught up with Pichushkin in June 2006, after he murdered a female colleague from his job at a supermarket. She had left a note for her son to tell him that she was taking a walk with Pichushkin. Chillingly, Pichushkin’s confession was aired on Russian television. In it, he went into great detail about his need to kill, he said: “For me, a life without murder is like a life without food for you.” He also later claimed that there were in fact more than 48 murders. He said that he had in fact killed 61 or 63 people, (his story varied), On this he said: “I thought it would be unfair to forget about the other 11 people.”
Donald Henry ‘Pee-Wee’ Gaskins
Donald Henry Gaskins, known as Pee Wee Gaskins, has gone down in the annals of serial killer history as the most prolific killer South Carolina has ever known. He was executed in 1991 by electric chair, after being convicted of 9 murders, however it is thought that he murdered far more people than that. His own claims bring his death toll to over 100 people, and a litany of other vile and depraved crimes can also be attributed to this seemingly unassuming man. Up until 1968, Gaskins spent most of his life in and out of prison for various crimes, from theft to gang rape. In 1969 he moved to the town of Sumter in South Carolina, and it is here that he would begin his true reign of terror. His first murder in Sumter was a hitchhiker that he picked up, tortured, and murdered, then sunk her body in a local swamp. In the book he wrote in prison, detailing his life and crimes, he wrote: “All I could think about is how I could do anything I wanted to her.” This woman was the first of many in what Gaskins referred to as his ‘coastal kills’. He would torture and mutilate his victims, while attempting to keep them alive for as long as possible. He confessed to killing these victims using a variety of methods including stabbing, suffocation, mutilation, and even claimed to have cannibalized some of them. He would go on to confess to over 80 of these types of murders, although none of these claims have ever been corroborated. Then, in 1970, Gaskins committed the first of his so-called ‘serious murders, which were people he knew and killed for personal reasons. Some of these victims included his own niece, Janice Kirby, aged 15, and her friend Patricia Ann Alsbrook, aged 17. He beat both of the girls to death, after attempting to sexually assault them. One of his most shocking murders was that of two of his neighbours, Doreen Dempsey, who was 23 and pregnant, and her two year old daughter. He drove Doreen and her little girl out to a secluded, wooded area, and violently raped, sodomized, and killed both her and her little girl. Gaskins was eventually arrested in 1975, and was found guilty in 1976, and sentenced to death. However, this was later commuted to life in prison when the South Carolina General Assembly’s 1974 ruling on capital punishment was changed to conform to the U.S. Supreme Court guidelines for the death penalty in other states. On September 2, 1982, Gaskins committed another murder. While incarcerated in the high security block at the South Carolina Correctional Institution, Gaskins killed a death row inmate named Rudolph Tyner, he was tried for the Tyner’s murder and sentenced to death. While on death row, Gaskins told his life story to a journalist named Wilton Earle. He claimed to have committed between 100 and 110 murders, however, law enforcement sources found his claims impossible to verify.
Patrick Kearney, ‘The Trashbag Killer’
In Los Angeles, in the mid 70’s, Homosexual men were being murdered and dumped in trashbags along the highways between LA and the Mexican border. The investigation centered around Patrick Wayne Kearney, an electronics engineer from LA. Kearney would eventually end his murder spree, when he walked into the Redondo Beach police station, and gave himself up. He plead guilty to killing three men, and was sentenced to life in prison, however, police knew there was much more to Kearney’s story than met the eye. They offered him a no death penalty deal, in exchange for a complete list of victims. Shockingly, it was worse than they had imagined, and Kearney initially confessed to eighteen more killings. He would later admit to a further eleven murders, which would bring his total to 32 killings. Kearney’s first known murder victim was an unidentified 19-year-old man, in 1962. Kearney claimed that he took the young man to a secluded area on his motorcycle, shot him in the head, and proceeded to engage in acts of necrophilia with the man’s corpse. Kearney would mostly pick up male hitchhikers, or homosexual men from gay bars. He would almost always shoot them in the temple, above the ear, with a .22-caliber derringer. After murdering them, he would take the bodies to a secluded place, and engage in acts of necrophilia, then take them home, where they would be sodomized with X-Acto knives. They were then mutilated, and dismembered with hacksaws. He would dispose of the bodies in various ways, including, dumping them in trash bags, earning him his nick name. He would also leave them out for wild animals to eat, throw them off cliffs into local creeks and would even drain some of the bodies of all their blood, to eliminate odors. Kearney, now 79, continues to serve his life sentence at Mule Creek State Prison, California.
Danny Rolling, ‘The Gainesville Ripper’
Known as the Gainesville Ripper, Danny Rolling murdered four University of Florida students and a Santa Fe Community College student in their apartments in 1990. He is known to have decapitated one victim, posed with the bodies, and removed skin and body parts and arranged the murder scenes using props that included broken mirrors. Rolling’s reign of terror began when he broke into the apartment of 17-year-old university freshmen Sonja Larson and Christina Powell. They were found mutilated and stabbed to death. He had raped both women, one after she was dead. The next day, Rolling killed Christa Hoyt, 18. Her body was found propped up, sitting on her bed bent over at the waist. Rolling had sliced off her nipples and left them on the bed next to her, and police discovered that her torso was sliced open, from her chest to her pubic bone. Her severed head perched on a shelf across the room. Two days later, Rolling killed roommates Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, both 23. Rolling remained at large until September 8, when he was arrested after a botched robbery in the central Florida town of Ocala. He was later linked by DNA to three more killings in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1989. He was not charged in the Gainesville slayings until 1992, while serving a life sentence for armed robbery and other crimes. He pleaded guilty to all five murders as the jury was being selected for trial in 1994. He attributed his behavior to abuse by his father, a police officer, and to an evil alter ego. In prison, he drew disturbing pictures and wrote a graphic book, ‘The Making of a Serial Killer’, with a woman who was his fiancée for a time. Rolling was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on October 25, 2006
Arthur John Shawcross
Arthur John Shawcross was an American serial killer who was in operation between 1972 and 1990 around Rochester, New York. Shawcross is known to have killed at least 14 people, as well as being a known cannibal and mutilator. He was also known as, ‘The Genesee River Killer’ and ‘The Rochester Strangler’, all due to how he would carry out his murders and where he would frequently dump the bodies of his victims. In 1967 he was drafted by the US Army at age 21. He served one tour in Vietnam, and loved to brag about the violent, gruesome atrocities he committed, like raping and cannibalizing children and, according to a police interview: “beheading mama-sans and nailing their heads to trees as a warning to the Vietcong.” After his release and discharge from the army, Shawcross and his second wife would move to Clayton, New York, where Shawcross would terrorize the surrounding counties, until his final arrest. In the Spring of 1972, 10-year-old Jack Owen Blake disappeared after going out to play near the Cloverdale apartments, where Shawcross lived. Shawcross had gone fishing with the boy a few days earlier, but denied knowing where he was. When Jack’s body was eventually found (after Shawcross’s arrest) months later, he had been suffocated, mutilated, and molested. Shawcross would later admit to luring the boy into the woods, forcing him to strip naked and run, before murdering him, and consuming his heart and genitals. Months after Jack’s murder, 8-year-old Karen Ann Hill disappeared, while on a Labor Day vacation with her mother. Her body was found under a bridge near the Black River, and she had been raped, mutilated and strangled. After reports surfaced detailing that Shawcross had been seen with Karen before she disappeared, and he was later seen eating ice cream cones, on the bridge where the body was found, Shawcross was brought in for questioning. After being arrested for both children’s murder, Shawcross confessed, and agreed to reveal the location of Jack’s body, in order to have his charges dropped from homicide to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, but would only serve 12. Unfortunately, staff and social workers made the call to grant him parole, stating he was: “no longer dangerous”, despite numerous psychiatrists warning that he was a schizoid psychopath. His parole officer would later be quoted as saying: “At the risk of being melodramatic, the writer considers this mant to be possibly the most dangerous individual to be released to this community for many years.” These words would ring tragically true when in 1988, Shawcross began a bloody, depraved murder campaign, that would claim 11 victims. Most were prostitutes and all were strangled and battered to death. They were also posthumously mutilated, and sexually assaulted. After the last victim’s body was found in January 1990, the police decided not to remove it and instead keep surveillance on the area. Based on a psychological profile that suggested the killer would return to the scene of the crime, police figured this would be the best way to catch their killer. Sure enough, Shawcross was spotted masturbating as he sat in his car, on a bridge over the creek in which the body of his final victim was floating. He was arrested and eventually confessed in custody. In November 1990, Shawcross was tried for 10 murders in Monroe County. He was found guilty and sentenced to 250 years imprisonment. On November 10th, 2008 Shawcross complained to officers about a pain in his leg. He was taken to the Albany Medical Center where he went into cardiac arrest and died that night.
In 1999, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was arrested in Colombia and he confessed to murdering 140 children. He was charged with killing 172 altogether, but some of the cases are still ongoing. It’s thought he could have been responsible for hundreds more deaths, with the number potentially estimated as being higher than 400. Better known as “La Bestia” or “The Beast”, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was one of the most ruthless serial killers of all time. Garavito’s victims were poor children, peasant children, or street children, between the ages of 6 and 16. He would approach them on the street or countryside and offer them gifts or small amounts of money. Once he had gained their trust, he would take them for a walk, and as soon as they began to get tired, he would pounce. He would rape them, slit their throats and dismember the corpses. As if this wasn’t bad enough, he would often mutilate the corpses, and many of the bodies found showed signs of prolonged torture and abuse. In 1997, police uncovered a mass grave. Suddenly, a widespread investigation into the missing children began. In February 1998, the bodies of 2 naked children were discovered lying next to each other on a hill in Genoa, Colombia. The next day, another child’s naked body was found, just a few meters away. Garavito was captured on 22 April 1999. He confessed to murdering 140 children. However, he is still under investigation for the murder of 172 children in more than 59 towns in Colombia. During his imprisonment, Garavito helped police to find the bodies of his victims. This, along with his confessions, allowed him to win a reduction in sentence by 8 years, thereby making the effective sentence 22 years. Colombian law does not have life imprisonment or death penalty options, and the possibility of serial killings was completely ignored in Colombian law. However, with increased public unrest, the law was revisited, and the maximum sentence for murder was increased to 60 years of imprisonment.
Joseph James DeAngelo, ‘The Golden State Killer’, and ‘The East Area Rapist’
The Golden State Killer is a serial killer, rapist, and burglar who committed at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries in California from 1974 to 1986. What was initially a search for the East Area Rapist, ended up being a 40-year manhunt for a killer, rapist and home invader. The reawakening of this cold case decades later led to the April 2018 arrest of suspect Joseph James DeAngelo, now dubbed as the Golden State Killer. DeAngelo was born in New York but went to Folsom High School, in suburban Sacramento, and was a former California Police Officer. In 2016, around the 40th anniversary of the first known attack, the search for the culprit of a suspected 12 homicides and about 50 rapes was renewed. Thanks to the advancement of DNA techniques and databases, DNA from a discarded item, and genetic information on a consumer genealogy website, guided police to the missing piece with DeAngelo as the suspect. DNA evidence linked the Golden State Killer to eight murders in Goleta, Ventura, Dana Point and Irvine; two other murders in Goleta, were lacking DNA evidence, but were linked by the killers usual modus operandi. His initial modus operandi was to stalk middle-class neighborhoods at night, in search of women who were alone in one-storey homes, usually near a school, creek, trail or other open space, that would provide a quick escape. He was seen a number of times, but always successfully fled; on one occasion, he shot and seriously wounded a young pursuer. Although he originally targeted women alone in their homes or with children, he eventually evolved to attacking couples. He would break in through a window or sliding glass door and awaken the sleeping occupants with a flashlight He would then begin threatening them with a handgun. Victims were bound with ligatures, and gagged. The male victim was beaten and left in a different room, while the female victim would be raped repeatedly for hours. In 1979, he moved on from rape, and began to murder his victims by gunshot or bludgeoning. After 1986 the case would go cold, until April 24, 2018, when the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department arrested 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo in connection with the crimes. DeAngelo, was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder. On May 10, the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office charged DeAngelo with four additional counts of first-degree murder. Unfortunately, DeAngelo cannot be charged with rapes due to the statute of limitations expiring for those offenses. Identification of DeAngelo had begun four months earlier when officials uploaded the killer’s DNA profile from a Ventura County rape kit to a personal genomics website. The website identified 10 to 20 distant relatives of the Golden State Killer, from whom a team of five investigators working with genealogist Barbara Rae-Venter, constructed a large family tree. They identified two suspects in the case (one of whom was ruled out by a relative’s DNA test), leaving DeAngelo the main suspect.