According to Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath who has no conscience. These are people who could cut your throat from ear to ear because they don’t like your haircut and then go out for dinner and dancing before drifting off to a good night’s sleep. The good news is that the vast majority of these sociopaths aren’t inclined to be violent. In fact, many of them have even gone on to enjoy long, successful careers in Congress (sadly, I’m not joking about that).
Unfortunately, this is not always the case — particularly when a child who already has those inclinations also endures horrific abuse or a serious mental illness. When you put together an inability to feel guilt with a perverse desire to inflict physical suffering, you have a lethal killing machine that is all the more dangerous because he often looks just like everyone else. Remember what neighbors and friends always seem to say about serial killers and mass murderers: “He might have been a little strange, but he was quiet and kept to himself. I never thought he’d do anything like this.”
7. Ed Kemper
Number of Victims: 10
Fate: Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole
To get an idea of how lethal Ed Kemper is, keep in mind that he’s 6’9″ and 300 pounds. He has an IQ of 130 and has been diagnosed as a violent schizophrenic. How violent? At 13, Kemper murdered his own grandmother because he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma“ and then he killed his grandfather because he was afraid of what his reaction would be after he discovered the murder.
Kemper was released from psychiatric care at 21, moved in with his mother, and began killing hitchhikers and engaging in necrophilia with their corpses after fights with his mother. After six murders, Kemper beat his own mother to death with a claw hammer, decapitated her, had sex with her head and then used it as a dart board. For good measure, he invited his mother’s best friend over to the house and killed her, too. Afterwards, Kemper called the police and turned himself in. Despite requesting the death penalty, which was apparently a childhood fantasy, Kemper was sentenced to life in prison.
6. Albert Fish
Number of Victims: At least 4
Fate: Electrocuted in 1936
Fish was a sado-masochist, gay rapist, cannibal, and pedophile who believe God was telling him to torture and mutilate children. He was an especially prolific child molester, who was believed to have abused more than 400 children despite having been married and fathered six children of his own. Fish was even said to have initially been a dedicated father, but he devolved into having his children beat him with a nail-studded paddle to gain sexual satisfaction when he was wasn’t driving needles into his own groin for the same reason. Eventually Fish moved on to murdering and eating young children, which was bad enough. But afterwards, he tormented one of his victim’s parents with a description of what he had done. Imagine having your child turn up missing and receiving this letter:
Dear Mrs. Budd. In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1–3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl’s behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them – tortured them – to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest *ss and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his *ss), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little *ss was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not f*** her tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.
5. Richard Trenton Chase
Number of Victims: 6
Fate: Committed suicide in 1980
Richard Trenton Chase was killing cats at age 10 and showed all the signs of becoming a nasty little psychopath when he veered into heavy drug use and eventually was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Over time, his behavior became increasingly bizarre and violent as he became convinced that he needed the blood of other living things to keep his own body from withering away.
He started out by killing and disemboweling rabbits, which he then ate raw, but moved on to birds, cats, dogs, and, eventually, human beings. Despite the fact that Chase had freely admitted to eating raw rabbits while he was committed, had called a family whose dog he killed to tell them what he had done, and his mother had seen him rip open and devour a dead cat, he was left to his own devices. He started out with a drive-by shooting. From there, he murdered a pregnant woman, had sex with her corpse, and ate part of the body. Finally, he killed a man, a woman, and two children, had sex with the woman’s dead body, and again fed on the corpses. After the police arrested Chase, they found blood splattered across almost EVERYTHING in his apartment and the brain of the 22-month-old child that Chase had killed was found in a Tupperware dish.
4. Carl Panzram
Number of Victims: 21+
Fate: Hanged in 1930
Carl Panzram was a misanthrope who committed evil for evil’s sake. In fact, just before he was executed, he said,
I wish the entire human race had one neck and I had my hands around it!
Those words were in keeping with the life he lived. Panzram was an extremely active career criminal, a prolific arsonist who particularly enjoyed torching churches, a thief’s thief, and a habitual rapist who claimed to have violated a thousand men.
I wasn’t very particular either. I rode them old and young, tall and short, white and black. It made no difference to me at all except that they were human beings.
After buying a yacht with the loot he collected during a robbery of William Howard Taft’s house (yes, really), he started hiring sailors to work his boat, took them out on the water, robbed them, raped them, murdered them, and then dumped their corpses into the sea.
Panzram was constantly on the move. He was even in Africa, where he hired six men, killed them all, and fed their bodies to the crocodiles. He also raped and killed a 12-year-old boy there. Soon thereafter, he raped another young boy, about whom he uttered this charming sentiment:
His brains were coming out of his ears when I left him. I am not sorry. My conscience doesn’t bother me. I sleep sound and have sweet dreams.
After that, he again raped and killed a young boy that he came upon and said that was his favorite murder, apparently because the boy spent so much time begging and pleading for his life before Panzam strangled him to death.
After he was finally caught and imprisoned for the last time, he was asked how it felt to kill a young child. His response was, “I hate all the f***ing human race. I get a kick out of murdering people.” That should have been on his tombstone.
3. Ed Gein
Number of Victims: 2
Fate: Died of heart failure in 1984 while confined at Mendota Mental Health Institute
It’s cheating a bit to put Gein on here, since he only has two confirmed kills and therefore doesn’t technically fit the definition of a serial killer (which requires three or more). However, it’s hard to do a list like this and leave off the killer who helped inspire Norman Bates from Pyscho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill fromThe Silence of the Lambs.
After his mother died, Gein, along with his brother, started robbing the graves of middle-aged women. Gein was using their body parts and skin to make furniture, along with a “woman suit” of his own — made out of real human skin. After his brother died under mysterious circumstances, the police suspected Ed Gein was responsible, but they were never able to prove it. Meanwhile, dead bodies apparently weren’t cutting it anymore for Gein because he moved on to killing two local women.
When police eventually raided his home because he was spotted at the scene of a murder, they “discovered human noses, vulvae, skulls made into bowls, skin masks, human heads in sacks, lamps and chairs upholstered in human flesh, organs in the refrigerator, and a belt made of human nipples.” That was in addition to a human torso hanging from the ceiling, shrunken heads, and human lips used as part of the drawstring of a window shade.
2. Jeffrey Dahmer
Number of Victims: 17
Fate: Beaten to death with a broomstick handle in 1994 while serving 15 life terms
Dahmer was a gay alcoholic who seemed to spiral deeper and deeper into madness as he grew older. His typical modus operandi was to frequent local gay bars and lure young men back to his apartment by offering them money. He would then drug, rape, and sometimes torture them before eventually strangling them to death. Afterwards, he sometimes had sex with the dead bodies before dissolving them in chemicals or worse yet, eating them. Dahmer even attempted to lobotomize some of his victims in order to turn them into sex slaves. He even claimed one of his victims survived for four days after he drilled into his brain. When the police finally searched Dahmer’s apartment, among the items found were four skulls in the refrigerator and three torsos in a barrel.
1. John Wayne Gacy
Number of Victims: 33
Fate: Executed by lethal injection in 1994
Gacy is particularly disturbing because he was a pillar of the community. Not only did he perform as a clown at children’s parties, but he was also a married, successful businessman. Gacy did volunteer work in his neighborhood and was a chaplain of the Jaycees. In addition, he was active in the local Democratic Party. He was a Democratic precinct captain and once was even photographed with Rosalynn Carter. That was the face that John Wayne Gacy presented to the public. In private, upstanding citizen Gacy was a serial rapist and murderer of young boys. He raped and strangled them to death; on three occasions, he even killed two in the same day. When the police finally caught up with Gacy, they found the bodies of 28 young men and boys in the crawl space under his house.