I was 10 years old when serial killer Ted Bundy was executed. It was a Tuesday. My mother had the news on as my sister and I got ready for school, and I remember stopping to watch for a minute while people ecstatically rejoiced in the death of Bundy. What I remember most was the slogan: “Tuesday is Fryday.” While I was too young to understand capital punishment or the extent of Bundy’s crimes, that moment stuck with me. I think it was then that my fascination with serial killers was born, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
As I got older, I became even more fascinated — if not mildly obsessed — with serial killers. It was when I saw Silence of the Lambs for the first time that I realized exactly what I wanted to do with my life: Like Clarice Starling, I wanted to get into the brain of killers. I wanted to try to understand the compulsion and need to kill. I wanted to research their patterns, their ritualistic behavior, and tie it all to what had or hadn’t happened in their lives to make them be the killers they were. Yes, I was going to be an FBI agent.
Obviously, I got a bit sidetracked. But through my creepy research, I learned that serial killers come in all shapes and sizes. While the list of serial killers since the beginning of time is very, very long ― here's looking at you Elizabeth Bathory ― it’s only been in the last several decades, thanks to the media, that the serial killings in one part of the nation managed to have an equally horrifying effect on the other side of the country, too.
Here are 7 serial killers who managed to cripple the nation with their dastardly deeds. This isn’t to suggest that they’re the most vile (Albert Fish), the most prolific (Henry Lee Lucas), the most terrifying (Ed Gein), or even the scariest (John Wayne Gacey), but these are the ones who shook the country to its core and shocked the hell out of us.
Son of Sam
It was between July of 1976 and July of 1977 when postal worker David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, terrorized the streets of New York City with his .44 caliber Bulldog revolver.
Berkowitz put fear into the heart of every single citizen of NYC’s five boroughs, and also tormented the media with letters to the editors about his murders. He said the NYPD would never be able to catch him, and promised to kill again.
Not only was the country shaken, but also the entire world was watching — his murders even made the front-page news in the Vatican’s newspaper.
By the time Berkowitz was dragged in for questioning on August 10, 1977, he had murdered six and wounded seven people. It didn’t take long for him to confess to his crimes, placing the blame on his former neighbor’s black lab who, apparently, being possessed by a demon, told Berkowitz to kill. The neighbor’s name was Sam.
Berkowitz is a born again Christian these days, with a website to boot, and continues to be denied parole.
(Best to hit play on the video below while you read the rest of this article.)
Unlike most of the serial killers on this list, Ted Bundy didn't stay in one area. Although just how many states endured his murderous spree will never be known, Bundy is held responsible for the disappearances, rape, and murder of several women in Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Florida ― at least.
It's assumed that Bundy's murders started in about 1974. It was at this time that he fell in love with a woman at the University of Washington, and when the relationship ended, he never really recovered. It was shortly after this that the murders are suspected to have started, with most of his victims very closely resembling the woman who broke his heart.
Bundy was painfully charming, as most sociopaths are, and had degrees in both psychology and law. We're also talking about a man who managed to escape custody twice, having lost the necessary 30 pounds to make his way out of a small hole in the ceiling above his cell the second time he broke free.
By the time Bundy was finally sentenced to death in 1979, he had been convicted of 36 murders. However, experts put that number at well over 100. No one will ever know for sure, because Bundy took that information with him to the grave.
The Boston Strangler
The Boston Strangler is sort of an Americanized version of Jack the Ripper, but with far less blood. Similarly to Jack the Ripper, the true identity of the Boston Strangler may never be known, despite the fact that Albert DeSalvo admitted to the crimes.
From mid-1962 to January 1964, the Boston Strangler murdered 13 women, most of whom were sexually assaulted before being strangled to death. All but one had been killed in their homes, where there were no signs of forced entry — making everyone suspicious that their neighbor was the Strangler. (That's according to my father, a Boston native, who actually lived next door to one of the victims.)
The killings took place not just in Boston proper, but in the surrounding cities as well. It was so crippling to the area that many young women fled and moved to other cities.
Although DeSalvo was convicted of the murders, his guilt was based mostly on identification made by some of the victims and his confessions, which were often inconsistent. At the time, there was no DNA to prove otherwise, so although there was a severe lack of evidence, DeSalvo was sent to jail.
In 2013, DNA could only connect DeSalvo to one of the victims, Mary Sullivan.
The Zodiac Killer
Unlike everyone else on this list, the Zodiac Killer has yet to be caught. While someone even wrote a book claiming his father was the Zodiac Killer, the identity of the man, to this day, is still a mystery.
In the late 1960s, the Bay Area came under the attack of a man who was killing couples in secluded areas (while wearing an executioner's hood) and taunting the media in between those killings. The man, who referred to himself as Zodiac, would send baffling coded letters to San Francisco Bay Area newspapers.
It is thought that the Zodiac killed at least five people between 1968 and the early 1970s, but no one can say for sure. Nor can they say, exactly, which murder was his last, due to the possibility of copycats — and the fact that maybe he's just on a vacation and will be back at it next year.
Interestingly, the case of Jeffrey Dahmer didn't truly disgust the world until his killing spree was over.
It was on July 22 of 1991 that the media descended upon the Dahmer’s Milwaukee apartment to report the findings of investigators: They'd found heads in the fridge and freezer, preserved skulls, men’s genitals stored for safekeeping, bodies decomposing in barrels, endless photos of torture and horror, and a confession from Dahmer that he had consumed pieces of his victims.
When the televised trial began, no one could stop watching and gasping. It was the third most-watched trial ever (the number one spot actually goes to his fellow serial killer Ted Bundy).
Dahmer was convicted of 15 murders, although he had committed 17, and was sentenced to life imprisonment on February 15, 1992. He was bludgeoned to death in prison on November 28, 1994.
H.H. Holmes is actually considered to be the first modern serial killer, thanks to the ways he went about his murders and how William Randolph Hearst spoon-fed all the gory details to the public. He also just might be the most sadistic on the list.
In 1886, Holmes moved to Chicago with murder on his mind, literally. He constructed a hotel, later dubbed the "Murder Castle," that contained all the things you'd need if you were planning to kill off as many people as possible: gas jets, trapdoors, chutes for tossing bodies, and a kiln to destroy the evidence. It was during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago that Holmes officially opened up for business.
It's estimated that Holmes could have killed as many as 200 people, although he only confessed to 27. But the real kicker here is that he wasn't even arrested on charges of murder, but for insurance fraud. Had he not messed up that scam, there's no telling how much longer he would have been killing people in his Murder Castle.
He was convicted of ONE murder, that of his partner in insurance fraud, Benjamin Pitezel, and was hanged on May 7, 1896.
1969 was the year of Woodstock — and the year that the world was introduced to Charles Manson.
Although Manson never actually murdered anyone personally, his power over his followers was so intense, that he's definitely one of the scariest serial killers out there. It was under his specific direction that his followers brutally murdered seven people, one of whom was 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate. At the time of her murder, Tate was just two weeks away from delivering her first child.
The murders sent shockwaves throughout the entire country as people tried to make sense of the notes written in the victims' blood on walls. Susan Atkins, Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Charles Manson were all found guilty and given life sentences for the murders. Atkins died in prison in 2009. Manson, on the other hand, is currently engaged to be married within the coming months.
So, that's lovely...