The 20 Most Prolific Serial Killers In US History

Before we get into the list of the 20 most prolific serial killers in history, I’d like to make a few things clear about the list. First, I’d like to talk about what a serial killer is. A serial killer is someone who has taken more than two lives in separate events, usually over a period of a month or more. Sometimes serial killers will commit a second or third murder within a day or two of the first, but it’s unusual. Mass shootings or rampages aren’t often considered the work of serial killers as any victims killed are most often killed in the same event. There is almost always a ‘cooling off’ period between a serial killer’s murders. This is where things can get complicated in terms of definition. The Sandy Hook school shooting is an example of why defining ‘serial killer’ can be complicated. In this case, the suspect killed his mother at a separate location before going to the elementary school. Even so, the shooter is not considered a serial killer because there was not the expected cooling off period between the first murder and the mass shooting and because the murder of his mother and the mass shooting may have been part of the same event in the killer’s mind.

Things get even more complex when one considers spree killers. Spree killers are not often considered serial killers although they may take more than two lives in more than one location. Again, that cooling off period is not there. When a serial killer takes a life, he or she will often return to their normal life for a while. They’ll return to work. They’ll go home to their family. They’ll do whatever it is they would normally do. This can be a big part of the reason serial killers can sometimes be hard to catch. Spree killers, on the other hand, do not return to normalcy after their first murder. Spree killers generally do not remain active as long as serial killers because there is no return to normalcy which can make it easier for people around the killer to alert authorities to strange behavior.

The second thing I want to discuss is how I came up with the names on this list. I have not included any unknown serial killers such as the Alphabet Killer or the Zodiac Killer. All of the killers on this list have been convicted. I’ve also tried to weed out anyone that may be of questionable guilt. Let’s remember, someone is not necessarily guilty just because they were convicted in a court of law. All of the names on this list either confessed to their crimes or had substantial evidence tying them to the crimes they were accused of. The crimes of these men also all met the standard requirements to be considered the work of a serial killers.

I’ve chosen not to include any female serial killers on this list but don’t be mistaken, they certainly exist. I’ve completed a separate list of female serial killers you can view here. Female serial killers are often much different than male serial killers and I therefore felt they should be discussed in a separate article. Finally, this list is ordered by the number of lives the killer has taken for sure. While some were suspected of many, many more murders, the ‘proven victims’ number under each name is what the list is ordered by (lowest to highest) represents the number of victims that were positively linked to the killer through the killer’s own confession or other definitive evidence. ‘Possible victims’  refers to crimes authorities believe the killer may have committed based on circumstantial evidence or sometimes, the killer’s confession. There are a few notable serial killers who are not on this list because their crimes did not fit the standard definition of a serial killer’s crimes, the evidence against them is questionable or the number of proven victims excluded them from the list. For example, you may expect to find Albert DeSalvo (The Boston Strangler) or David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) on this list. DeSalvo confessed to killing 13 people when he confessed to being The Boston Strangler but the validity of his confession and subsequent conviction has long been questioned. Berkowitz, while well known, killed six people and wounded nine making him the 23 or 24 most prolific serial killer in US history, not in the top 20. Keep all of that in mind before you head to the comments section to tell me I forgot someone.

image source: murderpedia.org

image source: murderpedia.org

20: Richard Ramirez

Also Known As: The Night Stalker
Born: Ricardo Munoz Ramirez on February 28, 1960 in El Paso, Texas
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1984-1985
Proven Victims: 13
Possible Victims: 20
Punishment: sentenced to death

About Richard Ramirez’s Crimes

image source: www.nndb.com

image source: www.nndb.com

19: Arthur Shawcross

Also Known As: Genesse River Killer
Born: Arthur John Shawcross on June 6, 1945 in Kittery, Maine
Died: November 10, 2008 in Albany, New York at age 63
Active From: 1972-1989
Proven Victims: 14
Possible Victims: 14
Punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole

About Arthur Shawcross’ Crimes

image source: murderpedia.org

image source: murderpedia.org

18: Carl Eugene Watts

Also Known As: The Sunday Morning Slasher
Born: Carl Eugene Watts on November 7, 1953 in Killeen, Texas
Died: September 21, 2007 of prostate cancer in Jackson, Michigan at age 53
Active From: 1974-1982
Proven Victims: 14
Possible Victims: 80 or more
Punishment: 60 years in prison, sentence later commuted to life

About Carl Eugene Watts

image source: unknown

image source: unknown

17: Angel Maturino Resendiz

Also Known As: The Railroad Killer
Born: Angel Leoncio Reyes Recendis on August 1, 1960 in Mexico
Died: June 27, 2006 in Huntsville, Texas
Active From: 1986-1990
Proven Victims: 15
Possible Victims: 18 or more
Punishment: sentenced to death, executed by lethal injection

About Angel Maturino Resendiz’s Crimes

image source: www.murderpedia.org

image source: murderpedia.org

16: Robert Hansen

Also Known As: not applicable
Born: Robert Christian Hansen on February 15, 1939 in Estherville, Iowa
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1980-1983
Proven Victims: 15
Possible Victims: 21
Punishment: 461 years

About Robert Hansen’s Crimes

image source: psychologytoday.com

image source: psychologytoday.com

15: Charles Ray Hatcher

Also Known As: various aliases
Born: July 16, 1929 in Mound City, Missouri
Died: Committed suicide by hanging on December 7, 1984 in the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Missouri
Active From: 1969-1982
Proven Victims: 16
Possible Victims: confessed to 20
Punishment: life in prison

About Charles Ray Hatcher’s Crimes

image source: tumblr.com

image source: tumblr.com

14: Robert Lee Yates

Also Known As: The Spokane Serial Killer
Born: Robert Lee Yates Jr on May 27, 1952 in Spokane, Washington
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1975-1998
Proven Victims: 16
Possible Victims: 16
Punishment: sentenced to death

About Robert Lee Yates’ Crimes

image source: tumblr.com

image source: tumblr.com

13: Randy Steven Kraft

Also Known As: The Scorecard Killer
Born: March 19, 1945 in Long Beach, California
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1969-1983
Proven Victims: 16
Possible Victims: 65-100
Punishment: sentenced to death, currently on death row

About Randy Steven Kraft’s Crimes

image source: tumblr.com

image source: tumblr.com

12: Jeffery Dahmer

Also Known As: The Milwaukee Monster
Born: Jeffery Lionel Dahmer on May 21, 1960 in West Allis, Wisconsin
Died: November 28, 1994 in Portage, Wisconsin at age 34
Active From: 1978-1991
Proven Victims: 17
Possible Victims: 17
Punishment: 15 life sentences

About Jeffery Dahmer’s Crimes

image source: newsday.com

image source: newsday.com

11: Joel Rifkin

Also Known As: Joel the Ripper
Born: Joel David Rifkin on January 20, 1959 in New York
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1989-1993
Proven Victims: 17
Possible Victims: 17
Punishment: 203 years to life in prison

About Joel Rifkin’s Crimes

image source: findthedata.org

image source: findthedata.org

10: Paul John Knowles

Also Known As: The Casanova Killer
Born: April 17, 1946 in Orlando Florida
Died: December 18, 1974 at age 28
Active From: 1974
Proven Victims: 18
Possible Victims: 35
Punishment: killed while awaiting trial (not confirmed)

About Paul John Knowles Crimes

image source: about.com

image source: about.com

09: Patrick Kearney

Also Known As: The Trash Bag Killer
Born: September 24, 1939
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1965-1977
Proven Victims: 21
Possible Victims: 28 (some in law enforcement believe that number may be closer to 43)
Punishment: life in prison

About Patrick Kearney’s Crimes

image source: fanpop.com

image source: fanpop.com

08: William Bonin

Also Known As: The Freeway Killer
Born: William George Bonin on January 8, 1947 in Willimantic, Connecticut
Died: February 23, 1996 in San Quentin, California at age 49
Active From: 1979-1980
Proven Victims: 21
Possible Victims: more than 36
Punishment: sentenced to death, executed by lethal injection

About William George Bonin’s Crimes

image source: listverse.com

image source: listverse.com

07: Earle Nelson

Also Known As: Gorilla Killer, Dark Strangler
Born: Earle Leonard Nelson on May 12, 1897 in San Francisco, California
Died: January 13, 1928 in Winnipeg, Manitoba
Active From: 1926-1927
Proven Victims: 22
Possible Victims: 25
Punishment: sentenced to death, executed by hanging

About Earle Nelson’s Crimes

image source: newshopper

image source: newshopper

06: Ronald Dominique

Also Known As: Bayou Strangler
Born: Ronald Joseph Dominique on January 9, 1964 in Thibidaux, Louisiana
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1997-2006
Proven Victims: 23
Possible Victims: more than 23
Punishment: life in prison

About Ronald Dominique’s Crimes

image source: trutv.com

image source: trutv.com

05: Juan Corona

Also Known As: The Machete Murderer
Born: Jalisco, Mexico
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1971
Proven Victims: 25
Possible Victims: more than 25
Punishment: 25 life sentences without the possibility of parole

About Juan Corona’s Crimes

image source: grafiklit.wordpress.com

image source: grafiklit.wordpress.com

04: Dean Corll

Also Known As: Candyman, Pied Piper
Born: Dean Arnold Corll on December 24, 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Died: August 8, 1973 in Pasadena, Texas at age 33
Active From: 1969-1972
Proven Victims: 27
Possible Victims: more than 28
Punishment: murdered by accomplice, Elmer Wayne Henley

About Dean Corll’s Crimes

image source: muckrack.com

image source: muckrack.com

03: John Wayne Gacy

Also Known As: Killer Clown
Born: John Wayne Gacy Jr on March 17, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois
Died: Mat 10 1994 in Crest Hill, Illinois at age 52
Active From: 1972-1978
Proven Victims: 33
Possible Victims: more than 34
Punishment: sentenced to death, executed by lethal injection

About John Wayne Gacy’s Crimes

image source: wikipedia.com

image source: wikipedia.com

02: Ted Bundy

Also Known As: not applicable
Born: Theodore Robert Cowell on November 24, 1946 in Burlington, Vermont
Died: January 24, 1989 in Florida State Prison in Bradford County, Florida at age 42
Active From: 1974-1978
Proven Victims: 35
Possible Victims: more than 36
Punishment: sentenced to death, executed in the electric chair

About Ted Bundy’s Crimes

image source: tumblr.com

image source: tumblr.com

01: Gary Ridgway

Also Known As: The Green River Killer
Born: Gary Leon Ridgway on February 18, 1949 in Salt Lake City, Utah
Died: not applicable
Active From: 1982-2000
Proven Victims: 49 (convicted of 49 murders, confessed to 71)
Possible Victims: 90
Punishment: Life in prison without parole

About Gary Ridgeway’s Crimes

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