Who Is the Scariest Real-Life Serial Killer?

Serial killers have terrorized the world for years, but despite the unspeakable acts of violence and all of the lives affected, several of these monsters are still as common of household names as movie stars. They as fascinating as they are scary—providing a glimpse into the human psyche and just how fragile it can be, often exhibiting varying degrees of mental illness or psychopathy.

While there are several notable examples of history's serial killers, let's take a quick look at five of the scariest to date. And after you bone up (forgive the pun) on these murderous monsters, make sure to vote at the bottom for who you think is the scariest real-life serial killer.

John Wayne Gacy

Also known as “The Killer Clown,” John Wayne Gacy murdered and sexually assaulted at least 33 young men from 1972-78 in Cook County, Illinois—burying 26 of them in the crawl space of Norwood Park Township home.

Gacy was said to lure teenage boys and young men to his home, sometimes by force, where he would often get them drunk before committing his unspeakable acts. Eventually, with the police investigating him for the disappearance of Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to murdering “thirty people, give or take a few,” and was finally arrested.

He spent fourteen years on death row before being executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994.

Jeffrey Dahmer

Also known as “The Milwaukee Cannibal,” Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested for the rape, murder, and dismemberment of seventeen males in the Wisconsin area from 1978-91. Even more despicable, many of his later murders involved cannibalism, necrophilia, and the permanent preservation of certain parts of the dismembered bodies.

After an unsuccessful attempt to murder 32-year old Tracy Edwards—who escaped and alerted police—Dahmer was arrested after the officers found Polaroids of victims at various stages of dismemberment, along with a recently severed head in the fridge. An extensive investigation of the apartment revealed: four severed heads, seven skulls, two human hearts, a human torso, a bag of human organs, two entire skeletons, a pair of severed hands, two severed and preserved penises, and mummified scalp, and a 57-gallon drum with three torsos dissolving in acid.

Sentenced to 15 life terms (eventually 16), he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate on November 28, 1994.

Ed Gein

Although not technically a serial killer—he only admitted to killing two women, and most definitions of serial killers claim three as the magic number—Ed Gein is included in this list because of the sheer horror of his house of human artifact. 

In addition to killing two women, Ed Gein was a body snatcher—exhuming the corpses of recently deceased, middle-aged women who he thought resembled his mother. According to Wikipedia, when police investigated the disappearance of a local shop owner, Bernice Worden, they found in Gein’s house:

  • Whole human bones and fragments
  • Wastebasket made of human skin
  • Human skin covering several chair seats
  • Skulls on his bedposts
  • Female skulls, some with the tops sawn off
  • Bowls made from human skulls
  • A corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist
  • Leggings made from human leg skin
  • Masks made from the skin from female heads
  • Mary Hogan's face mask in a paper bag
  • Mary Hogan's skull in a box
  • Bernice Worden's entire head in a burlap sack
  • Bernice Worden's heart “in a plastic bag in front of Gein's potbellied stove”
  • Nine vulvae in a shoe box
  • A young girl's dress and “the vulvas of two females judged to have been about fifteen years old”
  • A belt made from female human nipples
  • Four noses
  • A pair of lips on a window shade drawstring
  • A lampshade made from the skin of a human face

Ed Gein served as the inspiration for such on-screen monsters as Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs), among others. He was found guilty of first-degree murder, but in a subsequent trial, found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was sentenced to live the rest of his life in a mental hospital—dying on July 26, 1984.

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy was handsome and charismatic on the outside, but cold and without remorse on the inside. Described as the one, true psychopath, Bundy admitted to killing 30 young women in seven states from 1974-78; though the number is likely much higher. 

A calculated killer, Bundy would lure young, attractive women to his car, where he would bludgeon and strangle them. After transporting them to highly researched, secondary sites, he would rape, torture, and ultimately murder his victims—often returning to the scene several times to perform more sexual acts with the corpses. (Although sometimes he would just dress them up, paint their nails, wash their hair, and lay with them.) 

Ted Bundy was originally arrested in Utah, but engineered two escapes that eventually found him on the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Florida, where he attacked four separate women at the Chi Omega sorority house. This would be what ultimately did him in, as he was finally caught, tried, and sentenced to death. He was executed by electric chair on January 24, 1989.

Richard Ramirez

Also known as “The Night Stalker,” Richard Ramirez was an avowed Satanist that terrorized the greater Los Angeles area, as well as San Francisco for a time, from June 1984 to August 1985. Ramirez was random and ruthless, his victims simply the unlucky souls that happened to live at one of the houses he would break into. 

Ramirez's m.o. involved home burglary, murder, and rape. He would often break into a home late at night, kill the first victim, beat and bound any other members of the household, rape and sodomize the women, and make whoever he kept alive “swear to Satan” that they had revealed any item of value in the home for him to steal. 

In all, Ramirez was convicted of thirteen counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder, eleven counts of sexual assault, and fourteen counts of burglary. He was sentenced to death, but died in prison on June 7, 2013 from complications stemming from B-cell lymphoma. 

Each of these monsters were scary in their own sense—ruthless killers who exhibited no guilt or remorse for their actions. However, only one can be the scariest real-life killer. Vote now for who you would least like to see hovering over your bed or at the dark end of an alley, in our first edition of 

The Lineup:



Think another serial killer is scarier? Head to the comments below and let us know who you think tops this list as scariest real-life serial killer!


  1. Melissa Keith

    H.H Holmes was a doozy. And Ed Kemper was really sweet. lol! Yea, Gein was one messed up dude. He got my vote. I used to party in El Paso all the time. I probably crossed paths with Ramirez. Tony Costa (IN HIS GARDEN by Leo Damore) is another contender. I met his uncle!

  2. James Herington

    Gary Ridgeway was the scariest killer, especially since I have crossed paths with him without even knowing. He killed two girls I knew and my nephew’s mother used to breed cats with him. I am really surprised he didn’t get the death penalty. I am sure the families of his victims also wouldn’t have minded flipping the switch on him

  3. Lilah Tisket

    Ed Gein. he was MESSED UP

  4. Some Guy

    Albert Fish should’ve been here. He’s way too messed up in the head and his crimes are something that we just shouldn’t talk about

    Maybe that’s why he didn’t make the list

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