Which Cop Show has one not appeared in?
A Serial Killer is defined as someone who commits multiple murders, out of some kind of mental or sexual compulsion, in separate incidents with at least a few days in between killings. This is their "cooling off" period, when they temporarily lose the compulsion to kill, and distinguishes them from Spree Killers, who kill in much more regular intervals of weeks or days, if they don't simply go on a murderous rampage that usually ends only when someone captures or kills them. The minimum death toll to be classified as a serial killer is 3-5 people, providing they were killed in separate incidents over a period of more than 30 days. If numerous people are killed in a single incident (e.g. someone murders an entire family in their home), that is mass murder, though mass murderers can and do become serial killers if they act multiple times.
Real Life serial killers are usually divided into 4 categories, and fictional killers tend to fall into one or more of these categories as well, if not by design, then by their nature.
Visionary — The killer suffers a break from reality, delusions, and/or hallucinations, that compel them to murder. They might believe God or Satan, or simply voices, are telling them to kill, or that killing will prevent some kind of disaster. Tends to result from some kind of trauma and/or a mental illness like schizophrenia. The Insanity Defense will usually only apply to this type (though even this only counts if their mental illness impaired their sense of right and wrong), and as such if a killer is going for that defense, they will usually claim to be such — this very rarely works in Real Life, and in fact is very rarely attempted, probably because in practice there is only so much difference between being locked up in a jail cell for life for multiple murders, and being locked in an insane asylum for life for the same.
Mission Based — The killer believes that their actions are for the greater good, or in the service of some higher purpose, because they are performing some kind of social, political, philosophical, or religious service, generally targeting people they blame for society's ills, or view as sinful, distasteful, or dangerous. Though they may be deluded, they are not psychotic like the Visionary killer, having a rough grasp on reality. Vigilante killers are a sub-type of this.
Hedonistic — Someone who kills for lust, thrill, or comfort/profit. The first two kill principally because they enjoy it; lust-based killers get sexual satisfaction out of murder, while thrill-based ones simply find it exciting. Comfort/profit killers are the type who kill to maintain or fund a life of luxury, or otherwise for money; hitmen and assassins fall into this category, but it usually refers to cases of fraud, embezzlement, or robbery that involves killing somebody. Women serial killers are usually comfort killers, though not all comfort killers are women.
Power/Control — These murderers kill because it makes them feel powerful. Often (though not always) the type who were mistreated or abused as children, they are driven more by insecurity or rage than by any pleasure they might get out of killing, though that might eventually play a part. If rape is involved, it is not, like a Hedonistic killer, motivated by lust, but as another means of dominating the victim. Very often involves torture, and / or binding the victim in some fashion, though neither of these are requirements.
In addition, as mentioned, there are several sub-types of these killers that fit into the above categories. Some examples include:
Revenge killers commit murders to lash out at real or perceived wrongs done to them in life, the victims typically being substitutes for the perpetrator of the original offense. May kill friends, relatives, or strangers for slights, sometimes petty in nature.
Black Widow killers cash in on the insurance of murdered relatives (or friends with wills). Typically serial spouses who murder their new husbands/wives and then move on, though they have been known to murder other relations, including children. Almost always women.
The Bluebeard killer is a male counterpart to the Black Widow killer, except that this specifically refers to men who kill their wives, not other relatives. Also, the motive is usually power, not financial gain, though that often plays a part.
Professional Killers are now increasingly regarded as a sub-type of killer, falling under Comfort/Profit Hedonistic killers.
Cost Cutters are those who kill to save money, such as a person who murders employees to avoid paying them.
Lethal Caretakers are nurses, carers, or other such who kill patients and carees for profit, e.g. to cash in on social security checks in their name. Usually women.
Angels of Death are similar, but kill patients for feelings of power and control, or sometimes serial mercy-killing (or believe their crimes to be such), and are thus harder to trace. Again, usually women, though Harold Shipman — British doctor and the most prolific serial killer in the world, falls into this type.
Munchausen By Proxy is a personality disorder where the perpetrator harms another for attention — for example, murdering a relative for sympathy at the loss, or killing someone and then trying to "save" them to act the hero. Usually not killers, but serial abusers of relations or strangers, but have been known to turn lethal.
Sexual Predators are killers who lure victims to their death with promises of sex or intimacy, or simply chatting the victim up. May drug their victims to make it easier. Usually Lust killers, but other motives are suspected in certain cases.
Sexual Sadists are lust killers who torture their victims before killing them; the torture is usually more important than the actual murder. The torture may be psychological and can last for a matter of seconds or minutes, or it can last for hours or days, depending on the offender.
Antisocial killers are those suffering from a severe case of a Personality Disorder. Impulsive and impatient, they pathologically violate social norms and values, such as repeatedly committing serious and petty crimes. Serial murder is usually just one of many crimes they regularly commit, and they often do so in the course of other crimes, such as robbery, rape, and various forms of manipulation.
Cannibalistic killers hunt down people so they can eat their flesh. Other times they do it out of curiosity after they've killed someone, the cannibalism not having been the primary motive for the murder. Jeffrey Dahmer is a well-known real life example of this type. Hannibal Lecter is the most iconic fictional example.
Police killers are serial murderers who are also involved in law enforcement. There's a roughly equal chance that they're a Vigilante Man who thinks he is cleaning the street by killing criminals and anyone else they regard as immoral, or just an indiscriminate psycho who butchers people for fun while using their jobs as covers for their crimes.
Serial killers can further be divided into Organized and Disorganized. The former plan their crimes carefully and often well in advance, and are thus always premeditated. They may even hold a stable job and have a good education, and appear perfectly normal in every way. Such people are very likely to be The Chessmaster. The latter are much more impulsive and careless; their crimes may or may not be premeditated, and they are recklessly executed when they are, without due care for witnesses or leaving evidence. These tend to be poorly educated and not in steady employment.
The following things tend to occur in a serial killer plot:
The killer sends a note to the police, or a newspaper, or both, with a taunting message that ends in a challenge along the lines of "You can't catch me." A gruesome souvenir may also be included.
A variation is to have the killer send a message saying "Please catch me before I kill more."
Serial killers are often, but not always, portrayed as The Chessmaster, brilliantly layering one Evil Plan onto another. Often, this takes the form of a series of Batman Gambits that lead the police on a series of wild goose chases as the killer gloats.
Serial Killer plots tend to be men killing women, although The Bill subverted this. This is somewhat realistic, however, because in the real world, the vast majority of serial killers are men — or, more exactly, men tend to murder in ways that make it easier for them to get caught. Female serial killers will typically be Angels of Death and may work in health care or similar vocations. In fiction, they'll often have a Torture Cellar or do their killings in a Sinister Subway.
Over the last few years, daytime soaps have had an unusually high number of serial killers. One Life to Live has had at least two in as many years. It's the chic way for producers to pare down their casts.
It's notable that many of these behaviors are realistic for serial killers, though seeing all of them with one killer is unlikely. Also notable is the fact that they are practically never allowed to go uncaught by the end, despite many of the most famous unsolved cases in history being serial killer investigations.
Compare with Psycho for Hire, the step-up of this trope into full-blown fictional villain. The killer feared by other killers is a Serial Killer Killer.
Sometimes they are more like a so-called 'Spree killer', i.e. someone who goes on a murderous rampage in a smaller area over a shorter time.
In fact, this is more common than actual serial killers, though characters often confuse the two, as time contraints mean the killings in a story usually take place over the space of a few days, whereas real serial killers by definition usually have weeks, months, or years between their kills.
Note that the Real Life section below is only a very small sampling of well-known serial murderers. Also, many potential Serial Killers get caught quickly because they use an MO, and also because a lot of them are so sick and demented that they want to get caught — yes, they see it as some kind of game.
That said, the images of his backstory are rather unnerving, and the only reason he stops killing is because of his involvement with the various conspiracies.
Scar is of a different (and often overlooked) variety. He only targets state alchemists with the motivation of revenge for the massacre of his people. This makes him a "mission-oriented" serial killer. He becomes more of a sympathetic antivillain and then antihero over time.
Also Solf J. Kimblee, who is a pretty smart psycho who manages to do most of his killing on government assignments and so avoids having to hide. He did eventually kill his commanding officer when they tried to take away his Philosopher's Stone after the war, and got thrown in jail until the time of the series.
This series also gives us The Slicer, who (like Barry) is Animated Armor, created to guard Lab 5 following the execution.
Gaara from Naruto constantly murders anyone who gets in his way, all because he believes that this is his sole purpose.
Although since he and everyone he is known to have killed are combat personnel, he fits this trope considerably less than most.
Many of those 'combat personnel' victims were, however, killed outside of combat situations. One notable instance of such would be the time Gaara killed two shinobi gamblers trying to get him to take a fall in the Chuunin Exam fights.
HIDAN. Kills for pleasure, cool down time between kills, likes to torture. He may even be named after Hedonism, one of the above categories.
Orochimaru is, or rather was, a straighter example; he fled the Leaf village after being exposed as a serial killer who had abducted and killed close to a hundred ninja, civilians, and babies to perform gruesome human experiments, though a number of these were technically unintentional in that he was usually trying to find safe ways of performing said experiments on himself and therefore wasn't really wanting them to die (not that he gave a crap if they did — plus, he seemed to be really enjoying himself.)
Johan Liebert, the Monster. He even manipulated other killers into doing his work for him, most of whom also ended up dead. Johan is an unusual example in that it is debatable whether he has a compulsion to kill, since he shows that he can stop whenever he wants, and his traumatic childhood is revealed to have happened to someone else. It should be noted that having these false memories is the only sign of insanity he demonstrates; all of his killings and manipulation may be motiveless and irrational, but Johan himself comes across as terrifyingly sane (with the exception of one Freak Out).
Also, he does not appear to get any sort of benefit from killing; he shows no signs of getting a thrill or sexual pleasure from his acts, nor does he seem to get any kicks from domination, and the killings are usually carried out as pragmatically as possible (no wasting time through torture, etc.), which suggests that his use of other people to kill might be simple expedience rather than enjoying his ability to manipulate. In addition, with many of his victims, there is no financial gain or any real progress towards whatever plan he may have at the time, making their deaths pointless. The lack of any recognisable motive is the main reason why he's widely considered Nightmare Fuel incarnate.
Naoki Urasawa, the creator of Monster, has another manga called Pluto, in which he manages to turn the titular character, a big, goofy-looking green cartoon robot with horns from the classic Astro Boy series, into a genuinely terrifying serial killer figure.
Kira Yoshikage, the Big Bad of the fourth part of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, kills women for their hands, which he has a strange fetish for (he thinks of the hands as his "girlfriends" and he seems to show no interest in the rest of the body). He is all the more dangerous because his ability leaves no evidence, and he will kill anyone who comes in between him and the normal life he wants to live.
In the anime version of the Locked Room Mystery in Haruhi Suzumiya, Haruhi saw "a shadow" in the distance during the storm, believing it to be the murderer. Since this is Haruhi, Kyon figures that there might be a psychopathic serial killer lurking around the island, simply because Haruhi wanted to have one. It is left open, but the chances of this really happening are more or less low.
With all the seemingly random killings in StrikerS Sound Stage X of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, this was what the investigators originally thought the Mariage Case was about. However, it soon became clear that Mariage wasn't a serial killer but a group of undeadsuper soldiers seeking the whereabouts of their king so they can begin a new war, all orchestrated by someone else as part of a terrorist scheme.
One particularly loathsome Contractor in the second season of Darker Than Black was a serial killer before getting his powers, and while being a Contractor means Lack of Empathy, that actually made him a bit saner and more able to control himself.
In a way, Nick in the first season might qualify. He was killing people to carry out a goal, not just as an end in itself, but his Power at a Price involved a compulsion to untie his victim's shoes, and so he kind of fit the "killer with a calling card" idea.
Yami No Matsuei (Descendants of Darkness) has played with this. In the Kyoto arc, Muraki goes on a serial killing spree, partially to draw Tsuzuki's attention, and partially to try and create a Frankenstein monster styled body with which to resurrect his hated brother so he can kill him with his own hands. Did I mention this guy's a psycho?
He's also behind the serial vampire murders that constitute Tsuzuki and Hisoka's first case together (Nagasaki), and the cruise ship disappearances they investigate later, which turn out to be organ farming. This is kind of his thing.
MPD Psycho centers around the protagonist, who attempts to use his multiple personalities to track and thwart serial killers. Since one of his personalities is itself a serial killer, it goes without saying that things at times can get complicated.
Goth follows a pair of murder-obsessed high school students who track down serial killers to admire their (often gruesome) work.
In Ibitsu, Kazuki is horrified to learn, far too late, that he's not the first person approached by the "Strange Lolita" killer. The others who became the Strange Lolita's "older brothers" were never heard from again.
Underdog: Naoto's first opponent, Masaya Hiuchi, is an 18 year-old who was just recently released from a mental institution after brutally murdering several of his female classmates in middle school. His first actions in the tournament show that he's already up to his old tricks.
Cho Hakkai (AKA Cho Gonou), one of the main characters in Saiyuki, is a mass revenge serial killer who goes Ax-Crazyyandere after his twincest older sister/lover is sacrificed by his village as an offering to the local demon king, leaving half of the village and most of the demons clan dead in the aftermath.
Kabuto from Parasyte. We don't know much about him, since by the time he first appeared he was already in jail, but a few flashbacks show that he used to be a big fan of mutilation, cannibalism, and necrophilia. He is brought to help the police catch parasites because he has the ability to see who is infected. It's implied to be because he sees other humans the same way parasites do — but at least the parasites need to eat humans to survive. He pretends that, deep down, everybody is like him, and he's just the only one who doesn't try to suppress his true nature.
There's a ton of them in Deadman Wonderland, they all eventually end up being forced to murder each other. A few are excited about that.
One of the early Bleach villains counts. Unlike most other hollows, Shrieker is just as bad dead as he was alive. He was a serial killer in life and seemed to simply just really enjoy it. His actions as a hollow are more of the same, just much more creative with his new powers, including sealing the soul of the kid who killed him in a parrot. Needless to say, when Ichigo appeared and ripped out his tongue before curb stomping him, it was incredibly satisfying. Being impaled and dragged to Hell was the cherry on top.
Pandora Hearts gives us Illegal Contractors, people that forge a Deal with the Devil in the hopes of changing the past. Part of the bargain requires them to sacrifice victims to their Chain, and many develop patterns or preferred victims over the course of time. The most notable examples include the mysterious Head Hunter and the Red-eyed Ghost — the former beheads victims and turns out to be both Humpty Dumpty and the Queen of Hearts, while the other is in fact Xerxes Break in a surprising example of a Serial Killer with a Sympathetic Murder Backstory.
One early chapter of Franken Fran has Fran being brought on as a consultant for a serial killer case where the killer dumps severed body parts all over town (that, according to DNA tests, all come from the same person, despite the fact that this should be impossible.) Eventually subverted, as there is no killer. All the body parts indeed come from one person...who is suffering from a massively hyperactive malignant cancer that causes her to sprout entire extra body parts and organs, and the ones leaving the body parts everywhere are most likely her parents, who were cutting them off of her.
Batman has dealt with many of them, and several members of his rogue's gallery fall into the category from time to time. The most recurring ones are The Joker (obviously) and Victor Zsasz. But by far the most notable serial killers in Batman history (by virtue of their actions being the main plot of a mini-series) are Holiday and The Hangman.
The most recent and notable new addition would probably be the son of Commissioner Gordon, James Gordon Jr.
Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is a serial killer protagonist. Psychologically, he see-saws between being a visionary and a thrill/control killer: On one hand, Johnny is very obviously psychotic, talks with his own furniture, suffers memory loss, and believes there's a thingnote fun fact:It's not a moose! living inside one of his walls (it's never consistent which wall), which he needs to paint with fresh blood regularly to keep the thing inside from escaping. On the other hand, Johnny is aware he's a psychotic serial killer and cherry-picks his targets from perceived Asshole Victims (or anybody unfortunate enough to stand close enough to one) and also exhibits a personal enjoyment in murdering people. Oh yeah, and that thing in the wall? It's real (well, that, or Johnny's psychosis is contagious. And sentient. And able to kill people). It's implied that Johnny was 'chosen' to become the thing's prison guard, with the duty having driven him insane and made him kill people. Then again, his personality doesn't really change all that much from being released from his duty. Senior Diablo notes that Johnny was pretty off to begin with, and being chosen just pushed him over the edge.
The Sandman has an issue where a bunch of serial killers have a convention, in the style of a comic book or sci-fi convention. They advertise it as a convention for the cereal industry. The escaped nightmare who draws the plot's attention there is the Corinthian — who became one of these for his own amusement in Morpheus' absence. For over half a century.
Has a crossover connection to Hellblazer, where John Constantine was having a run-in with the Cereal Convention's absent guest speaker at the time. ("Anyone seen the Family Man?")
Dog Soup hung a lampshade on this trope, complaining at a panel discussion that female serial killers like herself are stereotyped as either angel-of-mercy nurses or black widows. "I'm a serial killer and a woman, and I'm proud of it!" Judging by the name, she is a lot more hands-on about her work.
Bonus points because she's flanked by a woman in a nurse outfit and a woman tagged as "the grass widow," both of whom are giving her dirty looks as she says this.
The presence of at least two conventioneers who'd written "God" on their name tags, along with the "Religion Panel," may also be a lampshading of the kinds of delusions commonly attributed to serial killers.
Kevin from the comic/film Sin City is a particularly disturbing example. He kills and cannibalizes vulnerable hookers. However, it can be argued that he's a hit man for the Cardinal rather than a genuine serial killer.
The two are not exclusive. Look at the Iceman.
Roark Junior from the story That Yellow Bastard is another particularly vile one of these. He rapes little girls and slashes them to ribbons, and particularly enjoys hearing them scream. He's protected by his powerful U.S. Senator father, who makes life hell for anyone who tries to take Junior down.
A serial killer briefly appears in the Sin City short story "Behind Door Number Three". He was targetting Old Town girls. Things ended very badly for him, to say the least.
Carnage from Spider-man is one of these; his alter ego Cletus Kasady was one even before he came in contact with the symbiote. Early in his villainous career, he would leave the message "Carnage Rules!" written in his victim's blood (or with his own) at the site of each murder.
One story from Alan Moore's famous run on Swamp Thing was told from the perspective of a serial killer who called himself the Bogeyman. His career comes to an abrupt and anticlimactic end when he runs across the eponymous plant-man.
Onomatopoeia, a mask-wearing Serial Killer introduced in a Green Arrow story and later seen in Batman: Cacophany, targets Badass Normal vigilantes. He isn't against killing other people such as prostitutes either. The creepiest element of his character is one shared by more than a few Real Life serial killers: he leads a double life as a loving and seemingly normal family man with a wife and two kids. He handwaves the injuries he gets as sports accidents and has a secret trophy room in his house with the masks of the vigilantes he killed.
At least one writer for The Punisher has described the character as a serial killer who kills criminals.
Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, in addition to regular Batman villains, introduces Jane Doe, who kills people to take their identity and life, and Doodlebug, who drains people of their blood for his paintingsbut also to free several demons trapped beneath Arkham Asylum.
The Pony POV Series has Dark World!Fluttercruel, who, while she doesn't mind how she kills a pony so long as its violent, her preferred method is akin to Cupcakes!Pinkie Pie; torturing them to death in her Torture Cellar. Her motivation is a mix of Power/Control and Hedonistic, as she enjoys the power over them and gets a thrill. However, her biggest motive she kept secret was that she kills to express her love for her father and due to being raised by Discord, she has no idea that what she's doing is wrong. Also the Supernatural type, due to being immortal, and Discord's demigod daughter.
The Secret Life of Rarity is an example of a killer Rarity, dating back to a self-defense murder in her foalhood. She is a power/control killer, and by the end of the story she is the most prolific serial killer in the history of Equestria with well over 100 kills. Having said that, she has dissolved into clear self-loathing by the end of the story, and she hates how she has no control of her desire to kill.
In New Dawn, Nebiros is a Revenge Killer, taking very petty vengeance on those who he thinks were born into better circumstances than him. He also fits the Supernatural mold, due to the whole "he's a demon" thing.
In a similar vein, most villains in New Dawn III are Serial Killers, the Big Bad being a Revenge / Mission Based Serial Killer. Its worse in Robin's case because his Modus Operandi leaves no trace of his victims behind.
Sleepwalker has confronted multiple serial killers who become supervillains. One example is Fever Pitch, a "visionary"-type killer with a large Charles Manson-like cult following who eventually becomes a living, flaming skeleton that can control and shoot fire. Another example is the Scarecrow, who murdered 16 people with a pitchfork before being caught and executed, but has returned in the form of a demonic Freddy Krueger-like monster that Mind Rapes his victims to death.
Spider-Woman's Arch-Enemy, the Ax-Crazy Jack O' Lantern, counts as a serial killer simply based on the sheer number of people he kills over a period of several months. His reason for doing so? For the Evulz, mostly, which qualifies him as an "antisocial" type killer.
The Bones fanfic "The Bard in the Bodycount" has Booth and the Jeffersonian team going up against a killer who stages his murders bases on scenes from William Shakespeare's plays. The first victim, for example, is a woman found floating in a river, her body clad in a shroud and strewn with pansies, rosemary, rue and fennel, referring the the death of Ophelia.
In the Doctor Strange fanfic "The Necessary Shadow", Doctor Strange starts hunting down a serial killer known as the April 9th Killer. Once a year on April 9th, he kidnaps, rapes, and tortures five teenaged girls to death in a ritualistic manner, and leaving their bodies surrounded by occult implements. This has been going on for seventeen years, and Doctor Strange is certain that the sacrifices have some occult purpose. It turns out he's right, but not in the way he suspects. The human sacrifice performed by the April 9th killer is actually preventing an ancient Eldritch Abomination from materializing and eating the earth. So in the end, as much as he hates it, Strange must allow the annual murders to continue...
M, starring Peter Lorre as the bizarrely sympathetic child killer Hans Beckert, is one of the first film portrayals of a serial killer. Since many of these tropes had not taken effect yet, the climax was actually about savinghim from a furious lynch mob.
M was inspired by the case of Fritz Haarmann (aka "the Butcher of Hanover"), which also inspired two other movies: Tenderness of the Wolves in 1973, a fictionalized account of Haarmann's killing spree, and The Deathmaker in 1995, an account of Haarmann's psychological examination, based on the actual transcripts of his interrogation.
The other classic cinema example is Preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) in The Night of the Hunter, who famously has "Love" and "Hate" tattooed across his knuckles.
Johnathan Doe from Se7en is possibly the most disturbing one on this list. He is a serial killer who is obsessed with sin and punishment, and models his unimaginably cruel murders after the Seven Deadly Sins.
The most disturbing thing about him is not only his intelligence and sadism, but that everything goes according to his plan and he is victorious in the end.
Jigsaw of the Saw movies arguably fits here, though he is fairly sporting — he gives his victims a (very slim) chance to escape, and apparently wants them to escape, on the hope that their life will be improved by the experience.
As for his apprentice Amanda, well... Not so much.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, who murdered his customers and sent them down the chute, where his partner Mrs. Lovett baked them into pies. His initial motive is revenge for what happened to him and his wife at the hands of the corrupt Judge Turpin, and his first killing is a man who recognized him from his days as Benjamin Barker and tried to blackmail him, but after "Epiphany", he starts committing the murders that would make him infamous.
The Stepfather series of films involves an unnamed serial killer (he only ever uses aliases) obsessed with finding the perfect family to become a part of. Things are all smiles and sunshine for a while, but if the family doesn't reach expectations and becomes too hard to handle, he moves on to another, murdering his current one (and anyone else in the way) in a vicious cycle, being incapable of believing that there is no such thing as "the perfect family". One of the most memorable scenes in the original is of the killer losing his composure in the basement, thrashing around and muttering nearly incomprehensibly, unknowingly in front of his stepdaughter. Also, the "Family Killer", as he's called in the third film was apparently based off real life killer John List.
Henry, the Villain Protagonist of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, is a brutal murderer who changes his M.O. for each kill, so the police don't know what he's up to. He eventually gets away with killing every other major character in the film, including his accomplice and his girlfriend. He's also so cold and unfeeling that he makes Dexter look like a warm, caring individual.
The murderous truck driver from Steven Spielberg's Made-for-TV MovieDuel is revealed to be one of these, as we see several license plates mounted on his truck, presumably as trophies from drivers he previously killed.
Wrong. Most are marked MC, which is the designation for motor carrier. The plates are most likely nothing more than his licenses for operating in various states.
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: You. You're the elevator killer. Merv Griffin. The Elevator Killer: Yeah. Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Why? The Elevator Killer: I don't know. I've always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and — it's just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn't even lurk anymore. I'd hear, "Who's that lurking over there? Isn't that Merv Griffin?" So I came to Europe to kill. And it's really worked out very well for me!
Grindhouse's Stuntman Mike: He's a stuntman. Who horribly butchers women. With his car. Yeah. Tracy Thoms, Zoe Bell, and Rosario Dawson turn the tables on the redneck lunatic.
Evilenko, also based on Chikatilo (though much more loosely).
Jack in the movie Blacktop, who, as the title suggests, works driving a truck around the mid-West and uses the trailer's freezer to store the strung-up corpses of his victims. Best part is, he's played by Meat Loaf.
Mike and Bart in the black comedy How To Be A Serial Killer.
Carl Panzram in Killer: A Journal of a Murder, memorably played by James Woods. Disturbing in its way since the story is based on an actual serial killer, although the film isn't nearly as gruesome as Panzram's real career.
The murderer in Untraceable abducted and killed people in gruesome ways while broadcasting over the internet that he would spare the victim only if it didn't meet the number of viewers that he attracted, as it turns out the people he was killing were people connected to his father's suicide.
Serial Mom is a humorous example of a Revenge Killer, in that she kills people over extremely small transgressions, like not rewinding rental videos (this was made back in the pre-DVD age), not recycling or wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
Man Bites Dog: Notorious Belgian Cult Classic about a documentary crew following a serial killer during his daily activities.
The serial killer in The Dead Zone focuses on killing women. He turns out to be a policeman who lived with his mother in a clown-patterned bedroom.
The Cell deals with a new experimental technology, to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer in order to learn where he has hidden his latest kidnap victim.
Butch Cavendish from The Lone Ranger, who's stated to be an Indian killer and have murdered and eaten people, is a Hedonistic version.
The Silence of the Lambs is the definitive serial killer novel, in that almost every fictional serial killer since has been inspired by the two examples in the movie.
Buffalo Bill is a complete maniac who kills and skins five women. Although feminine and very disturbing, he is a fairly generic serial killer. Buffalo Bill is actually a combination of real life serial killers Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Gary Heidnik.
On the other hand, Hannibal Lecter is a cultural icon. He's a well-educated man, a famous psychiatrist, and a genius who sometimes helps out the protagonists. His cold eyes are the only signs that he is a serial killing cannibal. Although in the book (but not the film), he has maroon eyes and six fingers on one hand.
Francis Dolarhyde from Red Dragon (the first of the Lecter novels) and the movie Manhunter is a gruesome one, complete with scrapbook of newspaper clippings and drawings from when he was a kid, reflecting his Freudian Excuse. Rather than sending taunting letters to the cops, he sent fan letters to the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter himself.
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi has the title character, a charming, wealthy aristocrat who is revealed to have killed hundreds of young women that he keeps in a chamber in his estate.
Annie Wilkes from Misery is an "Angel of Death" example. She was a nurse, and killed many old patients, and later, babies in the hospitals she worked in.
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith has one operating in the Soviet Union in the early 1950's. The catch? The killer is the protagonist's brother, Andrei, from whom he was separated as a child. Turns out Andrei was killing his victims the same way that he and his brother killed game for food, in an effort to lure his brother back to him. Not to kill him, just to be with him again. You find out the identity of the killer a while before the end of the book (if you can put the clues together), so it becomes a whydunnit.
Subverted in the Agatha Christie novel The ABC Murders, where Hercule Poirot receives a series of letters from 'ABC' threatening to kill a series of victims in alphabetical order and challenging Poirot to unmask him. Alexander Bonaparte Cust is being used as a front by the real killer, who wants to murder his brother for the inheritance and plans to cover it up by disguising it as the act of a serial killer.
Martin Vanger from The Millennium Trilogy defies all stereotypes and all rules on top of this page. He is the kindly CEO of a corporation, a nice but troubled guy, and a friend who even saves the protagonist's life. And he is a serial killer who has been imprisoning, raping, and murdering hundreds of young Russian girls. This has been going on since he was a teenager. The most chilling thing is Martin's explanation for his actions: "This is every man's innermost dream. I take whatever I want".
John Dread, from Tad Williams' Otherland series, was raised by a violent, drug-addicted mother who fulfilled her revenge fantasies against the world by intentionally turning him into a sociopath. He started killing as early as 6, was moved from institution to institution and deemed "incorrigible", and finally escaped into society after Corrupt Corporate Executive Felix Jongleur noticed his abnormal psychic powers and began training him as a Psycho for Hire. He murders women for pleasure in fetishistic ways (acting out a Revenge Fic against his mother) and records all the killings in his private video library. He taunts the police by leaving bizarre clues at the scene and "fogging" security cameras with his "twist". He chafes at Jongleur's leash, and eventually breaks free by infiltrating the heroes' group in Otherland and discovering how to break the network's security, upon which point he proves how Eviler than Thou he is by going on a godlikekilling spree.
In The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub, Dick Dart is most definitely this, despite how much he hates being called this by the media.
In Stationery Voyagers, Clandish Consto toys around with the idea of making a career out of being a Serial Killer. Then, he decides to become a full-blown terrorist instead (with plans to become a god).
Gretchen "the Beauty Killer" Lowell, first introduced in Heartsick, has tortured and killed over 200 people, whether alone or by manipulating her lovers into killing for her.
Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami, has a strange example: a character known as Johnny Walker (very strongly implied if not proven to be the dad of the main character, Kafka.) Why is it strange? Instead of people, he kills cats, and eats their hearts.
The search for a serial killer in New York City in 1896 is the plot of Caleb Carr's The Alienist.
The period mystery Eater of Souls is a serial-killer story set in Ancient Egypt. One of the few cases where the "Supernatural" variant of this trope is genuinely and plausibly suspected by the investigators.
The David Eddings novel Regina's Song has the Seattle Slasher, a killer who paralyzes sexual predators with a syringe of curare and then carves them to pieces with a linoleum knife.
Ramsay Snow in A Song of Ice and Fire, alongside with being a torturer and altogether unpleasant person in every regard. Even his father, himself a fairly monstrous man, finds his excesses distasteful.
Gregor Clegane also fits the bill, as he responsible for the murder of his father, his younger sister and his two wives, as well as many, MANY other innocent people during the story.
The Roman Empire setting of the Marcus Didius Falco novels might strike some as an odd place for a serial killer, but Three Hands in the Fountain has one anyway. Then again, the thoroughly modern sensibility of the series makes it work.
The first story that featured the infamous demon barber Sweeney Todd, The String of Pearls, had Sweeney murdering his customers by means of a barber's chair rigged to send people down to his basement, taking his razor to any who survived the fall, then delivering the bodies to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop across the street through a tunnel below to be made into pies. Sweeney was not motivated by vengeance like in the musical, but money. The story is a lot less romantic or melodramatic than the musical, and it ends with the two getting caught, Mrs. Lovett poisoning herself before the trial after almost getting lynched by her customers during her arrest, and Sweeney himself being tried, convicted, and hanged for his crimes.
In the Fate/Zero novel, the historical hero Gilles de Rais (summoned to the war as Caster) is a visionary serial killer (with aspects of a thrill killer) who kills to spite God for abandoning Jeanne d'Arc. He favours children as his targets. His master, Ryuunosuke, is a sadistic thrill killer who ended up summoning Caster out of curiosity and gleefully follows Caster because he considers him an artist.
Cat of Many Tails by Ellery Queen has Ellery being hired as a special investigator to assist the NYPD to catch a serial killer who has been terroising New York. Initially, the only pattern Ellery can find in the killer's targets, who vary in sex, race, and marital status, is that each victim is younger than the one before.
" The Hunter" from Gun Machine has over two hundred kills to his name, performed over a series of twenty years, using "appropriate" pre-used guns to kill every target. He is eventually revealed to be a visionary mission killer: The Hunter is a delusional psychotic attempting to make a wampum pattern out of his murder weapons that he believed would kick-start the Ghost Dance and return Manhattan to its pristine pre-colonization state.
Season 1/"Darkly Dreaming Dexter: - The Ice Truck Killer, dabbling in the murders of prostitutes by methods quite like Dexter's methods. Turns out it's Dexter's own brother, Brian, who is later killed by Dexter.
Season 2 - Dexter himself, after his garbage bags are found. Doakes takes the fall for it, and Lila kills him in a cabin explosion.
"Dearly Devoted Dexter: - Dr. Danco, a former interrogation specialist and surgeon who was employed by the US government in El Salvador, who was sold out and starts to hunt down the people who caused it. A former comrade of Doakes. Killed while experimenting on Doakes with Dexter tied down. Doakes comes out of it missing a few body parts. A lot of them. He gets slightly better.
Season 3 - The Skinner, a man known for, well... skinning people. He kidnaps Dexter and tries to get him to tell where Freebo, an associate of the Skinner, was. Dexter snaps his neck and then throws him into the incoming path of a police car.
"Dexter in the Dark" - A serial killer who kills in an odd tradition, by beheading and throwing the body in a kiln. A subversion, since it's all being committed by several people in a cult worshiping Moloch, an old god. Arguably played straight when it turns out Moloch is very real, and drives people to murder. Dexter's stepchildren were about to be victims by the head of the cult until Cody saves the day.
Season 4 - The Trinity Killer, a man who kills in threes. One of the most prolific and deadly killers in America, having avoided capture for three decades. Dexter unravels Trinity's double life and eventually kills him, but not until after Trinity (or someone using his signature) kills Rita. He killed each person during a cycle in different ways, to reflect deaths of family members he either directly or indirectly killed. It also turns out he killed in fours, but the first part of his cycle was not picked up by the original investigator because the bodies were never found.
"Dexter by Design" - A killer who carves out the innards of victims and stuffs them with ironic objects based on the scenery. Averted, turns out they were corpses stolen from the Miami morgue. Then played straight when Dexter kills one of the two masterminds behind it, sending the other one into a killing spree. He then kidnaps Rita and tries to kill her. Dexter and kids save the day.
Season 5: The barrel girl gang. Serial rapists as much as killers who murdered their victims to dispose the evidence in all but two cases.
Season 6 The Doomsday Killer, who stages his murders to mirror bits of the Book of Revelations in order to bring about the apocalypse. The viewer is first lead to believe that the murders are done by religious studies professor James Gellar and his disciple Travis Marshall, but we later find out that Travis is the real killer haunted by the memory of Gellar, who died years ago.
Season 7: Serial poisoner Hanna McKay. People who gave her trouble had a mysterious tendency to die of heart attacks... she's not the antagonist of the season, though; in fact, she's Dexter's love interest that season!
Season 8: The Brain Surgeon, who literally cuts off people's skull with a saw and extracts bits and pieces of their brain. Turned out to be Oliver Saxon, Dexter neightbor's boyfriend, which is a cover identity; in reality, he's Daniel, the presumed-dead son of Evelyn Vogel (Dexter's Parental Substitute).
Jack of All Trades from Profiler both supported and subverted this trope. Jack was the killer, yes, but he had a girlfriend/project named "Jill", whom he made up to look like Sam Waters, the object of his obsession. But Jill, not Jack, is actually the one who kills off Sam's boyfriend Coop in Season Two.
So far, the extraordinarily dreadful Wayne Callison has only appeared on two episodes of Shark, but several plot arcs were initiated by his fairly memorable role.
Monk had a subversion in "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy". The "Six-Way Killer" sends the police a note bragging that he'll strike again within 72 hours, and the police focus all their resources on the case. Actually, the killer has no intention of killing anyone else. He wants to distract attention from a previous murder long enough for the police to lose their chance at a crucial piece of evidence.
Played straight in "Mr. Monk's 100th Case": A modelling photographer goes to the houses of young actresses who have posed for him, takes them off-guard, strangles and kills them, then takes their lipstick (to sign his work). In addition, each target he kills, he paints the deceased target's photo in his own photo studio with lipstick, leading Randy to call him the Lipstick Killer, a name Stottlemeyer disapproves of.
Monk has had some other serial killer cases before: one example is "Mr. Monk and the 12th Man", where this is Monk's only explanation for a string of eleven deaths.
As a side effect of this, and the writers' close working relationship with real members of the BAU, it is very rare for more than two of the listed criteria to appear in the same killer.
Most villains that aren't serial killers are spree killers (a slightly different classification, but one that still ends up with a ton of people dead). The sheer variety of them covered in the show is one of its most interesting aspects.
Sylar. Throw in a slew of psychological issues and superpowers and you've got a doozy.
Luke: "Wow. So you're like a serial killer."
Sylar: "I'm not a serial killer."
Luke: "But you've got a pattern. You go after specific victims. You collect mementos."
Sylar: "Okay, technically, I'm a serial killer."
American Horror Story: Asylum has Bloody Face, a masked serial killer running the unspecified area where Briarcliff is located in the 1960s and the ruins of Briarcliff in the present day somehow. In the past Kit Walker is falsely accused of being him after his wife disappears. He turns out to be Dr. Oliver Thredson, the mild-mannered psychiatrist, in the 1960s, and his son in the present day. Incidentally, the iroginal is played by Zachary Quinto, who portrayed Sylar as mentioned above.
Millennium: Frank Black (no, not the guy from Pixies) specializes in profiling serial killers.
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has had at least four, including "The Miniature Killer", who made miniatures of the crime scenes before a murder, and ultimately tried to kill Sara Sidle. Turned out this killer was a woman. Others include: the "Blue Paint Killer", who lured women into a trap using wet paint,the "Dick and Jane Killer", who killed couples, keeping the girls to himself and leaving the male bodies to be found, the bodies stabbed sequentially to show their order of death, then ended up stabbing Dr. Ray Langstrom in the Season 10 Cliff Hanger, and Sqweegel, a Canon Immigrant from a book written by one of the producers, who dressed in a full body latex bodysuit and shaved off all his hair to avoid leaving evidence. He was never caught.
Dentist! Dr. Dave - cuddly older fellow, does dental work for the un-insured, eats lunch in the same little diner for forty years, loves his wife and (grown) kids, and callously murders young women and drops their bodies in places with high crime rates. And gets away with it for years. And when caught, calmly refuses to identify bodies because he simply doesn't care about the victims' families. Beyond creepy.
Also, Paul Millander, who shot men in bathtubs and made it look like suicides.
CSI: New York had one such arc with "The Cabbie Killer", a guy who gassed people in the back of his taxi- with the exhaust fumes. As means of murder go, that is Nazi-level, being the method used before Zyklon-B was introduced.
The other two big CSI NY ones were: Shane Casey, who first targeted the people involved in the conviction of his brother, who committed suicide in prison. He killed them all in symbolic manners and left cryptic t-shirts on the bodies. Eventually,he was arrested and imprisoned, but escaped and turned his rage on Danny and by extension Lindsay,because Danny forced him to confront evidence of his brother's guilt. He was only stopped when Lindsay shot him after he broke into the house and held their infant daughter hostage. The second was the Compass Killer, who left antique compasses at all his kills as his signature.
Every CSI: Crime Scene Investigation show has had numerous serial killer that lasted for only one episode, rather than forming story arcs. Of those that do make recurring appearances, most tend to either die in prison usually via suicide, or be killed by the cops.
A classic ep of Hawaii Five-O played around with this trope. The killers (a man and woman) are preying on wealthy young widows and unmarried women, offing about one a month. There is no note to the cops, no wall of evidence. A wealthy young widow goes missing and her attorney pesters Five-O to find her. They come up with scads of missing women who fit the M.O., only to find the attorney's client alive and happy being a hippie on a beach. But all the other women ended up very, very dead. Being Five-O, McGarrett sets a trap using a policewoman as bait and catches said villains.
Hawaii Five-O also had an episode with a family of serial killers, headed by Slim Pickens. They're presented as inbred hillbillys with barely an IQ point between them (hey, it was the 60's). In the end they are caught because one of the children kept a souvenir. They excused their crimes on two points. It wasn't robbery because they killed the people first and dead people don't need money and secondly it was okay to kill them because "They weren't kin."
In the season 3 finale of Psych, the "Yin-Yang" killer, who will challenge a cop he views as worthy with riddles, challenges Shawn to catch him before he kills. However, Shawn beats him by taking his plan Off the Rails (Shawn was supposed to answer a cell phone they found, but threw it into the ocean), forcing him to change his intended target to keep Shawn "in the game". But it just causes him to be caught for the first time ever. And he turns out to be a she.
Subverted in the final season of The Wire, where two cops invent a fictitious serial killer preying on homeless men, even going so far as to fabricate evidence and lie to the media. They use the subsequent uproar to get city hall to pony up funds withheld from the police due to a budget crisis.
NUMB3RS has had quite a few, from serial snipers to people staging fake car accidents to murder to a murderer killing people in ways that mirror the death of every one of Jesus' apostles. Most of them only appear in one episode. This being a show about Math fighting crimes, all the serial killers are found using math.
Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Nicole Wallace. Also, Kevin Riddick a.k.a. The Motel Ripper, Frank Mc Nare a.k.a B.B.J., Dr. Edwin Lindgard, and Jo Gage.
Gormogon from Bones was the latest in a line of cannibalistic serial killers who preyed on those they believed to be members of secret societies. Other serial killers who feature in multiple episodes include Howard Epps, Jacob Broadsky and Grave Digger. Two of the four are thankfully dead, the third was captured,and the fourth just got her head shot off as she was going to trial.
The one who hasn't been stopped yet (The the chagrin of the audience)is Christopher Pelant, who went so far as to leave a corpse in Hodgins and Angela's home, on top of their canopy bed. Booth shot him, but he managed to escape. How does he accomplish his crimes? Technobabble. Seriously, none of the technology he uses to hack things for his crimes works that way.
NCIS gives us Kyle Boone, who killed close to thirty women (one his mother and another a Naval officer) and was ultimately caught by Gibbs some years before the series began. As he was set to be executed, however, more murders occurred. Turns out he'd trained his lawyer to carry on as part of a scheme to escape execution and gain more attention from Gibbs. The lawyer picked Recurring Character Paula Cassidy as his next victim...and she killed him. Others appeared as well, including a serial sniper going after Marine recruiters and a young Jack the Ripoff who laughed after he was caught, convinced that he'd be famous. Gibbs deliberately withheld his name from the press.
In the season four episode Smoked, the dead body of a serial killer Fornell has been hunting for years turns up. In the end it turns out it was actually the dead man's wife who was the killer. Except they found the toe of one of the victims in her husband's stomach.
At the end of season eight and beginning of season nine, they try to catch the P 2 P (Port-to-Port) killer, who kills navy personnel, dresses them up in uniforms belonging to people above them in the hierarchy, wraps them in plastic and ties their feet together. Turns out he didn't start out as a serial killer. He was part of a CIA/NCIS program called Operation Frankenstein which purpose was to train "superassassins". The training pushed him over the edge and gave him a need to kill. And now this killing machine is angry because of what the CIA and NCIS did to him and seeks revenge.
The monster in "Skin" is a shapeshifter whose MO is to take the appearance of someone and then torture, rape and kill one of their loved ones so they would be framed for his crimes.
In "No Exit", the protagonists had to take out the ghost of H. H. Holmes, America's original serial killer.
In a flashback in "Repo Man", a demon kills and mutilate women while he is possessing somebody. Years after having been sent back to hell by the Winchesters, a very similar killing spree starts again in the same region. The killer is the guy who was possessed by the demon in the past, who always wanted to be a serial killer but never had the strength or expertise to actually do so until he got possessed.
A handful of Cold Case examples. Usually it's the killer resurfacing after years of inactivity, or their dump sites being discovered that prompts the team to investigate.
Tobias Lehigh Nagy ("The Smog Strangler") from Seinfeld; Kramer gets mistaken for him. Another episode had The Lopper, who apparently cut the heads off of men who just happened to resemble Jerry.
An episode of Everybody Hates Chris had Chris convince the neighborhood that a serial killer (who murdered people with scissors) was on the loose.
Castle has had three encounters with serial killers.
In the pilot, this trope was averted; the Genre Savvy killer framed a crazy person by killing two people in addition to his real target, and staging all three scenes to look like the work of a serial killer. Averted because Castle is dangerouslygenre-savvy.
Scott Dunn, the serial killer in "Tick Tick Tick..." and "Boom!", uses a series of ridiculously elaborate plans to point the police at a patsy, who was actually a victim. Later, he got his Alone with the Psycho time with the guest star, and nearly killed an FBI team with his diabolical Evil Plan. Defeated by Castle, who as an author is Dangerously Genre Savvy and foiled his plot by explaining how he would have written it if it was one of his books.
Castle and Beckett finally meet their match in "3xk". This killer is so brilliant that he got another criminal to kill some of his victims while he was hiding in jail on a minor charge— a nearly bullet-proof alibi. While Castle solves this one as well, it's too late to stop the killer from escaping. Escaping, that is, after knocking out Ryan, taking his gun, and gloating as he ties Castle up.
Red John, the Big Bad of the show, is of the uncatchable variety. Fortunately he only kills about once a year. He's technically retired in that most of his last victims are to cover his tracks, or to avenge an insult, whereas he began as someone who targeted women seemingly for kicks; a dramatic change of M.O.
At least two serial killers appear for one episode as the murderer of the Victim of the Week. One is an ally of Red John, while the other, the San Joaquin killer, is killed by Red John after insulting him.
Life had a serial killer who murdered people and stuffed them in trunks because they were happier than him.
Kamen Rider Ouja from Kamen Rider Ryuki is a particularally nasty case. He was already an unrepentant psychopath with a body count before he got superpowers. The fact he actually enjoys killing people made him one of the most successful Riders in the Rider War with the most kills. Is ultimately killed by sniper fire when he emerges from Mirror World and is pinned down by the cops.
Kamen Rider Wizard has Sora Takigawa/The Gremlin Phantom. Before his transformation, he murdered girls with black hair and white dresses, due to his love who rebuked him fitting that description before he killed her. After turning into a Phantom, he somehow retained his human self, and continued his killing spree. He's of the Revenge and Supernatural types.
The first episode of Sherlock deals with a serial killer who's somehow been forcing his/her victims to apparently kill themselves. Turns out he's a cabbie who's being paid for each murder. Sherlock, incidentally, is beside himself with glee when he confirms that the deaths are in fact the work of a serial killer.
Pops up from time to time on Law & Order, perhaps most notably in the episodes "Vengeance" (in which the A.D.A.s have to decide whether to allow the killer to be extradited to Connecticut, which has the death penalty, when they know the crime was really committed in New York), "Agony" (in which the A.D.A.s have so little evidence that they are forced to give the killer a sweetheart plea bargain...then find out he may not be guilty of that particular murder), and "Bodies" (in which the A.D.A.s prosecute the killer's lawyer for conspiring with him because he knows where the bodies are buried and won't say).
The demon from "Lonely Hearts" wants to find the perfect body to inhabit, but until then it has to keep killing to find a new one when its latest acquisition has been worn out.
Like all vampires, Penn in "Somnambulist" loves killings and rampages, but unlike most he has a particular pattern which he has kept for centuries, making him a truer example. As a human, he used to be a man who hated the restrictions of his puritan father. After being made a vampire by Angelus, he murdered his family and deliberately sought out victims who resembled his family, killing them in order to reenact his past murders. He then carved a cross on their faces - the police believes it was because he thought he was doing God's work, nicknaming him "The Pope", but it's actually to mock God.
JAG has had several, but Ax-Crazy child-killer Charles "Charlie" Lynch in season 4 is the most despicable.
The main antagonist through the first series of Bron Broen, who uses this method to point out social flaws in both Denmark and Sweden. Though this is a cover for his real motive: revenge.
The Amateur Detective Serial Killer in the final episode of The Conditions of Great Detectives, of the Mission Based kind. He believes it's the end of the Amateur Sleuth era as they can no longer function in mystery fiction so he believes the best way for all of them to end is to die. He believes that Tenkaichi, who he views as the best Amateur Sleuth, deserves to be framed for the murders and then killed himself. While he succeeds in killing all of them, Tenkaichi kills him in the process and protects Fujii (and the truth).
The "sequential killer" (Dr. Ogden's own construction, since the phrase "serial killer" dates from the mid-20th century) in the Murdoch Mysteries episode "Murdoch on the Corner" is Mission Based. She leaves wallets full of money lying around with a note to return them to the Mission Hall, then kills people who keep the money.
The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "Mac is a Serial Killer" dealt with a serial killer who targeted young blonde women, due to a series of coincidences everyone thought it was Mac who was studying to become a doctor, the real killer as it turned out was Gary the fat awkward nerdy guy they kept running into throughout the episode.
Polypoetes, who would beat people to death with his club.
Sinis, who would tie people between two trees that he had bent down. Then, he let go of the trees, ripping them in half.
Sciron, an elderly man who would ask passersby to wash his feet as a sign of respect. When they bent over to comply, he would punt them off a cliff and into the jaws of a sea monster at the bottom.
Cercyon, who would challenge passersby to wrestling matches, then kill them after they had lost.
Procrustes, who would invite passersby to stay the night at his place. If they were too short for the bed, he would stretch their bodies until they fit. If they were too tall for the bed, he would chop off the excess. If they fit just right, he would smother the victims between the mattress and a specially rigged canopy.
Swans, a band never known for their cheery subject matter, have two songs actually from the perspective of serial killers: "Young God" (Ed Gein, who inspired Psycho) and "Killing For Company" (Dennis Andrew Nilsen).
Early Industrial music in general, but the Power Electronics sub-genre in particular (Whitehouse are notorious for this).
Implied in Scott Walker's "The Electrician", the title character of which is a professional torturer.
Ozzy Osbourne has several, most notably Little Dolls and No More Tears.
Alice Cooper's 2008 concept album "Along Came A Spider" is all about a fictional serial killer who wraps his victims in silk and cuts off one their legs to construct a flesh spider. His rampage is quelled when he falls in love with his eighth victim and finds Jesus.
Rapper Tech N9ne's song "Trauma" is about this, as it is written from the point-of-view of a serial killer.
The New World of Darkness has slashers, humans who find themselves compelled to kill. Strangely enough, they're playable, and you can opt for a game in which the people the slashers kill often deserveit. Each slasher archetype, or Undertaking, has two tiers: Ripper (steps above your standard serial killer, but still conceivably human) and Scourge (outright supernatural incarnation of murder).
Also the rules presented allow you to make every character seen on this page:
Avenger/Legend: Paul Kersey from Death Wish starts killing criminal punks, but eventually becomes so fed up with "the filth on the streets" that he becomes Candyman, haunting the urban projects.
Brute/Mask: Mickey from Natural Born Killers gets off on killing so much that he trades all that makes him human — language, literacy, the ability to be around others — to become Jason Voorhees, unkillable but lurking in the woods for the pain human contact causes.
Charmer/Psycho: Reverend Powell from The Night of the Hunter gets by on the thin veneer of humanity for so long that it eventually turns inside out and he becomes the freak you can't help but stare at, not unlike The Joker.
Over in the Old World of Darkness are the Euthanatos of Mage: The Ascension, a group of the mission-based style. Justified to some extent as there really are a number of monsters out there, and they're warned against judging too quickly. Although they have to be careful and not turn into the hedonistic type, otherwise they might become one of their colleagues' next targets.
Changeling: The Lost makes mention of Ernest Marker and the Shrike. The former is a serial child murderer, the latter is a True Fae named after the bird that impales animals on thorns. She had considered taking Marker back to Arcadia, but then she became curious about just how his madness worked. As she studied him, she became so interested in his insanity that (as far as "sanity" counts for The Fair Folk) she went mad exactly the same way. Now the two have pooled Marker's knowledge of the mortal world and the Shrike's ages of hunting experience, planning the most heinous crime in human history...
Subverted in the Ravenloft adventure Hour of the Knife. What seems like a hunt for Jack-the-Ripper expy "Bloody Jack" is complicated by the revelation that A) "Jack" is a doppelganger, and B) the killings aren't insane at all, but a murderous ritual to empower an artifact-caliber cursed knife.
Arsenic and Old Lace pits Only Sane Man Mortimer Brewster against two separate serial killers: his old maiden aunts, Abby and Martha, who poison lonely old men as a "charity" and bury them in their cellar (falling under Visionary as they are clearly insane); and his older brother Jonathan, who is a psychotic murderer with kills all over the world (falling under Power/Control). When they discover each other's crimes, they wind up comparing notes, Body-Count Competition-style, which is played for Black Comedy.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has the psychotic Dr. Gimble who lures victims to his prosthetics lab with the promise of a modeling job, and proceeds to lock them in the basement and slowly dissect them over a matter of months.
Catalina as well. In fact, in San Andreas, she has three bodies buried in his backyard.
SHIKI in Tsukihime in the routes where he's in control over Roa. He doesn't actually enjoy killing and unlike Satsuki he isn't doing it to live. He just doesn't possess the power to stop.
It's revealed that he's trying to find and kill Shiki because their mind-connection is driving him mad, but he can never find him because he was given false information about what he looks like. So instead he kills women who bear a resemblance to his sister Akiha because he wants to drink their blood.
The Origami Killer from Heavy Rain, a sick fuck who murders children by throwing them in deep ditches and waiting for them to drown, in addition to putting their fathers through hellish trials. It's really Scott Shelby: player-character, resident Nice Guy and private detective "investigating" the Origami Killer.
The Baldur's Gate series features several of these, starting with Neb, the child-killing gnome who returns in the sequel, and the "tanner" in Baldur's Gate 2, who removes the skin of his victims and makes clothes out of it.
Tohru Adachi from Persona 4 is an interesting case. He was one of the three people who were granted the power to enter the TV world (the others being Taro Namatame and your character), and discovered that he could kill people by throwing them into the TV world. He had a major lust for both Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi, and tried to rape them both before throwing them into the TV. He then recruited Namatame to carry out his evil work by convincing him that by throwing people into the TV himself, that he would be able to protect them from what Adachi would do to them. And the reason he did all this? Because he was amused by it all.
The Scissorman from the Clock Tower series. In the first game he's more a generic monster who chases you, but by the second game (the first one released in America), he fits this trope because there is genuine mystery as to his identity and most of the characters are criminal psychologists.
One of these can be optionally confronted in Action Doom 2 Urban Brawl, depending on which path throughout the game you take. Hugo's a huge, fat silent guy who looks like Hugo Andore and lives alone in a farmhouse in the middle of a forest where he keeps a vicious dog. He kidnaps children and apparently butchers them, then hangs them up in his barn. You confront him one-on-one and potentially beat him to death in a fist fight... or just slice him in half with a chainsaw, if you have found it.
Kelder from the sidequest "Magistrate's Orders" is an insane killer who targets elven children because they are "too beautiful" and blames his impulses on imaginary demons (as opposed to the real ones in the setting). He has managed to escape justice thanks to 1) the protection of his powerful magistrate father and 2) the lack of concern most humans have for elves. Part of him is still sane enough to realize that he is beyond redemption and he begs Hawke to kill him.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has a serial killer on the loose in Windhelm whose methods and motivation are very similar to the one from Dragon Age II, except that this guy is trying to bring back his dead sister rather than a wife.
Kara no Shoujo: There are three serial killers, though one has disappeared from the police radar a few years back. They all appear to be a mix of type one and two.
Sweet Tooth from Twisted Metal is of the hedonistic type with antisocial and disorganized sub types.
And not just Sweet Tooth. There's a few more running around, while the cast of Black are either serial killers, will be turned into serial killers if they win or good guys who are going to be fucked over hard by a serial killer (which Calypso seems to be in this continuity).
Joe Darke from Ace Attorney. Somewhat subverted in that he WAS a serial killer who murdered 5 people (technically he was a spree killer, as all of his murders happened within hours of each other), however his apparent 6th killing was actually done by someone else and pinned on him. Subverted also in that, he was found guilty as the killer based on this one lone killing that he in reality never committed.
In Ace Attorney we also have "Shelly De Killer, a professional killer who was the real person behind Juan Corrida's death, having been hired by Matt Engarde to kill him. He leaves his calling card next to his victim's bodies, which is that of a shell, hence his name.
Naughty Bear is about a teddy bear who kills other teddy bears.
The Emerald City Ripper, a serial killer that stalks the Barrens in the Dead Man's Switch campaign of Shadowrun Returns. He stuns his victims with magic and drugs and kills them in the process of extracting one of their internal organs while they're still alive as some kind of twisted souvenir taking. He is eventually revealed to be an organised profit killer for hire: His victims were all connected by their organs all coming from the same organ donor, whose corpse he had been hired to restore.
Hinimizawa Syndrome in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni tends to induce people to become the Visionary type. Most prevalent with Shion Sonozaki, who also adds the revenge sub type in the Cotton Drifting and Eye Opening chapters.
The Dragon Doctors: The Doctors confronted a magical serial killer in their "Messenger of Death" chapter. The murderer killed several shamans using summoned spirits of his own; finding out what spirits were used to determine the character profile of the murderer was the main focus of the plot.
Achewood: Nice Pete, who combines type 1 (visionary) and type 4 (power/control) with a thoroughly creepy dead-eyed stare.
Jared features four serial killer characters. Mary and Shia are more Headonistic, while Lilac seems to like the power. Jared is more of an antisocial killer.
The Greatest Gift What Happens In Hayagas presents a chilling version in Venus (or rather Jupiter, who took her twin sister's name). She spends the story arc trying to personally murder Inidouh's entire family, starting with Hazel. At first we think she's doing this because Inidouh rejected her, but then we find out that her 'when I don't get what I want, ponies suffer' comment was far worse than it seemed. The investigation of her mansion after she's killed reveals that she had a list of ponies, all of whom that had been checked off were dead or missing. What makes her so chilling is the fact she outright says killing Hazel (actually a decoy) wasn't as satisfying as she thought it would be, all the while keeping a completely serene look on her face.
Which becomes even more disturbing in the context of a later strip…
Terrence of KateModern was revealed to be a serial killer in "Precious Blood".
Unexpectedly used in Survival of the Fittest. Johnny "Mordread" Lamika of version one and Walter Smith of version two were both serial killers despite being high-school age teenagers. Johnny was explained as having initially never left enough evidence for the deaths to be considered anything but an accident, but was eventually caught and sent to a mental institution after a successful insanity plea on the part of his defense. Walter got away with his actions because his father was a Senator, and used his influence to cover up Walter's actions and get him out of trouble on the few occasions he was suspected. In return, his father would sometimes bring him political enemies to torture and/or dispose of.
Cause of Death is all about this. The very first episode shows the nameless killer bust into the victim's house and kill him...with a granola bar. There seems to be some mystery behind who the woman is in the picture, but the story is ongoing.
In an American Dad!Halloween Episode, Stan, in order to upstage his neighbor's awesome haunted house, brings in five of the most vicious serial killers in the Eastern Seaboard to act as attractions in his own. Havoc predictably ensues.
In the same episode, Klaus claims that after university he traveled around Italy, stabbing students.
A couple of Beavis And Butthead episodes dealt with serial killers, in "Most Wanted" the duo hunt for a serial killer with a tattoo on his forehead of the word "KILLER" whom we later find out is named Tom, so they can collect the prize money. They end up encountering him in their backyard and he attempts to kill them but due to their stupidity they think he is also looking for the killer. He becomes friends with them because Beavis is just as crazy as he is and as a reward he gives them tattoos of butts on their butts, we see him in a later episode calling a dating service to invite women over to his jail cell so he can kill them.
Another episode "A Great Day" they encounter another serial killer whom resembles real life killer Jeffrey Dahmer after following a trail of blood to his house he gives them 20 bucks to forget what they saw, later on he can be seen loading a dead body into the trunk of his car and the duo present him with the body of a canary presumably belonging to the victim that had been stabbed to death he again tells them to forget what they saw and gives them another 20 bucks.
The crazy old farmer from the episode "Cow Tippin'" is probably one.
In his first appearance on Courage the Cowardly Dog, Katz ran a Hell Hotel where he fed his guests to spiders for no discernible reason other than to just do it — yet another horrifying trope this show played straight and seriously.
In his second appearence, he turned his victims into machines to have them battle to the death for his amusement. He also tried to blow up a submarine with all aboard and, despite having a motive this time, still relished in killing a huge number of people. His only appearence where what he's doing isn't a front for commiting murders is his candy shop. Then again, he seemed to be well versed inturning people into candy...
Benton Tarantella and Eroll Von Volkheim. Amatuer film directors who managed to slay 12 people before their deaths. Then they came back from the dead to keep doing it!
An episode of Family Guy dealt with the "Fat Guy Strangler", who strangled fat men. It turns out to be Lois' brother Patrick (voiced by Robert Downey, Jr.), who was sent to an insane asylum as a child after being traumatized by seeing Jackie Gleason having sex with his mother, and from there concluded that all fat people were evil and so went on a killing spree.
An earlier episode had The Mass Media Murderer, who specifically targeted members of the press. Another episode briefly featured a Quahog encyclopedia of crime, which mentioned such figures as "The Berserk Hobo" and "The Golden Autumn Day Strangler".
A Looney Tunes short entitled "Bye Bye Bluebeard" involved Porky Pig being paranoid about a serial killer named Bluebeard who raids houses to kill the residents and steal their food, a mouse hearing the news decides to impersonate him eventually Porky sees through his disguise and soon comes face to face with the real Bluebeard.
South Park has (at least) five episodes involving serial killers.
"Cartman's Incredible Gift" features the Left-Hand Killer, who is a better example of a typical serial killer in comparison to later examples, though not by much. He's mostly a parody of Francis Dolorhyde as depicted in the newer Red Dragon film, with a few other tropes thrown in.
"Hell On Earth 2006" shows the "antics," of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffery Dahmer. Said "antics," are called so because they become a parody of sorts of The Three Stooges after their initial introduction.
The obviously insane Hat McCullough from "Free Hat", though his defenders claim he killed those twenty-three babies in self-defense.
"Merry Christmas Charlie Manson".
Cartman himself is one in "Scott Tenorman Must Die".
The Total Drama Island episode 'Hook, Line, and Screamer,' dealt with this: the contestants had to watch a horror movie about a psycho killer with a chainsaw and a hook (the whole thing said every time.) As quoted above, Duncan found it hilarious, until a real killer confronts Gwen, and everyone rushes to save her. Thankfully, she manages to kick his butt.
Buffalo Bill was also partly based on Bundy, namely, the bit where Bill pretends to be disabled and asks his victim for help to move/carry something.
Buffalo Bill is also based on Gary Heidnik, who abducted women and imprisoned them in his basement. However, his motives were to make the women his harem, whereas Bill had no sexual interest in his captives.
It is worth noting, however, that Gein himself is a subversion via the most technical details. As disturbing as his story is, he was only known to have committed two murders and was only technically convicted for one of them. Three murders is the baseline for law enforcement when classifying serial killers.
Albert DeSalvo is a controversial case. He confessed to being the infamous Boston Strangler, but was never tried for the killings, but rather a series of rapes. To this day there is a lot of debate about whether he was the murderer or a fall guy.
Similar to the Boston Strangler case, William Heirens was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of two women and a young girl in Chicago. He confessed, but whether his interview was either coerced or forced is up to question.
Harvey Glatman confessed to raping and murdering three women in California, luring them by posing as a photographer.
Glatman: The reason I killed those girls was 'cause they asked me to. They did, all of them.
Officer: They asked you to.
Glatman: Sure. They said they'd rather be dead than be with me.
Jerry Brudos wasn't very prolific, but he stands out for one particular reason: at his trial, he argued that a photograph of him with one of his victims couldn't be used as evidence against him because the victim in the picture wasn't the person he had been accused of killing.
To be fair, he's got an argument there. If he wasn't charged with killing the person in the photo, it's irrelevant to the specific case at hand and extremely prejudicial to the jury.
Dean Corll was the first serial killer to get nation-wide publicity in the US. He raped, tortured and murdered at least 28 boys (probably more) in Houston, Texas in the 1970's. He owned a candy store and was often called the Candy Man, a name that in hindsight seems like a gigantic red flag. And he had two teenaged accomplices, David Brooks and Elmer Wayne Henley, who procured victims and helped kill them. Brooks did it because he seemed to be in love with Corll; Henley was probably Only in It for the Money.
The most prolific serial killer in history, who didn't advertise it, was Harold Shipman. A British medical doctor, he was sent down for a full life term (no possibility of parole) in 2000 for 15 murders, using drug overdoses. Investigations concluded that he had, overall, killed at least 215 people, mostly old women, and probably 250, if not more (459 patients had died in his care overall, but it is unclear how many he actually killed since many of his patients were elderly). He committed suicide in 2004.
A likely American counterpart to Shipman was Charles Cullen, who plead guilty in 2004 for killing around forty patients over the course of his 16-year nursing career. Authorities strongly suspect that he may have committed up to four hundred murders, which would make him arguably more prolific than Shipman. His emotionless interview on 60 Minutes is the stuff of sleepless nights.
Then there's Michael Swango, a medical student and one-time EMT believed to have poisoned between four and sixty of his patients between 1983 and 1997. He also slipped arsenic into his coworker's food to try and poison them too.
Arfinn Nesset. A Norwegian serial killer that is nearly the same as the three above. However this guy is still on free foot and still alive. Scary right?
One special episode of the A&E series The First 48 had the detectives being documented discover a genuine serial killer, one who actually did call the police to gloat when the first bodies were discovered. Even more unbelievably (in the sense of "it only happens in movies") they actually did use sound analysis of the call for background noise and tracking the cellphone to pinpoint his location.
More common in real life than we'd like to believe. Heriberto Seda is an example, and was caught because he sent some many messages to the police that when he shot his sister's boyfriend with a zip gun, the cops recognized his M.O. and his handwriting. His model example, the Zodiac Killer, who operated in San Francisco, was never caught.
Jack the Ripper, one of the first to have his crimes extensively documented by the media as they happened and certainly the most famous uncaught serial killer in history.
Peter Sutcliffe, "The Yorkshire Ripper".
"Jack the Stripper", who killed several prostitutes by requesting oral sex and then choking them to death with his penis. Like Saucy Jack, he was never caught.
One of America's first serial killers was Herman Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, who was most active during the time of Chicago's Colombian Exposition. He killed mostly women, and while it's confirmed he killed at least 27, some people believe the true count to be over a hundred. He committed his crimes in what was a labyrinthine hotel full of secret passages.
With a Torture Cellar and at least one Gas Chamber (masquerading as just another hotel room). It was designed from the start to be a murder house.
John Douglas is one of the first Real Lifeprofilers, actually writing the book on the patterns of serial killers (several, in fact). It wasn't without cost, though; the cumulative stress of the work nearly killed him. His autobiography, Mindhunter, is highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject.
Quote: "In my lifetime I have murdered 21 human beings, I have committed thousands of burglaries, robberies, larcenies, arsons and last but not least I have committed sodomy [read: rape] on more than 1,000 male human beings. For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry."
Originally Panzram was only sentenced to twenty-five years. Why was he executed? When they sent him to Leavenworth, he told the warden, "I'll kill the first man that bothers me." You hear this a lot, but Panzram kept that promise - he beat the laundry foreman to death with an iron bar, and then threatened to kill the human rights groups that tried to appeal the death sentence he got for it! Specifically, he sent them a letter containing the now-legendary line, "The only sentiment you'll get out of me is that I wish you all had one neck and I had my hands around it."
Timothy Spencer is notable for two reasons: he was a rare interracial serial killer, and he was the first murderer to be convicted on the basis of DNA evidence, which also exonerated an innocent man convicted of one of his crimes. He was executed in 1994 for the rape, torture and murder of five women.
John Wayne Gacy, most notable for being a party clown when not slaughtering young men and hiding them in the crawlspace under his house. Notably, when he realized the cops were after him, he taunted them by publicly smoking weed and breaking traffic laws, knowing they didn't want him on lesser charges and even picked up the restaurant tabs of the detectives who had him under surveillance. Eventually he got so bold, he invited cops to his house for dinner, where they caught the smell of rotting flesh that was his ultimate undoing.
One of the most prolific in history, Andrei Chikatilo, who killed over fifty women and children. The reason he got away with it for so long was because the Soviet Union, where he lived and killed, was in denial and believed serial killers to be a consequence of the "decadent west". He may actually be the partial basis for Roark Jr, aka That Yellow Bastard, in Sin City, particularly the part about "can't get it up without hearing his victims scream".
Although it is debatable just how many victims were really his, and how many were simply unsolved murders that the Soviet authorities pinned on him once they had someone to blame for them. He certainly was a prolific killer, but just how prolific may never actually be known.
Charles Manson himself may not have been a serial killer, but his followers absolutely were. A serial killer is defined as someone who kills more than three people with a "cooling off" period in between the killings. Music teacher Gary Hinman was murdered by the family on July 25, 1969. On August 9, 1969, they murdered five people, six if you count Sharon Tate's unborn baby; the next night, they killed grocers Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. On the 26th, they killed Donald "Shorty" Shea, a Hollywood stuntman. That's nine people (ten if you count Tate's child) in just a few weeks. In addition, other people are suspected of having been victims of the family, including Ronald Hughes, one member's defense attorney (believed to have been killed for balking at letting his client sacrifice herself to clear Manson). Although he was a chief conspirator in all of the killings, Manson did not personally draw a single drop of blood — except for cutting Hinman's ear off, according to testimony — but the various members of his "family" could certainly count as serial killers, especially Charles "Tex" Watson (Tate, LaBianca and Shea murders), Susan Atkins (Hinman and Tate), and Patricia Krenwinkel (Tate and LaBianca).
Charles Manson is suspected of killing at least one person - a black man who he believed was a member of the Black Panthers (or claimed to believe); he started preaching his race-war creed Helter-Skelter shortly afterwards. Whether he genuinelly thought the Black Panthers were out to get him or if it was just another level of manipulation is unknown. He is also known to have taken part in at least one of the Family murders; he did not kill the victim, but he tied her up for his followes to.
However, modern Hungarian historians have attempted to give her a Historical Hero Upgrade claiming that maybe she wasn't a serial killer at all, but a victim of a show trial by the Habsburgs to get her land and fortune. However the reports of the murders, which her husband joined in with, are far closer to contemporary though and it seems fairly likely that she killed at least some. The notaries in the case took testimony from more than 300 witnesses, several of whom lost relatives. Two of the accused named around 36 victims (although they may well have been tortured so the reliability of that is up for debate).
Pedro López, the "Monster of the Andes" raped and killed at least a hundred, but maybe three hundred, young girls across South America. The higher figure would make him one of the most prolific known serial killer in history. What could be scarier than that? He's been a free man since 1998 and is wanted for murder again.
Gilles de Rais was a French nobleman, war hero, compatriot of Joan Of Arc and murdered at least 80 children between 1432 and 1440, the majority of whom were also raped or sexually abused. Much like Bathory, a few people have tried claiming that he was framed by the church to acquire his lands but that's extremely unlikely since firstly, the church didn't have a hope of acquiring his lands (which ended up going to the Duke of Brittany); secondly, his confederates gave very detailed testimony and thirdly, around forty bodies were discovered. Margaret Murray has also tried claiming that he was a Dianic pagan who was subject to religious persecution but the evidence for this is virtually nil.
Australia had Eric Cooke, an unusual serial killer who changed his M.O. Two innocent men were also charged with crimes Cooke committed, but have since been exonerated. He earned a bit of notoriety for being the last man hanged in Australia.
"BTK" (Bind, Torture, Kill): Dennis Rader, who murdered 10 people in the Sedgwick county area of Wichita, Kansas from 1977-1989 while sending taunting letters and poems to the police, and was caught approximately a decade and a half after his last victim, because after such a long time he got bored and started sending letters to the police again, announcing that he was plotting his next murder. Lots of televison shows have since had a take on him, though most commonly the reason for their killer's lengthy absence is that he was seriously injured in some way and had to temporarily stop.note The reason Dennis Rader stopped was simply that he got a job with the local Compliance Department, meaning he could stalk, bully and harass people with a veneer of legality, which he did with gleeful abandon, especially women, on at least one occassion taking one womans dog and having it put down and lying about it being a dangerous animal. In other words it was only because now he could live out his sadistic fantasies at greatly reduced risk, which makes him a much bigger bastard than any of his adaptations. And unlike them, when caught, he not only confessed to the killings, he bragged about them. He furthermore was furious that that police lied to him during their investigation, encouraging him to send more letters by promising they wouldn't have any way to trace his identity from them, which is exactly how they finally caught him.
Henry Lee Lucas is an interesting case. While he confessed to the murder of nearly 600 people (including people who turned out to still be alive), he often would recant his confessions, only to confess to other murders. He often became the "go-to" guy by police departments who wanted to clear their unsolved murder files. Since he was already sentenced to death, he relished in the attention that the confessions brought him. When he died in prison in 2001, forensics were only able to confirm 3 of his confessions, which technically did make him a serial killer. His supposed exploits inspired the brilliant Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
Gary Ridgway, better known as the Green River Killer, is one of the most prolific serial killers of the 20th century. He was convicted for the murder of 48 women over the course of three decades. However it is believed that he killed up to 90 women.
Ridgway is, in many ways, something of an outlier as far as serial killers go. His motivations didn't entirely fit into either the mission based or power/control categories, although not particularly intelligent and rather spontaneous in his killings (a stereotypical "disorganized" killer), he had an uncanny ability to hide bodies and eliminate evidence (he was caught due to a DNA swab from one of his first victims), and he was able to either stop or greatly curtail his killings for a considerable length of time. This has led many conspiracy theorists to believe that the Green River killings were the work of multiple killers, and that large parts of Ridgway's confessions were fabricated.
Richard Ramirez is notorious for his completely random modus operandi as well as choice of victim. He terrorized the whole LA area in the 80's. He died of natural causes at age 53 in 2013, after spending over 23 years on death row.
The Cleveland Torso Murderer is an especially gruesome example of an unsolved serial killing case. As the name suggests, the victims of this killer were dismembered and some of them were disembowled. Only a handful of the victims could be identified, making it an even more disturbing case. He/She also might be the culprit behind the infamous Black Dahlia murder.
Peter Kürten, also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf. Known for being one of the first investigations to use a criminal profile.
The Servant Girl Annihilator, in turn of the century killer from Austin, Texas. Noted for stalking black and white women with an axe, his crimes predate Jack the Ripper by only a few years, leading the newspapers of the time to claim the two were the same man. Two men were tried for the crime, but no one was ever convicted. The killings were supposedly the indirect inspiration for the famous moon towers that dot the Austin cityscape.
Edmund Kemper, 6'9" tall, over 300 pounds of weight and IQ of 145. Started with his grandparents (at 15) and worked his way from there. When asked by the judge what he thought a suitable punishment for his crimes would be, Kemper answered, "Death by torture."
Levi Bellfield only murdered three woman (and attempted to kill two others), but one of those murders (the murder of Milly Dowler) he got away with for years until he was suspected of it in 2008 and convicted in 2011 (he had been convicted of the other murders in 2008).
Vaughn Greenwood, "the Skid Row Slasher". Notable in that his list of victims very nearly included famous stuntman and director Hal Needham.
Donald Henry "Pee-Wee" Gaskins, "The Redneck Charles Manson". He claimed to have killed over a hundred people, though the confirmed number is much smaller. A number of his victims were hitchhikers he picked up near the South Carolina coast, then brutalized and murdered (eventually; he enjoyed making them suffer) in various ways For the Evulz. He even claimed to have cannibalized some of them.
Yang Xinhai, called "Monster Killer", was the worst serial killer of China. He confessed to committing 65 murders between 1999 and 2003. He'd enter homes at night and kill everybody inside with axes, hammers and shovels. He was sentenced to death and executed in 2004.
RodneyAlcala, perhaps most (in)famous because he was a contestant on The Dating Game back in 1978, right in the middle of his murderous rampage, and won. Luckily for the woman who chose him, she later found him too creepy and refused to go on a date with him.
The Axeman of New Orleans rampaged through the city from May 1918 to October 1919, slaughtering Italian-Americans. He was never captured. Notoriously, he sent a letter to a newspaper claiming that he would strike on a given date... but would spare anyone listening to jazz. (Every music hall in New Orleans was filled to capacity that night, and no murders were reported.)
Thomas Quick/Sture Bergwall note He was born Sture Bergwall, then changed his name to Thomas Quick, then changed it back to Sture Bergwall, but is still mostly known as Thomas Quick by the public , Sweden's most notorious serial killer, who may have not actually killed anyone. He has confessed to around 30 murders, supposedly committed in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland between 1964 and 1993, and has been convicted of eight of them. He is mentally ill, and is serving his sentence in a mental institution. In later years, the convictions have been questioned, the reason being that he was convicted on very shaky grounds based mostly on his own confessions and not much else, and the fact that a lot of his confessions simply don't make any sense. In 2008 he officially recanted all of his confessions. Public opinion of is all over the place. Some think he killed all the people he originally confessed to killing, some think he may have killed some of them but probably not the more far-fetched ones, and some think he's simply a sick, attention seeking man who has been used in the most heinous of ways by police and other authorities trying to make themselves look good by catching a serial killer.
It's somewhat surprising that Saldivar Efren isn't better known. While his methods aren't unusual (he was an Angel of Death killer, a doctor, and used muscle relaxants to murder), his motives are truly horrifying. He felt that the hospital staff where he worked were overburdened, and killed excess patients to reduce the workload. A few years ago a documentary on his killings interviewed a number of people involved in the case, who felt that to this day he sincerely believes he was BEING HELPFUL!