Regarding criminality, not many genres inspire as much horror and revulsion as that of a serial killer. A predator in the most savage form. A beastly figure usually preying on the weak, innocent and vulnerable. Not often known to their victims and so unlike most murders difficult to solve. Deeply-embedded negative and sometimes horrific experiences are the usual catalysts for their reign of terror.
There are many that could have made this list. I’ve based my compilation on a holistic approach - numbers slain, geography and the particular inhumane and twisted philosophy each one exhibited. Psychiatrists have a challenge understanding these individuals. As Fyodor Dostoevsky so aptly phrased it, ‘Nothing is easier to condemn the evildoer, nothing is harder to understand him.’
5Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos
First one up is a character of immense evil proportions. A slayer of the young. Known as La Bestia – The Beast. Born and raised in Colombia, he was the oldest of seven brothers and in later testimony claimed to have been the victim of physical and emotional abuse by his father and also spoke of sexual assault.
Garavito’s modus operandi was to approach young, vulnerable boys and ply them with affection and sweets. They were usually between the ages of 8 and 16. He’d often disguise himself as a monk or street vendor to gain their trust. Once he’d steered them away from prying eyes, he’d rape, torture and kill them, often by cutting their throats. He would then dismember their corpses.
Following a police task force investigation, Garavito was arrested in April 1999. He later confessed to murdering up to 140 children. Through detailed drawings and oral evidence, he was able to lead police to the remote places where he had completed his grisly work.
At the age of 42, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was sentenced to 40 years in prison, though it was later reduced to 24 years for cooperating with the police. Authorities have said he probably will never be released.
4Pedro Alonzo Lopez
Next up is the so-called ‘Monster of the Andes’. A title much deserved. Lopez was born in 1948 in Colombia. He claims his mother ran him out of the house when he was just eight years old after she discovered him molesting his younger sister. Lopez states he found his way to the capital city, Bogota, where he was befriended by a man who repeatedly raped him. Following a spell in an orphanage, he ended up in prison where he was allegedly raped by a number of men.
Lopez travelled to Peru and first came to prominence when he was apprehended by an indigenous tribe after his failed attempt to kidnap a nine-year-old girl. It is thought by this time he had already murdered a number of young girls. The tribe’s idea of justice was to bury him alive, but a Western missionary convinced them to show leniency. This display of compassion would have huge consequences. The Peruvian police, bizarrely, simply deported him back to his birth country.
The next stop on his murderous tour was the country of Ecuador, on the north-west coast of South America abutting the Pacific Ocean. By his later accounts, this was his favourite hunting ground. After a failed abduction attempt of a young girl he was arrested by the police and led them to an area of shallow graves where as many as 50 bodies were buried.
Eventually, he was charged with the murders of over 100 young girls, mostly below the age of 13. Authorities have credibly suggested he may have killed another 200 more in Colombia and Peru.
He was jailed in 1994. Incredibly he was released after just 14 years and sent back to Colombia. Following a period of incarceration in a psychiatric hospital, he was judged fit to be released in the late nineties. It was reported that Interpol sought his arrest in connection with a murder in 2002.
Variously known as the Butcher of Rostov, the Red Ripper or the Rostov Ripper. This serial killer’s reign lasted from 1978 until 1990. Chikatilo was a model citizen. Married with two children he worked as a teacher. However, this was perfect camouflage for his hideous psychopathic tendencies to flourish.
The details of Chikatilo’s murders are gruesome. Not unsurprisingly, his prey were usually those on the margins of society and included both male and female victims. He began his descent into depravity by first being dismissed from two teaching posts after sexually assaulting two girls. He wound up working as a clerk at a factory, which enabled him to move around the area with ease.
Over a period of time, a number of young boys and girls vanished and upon discovery were found to be horribly mutilated. This included eye gouging and castration. Bodies had been sliced open and organs removed and bitten – thus awarding him the status of a cannibal, too.
In November 1990 another body was discovered in a forest, and a police officer had remembered briefly speaking to a man in the area who had acted suspiciously. Chikatilo was tracked down and arrested.
He confessed his crimes to the police and was charged with over fifty killings. In April 1992 he went on trial. The Rostov Ripper was deposited in a steel cage in the courtroom for his own safety, while his barbaric murders were made known to the world.
In February of 1994, Andre Chikatilo was executed with a single bullet to the head.
Number two in the parade of worst serial killers hails from South Africa. Sometimes known as the ABC Killer – because the crimes started in Atteridgeville, continued in Boksburg and ended in Cleveland, a suburb of Johannesburg. Also referred to as the South African Strangler or the Gauteng Killer.
Not wasting any time he began his crime spree in his twenties – raping at least three women. He spent time in prison for these offences. Released in 1994, he would graduate to a higher level of callousness. Outwardly very charming, he would pose as a businessman and make offers of unemployment to his unsuspecting victims – young, impressionable females.
Once he had steered his victims to a remote area, he would rape and strangle them. Later, in some cases, he would contact the dead girl’s family and taunt them with sick, graphic details. By 1995 the number of victims had risen to over 30, inspiring a panic across the country. President Nelson Mandela, while in Boksburg, appealed for assistance in capturing the killer.
His twisted luck ran out in August 1995, when his name was connected to one of the murdered women and police started a manhunt. Sithole contacted a newspaper and under a pseudonym claimed responsibility for the killings. During this time he carried out at least one other killing. Sithole was eventually cornered by police and was wounded while resisting arrest.
As he was recovering in a closely guarded hospital, he confessed to his crimes and in December 1997, he was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment for each of the 38 murders; 12 years each for 40 rapes and five years each for six robberies. The sentences run consecutively. He would be eligible for parole in 930 years. He was later diagnosed with HIV.
America seems to have a deep association with serial killers, and this is where the Green River Killer originates from (a number of bodies were discovered in the Green River, near Seattle). Apparently at the age of 16 Ridgeway had already exhibited violent behaviour when he led a 6-year-old boy into the woods and stabbed him. Fortunately, the boy survived. This was a precursor to his murderous legacy. Most of his victims ranged in ages from 16 to 23, but some were in their thirties.
His reign of darkness was a protracted one – lasting from 1982 to 1998. Ridgway often cruised the SeaTac Strip in his pickup searching for suitable targets – often prostitutes, but not exclusively. He would then strangle them and dump their bodies and in some instances return to have sexual intercourse with their corpses. He even held yard sales to offload some of his victim's clothing.
It was only with the introduction of progressive DNA testing that the police found a match with Ridgeway and three of the victims. He was arrested and confessed. He made a deal with the authorities to avoid execution and led them to more burial sites of young women.
In December 2003, he was sentenced to life without parole for the murder of at least 49 women. He later claimed the real figure was nearer 70. In 2011, another body of a young female was unearthed, which police connected to Ridgway.