The Greatest Medieval Serial Killers: Gilles de Rais

There’s just something special about the Middle Ages. Everything was grittier, darker, and more fantastical than it is today (even if the media would have us think differently). Gilles de Rais was a knight, a lord, and a companion to the famous Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years’ War. Sounds like a chaste guy, right? Oh, but he also enjoyed murdering children. In fact he enjoyed it so very much that he perhaps disposed of hundreds. An interesting fellow, to be sure.

From at least 1432 until 1440, a string of murders took place. They stopped when Gilles was found guilty, condemned to death, and sent to the gallows.

Gilles may have known something of the ancient Roman festival called Saturnalia. It was during this week-long celebration that a common subject was chosen from among the masses to be feasted with food and drink, to be pampered and loved. At the end of the joyous occasion, the subject was butchered as a representation of gluttonous evil overcome by the forces of good.

This is precisely how Gilles de Rais killed his victims. He would provide his intended victim with wonderful new garments, then a feast complete with copious amounts of alcohol. It was only then that Rais brought the victim to a kill room and took care of his baser desires by pleasuring himself. He would sexually assault the victim before the murder was completed.

The victims were routinely tortured. They were sometimes decapitated or dismembered. Other times their throats were cut or their necks were broken. Those who bore witness to these terrible crimes against humanity testified that Rais took immense pleasure in the pain he inflicted upon the children, and he also enjoyed the sight of their internal organs after they were dead.

Rais was only discovered after he kidnapped a cleric. An investigation was put forth by the Bishop of Nantes, and it didn’t take very long before Rais was found out. He was charged with murder, sodomy, and heresy. The court planned to torture Rais into confessing his sins, but Rais ruined the fun by confessing all on his own.

Most of the victims’ bodies were burned, but a grave of at least 40 was found. The total number of murders is thought to be between 80 and 200, making him perhaps one of the greatest serial killers of all time. His body was, perhaps quite fittingly, burned after his execution.

Then again, there are a number of counter-arguments and theories that claim Gilles de Rais was likely innocent of the crimes, and subject to a plot with ulterior motives.

Crime Story: Andrew Cunanan

Crime Story: Andrew Cunanan

Andrew CunananAndrew Cunanan has become sort of an infamous legend as his story is being shared with the world in FX television’s series, American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. In 1997, the infamous killer was the 449th member of the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list. Andrew Cunanan was born of a Filipino American and Italian American parents. During his early childhood, Andrew was considered an intelligent and outgoing boy. As he aged, he began to develop a reputation as a pathological liar. He would tell tall tales about his family and personal life.

When Andrew was 19, his father left his family in an effort to escape embezzlement charges. It was then when he told his mother that he was gay. Andrew and his mother got into a verbal altercation, which later became physical when Andrew threw his mother against a wall, dislocating her shoulder.

The Murders

Andrew’s killing spree did not begin with rich white men, as it ended. His first victim was Jeffrey Trail on April 27, 1997. Trail and Cunanan got into an argument. This led to the belligerent bashing of Trail’s head and body with a claw hammer. He left Trail rolled up in a carpet in his friend David Madson’s apartment.

Cunanan’s second murder occurred about 60-miles north of his first crime scene in Rush City, Minnesota. Andrew murdered his former lover, David Madson, on May 3, 1997. He executed David with multiple gunshots to the back of the head.

It wasn’t long before Cunanan struck again. He drove straight to Chicago to visit Lee Miglin, a real estate tycoon. The very next day, Cunanan left Lee wrapped with duct tape around his head, hands, and feet. According to the reports, Andrew stabbed Lee over 20 times with a screwdriver and used a hacksaw to cut his throat. It was at this point the FBI added Cunanan to the Top Ten Most Wanted list.      

After taking care of Lee Miglin, Andrew began his descent to Miami. On his way, Andrew found his fourth victim, William Reese. Reese was Andrew’s most random murder. The likely reason for William’s death was that Andrew needed a car to complete his journey. Reese was shot to death and his red pickup truck was stolen.

Between his fourth and fifth murders, Andrew hid in plain sight along the coast of Miami Beach for nearly two months. He would even pawn stolen items under his real name, knowing the police would search the records of pawn shops. On July 15th, 1997 Cunanan committed his fifth and final murder, the wrongful death of legendary fashion designer, Gianni Versace.

Just a week later, Andrew Cunanan was found dead on the second floor of a Miami Beach houseboat. It appeared that Andrew had killed himself with the same gun he used for three of his murders. He did not leave a suicide note and was only found with a few personal items.

Charles Manson, Cult Leader

Many people might cite the 1960’s as a decade that prominently featured proponents of peace (and with it, protest of war), love, and vast experimentation with drug use and abuse. Some might also recollect the emergence of one of the United States’ most notorious criminals in history, Charles Manson.

Born in 1934 as Charles Milles Maddox, Manson was deeply influenced by the shifting culture of the 1960’s following several stints that landed him back and forth between prison sentences. Some may attribute this in part to his less-than-stable childhood, having been born by Kathleen Maddox (a prostitute who suffered from alcohol abuse) and William Manson. Following a failed marriage between the two, young Charles was sent to a boys’ school before attempting to return to his mother. Failing in this, Manson lived on the streets which would later turn into prison sentences for petty crimes – he would later end up being imprisoned for half of the first 32 years of his life.

Life outside of prison was not entirely stable for Manson, either. He would marry twice: the first time in 1955 to a hospital waitress named Rosalie Jean Willis, who would later give birth to a son before leaving Manson a year later, and the second time in 1959 to a prostitute named Leona Ray “Candy” Stevens, who also gave birth to a son before divorcing Manson in 1963. Probation reports would describe Manson as, “constantly striving for status and securing some kind of love,” as well as “marked degree of rejection, instability and psychic trauma.”

From 1958 to 1967, Manson served a 10-year sentence at McNeil Island prison, whereupon he began to gather followers later known as the Manson Family cult. Upon his release in 1967, the Family would eventually move to San Fernando Valley, where they would later become one of the most infamous cults in history. It was around this time that Manson began making claims that he was Jesus Christ and prophesying a race war, bringing more followers to his cause.

Despite the family that he had built around himself, Manson still showed signs of rejection from the outside world. The famous Tate-LaBianca murders, one statement says, was the end result of Manson targeting the world of show business through the acts committed at the house of Roman Polanski, where several of his followers murdered four victims, among them the famed actress and wife of Polanski, Sharon Tate as well as coffee bean heiress Abigail Folger. It was on the following night that Manson would personally escort members of his Family to the LaBianca residence where they carried out the murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Although Manson was said never to have directly taken part in the murders himself, he was eventually sentenced to death in 1971 (automatically commuted to life imprisonment). Cited among his motivations included his deep belief in Armageddon and his believed purpose of guiding the black community to rule the world. Manson’s followers also admitted they wanted to commit murders that would “shock the world.”

Manson would spend the rest of his life incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison in California from 1971 until shortly before his death in 2017, when he had been transferred to a hospital in Bakersfield. During that period, he had been denied parole a total of 12 times. Manson would eventually die on November 19th of natural causes at the age of 83; a coroner would later confirm that Manson had suffered primarily from acute cardiac arrest, although other listed causes of death included respiratory failure as well as Manson’s long-standing battle with colon cancer.

Who Was Ahmad Suradji?

Although we’re often taught to believe that the U.S. is the best at everything, it might surprise you to know that other countries breed their fair share of bat-crap crazy serial killers with equally bizarre rituals. Ahmad Suradji grew up in Medan, the capital of Indonesia, and would eventually confess to the slaughter of 42 women over the span of about a decade. He wasn’t picky about age, and killed an eclectic bunch ranging from about 17 to 40. And you thought all the crazy serial killers lived in New York

He was also known for breeding cattle.

Suradji lived on a sugarcane plantation and buried the majority of his victims there, where they were eventually discovered just prior to his arrest on April 30, 1997. He was absolutely sure that the heads of his victims were pointing toward his home, because he thought it would give him a power-up.

It gets weirder. He had three wives–sisters–who sometimes assisted him. Like most hobbies, killing is apparently more fun when the activity can be shared with those you love the most.

We’ll skip how he was caught, and focus instead on why he committed so many murders in the first place. He had a dream. In it, he was told by the ghost of his dead father that in order to attain status as a mystic healer (and we’re guessing an immortal legacy), all he had to do was drink the saliva of a measly 70 women. Oh, but they couldn’t be alive at the time. It had to be dead girl saliva, or it didn’t count.

He got lazy. He decided that he didn’t want to wait for chance encounters with 70 dead women, and so opted for the more reasonable approach to making his long-term goals a reality: he would just kill them all himself. No big deal. Mystic healing powers are nothing when compared with a few months or years of work. Did the steps for fulfilling the prophecy have to be followed to the letter? Questions for later.

Because Suradji was considered a sorcerer by the locals, women were already fond of making frequent visits. How do you most easily make the jump from offering spiritual advice to premeditated murder? Well, you make sure the women who come to you know that they need to be buried up to the waist, or else the real magic just can’t work like it should. The women were buried, and instead of working magic Saradji worked his hands around their necks rather tightly without offering the promised spiritual advice, after which he took his wet reward from their still-warm bodies.

Someone eventually saw a corpse with its head sticking out of the dirt at the plantation, he was caught red-handed, and the rest as they say is history.

Firing squads were a lot more common in Indonesia than in the U.S. at the time–another fascinating benefit of living abroad. Suradji was convicted of the murders and then killed by this means on July, 10, 2008 at the age of 59. We’re sure his wives, who all faced lesser charges and shorter sentences, will miss him always.

What Did Ted Bundy Like To Do In His Free Time, And Who Was His Daddy?

The man, the myth, the crazy guy with the unibrow you can’t look away from: Ted Bundy. Who was he, and why was he such a national sensation? You already know the answer, even if you don’t know the details. He was a serial killer operating in the U.S. with a penchant for kidnapping, rape and necrophilia–you know, the usual subject of American fascination. He liked them oh-so-young and eventually confessed to upwards of 30 murders while in police custody. But how did this tragic, and tragically enticing, story come to be?

His story is an interesting one. Because we live in a society that treats its bastards like unicorn turds, dear young Ted was raised by his grandparents instead of his not-quite-as-young-but-still-pretty-young mother, who subsequently posed as his sister. He eventually saw through the elaborate ruse (after being called a bastard), and seethed with rage toward his deceptive mommy. Although the real story isn’t clear from later interviews with Ted, it seems like his real father whom he never met and his actual grandparents were an abusive lot who liked the drink. By high school, Ted was stealing equipment to pursue his only normal hobby of skiing. Darker hobbies came a little later.

So he didn’t have the best childhood. Noted.

Ted had a fairly normal college experience before beginning to skip class. That’s how it happens, really: a young, upstanding citizen starts skipping class and before you know it young girls are starting to vanish from the face of the Pacific Northwest.

Or perhaps it began much earlier–a couple of homicide detectives strongly believe that Bundy began his serial killing stint in his teens. Either way, in 1974 women were popping out of existence on average of once a month. At first detectives didn’t know what to make of it, except that there was nothing obvious to connect the young women to one another, and an aggravating lack of evidence pointing to foul play. Eventually, remains were discovered near a site where Bundy often hiked and more at a state park. Things were starting to come together, but Bundy still wasn’t located.

Bundy moved to Salt Lake City to go back to college, and shockingly women began to disappear yet again. Ted was known to have brutally beaten, rape, sodomize, strangle, shampoo hair, and apply makeup with his victims. Sadly, that was also the typical order of operations during a ritual that was at that point routine for him.

This model citizen was caught by authorities in Utah in 1975 for the minute charges of aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. It wasn’t long before the local judicial system figured out that those charges were mere child’s play for Bundy, who was eventually connected to a series of murders spanning a number of states. Like most crazy people, he chose to represent himself during a preliminary hearing in Aspen. Since judges are stupid, Bundy was freed from his cuffs and allowed access to the courthouse library. You know those courthouses you walk past on busy city roads? This wasn’t one of those. He jumped from the second story window and poof! He was gone.

Because there was a much longer list of incompetent people involved, or maybe because Bundy is just that good, he was incarcerated again, escaped a second time, murdered three more people, and was then finally captured–for good–in Florida by 1978.

He was executed at the age of 42 on January 24, 1989, and gave most everyone in the country a reason to be thankful for capital punishment. His legacy of terror persists even today. Will we ever get over our possibly unhealthy obsession with serial killers, rapists, mass murders, explosions, and dystopian TV dramas? Probably not.

Luis Garavito: The Ghoul Of Columbia

There is really almost nothing to say about a man who is sentenced to eight centuries in jail for his crimes. And when a man is known for raping and killing young boys, well …

Silence is golden. But writing no more words would be bad for blogging, so we’ll force ourselves to tell his story because it is a man most in North America will not know about otherwise, yet is someone who puts Charles Manson and Jeffery Dahmer combined to shame.

Luis Garavito is considered one of the world’s worst serial killers (right up there with H.H Holmes in the U.S. and Jack the Ripper in Europe), yet because he was in Latin America, not many people know about him. His exploits were almost legendary in scale in that he confessed to sexually assaulting and killing almost 200 young boys between the ages of 6 and 16 over a seven-year period in the 1990s (about five every two months over that time), and it wasn’t until he was arrested for suspicion of sexually assaulting a boy that was not killed did the police find out about his killing spree.

Garavito confessed to every murder, and in fact drew detailed maps to show authorities where all the bodies were located. It is believed that Garavito may have killed as many as 300 by the time all is said and done, considering the number of unreported crimes and unfound missing children around that time.

As Garavito confessed to murders in Colombia (they were scattered about 11 of the country’s 32 districts) and Ecuador, he has had prison sentences piled on each other in that he is serving what amounts to more than 830 years in prison.

How did he do so much killing without being caught sooner? Authorities said he often would drift around the country, preying on homeless or unattended boys while dressed as a priest or monk, inducing the boys with money or drink. Many of the boys would not be reported missing because there was a lack of adult supervision or guardianship over many of these children, which made it easier for Garavito to steal away his victims, sexually assault them, mutilate their bodies, kill them and bury them with no one being the wiser.

It may not be surprising to learn that Garavito grew up in a rough childhood, colored with abuse from his father and others. He had just five years of formal schooling and left home at 16, gathering odd jobs before eventually drifting around the country. His killing spree began sometime in 1992 when he was about 35 years old, and encompassed nearly 60 towns and cities around Colombia and Ecuador by the time he was finally jailed in April 1999.

Colombia does not have the death penalty, but as the country has not had a serial killer of such magnitude before, and considering the victims and the general outrage of Garavito’s story, according to a website, there has been a push to change the law to allow for an execution in these rare instances.

Why Is Amelia Dyer One Of The Most Notorious Serial Killers In History?

Out of all the serial killers whose murderous adventures interest society the most, none transcend the notable women who make the list. Especially those whose murders took place over a century ago. One of the most infamous serial killers of all time, Amelia Dyer, etched her name into history books forever as a result of killing babies. That’s right. Babies. It doesn’t get any worse (unless you keep reading).

Born in Britain, Dyer was a nurse living in poverty after her husband died, and she desperately needed a way to support herself. Perhaps it was not long until she had an epiphany that would change her life (and the lives of many soon-to-be-murdered infants) forever. She would turn to baby farming. If you’re confused, don’t worry. You’re in good company. When people needed a little extra cash, they would turn to parents who could not or would not care for their own kids. In other words, baby farming was a genuine kids-for-cash get-rich-quick scheme. For Dyer, it didn’t work out so well.

The whole business of baby farming may have started out innocently enough, but time and circumstance would pave the way for tragedy. We don’t know if she murdered the first batch, but a few did not survive Dyer’s care all the same. In addition to the ones she had adopted, she was already caring for her own two. When her baby farm started to lose members, she was tried and convicted of negligence. For her alleged crime, she was forced to do six months of hard labor.

After that, it’s a lot more clear that she was murdering kids on purpose. Because she strangled them and dumped their bodies, it became a lot easier to decipher her intent. Eventually, one of the murdered kids was found in a bag floating down the Thames River. Whatever evidence was found with the body, it implicated her in the murder.

This time she wouldn’t get off the hook so easy. Or at all, really. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, a punishment that was carried out on June 10, 1896. The date capped a life of pain and trauma that included the deaths of two younger sisters and the care of a deteriorating and raving mother dying of typhus, in addition to the cruelty and mental instability that had frequently landed her in the care of asylums that obviously did little to help work out her problems. Experts believe she tried to commit suicide at least once.

It is not known exactly how many children’s lives she was responsible for ending, but the number is thought to be more than four hundred. Only twelve were ever definitively confirmed.

Someone even proposed the theory that Dyer was responsible for the Jack the Ripper killings. Although it was probably a theory deemed unlikely, it could be somewhat plausible. Dyer probably had the expertise to perform abortions (although Jack the Ripper was responsible for killing prostitutes as the result of improperly performed abortions). Could the two serial killers in fact be one? We’ll probably never know if there was a real connection.

Like all terrible acts of cruelty, the case did lead to some positive change. Afterward, Britain made adoption a more strenuous affair in order to make “baby farming” more difficult for those seeking financial gain in exchange for kids who obviously did not stand to benefit from the arrangements of their elders.

H. H. Holmes: A New-Old Celebrity

Though we had a revolution to claim our independence from England, the United States has had a generally positive diplomatic and trade relationship with Great Britain over the last two centuries.

But could we have inadvertently exported one of the more horrific American products?

That theory surrounds the renewed fame of America’s first known serial murderer, H.H. Holmes.

Holmes, who lived in the last half of the 19th century, is featured in a History Channel series called “American Ripper,” which looks into the possibility that Holmes may well be infamous British serial killer Jack the Ripper, who lived at the same time as Holmes.

Holmes confessed to as many as 27 murders during the latter part of the 19th century, though actually only less than 10 could be reasonably corroborated. In fact, it was believed that he had claimed to murdering some people who were actually still alive. Nonetheless, he was finally caught after being on the run and was executed for the murders in 1896.

Holmes was an interesting case. He was known to be very bright, and had built an elaborate house that later was called the “murder castle,” as it would have a maze of rooms and trap doors that Holmes would supposedly lure his victims into and they would disappear, not to be heard from again. In fact, he assumed the name Dr. H.H. Holmes to be a pharmacist in Chicago, where he eventually worked for a shop owner and ended up taking over the business when the owner mysteriously disappeared.

Then the three-story Holmes house was built, which had living quarters upstairs and a maze of rooms where victims would be killed, many of them by gas that was pumped into the rooms. Then, Holmes could move bodies to the basement through a system of trap doors and chutes, and he supposedly could then burn the bodies in the basement kiln.

When he was younger, he purportedly performed surgery on animals and was implicated in the death of a childhood friend, though it couldn’t be proven.

And there was something to be said for Holmes, as it was rumored that he actually wasn’t executed, and instead escaped and went into hiding. How? He had admitted when he was arrested before his execution that he had defrauded several insurance companies in college by using cadavers to “stand in” for people who were alive, convincing the companies that the people were dead.

He was actually arrested for insurance fraud, but while in custody, he confessed to the murders. He wasn’t arrested for the murders initially. Sounds a little like getting Al Capone, who directed the murder of countless people in Chicago, being thrown in jail for tax evasion, not murder.

Could he have convinced people that he was dead, while he escaped to England like Speedy Gonzalez and then became “Jack the Ripper,” the most notorious serial murderer of the last 200 years? One documentary series will apparently try to confirm or dispel those rumors.

The Serial Killer Sergei Ryakhovsky

At least nineteen people died at the hands of a skilled serial killer in Moscow between 1988 and 1993. His name was Sergei Ryakhovsky, and he would eventually be caught, tried, and convicted for his crimes. He was slammed with a life sentence for the string of murders, and died of untreated tuberculosis at the age of 42 while he was serving his time. Some would say it wasn’t nearly enough of a punishment for what he did, and others would agree.

He was likely addicted to the adrenaline rush provided by sexual encounters, himself claiming “an irresistible desire for intimacy with a woman.” Age was apparently just a number for Ryakhovsky, as he repeatedly tried to rape elderly women before he was sent to prison for four years after a “hooliganism” conviction. It’s sort of a light charge for attempted rape, as hooliganism is more of a catch-all in Russia and other parts of the world for immoral behavior that most don’t approve of. While technically accurate, hooliganism is not a stiff charge.

Ryakhovsky discovered his love for killing in 1988, when he murdered a gay man on the outskirts of Moscow. He went on a quick killing spree that same year, killing three more gay men. When asked why, he suggested that he wanted to cleanse society of homosexual abominations and prostitutes.

It turned out that it wasn’t so important who they were.

He murdered men, elderly women, and teenagers before he was caught–and they’re just the ones we know about for certain. The murders became progressively more brutal as time went on. Most of his killing was done by stabbing, but he also liked to strangle victims to death with just his bare hands. Sometimes he used a bit of rope. He mutilated many of their bodies, sometimes performing sexual acts on the corpses to gratify himself. Mostly the mutilation involved the genitalia of the victims.

He started mutilating victims in other ways toward the end of his run. One elderly man was decapitated and had his leg cut off the next day. An elderly woman was eviscerated with some sort of firework or other pyrotechnic device. His second-to-last victim was only sixteen years old, but Ryakhovsky wasn’t any nicer to children. He hanged the young boy, then disemboweled and decapitated him.

When detectives were examining one of the crime scenes, they came upon a shack. Inside the shack was an unused noose. They decided that the killer must be readying another victim for hanging, and so they lay in wait. When Ryakhovsky stumbled into the shack, they arrested him. When asked why he did not resist, he suggested that he was afraid of their weapons. That’s the mind of a killer for you.

While he initially confessed to the murders and explained in grisly detail, he was eventually diagnosed with a biological malfunction that led to his necrophiliac impulses. Even so, he was deemed competent to stand trial, and went on to do so. He discovered his recent diagnosis at this time, and stopped cooperating with the legal system. He recanted his previous confessions, but at this point it didn’t matter.

He was to die by firing squad after being sentenced to death in 1995, but Russia began the process of ending the death penalty before it was carried out. Instead, this cold-blooded killer received life in prison.

Was Hitler a Serial Killer?

As far as prominent figures in history are concerned, very few are more compelling of a subject than Adolf Hitler. An extremely charismatic leader well known for restructuring the German government following World War I, there are many theories that still circulate and even new theories being developed today about Hitler: his motives, his secret life, and even his psychological evaluation. Some have even speculated that he is a serial killer of the most perverted kind. Literally.

Historical accounts have claimed that Hitler was so driven by the idea of killing that it had even aroused him sexually. One-time German actress Marianne Hoppe claimed in an interview to have witnessed him rubbing his knees together as he “got some kind of orgasm” during a viewing of “The Rebel” in Hitler’s Berlin palace. The film featured Austrian soldiers against French soldiers, the former killing the latter by throwing rocks down upon them. And while many might interpret this as sick and twisted in its own right, is it a fair assessment by itself to consider Hitler a serial killer?

First, to consider the definition of a serial killer – which, in itself, can be a difficult task. There are many elements that go into the definition of serial killing, these elements coming from different sources. The FBI, an agency that likely sees its fair share of serial killers, defines a serial killer as anyone who has committed at least three murders over a period greater than a month with an “emotional cooling off period in between.” Barring the interpretation of a cooling off period, it’s hard to imagine anyone might debate this stipulation. Whether Hitler was or was not directly involved in the countless lives lost during the Holocaust, it is almost impossible not to associate him with the deaths regardless, other it would be fraud. However, this is hardly the only definition provided to us that fills out what a serial killer is. The National Institute of Justice provides a bit more specific criteria before someone can be classified as such; they say that a person must commit at least two murders with a strong psychological motive and is generally associated with “sadistic sexual overtones.”

Of course, under the assumption that Hitler did hold a strong sexual urgency toward death to the point that it drove him to command others to kill, one could argue that he fulfilled this condition as well. However, others might make the argument that even this definition of serial killing is too specific and exclusive. Psychologists, for example, employ a concept called prototype theory in an attempt to classify people based on the most pertinent archetypes. In the case of serial killers, some of the more famed individuals that come to mind are Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer, who may or may not have killed under the pretense of sexual motivation. However, there was a very common thread that spooled through the victims of the previously mentioned figures. In the case of Hitler, the same could be argued in regard to the Nazi propaganda that called for the eradication of the Jewish people and the cultivation of the Aryan race. However, the proposition that Hitler may have also been motivated sexually throws an entirely new variable into the equation. So, now the question must be asked; is this the mark of a serial killer or just the general tendencies of a genocidal dictator?