The Martin Pollins Blog

History, economics, business, politics…and Sussex

Serial Killers from History

Forgive the pun but let’s kill a myth straight away – serial killers are not new. Before Jack the Ripper began his legendary killing spree in London in the 1800s, there is a long list of infamous serial killers active throughout history.

Nevertheless, let’s start with Jack the Ripper: he made his first appearance in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888 and murdered five prostitutes and mutilated their corpses. Police suspected he was either a surgeon or butcher – certainly someone skilled with a scalpel, but while many suspects have been named over the years, the killer has never been identified.

Picture Credit: “Jack The Ripper 1” by Boogeyman13 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people in two or more separate events over a period of time for psychological reasons. The following are just a few of the nastiest and most prolific serial killers:

Procrustes (“the stretcher [who hammers out the metal]”), is mentioned in Greek Mythology and is said to be the first serial killer. He was a rogue smith and bandit from Attica and known as Prokoptas or Damastes.

He attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so that whether they were tall or short, they were forced to fit the size of an iron bed. So, you see where the word “Procrustean” came from – to describe situations where an arbitrary standard is used to measure success while completely disregarding obvious harm that results from the effort.

Liu Pengli
Liu Pengli, a son of King Xiao of Liang in China, is probably the first recorded serial killer in history. It was widely known throughout the kingdom that Liu Pengli was a cruel and arrogant man. Also known as the Prince of Jidong, Liu Pengli was a 2nd century BC Han prince who thought that he had a license to kill (not 007). For more than two decades, the blood-thirsty Pengli would go on marauding expeditions with tens of slaves or young men who were in hiding from the law. Liu Pengli murdered over a hundred people in total, seizing their possessions for sheer sport, as recorded by Sima Qian in Records of the Great Historian (see here).

Queen Anula of Anuradhapura
Known as one of the biggest misandrists (man-hater) in Asian history, Queen Anula reigned from 47 to 42 BC and was the first queen in Sri Lankan history to have wielded so much power. Her reign was filled with secret love affairs, a series of murders, plenty of poison, and a very tragic end for the queen herself. Queen Anula of Sri Lanka poisoned her son and four husbands in her quest to become queen regnant, which she did for five years. But, her luck was to run out and end her gruesome reign. She was eventually overthrown and burned alive.

Luis Garavito
Child-murderer, torture-killer, and rapist known as “La Bestia” (“The Beast”). He confessed to killing 140 boys between 8 and 16 years old over a seven-year period in Colombia and neighbouring countries. He is suspected of murdering over 300 victims, mostly street children. Originally sentenced to 1,853 years in prison but later reduced to 22 years after he led police to many of the bodies of his victims, he is scheduled to be released in 2023.

Hey, that’s next year!

Locusta of Gaul
She had the not-so-flattering title of the “first female serial killer in Western history” and lived in Rome more than 1,900 years ago. Locusta was a knowledgeable botanist who used chemistry to give people heart attacks for fun and profit. It’s said that she was behind the assassinations of Claudius and Britannicus. Following Nero’s death, Locusta was executed by his successor, Galba.

Alice Kyteler
Medieval Europe was a time when more than 300,000 so-called witches were tortured, burnt, or hanged, but most were nothing but poor, innocent women, although that was definitely not the case for Alice Kyteler. A Norman noblewoman, Kyteler was prosecuted in the first modern witch trial in Britain in 1324 for the alleged poisoning of her four husbands, heresy, and witchcraft. Kyteler (aka “Sorceress of Kilkenny”) was the first to be prosecuted in a modern witch trial for supposedly murdering her first three husbands by poisoning them and was in the process of slowly killing her last husband, Sir John le Poer. She was also accused of having a personal demon named Son of Art.

Gilles de Rais
Gilles de Rais was a knight and lord from Brittany, Anjou and Poitou, a leader in the French army, and a companion-in-arms of Joan of Arc. He had a very despicable and dark side that made him one of the very worst serial killers of all time. This serial killer confessed to torturing, raping, and murdering over 140 children from 1432 to 1440. He and several of his accomplices in the murders were hanged on 26th October 1440.

Peter Stumpp
In the mid-16th century, Peter Stumpp, aka the Werewolf of Bedburg, was a wealthy farmer born in the village of Epprath near Cologne, who reportedly murdered and ate 14 children, including his own son (whose brain he devoured), and two pregnant women. He was also accused of having a repulsive sexual relationship with his own daughter.

Proud to confess his crimes, Stumpp claimed that he had been given a magic belt by the Devil, which allowed him to transform into “the likeness of a greedy, strong and devouring wolf.” Whilst in this form, he confessed to having gorged on the flesh of goats, lambs, and sheep, as well as men, women, and children. On 31st October 1589, Stumpp’s execution of his daughter and mistress was one of the most brutal in history. Too gory to mention here.

Peter Niers
Serial Killer and Cannibal from Nuremberg: Peter Niers was a German serial killer and cannibal executed on 16th September 1581 in Neumarkt, a few miles outside Nuremberg. It was also believed that he was a powerful black magician with many supernatural abilities and his fame alone terrorised entire villages.

Based on confessions extracted from him and his accomplices under torture, he was convicted of 544 murders, including 24 foetuses cut out of pregnant women—allegedly, the foetal remains were to be used in magic and for acts of cannibalism.

Christman Genipperteinga
Widely considered the deadliest and worst serial killer in recorded history, this hideous monster is by far the worst perpetrator of the 16th century. He was so proud of his crimes that he even kept a diary detailing all the murders of not one, not two, but 964 individuals.

In addition to this evidence, he willingly admitted to the murders with a sense of superiority, adding that if he had reached his goal of a thousand victims, he would have been even happier. On 17th June 1581, he was condemned to death by the breaking wheel[1].

If you want to know more, visit PrimeVideo from Amazon: Murderers as you’ve never seen them before, with exclusive one-on-one interviews. Witness infamous killers such as Ted Bundy and Henry Lee Lucas who chillingly describe how they stalked and killed their victims in cold blood. The program also examines the sadistic exploits of other lesser-known murdered whose crimes are equally as heinous and bizarre.

Find out about William Heirens (The Lipstick Killer), Harvey Louis Carignan (Harry the Hammer), Henry Lee Lucas (The Confession Killer), Kenneth Allen McDuff (The Broomstick Killer), Theodore (Ted) Robert Bundy (The Lady Killer), Ronald Defeo, Jr. (The Amityville Horror), Kenneth Bianchi (The Hillside Strangler), Douglas Clark (The Sunset Slayer), Michael Bruce Ross (The Roadside Killer), James Paul (The Executioner), Catherine May Wood (The Lethal Lovers), Gwendolyn Graham (The Lethal Lovers), and Arthur Shawcross (The Monster of the Rivers).

Here’s the link, although the video series may not yet be available in the UK:

Sources and Further Reading
  1. The breaking wheel (aka the execution wheel, the Catherine wheel or simply the Wheel) was a torture method used for public execution primarily in Europe from antiquity through the Middle Ages into the early modern period by breaking the bones of a criminal or bludgeoning them to death. Source:

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