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Serial Killers in History

Copy of a portrait of Elizabeth Bathory
While the term “serial killer” is a relatively new one, it would seem that serial killers have existed for a very long time. There are some historical serial killers that have been documented as well as they can be, given the age of the killings. We can also safely assume that there have been cases of serial killings that have simply been lost to history. Some experts even think that early tales of werewolves, vampires and the like may have been based on historical serial killers. The following are three serial killers in history whose killings were documented well enough to be generally accepted cases.

Jack the Ripper

No list of historical serial killers would be complete without the man that some people mistakenly believe to be the world’s first serial killer. The case of Jack the Ripper certainly was one of the first highly publicized serial killings. However, there were unsolved cases in the United States and likely elsewhere before Jack the Ripper’s 1888 killing spree. There were even some that matched the Ripper’s brutality, such as the Servant Girl Annihilator of Austin, Texas. Nonetheless, Jack the Ripper remains perhaps the most infamous serial killer of all time.

The murders that are generally credited to Jack the Ripper took place from the late summer into the early winter of 1888. The Ripper is thought to have had at least five victims. All of his victims were prostitutes and they were all found in the Whitechapel District in London and the surrounding areas. The murders that are thought to have been the work of Jack were those of Annie Chapman, Mary Ann Nichols, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly.

Jack the Ripper would slash the throats of his victims and would then mutilate them. It is thought by many that he may have been a surgeon, due to the nature of his killings. However, we may never know. The identity of this historical serial killer has never been ascertained and probably never will be.

Gilles de Rais

The historical serial killer, Gilles de Rais, is best known for the serial killings and rapes of young children that he reportedly committed during the 1400s. He was also chief advisor and general for Joan of Arc. He was responsible, in part, for the liberation of Orleans. He was also considered one of France’s bravest and most successful soldiers. By 1430, he was the Marshall of France. However, after his war days were over, he turned his attention to something far more sinister.

Gilles was a wealthy man of noble birth and therefore had a castle and servants at his disposal. His castle reportedly became the scene of horrific child murders and his servants and friends became his accomplices. When Gilles de Rais confessed to these murders, he claimed that his first murder took place in 1432 or 1433. He also said that he had murdered so many children that he was unaware of the exact number.

Gilles and his accomplices would lure small children (mostly boys) to his castle. Once they were there, Gilles would torture them, sodomize them and murder them. He is even said to have sat on the stomachs of young boys and laughed as they died. Some of the acts that Gilles de Rais is said to have committed with these children are truly unspeakable. He confessed under threat of torture and was hanged on October 26, 1440. He is thought to have killed anywhere between 30 and 140 children.

Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bathory

One of the best known historical serial killers is Elizabeth Bathory. Elizabeth Bathory was a noblewoman who lived in Castle Csejthe, in the remote regions of the Carpathian mountains in Transylvania. She was a headstrong and vain woman who reportedly delighted in torturing others, particularly young female servants. It is said that she developed a love for torture with the help of her husband, who was a soldiering man. He taught her how to make others suffer and she enjoyed it so much that she continued to commit these evil deeds, even after her husband’s death.

Elizabeth’s husband died somewhere between 1602 and 1604. He was supposedly stabbed to death by a prostitute, whom he hadn’t paid. Elizabeth was roughly 43 years old, at the time. She soon became obsessed with her aging complexion and one day convinced herself that the blood of a servant, whom she had been beating severely, had made her skin look younger. Elizabeth surrounded herself with self-proclaimed occultists, who confirmed her delusion.

It was at this time that Elizabeth became a serial killer. She would locate young female virgins with the help of her friends and bring them to her castle. Once she had them there, she would torture them and drain them of their blood while they were still alive. The crazed woman would then bathe in their blood. There are stories that she even drank the blood of the prettiest ones.

Bathory was eventually discovered and punished for her crimes in 1610. She was locked in a closet in her castle for the last four years of her life. Some of her occultist friends were burned alive. Elizabeth was exempt from this because of her noble blood. She never confessed to her crimes, but she was blamed for the disappearance of roughly 600 women, nonetheless.

So, you see, serial killers have existed in our history for quite some time. Serial killers are not modern phenomena. Unfortunately, they will probably continue to exist, despite modern forensic psychologists’ attempts to explain just why these people commit such atrocious crimes.


Krause, Jerome C., Erzsebet (Elizabeth Bathory), retrieved 12/3/09,

Grubben, Mark, Gilles de Rais, retrieved 12/3/09,


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