Kemper began killing at an early age — murdering his paternal grandparents when he was only 15 years old, after being sent to live with them because his alcoholic mother abused him and his father had remarried and moved away. Even though Kemper had grown up with violent tendencies (in several interviews, he recalls how he’d derive pleasure from killing family pets and then lying to his parents about it), Kemper claimed he wanted to know how it would feel to kill his grandmother. He then only killed his grandfather so that he wouldn’t have to see his wife’s dead body. After being released from the Atascadero State Hospital at the age of 21, Kemper began abducting and murdering women throughout the early 1970s. His huge size and social awkwardness made him appear nonthreatening and also made it easy for him to lure his victims (mostly young, female hitchhikers) into his car, before driving them to a remote location to be murdered. He’d then take the bodies home so he could decapitate, dismember, and sexually violate them. His last victims were his mother and one of his mother’s friends, and then he turned himself in. While being tried in 1973, Kemper pled guilty and asked for the death penalty — specifically, “death by torture.” He was instead given eight life sentences and has declined all of his parole hearings, repeatedly telling the parole board that he knows he isn’t fit to return to society.
Number of victims: 10.
Monte Ralph Rissell
Similar to Kemper, Rissell began his crimes at a very early age. He had already raped several women before he even turned 15. His first murder occurred when he was only 18 — in an attempt to get over his ex-girlfriend, Rissell tried to rape a woman in the parking lot by his apartment complex. When she tried to pretend like she was enjoying herself as a defense mechanism, Rissell snapped in irritation and drowned her in the ravine nearby. By the time he was 19, Rissell had committed and been arrested for the murders of five women and received five life sentences.
Number of victims: 5.
Brudos grew up with a terrible and unfulfilling relationship with his mother, who constantly verbally, emotionally, and physically abused him throughout his childhood. He spent his teen years in and out of psychiatric hospitals after he was caught repeatedly stealing women’s shoes and underwear. At 17, he abducted his first victim and was consequently arrested and sent to the Oregon State Hospital for nine months. The psychiatrists who treated them there reported that his sexual fantasies were rooted in his hatred and rage against his mother. After he graduated high school, Brudos got married, had two children, and relocated to a different suburb outside of Salem, Oregon. Then, between 1968 and 1969, only seven years after his family moved, Brudos beat and strangled four women and attempted to kill two others. It’s reported that he would dress up in women’s shoes and masturbate after his victims were dead. When police raided his house, they found hundreds of photos Brudos had taken of his victims and found some of their body parts hidden throughout his house. Brudos died in prison in 2006.
Number of victims: 4.
Speck had spent his entire childhood and adolescence moving around all over the country, before eventually settling down in Chicago. He started drinking at age 12 and by 15 was getting drunk every day. His first arrest happened at age 13, for trespassing, and he spent the rest of the late 1950s-early 1960s stealing money and getting drunk. Late one night in July 1966, Speck, drunk and high, broke into a dorm for nursing students and then spent hours holding the nine female nurses hostage — eventually killing eight of them, one at a time, and raping the last victim. The ninth woman in the house managed to escape after hiding underneath a bed for several hours. After getting caught (his fingerprints were all over the house), Speck claimed he had no recollection of the murders. He only officially confessed in 1978 to a newspaper reporter, and said that he felt nothing the night he committed the murders. He was sentenced to 400 to 1,200 years in prison and eventually died of a heart attack. A neurologist who studied Speck’s autopsy report said that he’d never seen such a significant abnormality in the boundary between Speck’s hippocampus (memory) and amygdala (the part of the brain that deals with rage and strong emotions).
Number of victims: 8.
Dennis Rader AKA the BTK Killer
Like the other four killers mentioned, Rader’s murderous tendencies were foreshadowed from his behavior at an early age. Throughout his childhood he would torture animals to death and also had a sexual fetish for women’s underwear — later in life, he would steal his victims’ underwear and wear them himself. After getting married, he started a job at ADT Security Services — a fact that’s significant, because Rader would usually get to his victims by breaking into their homes. Over the course of almost two decades, Rader killed 10 people — eight women, two men — throughout Wichita, Kansas and collected items from each scene as “prizes.” Rader would send mocking letters to the police and local newspapers throughout the 1970s, detailing how he committed each murder. His name, the BTK Killer, comes from how he would “bind, torture, kill” his victims. His murders are so spread out because he would take breaks to raise his two children. His identity was eventually discovered in 2005, when he sent a Fox TV station in Wichita a floppy disk — in which, forensics found that the disk had previously been used by the Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita and also contained a recently deleted document that included reference to a “Dennis.” An internet search found that Rader was the president of the church council and 31 years after Rader’s first murder, he was finally arrested. He is held at the El Dorado Correctional Facility and is not eligible for release and/or parole until 2180. He is held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and only allowed three showers per week.
Number of victims: 10.