In January 2022, a new documentary explored the origins, motives and eventual capture of Dennis Rader, also known as the “BTK Killer,” who terrorized Witchita, Kansas, starting in the mid-1970s.
“I lived a normal life, yet I had a real dark mind,” Rader says in the documentary, which aired on A&E in early January.
During a 17-year crime spree, ending in 1991, Rader was linked to 10 murders.
In this photo, Dennis Rader appears on a video screen as he makes his first court appearance, on March 1, 2005 in Wichita.
What follows is a look at some of the most prolific serial killers the country has ever seen, including one killer whose identity eluded authorities for decades, until his eventual capture in 2018. Some of the murderers here are believed to have killed even more people than they were convicted of killing, and the true toll may never be known.
Joseph DeAngelo Jr.
Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, is believed to be the East Area Rapist, also dubbed the “Golden State Killer,” who engaged in at least three crime sprees from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s.
In June 2020, as part of a deal to avoid the death penalty, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and as well as 13 counts of kidnapping. He later received multiple consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
DeAngelo later offered a short apology, saying, “I’ve listened to all your statements, each one of them, and I’m truly sorry to everyone I have hurt.”
Robert Lee Yates
Robert Lee Yates pleaded guilty to murdering 13 women in Spokane, Washington, killing them and dumping their bodies in rural areas. He was later convicted of two additional murders.
Yates’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison after the state abolished the death penalty.
Chester Turner was convicted of killing 14 people in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of his victims were raped and strangled.
Prosecutors called Turner “one of the most prolific serial killers in the city’s history.” He is on death row.
Ángel Maturino Reséndiz
Ángel Maturino Reséndiz, known as “The Railroad Killer,” killed at least 15 people across the U.S. and Mexico in the 1990s.
He would jump off trains and kill people in nearby homes, attacking with a knife, a pick axe, rocks and other blunt objects. He would often steal their belongings and sometimes raped his female victims.
He was executed in Texas in 2006.
Randy Steven Kraft
Randy Steven Kraft, known as the “Scorecard Killer,” drugged, raped, tortured and murdered at least 16 young men between 1972 and 1983. He committed most of his murders in California.
Kraft’s nickname came from the fact that he left a cryptic list of his victims. Investigators believed, based on this list and other evidence, that Kraft killed 67 men, but he was only convicted of 16 murders.
He is on death row.
Charles Ray Hatcher
Charles Ray Hatcher raped and murdered at least 16 people — mostly young men and boys — in Missouri, California and Illinois between 1969 and 1982.
He hanged himself in prison.
Between October 1973 and April 1974, a series of racially motivated killings terrorized San Francisco. The crimes were dubbed the “Zebra Murders,” after a special police radio band used to investigate the killings.
Eventually, four men, Manuel Moore, Larry Green, Jessie Lee Cooks, and J.C.X. Simon, were convicted of killing 15 people; they had dubbed themselves the “Death Angels,” and authorities would call them members of a cult.
The Death Angels spread panic throughout San Francisco over 179 days.
Here, mayor Joseph Alioto holds a press conference on May 1, 1974, explaining that the San Francisco murders were part of a conspiracy by the previously unknown cult.
Technically, Anthony LaRette was convicted of killing one person, in St. Charles, Missouri, in 1980. But he later confessed to 31 murders in 11 states dating back to the late 1960s. Fifteen of those cases were closed based on details he gave to authorities.
LaRette, shown in this 1976 police booking photograph, met several times with Pinellas County Detective Patricia Juhl, giving her details into more than two dozen rapes, attacks and killings.
The state of Missouri executed LaRette by lethal injection.
Carroll Cole strangled at least 15 women and one boy in various states between 1948 and 1980.
He confessed to the killings, saying there could have been more because he was usually drunk when they occurred.
He was executed in 1985.
Robert Hansen would kidnap prostitutes and release them into the Alaskan woods to hunt them. He admitted to 17 murders, which took place between 1971 and 1983.
Hansen died in prison in 2014.
Jeffrey Dahmer murdered, raped and dismembered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.
His later killings often included acts of necrophilia and cannibalism. He also kept body parts of some of his victims in his Milwaukee apartment.
Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison, where was beaten to death by a fellow inmate in 1994.
Randall Woodfield, known as “The I-5 Killer,” was connected to 18 murders in Washington, Oregon and California between 1979 and 1981, and may have had as many as 44 victims. He was known to sexually assault his female victims.
He is serving life in prison at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.
Paul John Knowles
After escaping from prison in 1974, Knowles began a murder spree that left 20 people dead across the country.
He was eventually captured but attempted to shoot a sheriff, which led a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent to fatally shoot Knowles.
The “Ripper Crew”
In the 1980s, a group of four Chicago-area men earned a disturbing nickname: “The Ripper Crew.”
Investigators said the four men, Thomas Kokoraleis, Andrew Kokoraleis, Robin Gecht, and Edward Spreitzer, formed a satanic gang believed to be responsible for the murders of up to 20 women. They drove around in a red van looking for women to abduct off the streets. All four were convicted in connection to at least a portion of the attacks — either for murder, attempted murder, kidnapping or rape.
Thomas Kokoraleis, seen here, was released from prison in 2019. His brother Andrew was executed in 1999, and the other two men remain behind bars.
After serving in the American Revolutionary War, Virginia native Captain Samuel Mason became the leader of the Mason Gang, a group of river pirates blamed for the deaths of at least 20 people.
The gang operated along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Patrick Kearney, who was also known as the “Freeway Killer,” pleaded guilty to 21 murders committed in the 1970s. He admitted to seven more. He is serving life in prison.
His pattern was to pick up young male hitchhikers or young men from gay bars and shoot them, often sexually assaulting the bodies.
Larry Eyler was convicted of murdering a 15-year-old boy and confessed to killing at least 21 more young men and boys between 1982 and 1984 across five states. He was violent with his victims during sex acts.
He died in 1994 of AIDS-related complications while on death row.
William Bonin, another murderer known as the “Freeway Killer,” killed at least 21 boys and young men in 1979 and 1980.
He enticed victims, aged 12 to 19, into his van and sexually assaulted them before killing them, usually by strangulation.
He was executed in 1992.
Coral Eugene Watts
At least 14 murders have been officially linked to “The Sunday Morning Slasher,” or Carl “Coral” Eugene Watts, who operated between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s.
Before Watts’s death in prison in 2007, authorities suspected him of up to 100 murders in total.
In this 2004 photo, Watts waits for the start of closing arguments in his murder trial in Pontiac, Michigan.
Wayne Williams was convicted in 1982 for killing two adult men, but the Atlanta Police Department concluded Williams was responsible for at least 23 killings that terrorized the city.
In the case known as the Atlanta Child Murders, at least 28 African American children and young adults were killed in the Atlanta area. When Williams went to jail, the murders stopped.
Williams was sentenced to life in prison but maintains his innocence.
Earle Nelson, known as “the Gorilla Man,” was convicted of murdering 22 people in the U.S. and Canada between 1926 and 1927.
Most of his victims were landladies; Nelson would claim he wanted to rent a room and then attack. He would sometimes have sex with the bodies and stash them under the nearest bed.
He was executed for his crimes.
Ronald Joseph Dominique
Ronald Joseph Dominique confessed to raping and murdering at least 23 men in Louisiana over a decade starting in 1997.
He said he thought it would be better to kill his victims so that he wouldn’t get caught.
He is serving life in prison.
Officially, Gerald Stano confessed to killing 41 women, mostly in Florida and New Jersey — starting, he would eventually say, in the early 1970s, though his killing spree may have begun even earlier.
Stano was executed in the Florida electric chair in 1998, having been found guilty of nine murders. Before he died, he proclaimed his innocence.
Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-born American serial killer active in Illinois and Indiana between 1884 and 1908.
She is thought to have killed 14 people, most of whom were men lured to her Indiana home with the promise of marriage.
Juan Corona was was a Mexican national convicted of the murders of 25 people, all of whom were found buried in peach orchards along the Feather River in Sutter County, California, in 1971. His victims were all migrant farm workers.
In this 1973 file photo, Corona waves to supporters as he leaves the Solano County Hall of Justice in Fairfield, California, after being sentenced to 25 consecutive life terms.
In 2019, Corona died at 85 of natural causes at an outside hospital.
Dean Corll kidnapped, raped and tortured at least 28 teen boys in Houston, Texas, in the 1970s.
The murders, known as the Houston Mass Murders, were discovered after one of Corll’s accomplices fatally shot him. The victims had all been buried in area beaches or a boat shed.
Ted Bundy was executed in Florida in 1989 and was linked to a string of murders of young women in several states during the 1970s. He confessed to 35 murders before his execution.
He would often win over women with his good looks before attacking them. Decades later, his vicious crime spree continues to grip the public imagination, inspiring multiple TV and film treatments.
This 19th-century Mexican-American killer was linked by authorities to roughly 32 murders in the Colorado Territory during the summer of 1863.
No specific reason has been determined for the killing spree, which also involved his brother, Vivian. A tracker named Tom Tobin was eventually credited with finding Espinosa, killing him, and bringing his head, and that of Vivian, to Fort Garland, Colorado, shown here in a historic photo.
John Wayne Gacy Jr.
John Wayne Gacy Jr. was convicted of 33 murders and was executed in 1994.
Gacy, who sometimes performed as a clown, sexually assaulted and usually asphyxiated teenage boys and young men in the 1970s in Illinois. He buried many of his victims in the crawl space of his Chicago-area home.
Dubbed the “Angel of Death,” this former nurse’s aide received multiple life sentences after admitting in 1987 to killing three dozen hospital patients in Ohio and Kentucky during the 1970s and ’80s.
In 2017, a fellow inmate, James Elliott, would be charged in the fatal beating of Harvey.
In this photo from September 1987, Harvey stands before a judge during sentencing in Cincinnati.
“The Horrible Harpes”
Some historians consider these brothers, born as Joshua and William Harper around 1750 and also known by the last name Harpe, as two of America’s earliest documented serial killers.
Loyal to the British crown during the Revolutionary War, the brothers started their murder spree after their military service. Archivists peg their victim count as around 39 people, based on confessions from the siblings themselves, but their list of victims may have reached 50 across Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois.
Gary Ridgway was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 after he admitted to killing 49 women in the 1980s and 1990s.
Ridgway, also known as the Green River Killer, terrorized Seattle, killing mostly prostitutes by strangling them. He would dispose of their bodies in dump sites and along the Green River, sometimes returning to have sex with their corpses.
Nearly 20 years passed before DNA evidence linked him to the crimes. He was arrested in 2001.
Samuel Little was convicted in 2014 of killing three women in California in the 1980s. Four years later, the 78-year-old confessed to killing about 90 women across the country over several decades.
Police have confirmed 34 of the confessed murders so far.