Famous serial killers


Is psychopathy something you’re born with? Is it caused by hormones or the way you’re brought up? Jeffrey Dahmer said he was born with a ‘‘part’’ of him missing. Others have said prison turned them into monsters; yet others turned the blame around and insisted their victims deserved to die.


Do you have your facts right about the psychopathic behaviour of famous serial killers?

Jack the Ripper

Murdered prostitutes from the Whitechapel area in London in 1888.

Macabre element:
Some of the victims’ internal organs were surgically removed by the killer.

None. Identity still uncertain.

Psycho trait:
Psychopathic killers often choose victims who’re vulnerable, such as prostitutes and runaways.

Ed Gein
The inspiration for the movie Psycho and the character Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

Confessed to two murders and a number of grave robberies.

Macabre element:
Skinned his victims and used the skin to make clothes and furniture; decorated his home with parts of their bodies.

Died on 26 July 1984 in a mental institution.

Psycho trait:
The victim has ‘‘symbolic’’ value for the killer, revealed by the method of killing. The murder is rarely for material gain; the motive is psychological.

Charles Manson
Leader of ‘‘The Family’’, a San Francisco hippie cult formed in 1967.

The serial killer who redefined evil. He used drugs and persuaded members to go on killing rampages and rob the wealth

Macabre element:
Wrote messages on the walls of his victims’ houses in their blood.

Remains in prison.

Psycho trait:
The murders reflect a need to sadistically dominate the victim.

Ted Bundy
This educated, charming young American is one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

Raped, strangled or bludgeoned several women to death between 1974 and 1978.

Macabre element:
Sometimes he first killed and then raped the women. He claimed pornography made him do it.

Died in the electric chair on 24 January 1989.

Psycho trait:
Disguised himself as a law enforcement officer to gain access to his victims.

Gert van Rooyen and Joey Haarhoff
After stealing a car and a rifle in 1954 Van Rooyen was sent to a reform school, followed by imprisonment in 1960 for stealing motor spares and clothing. In 1979 he abducted two girls aged 10 and 13, took them to Hartbeespoort Dam near Pretoria, punched them in the face and forced them to strip naked and perform sexual acts. He was arrested and sentenced to four years in jail for abduction, sexual assault and common assault of the girls, serving three years before being released.

Abducted and murdered at least six young girls between 1988 and 1989.

Macabre element:
Paedophilia. None of the victims were ever found.

Van Rooyen and his accomplice, Joey Haarhoff , committed suicide when faced with arrest after their last kidnap victim escaped.

Psycho trait:
The killer is usually a stranger to the victim. The murders appear unconnected or random. There was a typical ‘‘cooling off ’’ period between his first sexual crimes and the murders.

Daisy de Melcker
As a nurse she knew about poisons. She had five children by the first of her three husbands, all plumbers. Four of the children died in infancy.

Poisoned two husbands with strychnine and her only son with arsenic.

Macabre element:
She killed her husbands for their life insurance but nobody knows what motivated her to murder her son.

Hanged in December 1932.

Psycho trait:
She proclaimed her innocence to the end.

(This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in YOU Pulse magazine, Autumn 2008. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.)

Read more:
The different types of psychopaths
How to spot a psychopath

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