Would it surprise you to learn that you have probably never heard of the most prolific serial killers in the world? Infamous names like Richard Ramirez, David Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy barely crack the top 30. So who were the worst?
Determining the “world’s worst serial killer” is an impossible feat. Anyone who kills a person in cold blood is pretty horrible, so the only quantifiable way to determine the “worst” is by the number of kills. This too proves difficult, as many serial killers, once arrested, often confess to dozens or hundreds of murders they had nothing to do with. For example, Henry Lee Lucas confessed to over 600 different murders at one point or another, in what is widely believed to be a farce meant to waste law enforcement’s time and money. Even after all that, most law enforcement believe they have evidence that he was involved in at least 70-80 murders. He was convicted for 11.
For the purposes of this article, I have gone solely based on conviction rate - the number of victims that the courts could convict the killer of. I have also not included so-called “Angels of Death,” doctors and nurses who kill their charges (usually with drug overdoses), often believing that they are doing the right thing by putting their patients out of their misery.
Killer: Luis Garavito
Area of Crimes: Columbia
Convicted Kills: 139
Suspected Kills: 300+
Born in 1957 in Columbia, Luis Garavito was the eldest of seven sons in very poor family and was abused throughout his childhood. His chosen victims were street children, between nine and fourteen years old. Each was raped, tortured, killed, and dismembered.
Garavito was captured in 1999 and confessed to killing at least 140 children. He was convicted of 139 murders. Almost as disturbing as his crimes is the Columbian justice system. While he was easily convicted of over 100 murders, a serial killer of this magnitude is unprecedented the Columbian justice system. As it stands, Columbia does not have life in prison or the death penalty; in fact, the most time any one person can spend in prison is 30 years, which was the sentence Garavito got. But by making a public apology and helping locate the remains of his victims (including victims he was not convicted of killing) he was able to have his sentence reduced to 22 years. On top of that, he could have a further reduction of prison time for good behavior. After a 2006 documentary aired and public outcry became fervent, judges agreed to look at the sentencing requirements to try to extend it. I cannot find anything one way or the other as to whether or not he is still in prison.
Killer: Pedro Lopez
Area of Crimes: Columbia, Peru, and Ecuador
Convicted Kills: 110
Suspected Kills: 300+
Born in 1948, Lopez was also born in Columbia, to a cold-hearted and abusive prostitute with 12 other children. He was kicked out of the house at age eight when he was discovered molesting one of his sisters. Columbia was rife with street violence, warfare, and political upheaval at this time, making it an even more dangerous place than home. He was picked up by a man with promises of food and housing; instead he was raped repeatedly and discarded. A year later, an American couple took him in and sent him to school. He was molested by one of his teachers and returned to life on the street. He supported himself by stealing cars and selling them to chop shops. He was arrested at age 18 and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was gang raped upon entering prison, and killed the four men responsible. Deciding that it was self-defense, he had two years tacked on to his prison sentence. Upon his release in 1978, Lopez went to Peru, where he later claims to have murdered over 100 women and girls of native tribes. He was caught by one tribe leader in the middle of an abduction, and the tribe planned to torture and kill him. A missionary convinced the tribe to turn him over to the police, who didn’t want to waste time with tribal murders and shipped him to Ecuador. Lopez continued his spree across Ecuador and Columbia. Authorities initially believed that the sudden uptick in young girls disappearing was due to human trafficking.
Lopez was caught in 1980 when he brazenly tried to snatch a young girl from a market. When he eventually confessed, he claimed to have raped and murdered at least 110 girls in Ecuador, 100 in Columbia, and “many more than 100” in Peru. With a victim count like that hard to believe, he agreed to show police his burial sites. While many sites had no remains (likely due to flooding or animals) remains of 57 girls were discovered. Each one had been raped and strangled in broad daylight - he was sexually excited by watching the life leave their eyes. He would, on occasion, have macabre tea parties with their corpses. Because of his detailed confessions, Lopez was charged - and convicted - in the murders of 110 girls in Ecuador.
There seems to be varying reports of his sentence and where it was served. It seems that Lopez was released from an Ecuadorian prison, arrested within an hour and deported to Columbia. Lopez seems to be currently behind bars.
Killer: Daniel Camargo
Area of Crimes: Columbia, Ecuador
Convicted Kills: 72
Suspected Kills: 150+
Another Columbian killer, born in 1936, Daniel Camargo actually spent time in prison with Pedro Lopez. After his mother died, Camargo was raised by a distant father and abusive stepmother. He was obsessed with virgins and when he discovered that his fiancee was not one, agreed to stay with her only if she help him procure virgins. She assisted in luring and drugging five girls that Camargo would rape, but none were killed. The fifth victim reported the crime, and Barbosa went to prison. A three-year sentence became an eight-year sentence when a new judge took over, which is where Camargo claims the murderous rage began. Camargo served his full term. About a year after his release, in 1973, he kidnapped and raped a nine year old girl, then murdered her so she couldn’t rat him out like his last victim had. He was arrested in 1974, and while at the time he was believed to have committed at least 80 murders in Columbia, the nine-year-old was the only murder he was convicted of. He was sentenced to 25 years.
Ten years into his sentence at “Columbia’s Alcatraz,” Camargo escaped. Authorities believe he drowned during the escape; the press said he was eaten by sharks. It was less than a month later that Camargo reappeared, this time in Ecuador. Between 1984 and 1986, he raped and murdered at least 54 girls. Police initially believed this to be the work of gangs. Eventually Camargo was arrested, mere minutes after killing another girl. He confessed to killing 71 girls in the two years since his escape from prison, and led police to the bodies as proof. He chose children because they were virgins and it gave him greater satisfaction to see his victims cry. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, the maximum sentence in Ecuador. Before that release date came up, the cousin of one of Camargo’s victims killed him in prison in retaliation.
Killer: Pedro Filho
Area of Crimes: Brazil
Convicted Kills: 71
Suspected Kills: 100+
We move out of Columbia, but not far... to Brazil. Pedro Filho was exposed to violence even before his birth in 1954. His father beat his mother while she was pregnant, resulting in Filho being born with a skull injury. His first murder was at age 14: he murdered the man who fired his father for alleged theft. Then he killed the man who had actually committed the theft. Filho was involved in drug and gang activities, and tortured and killed a number of gang bangers who had killed his girlfriend. Before he turned 18, Filho had killed ten people. When Filho’s father murdered his mother, Filho got revenge by killing his father, ripping out his heart, and eating a piece of it. His first arrest, in 1973, yielded a body count of at least 47 inmates he killed in prison, determining that each deserved it. He claims to have killed at least 100, but was eventually convicted on 71 counts. Filho was sentenced to several hundred years in prison, but like Columbia, Brazil has maximum sentencing, and he was released from prison in 2007. No other murders have been associated with Filho, but he has been arrested for incidents such as inciting a riot and false imprisonment.
Killer: Yang Xinhai
Area of Crimes: China
Convicted Kills: 67
Suspected Kills: 67
We finally leave South America and head to China, where Yang Xinhai was convicted of every murder he confessed to. Xinhai was born in 1968 and was the poorest family in an already-poor Chinese village. He is one of the rare serial killers who does not seem to have a history of abuse in their past. He was in and out of prison multiple times between 1988 and 1999 for various crimes, including theft and attempted rape.
Xinhai did not begin murdering until 1999. Between then and 2003, Xinhai killed 67 people and raped 23 women. Upon his arrest - which occurred during a routine sweep of the entertainment district, at which point police determined he was acting suspicious - Xinhai confessed to the murders and the rape. He would break into homes at night and kill the occupants - often times entire families - with whatever weapons he found handy: axes, hammers, shovels. Xinhai contracted HIV from one of his victims.
Xinhai never formally gave a reason for his crime wave. Many believe that it was “revenge” against society, although Xinhai is quoted as saying, “When I killed people I had a desire. This inspired me to kill more. I don't care whether they deserve to live or not. It is none of my concern...I have no desire to be part of society. Society is not my concern.” He was convicted on February 1st, 2004 and executed by firing squad thirteen days later.