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10 Most Prolific Serial Killers in America

There have been dozens of highly prolific serial killers in American history, but these guys were the ones with the highest kill counts.

Serial killers are terrifying—and rare. They are one of the most unusual types of criminals in the American penal system, and yet, they are also one of the most largely misunderstood groups of criminals as well. Most casual observers tend to think that most serial murderers tend to kill five, 10 or even 15 people over their span of activity. 

Guys, this isn't true. 

Most killers in this category only get that title because they killed around three people over the course of their spree. The ones who tend to skew the number higher in the eyes of the public are usually among the most prolific serial killers in America. 

Did you ever wonder exactly how many people died at the hands of these "super killers?" Check out their stories below to find out the gruesome details of their killing sprees. 

Samuel Little

Though you might recognize bigger names like Jeffrey Dahmer or John Wayne Gacy, Samuel Little is probably a serial killer you've never heard of. This guy, though, is a name that you absolutely should know if you want to read true crime. 

Samuel Little is currently serving several consecutive life sentences in prison because he was charged with the murder of three women. Later on, he confessed to a total of 90 murders that happened in Southern California, Georgia, and Texas. 

The most well-known crime that he was linked to was the murder of Denise Christie Brothers in Odessa Texas. His admission closed a case that was declared cold by the Texas Rangers.

Now, this is pretty normal among killers because they tend to want to get attention from the press. What makes this guy jarring is that investigators were able to confirm most of the murders. So, he really wasn't bullshitting. 

District attorney Bobby Bland noted, "By the time we are done, we anticipate that Samuel Little will be confirmed as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history."

Total Kills: 90

Donald Harvey

Donald Harvey was a little bit different than most killers on this list. He was charming, held a respectable job in a hospital, and really was able to skate under the radar. That's what allowed him to become one of the most prolific serial killers in America.

Touting himself as an "Angel of Death," he killed his victims by administering painful and poisonous doses of medicines. His victims, who weren't always in poor health, had no say in the matter.

Harvey claimed that he did it to help the victims end their suffering.

Total Kills: 86

Gary Ridgway

Many true crime book readers might recognize this guy's name. If not, you might recognize him as the Green River Killer. Sound familiar now, doesn't it? 

Gary Ridgway was a truck driver with a very dark secret. He had a sexual obsession that dealt with killing women. He would strangle them until they died, then dump their bodies in ravines. Active from 1971 to 2001, the Green River Killer confessed to a total of 71 murders.

Law enforcement has been able to confirm at least 49, with many more currently being uncovered as fact. Yikes. 

Total Kills: 71

John Wayne Gacy

Though most of these killers are not too well known, known for some of the most infamous crimes of the 70s, John Wayne Gacy's reputation as one of the most prolific serial killers in America precedes him.

Really, Gacy is a killer's killer. He's made to be nightmare fuel. He used to dress up as a creepy-looking clown called Pogo for local children's parties, and yet, he also was considered to be a pillar of the community. He was so respected, he even took photos with President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, Ladybird.

Gacy hid a lot of skeletons in his closet, though. He was secretly bisexual and held swingers events in his house. He also got sexually excited from killing young men—and he did that in spades. After a foul smell led police to discover dozens of bodies in his basement, Gacy's cover was blown.

He died in prison, via lethal injection in 1994.

Total Kills: 33

Jane Toppan

Believe it or not, one of the most prolific serial killers in America wasn't a man—nor was she from the modern era. She was Jane Toppan, a conservative lady who worked as a nurse at the turn of last century. 

Her wish was to kill more people than any other man or woman in history. She didn't really get her wish, but she did slaughter 31 people that we know of. 

Surprisingly, as one of the most infamous female serial killers, she didn't get jail time. She was ruled unfit for court by reason of insanity. As far as major killers in US history go, that's one of the lightest sentences you'll ever hear of. 

Total Kills: 31

Patrick Kearney

Patrick Kearney had a lot of traits in common with other serial killers on this list—especially John Wayne Gacy. His victims of choice were drug addicts, transients, and gay men who he'd pick up at local bars.

When he'd find a victim, he would rape them and murder them. Then, he would dump their bodies in a trash bag and leave the bags for law enforcement to find. That's how he got his nickname of "the Trash Bag Killer."

To date, he's been linked to anywhere from 21 to 43 deaths of young men. Some believe he may have even had more murders that have yet to be discovered.

Total Kills: 21 to 43

Paul John Knowles

Paul John Knowles was one of the scarier killers on the loose in the 1970s, and now, we also know that he was a seriously messed up mofo. His killing method was breaking and entering into people's homes, then strangling them to death. If he couldn't do that, he'd just shoot them.

Prior to killing them, he would sometimes sexually assault them. He also admitted to performing acts of necrophilia on one of the victims' bodies. The sexual assault victims were all female, with the youngest one being 13. 

Knowles became known as the "Casanova Killer" due to his handsome appearance. After his arrest, he claimed to have killed 35 people. So far, only 18 deaths have been linked to him—but jury is still out on some of them. 

Unlike others on this list, he sometimes would let go of victims. Four managed to escape his grips before he was caught. Several of them reported his appearance to police. 

Total Kills: 35

Randy Steven Kraft

Without a doubt, Randy Steven Kraft is one of the most prolific serial killers in America still alive today. He was known as both the "Freeway Killer of Long Beach" and the "Scorecard Killer" due to his penchant for writing lists of his victims' names and dropping their bodies on the freeway.

Police have so far linked Kraft to a minimum of 18 murders. Based on the scorecards he left at the scene of his last crime, Kraft may have killed up to 67 people. Either way, that's a lot of killings compared to the average mass murderer.

Total Kills: 67

Randall Woodfield

This is another killer who had a high amount of murders tied to him, but didn't quite gain the notoriety of others. He was known as the "I-5 Killer" thanks to his tendency of picking victims off I-5. 

His string of killings stretched from California, to Washington, to Oregon during the late 70s and early 80s. Woodfield was known for sexually assaulting female victims before he killed them. Male victims were just outright killed. 

To date, police have tied him to 44 disappearances. 

Total Kills: 44

Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy was one of those charmers who women adored, and men respected. He even worked as a suicide hotline operator, making him a life-saver in the public eye. However, he had a hidden secret. He enjoyed raping and killing women. 

He would fake injury to get women to help him with groceries. Then, when they would get near his car, he would overpower them and shove them inside. He would rape and kill them, in most cases, toying with the victims to make them suffer as long as possible. 

If you read Ann Rule's account of what life was like with Ted Bundy as a coworker in her book A Stranger Beside Me, it became clear that some people felt he was a bit "off" before news broke. 

When he was arrested, he admitted to killing 28 women. Seriously, though, read the book. It's terrifying. 

Total Kills: 28

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