It’s unfathomable to believe that wickedness could be inherent in anyone from birth. Children appear so pure that it’s almost inconceivable for some to transform into infamous serial killers decades later. However, history reveals a disturbing reality in these cases, as stone-hearted beasts emerged, extinguishing lives in the most brutal ways imaginable. Even more unsettling is the fact that clear early signs of their menacing potential went unnoticed until it was far too late.
Plenty of indicators pointed to the wickedness lurking within Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous “Milwaukee Monster,” who brutally killed and dismembered 17 young men and teens between 1978 and 1991.
From a young age, Dahmer exhibited a morbid fascination with collecting roadkill and dissecting the remains in the woods behind his house. His obsession with how organs “fit together” foreshadowed his later infatuation with dead bodies. Further adding to the eerie atmosphere, he unnerved local residents by impaling the skulls of beheaded dogs onto stakes in the nearby woodland.
Michael Farnsworth, a forensic psychiatrist at the Minnesota Security Hospital, aptly remarked, “I’d be more worried about someone who secretly catches and tortures animals. Jeffrey Dahmer did that. As a kid, he would catch animals and torture them.” These early warning signs shed light on the twisted zombie-like experiments Dahmer would later conduct using his victims.
Edmund Kemper, known as “The Coed Killer,” left a grim trail of 10 murders, including those of his paternal grandparents and mother. Standing at an imposing 6’9″ and weighing over 250 pounds, coupled with an IQ of 145, Kemper was seen as a “natural-born killing machine” capable of overpowering his victims both physically and intellectually.
Kemper’s childhood was fraught with turmoil. His emotionally abusive mother would confine him in the basement overnight, fearing he might harm his sisters. He vented his anger and frustration on the family’s cats. At a tender age of 10, Kemper buried his pet cat alive, later exhuming its corpse and impaling its head on a stake. By the time he was 13, he had taken the life of the new family cat, using a machete to decapitate it and reveling in the macabre spectacle of bloodshed. As an adult, he would employ the same method of decapitation on his own mother.
Albert DeSalvo, infamous as “The Boston Strangler,” confessed to the chilling murders of 13 women in Boston from 1962 to 1964. Growing up in a troubled home with an abusive, alcoholic father, young DeSalvo developed dark tendencies. As a child, he trapped small animals and used them for target practice during his archery sessions. Despite spending time in reform school and the army, his disturbing inclinations went unchecked.
DeSalvo’s killing spree began with him tricking his way into his victims’ homes by posing as a worker dressed in green attire. Once inside, he would tie them up, threaten them with a knife, and ultimately strangle them to death, often with their own stockings. His reign of terror became known as the “Green Man attacks,” instilling widespread fear among women. Upon capture, DeSalvo received a life imprisonment sentence.
Ted Bundy’s name is etched in the annals of criminal history. Good-looking, charismatic, and terrifyingly evil, Bundy confessed to brutally attacking and killing at least 30 women across different states during the 1970s. Raised in a twisted family environment where he was led to believe his biological mother was his sister, Bundy was not mistreated or unloved.
In the docu-series “Snapped: Notorious Ted Bundy,” it is revealed that as a young boy, Bundy secretly placed kitchen knives in the bed of his sleeping aunt. He also exhibited a morbid fascination with crime magazines featuring graphic images of female victims. Psychologist Al Carlisle noted that Bundy found “a lot of sexual relief through fictional stories.” Yet, no one could have predicted the horrifying path that young Bundy would eventually tread. His story came to a chilling end in the electric chair at Florida State Prison on January 24, 1989.
Albert Fish, a murderer and cannibal, callously took the lives of three children and claimed to have assaulted over 400 others. He derived sadistic pleasure from causing pain, torturing both his victims and himself. Fish would often strike himself with a paddle embedded with nails.
As a child, Fish developed a disturbing and destructive sexual appetite. During his stay at an orphanage, witnessing his peers being punished excited him. Before the age of 15, a friend introduced him to urolagnia and coprophagia. He frequently visited public restrooms to voyeuristically watch boys undress. Fish’s heinous reality came to light when he wrote a letter to the mother of Grace Budd, a ten-year-old victim. In the letter, he gruesomely described how he had dismembered and cooked Grace. This act stood as a testament to his monstrous and evil nature.
Ottis Toole, a convicted killer, admitted to taking more lives than the six he was found guilty of, but a lack of substantial evidence prevented further convictions.
Toole’s life was plagued by violence and abuse from the very beginning. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, his religious fanatic mother frequently beat him. His older sister took advantage of him, forcing him to dress as a girl, while his grandmother, a practitioner of Satanism, used human body parts from graves for her rituals. Toole derived twisted pleasure from setting fires. It is commonly believed that future serial killers are drawn to fire due to the exhilarating mix of power, destruction, and revenge it offers.
In 1982, following a disagreement with his partner, George Sonnenberg, Toole locked Sonnenberg in a house and set it ablaze. Initially sentenced to 20 years for this murder, it was later revealed that Toole’s trail of victims was significantly longer.
Ed Gein, a native of La Crosse County, Wisconsin, rarely ventured beyond the confines of his family farm during his youth, with school serving as his only escape. Upon returning home, he dutifully completed his chores. Gein’s highly religious mother would subject him to intense and graphic biblical sermons daily, demonizing all women as tools of the devil and prostitutes.
A solitary young Gein struggled to make friends, and his spontaneous bouts of laughter in class made him an easy target for bullies. This introverted behavior persisted into his adult life. After his mother’s death, he began exhuming graves and fashioning furniture and other items from the skin and bones of the corpses.
When a local woman was found murdered, police searched Gein’s home and were confronted with a horrifying scene: a lampshade made from human skin, a belt adorned with human nipples, and the victim’s head stashed in a paper bag. In 1984, Gein passed away at the age of 77 due to heart failure and was buried in an unmarked grave.
From 1974 to 1991, Dennis Rader, also known as the “BTK Killer,” claimed the lives of 10 individuals in Wichita, Kansas. His method of “Bind, Torture, Kill” lent him his infamous moniker. Despite leading a seemingly normal life as a church president and Boy Scout leader, Rader harbored a secret lust for torture and murder. In 2005, he was handed a minimum sentence of 175 years without parole.
In the documentary “Snapped: Notorious BTK Killer,” Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a forensic psychology expert, revealed an incident from Rader’s youth. Rader’s mother’s ring once got stuck in a couch spring, leaving her panicked and helpless. It was in this moment that young Rader experienced an inexplicable thrill. Ramsland added that Rader found excitement in the helplessness of women, a twisted desire that became deeply ingrained in his mind and fueled his horrifying actions.
Carroll Cole claimed the lives of at least 15 women, including his own girlfriend, between 1971 and 1980. He was put to death by lethal injection in 1985 for his crimes.
Although his later victims were women, Cole’s first act of murder was committed against a young boy when he himself was just a child. His mother’s abuse and threats of beating him if he disclosed her affairs to his father took a toll on him. Furthermore, his mother insisted on dressing him as a girl, leading to bullying at school. At around the age of eight or ten, he responded to this bullying by drowning a classmate in Richmond, California.
Initially, the drowning was thought to be accidental until Cole confessed to it in his prison memoir. He shared, “I was primed, I had made the mental commitment I was going to get even with my mother, and things just built up and built up and became an obsession.”