serial killers from the US: Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy

The US States With the Most Serial Killings

The United States is unique worldwide for having an exceptionally high count of serial killers, witnessing two-thirds of all documented cases globally. This means that, relative to its population, it generates thrice as many offenders as any other nation. On a state-by-state basis, following California in total serial killings are Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New York. Regarding all known cases, every state in the USA has documented at least ten serial killings.

The 10 US States With The Most Serial Killings

Rank State Number of Victims
1 California 1,777
2 Texas 984
3 Florida 933
4 Illinois 680
5 New York 677
6 Ohio 505
7 Pennsylvania 462
8 Michigan 425
9 Georgia 409
10 Washington 396

Jump to the full table for all 50 US states.

California Has Endured 1,777 Serial Killings

Mug shot of The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez
Mug shot of The Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez. Image credit Los Angeles Police Department via Wikipedia.

Having the highest population in the US typically comes with the baggage of additional 'highest,' which involves violent crime statistics. The history of the state does not help— migrant and indigenous communities over the past several centuries have often lived in poverty or persecution. However, serial killers come from all backgrounds, and they often prey on marginalized people, which is another reason that the state is a seedbed for serial killings. One notorious case is that of the "Night Stalker," Richard Ramirez, who terrorized Los Angeles in the mid-1980s with a series of home invasion murders. Ramirez's sloppy mistake of leaving behind a single fingerprint is the reason he, and many other killers, were caught. Another infamous figure is the "Golden State Killer," Joseph James DeAngelo, responsible for at least 13 murders and numerous other crimes across California in the 1970s and 1980s. Last is the iconic tale of the "Zodiac Killer," which operated primarily in Northern California in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He left cryptic messages that took decades to undecipher (revealing an element of fanaticism or possibly misdirection), and he remains unidentified.

Texas Has Endured 984 Serial Killings

Image of the excavation of serial killer Dean Corll's boat shed.
Image of the excavation of serial killer Dean Corll's boat shed. Image credit Kieronoldham via Wikipedia.

In Texas, ranked second with 984 victims, sometimes even the Lone Ranger cannot save everyone. One figure that took advantage of citizens' sense of security is Dean Corll, known as the "Candy Man," who, with his accomplices, lured at least 28 young boys between 1970 and 1973 in Houston, perpetrating heinous crimes. Equally infamous is Angel Maturino Reséndiz, the "Railroad Killer," who roamed the US by train, committing murders in Texas and several other states from the late 1980s until his capture in 1999. Additionally, Charles Albright, dubbed the "Eyeball Killer," shocked Dallas in the early 1990s with a series of gruesome murders characterized by the surgical removal of the victims' eyes. 

Florida Has Endured 933 Serial Killings

Ted Bundy in a courtroom.
Ted Bundy in a courtroom.

Even the "Sunshine State" has its darkest days; three individuals in Florida stand out for their brutal acts. Firstly, Ted Bundy, who terrorized the state in the 1970s, is infamous for his cunning and deceptive charm, which he used to lure young women to their deaths. His crimes culminated in the sorority house attacks at Florida State University. A different kind of predator, Aileen Wuornos, a highway prostitute, killed seven men between 1989 and 1990, claiming self-defense. Her life and crimes later inspired the film "Monster." Lastly, Danny Rolling, also known as the Gainesville Ripper, gruesomely murdered five students over four days in August 1990, causing widespread panic. Perhaps hurricanes and alligators are not the only dangers waiting to strike...

Illinois Has Endured 680 Serial Killings

Mugshot of John Wayne Gacy in Illinois
Mugshot of John Wayne Gacy in Illinois.

In Illinois, the history of serial killings often revolves around a discussion of three specific vile serial killers. The first is John Wayne Gacy, often dubbed the "Killer Clown." He was responsible for the deaths of 33 young men between 1972 and 1978, burying many in the crawl space of his suburban Chicago home. His acts are famous because they epitomize the deceptive nature of appearances, as Gacy was active in local community events, often dressing as a clown. In another instance, H.H. Holmes, one of America's earliest known serial killers, constructed a "murder castle" in Chicago during the 1893 World's Fair, with soundproof rooms and secret passages to facilitate his crimes. His deceptive charm and the intricate design of his trap-filled building are expected of the cunning sophistication some killers possess. However, according to a study by Radford University, the majority of serial killers tend to have a below-average level of intelligence.

New York Has Endured 677 Serial Killings

Mug shot of David Berkowitz taken August 11, 1977
Mug shot of David Berkowitz

Although the New York City crime wave has dwindled, notably spiking in the late 1980s due to a crack epidemic, it is still a defining era for many (but not all) of the serial killings in New York's past. One infamous individual, David Berkowitz, known as the "Son of Sam," terrorized New York City in the 1970s, targeting young women and couples and ultimately claiming six lives. His reign of terror culminated in a massive police manhunt and widespread media frenzy. Another grim figure, Joel Rifkin, operated in and around New York City, claiming the lives of 17 women between 1989 and 1993, predominantly targeting sex workers. His capture unfolded after a routine traffic stop revealed evidence of his latest crime. Additionally, Kendall Francois, active in Poughkeepsie, was convicted of murdering eight women, again mostly sex workers, between 1996 and 1998. His crimes were discovered only after a victim escaped. These episodes reveal a terrifying reality: despite New York's extensive law enforcement resources, violent predators look for vulnerabilities to exploit— anywhere and everywhere.

Ohio Has Endured 505 Serial Killings

Sowell in the wanted flyer issued by the Cuyahoga County sheriff office, November 2009
Sowell in the wanted flyer issued by the Cuyahoga County sheriff's office.

Ohio, ranking sixth with 505 victims, has witnessed some deeply troubling serial killings. Among them is Anthony Sowell, known as the "Cleveland Strangler," who was convicted of murdering 11 women between 2007 and 2009, his crimes coming to light after the discovery of bodies in his Cleveland home. Similarly, Donald Harvey, dubbed the "Angel of Death," was a healthcare worker who claimed to have killed 87 people, mostly hospital patients, during the 1970s and 1980s in Ohio and Kentucky.  

Pennsylvania Has Endured 462 Serial Killings

Mugshot taken of Heidnik following his arrest.
Mugshot taken of Heidnik following his arrest.

All is not well in the land of horse and carriage: even the rolling hills of Pennsylvania harbor monsters in their midst. Gary Heidnik, a killer on the loose in Philadelphia during the late 1980s, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered six women, keeping them captive in a pit in his basement. His crimes were a blend of psychological manipulation and physical brutality, and his spree sickened the community. Another case is that of Harrison Graham, also in Philadelphia, who was found guilty of murdering seven women in 1987, his victims primarily being drug addicts and sex workers. His crimes were uncovered thanks to his negligence in disposing of the bodies, which led to their discovery. Lastly, the "Frankford Slasher," responsible for the deaths of at least seven women in the Frankford area of Philadelphia between 1985 and 1990, remains unidentified, despite one of the murders being pinned on 'Leonard Christopher' who died in prison.

Michigan Has Endured 425 Serial Killings

Perpetrator of the Michigan Murders, John Norman Collins.
Perpetrator of the Michigan Murders, John Norman Collins.

Among Michigan's most high-profile killings, John Norman Collins, active from 1967 to 1969, primarily targeted young women around Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan. His pattern of selecting college-aged females in campus environments reinforced typically unrealistic fears in parents and students alike. Another person of interest is Coral Watts, known as the "Sunday Morning Slasher," who, starting in the late 1970s, was linked to numerous murders across the state. Some consider Watts to be the most prolific killer in the United States, with a victim estimate that ranges from 14 to over 100. Watts had a preference for attacking women in their own homes, creating a climate of fear in residential neighborhoods. Finally, Benjamin Atkins, also known as the "Woodward Corridor Killer," operated in Detroit from 1991 to 1992, focusing on vulnerable women in the city’s impoverished areas. His actions cast a spotlight on the intersectionality of crime, victimization, and poverty within cities struggling with welfare.

Georgia Has Endured 409 Serial Killings

Image of serial killer Wayne Williams in 2006.
Serial killer Wayne Williams in 2006.

Some hearts do not deserve to be blessed, even in the warm state of Georgia. For example, just look at the Atlanta Child Murders, orchestrated by Wayne Williams between 1979 and 1981, which involved the tragic loss of over 28 African-American children, adolescents, and adults. Williams was convicted in 1982, primarily based on fiber analysis evidence. Another infamous instance is Paul John Knowles, nicknamed the "Casanova Killer," who embarked on a murderous spree in 1974, claiming at least 18 lives. His victims varied widely, showing no specific pattern in his choice, and he was finally caught after a lengthy and deadly clash with the law. Lastly, Carlton Gary, known as the "Stocking Strangler," terrorized Columbus, Georgia in the late 1970s. He was convicted for the deaths of three elderly women but was suspected of several more. Gary's modus operandi involved strangling his victims with their own stockings, a method that contributed to his eventual capture.

Washington Has Endured 396 Serial Killings

Gary Ridgway 1982 Mugshot
Mugshot of Gary Ridgway in 1982. 

Besides the violence of the early American frontier era between settlers and natives, Washington has witnessed some profoundly unsettling events. Gary Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, claimed the lives of 49 women in the 1980s and 1990s, once again targeting runaways and sex workers. His ability to evade capture for nearly two decades highlights the challenges law enforcement faced in tracking such criminals. Ted Bundy, another infamous figure, began his spree of violence in Washington during the 1970s, abducting and murdering over 30 young women across multiple states. His charismatic demeanor and manipulative tactics confounded authorities and terrorized communities. Last, we have Robert Yates, a serial killer active in Spokane in the late 1990s, who targeted at least 13 victims, mainly women involved in sex work.  

No remarks or reflective thoughts will undo the damage that these killers have inflicted. Serial killers leave a trail of misery, and the only compensation that can occur is when they are caught and brought to justice. Of course, the unresolved cases with monsters who may still be roaming free are more daunting. These predators have a range of targets, but a typical pattern tends to be towards vulnerable people such as sex workers. Therefore, strengthening social systems to provide shelter or security for people living on the fringe of society is one preventative measure that each state in the USA must pursue aggressively.

US States Ranked By Total Serial Killings

Rank State Number of Victims
1 California 1,777
2 Texas 984
3 Florida 933
4 Illinois 680
5 New York 677
6 Ohio 505
7 Pennsylvania 462
8 Michigan 425
9 Georgia 409
10 Washington 396
11 Missouri 350
12 Indiana 349
13 Louisiana 344
14 North Carolina 295
15 Virginia 272
16 New Jersey 232
17 Maryland 213
18 Kentucky 212
19 Tennessee 208
20 Oklahoma 200
21 Massachusetts 200
22 Alabama 199
23 South Carolina 198
24 Arizona 188
25 Kansas 181
26 Oregon 175
27 Colorado 161
28 Arkansas 143
29 Connecticut 134
30 Wisconsin 118
31 Nevada 117
32 Mississippi 98
33 Utah 86
34 Nebraska 82
35 Minnesota 81
36 New Mexico 72
37 Alaska 64
38 Iowa 53
39 Montana 47
40 Idaho 45
41 West Virginia 43
42 Maine 35
43 Wyoming 32
44 Rhode Island 25
45 Delaware 16
46 New Hampshire 14
47 North Dakota 13
48 Hawaii 13
49 Vermont 11
50 South Dakota 10

Data acquired from the Radford/FGCU 2020 Report


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