In Depth

The world’s most prolific serial killers

Samuel Little is latest addition to the list

The FBI has named convicted murderer Samuel Little as the most prolific serial killer in US history.

The 73-year-old is serving time for the murders of three women but has now confessed to a total of 93 - of which 50 killings have been conclusively linked to him by US authorities.

Although Little’s other alleged murders have yet to be confirmed, the FBI believes all of his confessions are credible, The Independent reports.

The FBI says the lifelong drifter targeted “marginalised and vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs”.

“For many years, Samuel Little believed he would not be caught because he thought no one was accounting for his victims,” said FBI crime analyst Christie Palazzolo. “Even though he is already in prison, the FBI believes it is important to seek justice for each victim - to close every case possible.”

Little strangled his victims in a killing spree that stretched from 1970 to 2005. However, many of the murders went undetected because his victims’ deaths were ruled overdoses or attributed to “accidental or undetermined causes”, says the investigative agency’s website. Some of his victims’ bodies have never been found.

Little had been a known criminal since his teenage years, with convictions for shoplifting, fraud, drug charges, solicitation, and breaking and entering. He dropped out of high-school in Ohio before embarking on a nomadic lifestyle.

“He would shoplift and steal in a city or town to gather the money to buy alcohol and drugs, but never stayed in one place for long,” says the FBI.

In the early 1980s, he was charged with the murders of multiple women in Mississippi and Florida, but “with limited ability to analyse DNA evidence, officials were unable to prosecute him”, says the Independent.

It wasn’t until 2014 that he was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole for the murders of three Los Angeles women. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues free–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

Little joins these other murderers on the list of history’s deadliest serial killers:

Luis Garavito

Colombian murderer Garavito was convicted of multiple rape, torture and murder charges in 1999 after confessing to killing at least 140 children and teenagers. However, he later claimed responsibility for a number of other murders, with his total list of victims feared to exceed 300.

Drifter Garavito targeted boys aged between six and 16 who were homeless and vulnerable. He would disguise himself - sometimes as a monk or priest - and lure them away, before cruelly torturing, raping and murdering the youngsters, says Encyclopaedia Britannica.

He was finally arrested and found guilty on the strength of DNA evidence found on his victims and nearby objects.

Garavito was jailed for 40 years, the maximum sentence permitted under Colombian law. However, this sentence was reduced after he cooperated with authorities in locating the bodies of several of his victims and he is scheduled for release in 2021.

Pedro Lopez

Lopez is another Colombian serial killer, and employed similar tactics to Garavito. He was sentenced for the murders of 110 girls, but claimed to have killed a further 240.

Known as the “Monster of the Andes”, Lopez carried out his killing rampage in Colombia, Peru and Ecuador between 1969 and 2002.

During his most deadly years, he killed three girls a week, luring them away from markets with trinkets and sexually assaulting them before strangling them and dumping their bodies, reports Australia’s Nine News.

“I walked among the markets searching for a girl with a certain look on her face. A look of innocence and beauty,” he told journalist Ron Laytner in 1994. “She would be a good girl, always working with her mother. I followed them, sometimes for two or three days, waiting for the moment when she was left alone.”

He was arrested in Ecuador in 1979 and sentenced to the maximum jail term of 16 years. After being released two years early for good behaviour, Lopez was deported to his home country of Colombia in 1994, where he was locked up in a psychiatric facility.

Four years later, he was declared sane and released with a $70 bond. He immediately absconded, never to be seen again.

Ted Bundy

American serial killer Bundy confessed to 30 murders but has been linked to many more, says the BBC.

Seattle-based attorney John Henry Browne, who represented Bundy in the 1970s and early 1980s, said the killer told him that he had killed at least 100 people.

Bundy would approach women in public and charm them into going somewhere secluded with him, before murdering them. He would often return to the places where he left his victims’ bodies and perform sexual acts with the corpses.

His crimes were turned into a controversial Hollywood feature film that was released earlier this year and starred Zac Efron.

Kathy Kleiner Rubin, who survived a Bundy attack in 1978, told the BBC that the film portrays Bundy as he wanted to be perceived.

“Bundy showed them what he wanted them to see - he was always in control,” she says.

The relatives of Bundy’s victims were “heroes” for enduring the media attention surrounding the film release, she added.

Bundy was sentenced to death for his crimes and executed by electric chair on 24 January 1989.

Harold Shipman

Britain’s most prolific serial killer, mild-mannered GP Shipman was convicted of murdering 15 patients but has been linked to a further 260 deaths.

Dubbed “Doctor Death”, he murdered elderly people between the 1970s and 1990s by injecting them with diamorphine - the medical name for heroin.

Filmmaker Chris Wilson, who made a documentary about Shipman’s crimes, says his life was “a chilling story about power, authority and an astonishing betrayal of trust”.

Shipman was arrested for a single murder in 1998, but subsequent investigations revealed that he had administered massive overdoses of powerful painkillers to hundreds of patients.

He was convicted by a jury at Preston Crown Court in 2000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The former doctor was found hanged in his cell in 2004, on the eve of his 58th birthday, having never admitted his crimes.

Mikhail Popkov

Popkov, a retired Siberian policeman, is serving two life sentences after confessing to more than 80 murders from the 1990s and 2000s. 

Nicknamed “The Werewolf”, he targeted women whom he considered immoral, often killing sex workers or women who were drunk.

He later claimed his aim was to “clean streets of Siberian cities of immoral women”, says The Independent.

“Not all women became victims but those of a certain negative behaviour. I had a desire to teach and punish,” he said in a chilling testimony leaked last year.

Popkov exploited his position as a policeman to lure victims into his car, before raping and murdering them.

“Some victims had 145, or even 170 knife wounds,” said state prosecutor Alexander Shkinyov.

Popkov was caught in 2012 after a DNA match identified his car.


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