Which country has the most serial killers? The first step of answering that question is defining the term "serial killer," whose origin is credited to multiple sources, including former FBI agent Robert Ressler, LAPD detective Pierce Brooks, and German criminologist Ernst Gennat. While the origin of the term "serial killer" may be slightly ambiguous, it is quite clear which country is home to the highest number of serial killers. The United States is the runaway leader in this category, with more documented serial killers in its history than the next ten closest countries combined.
Serial Killers (Radford) 🔽
* Data source: Radford University Serial Killer Information Center.
At a 2005 symposium in San Antonio, TX, the FBI officially defined a serial killing as "the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events." Other sources may raise the minimum to three victims and offer a more detailed timeline, such as requiring a cooldown period between murders and a total passage of time of at least 30 days.
While the above data comes from a reputable academic source, the process of tracking and comparing serial killer data for each of the world's countries is fraught with significant challenges. Chief among these is the fact that differences between one country and another can impact their data and make country-to-country comparisons non-parallel.
For example, one country may have a different definition of a serial killer—such as requiring a minimum of two victims rather than three—than other countries, which would obviously affect their totals. Similarly, the law enforcement agencies in some countries are less adept at identifying and tracking down serial killers, which could make their serial killer numbers appear abnormally low compared to those in countries with more skilled law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, some countries' records of serial killings date back many decades earlier than others, making their numbers seem higher by comparison. Finally, some countries may be more secretive than others—the US, for example, is likely less guarded about its national serial killer data than are North Korea or China.
Another concern is the fact that, while many agencies track each country's gross national income, oil reserves or cancer rates, fewer agencies are tasked with tracking per-country serial killer data. Arguably the most definitive collection of per-country serial killer data is Radford University's Serial Killer Information Center, which began in 1992 and includes data regarding 4,743 serial killers. However, as of 2023, the SKIC had not updated since 2016, so other sources may be more current, if also less comprehensive overall.
It is tempting to combine the Radford totals with population data to determine the number of serial killers per unit of population (1,000,000 people, etc) in each country. However, such computations can be misleading because they compare a country's population at a certain date with the total number of documented serial killers throughout that country's history, not the number of serial killers active at that same moment in time in said country (which is admittedly unknowable). Due to this this mismatch in duration, as well as the aforementioned differences in per-country reporting, the statistical relevance of the resulting data is uncertain.
When it comes to the sheer volume of serial killers, the United States leads by a vast margin. While the exact count of serial killers in US history varies greatly by source (3,204 in the SKIC, 763 and counting on the crowd-sourced Wikipedia), it is invariably many times higher than that of even the second-highest country (England with 166 in the SKIC, Russia with 184 on Wiki).
Although a handful of serial killers are quite well known in the United States, such as Ted Bundy, Jeffery Dahmer, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Ricardo Ramirez, Ed Gein, and the as-yet-unidentified Zodiac Killer, these are quite rare cases. The vast majority of serial killers fail to achieve any sort of lasting national or global notoriety.
Running a distant second is England, the home of arguably the most famous serial killer of all time, the Victorian-era slasher Jack the Ripper, who violently murdered and mutilated at least five and possibly as many as eleven London prostitutes from 1888 to 1891. Even the Ripper's horrific actions, however, arguably pale in comparison to the reported 400 victims claimed by Amelia Dyer, who developed a pattern of adopting and then murdering unwanted and orphaned children and may have been the most prolific serial killer of all time. Other notable serial killers in England include Fred and Rosemary West, Mary Ann Cotton, and Peter Sutcliffe.
South Africa's earliest documented serial killer is Pierre Basson, who killed nine people from 1903 to 1906 and later committed suicide rather than submit to arrest. However, the country's most famous serial killer is likely the "ABC Killer", Moses Sithole, who raped and killed at least 38 women from 1994 to 1995.
The United States' neighbor to the north has had its own share of serial killers. Some of the more colorful serial killers of the Great White North include Gilbert Paul Jordan, the "Boozing Barber", who murdered 8-10 women by pouring alcohol down their throats after they'd already passed out from intoxication; the "Vampire Rapist" Wayne Borden, who was known for biting the breasts of those he killed; and Yves Trudeau, a biker who murdered 43 people in service to his motorcycle gang.
One of Italy's earliest documented serial killers was Giorgio Orsolano, the "Hyena of San Giorgio", who killed three girls between 1834 and 1835. Some of the most violent serial killers on record in Italy include Andrea Volpe and Pietro Guerrieri (members of the Satan-worshipping "Beasts of Satan"), Wolfgang Abel and Marco Furlan, Giorgio Vizzardelli, and Ferdinand Gamper. One of Italy's more unusual serial killers was Sonya Caleffi, a professional nurse who took to deliberately causing fatal embolisms and respiratory failure in patients who were already terminally ill.
The Asian country with the highest number of documented serial killers is Japan—though fellow Asian countries such as China, India, or North Korea could easily have more if undocumented or unrevealed entries were included. Japan's more notable serial killers include Katsutaro Baba, who stole his victims' gallbladders; Sachiko Eto, the cult leader whose chosen murder weapon was a pair of Taiko drum sticks (earning her the name "The Drumstick Killer"; and the "Konkatsu Killer" (which translates to "Marriage-Hunting Killer") Kanae Kijima, who murdered several would-be romantic partners.
Serial Killers (Radford)
Serial Killers (Wiki)
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The United States has the greatest number of documented serial killers, 3,204. England, in second place, only had 166.