Thanks to Hollywood portrayals of psychopaths, you might be forgiven for thinking that serial killers are around every corner. Fortunately, Norman Bates is not the proprietor of the local motel and Hannibal Lechter does not do his grocery shopping in the local branch of Asda, so what famous psychopaths in history are there and what hideous crimes did they commit?
A psychopath has a personality disorder, but sadly they cannot be cured. They lack empathy, find it impossible to form an emotional attachment to other human beings, and are much given to violent and criminal behavior. However, not all psychopaths are homicidal maniacs with a predilection towards sharp blades, and in fact the vast majority blend in with the rest of humanity very well. So well in fact, that there could easily be a psychopath in your circle of acquaintances.
Examples of famous psychopaths in history
History is full of psychopathic serial killers with an insatiable blood lust, and although killers such as Hannibal Lechter and Michael Myers are horrific enough on screen, the truth is a whole lot worse. Take John Wayne Gacy for example. Mr Gacy killed more than twenty-nine people and deposited the bodies in the crawl space beneath his house. He was only caught when one of his victims managed to escape.
The infamous Ted Bundy was a picture perfect Hollywood-style psychopath. Handsome, debonair, and the kind of man any woman would be happy to date, behind the mask of normality there lay a deranged killer who strangled and mutilated more than thirty-six women before he was caught and eventually executed.
Further afield, Joseph Vacher was known as the French Ripper. This charming gentleman murdered and mutilated more than eleven people. He was an itinerant drifter who preyed on teenage shepherds watching their sheep; stabbing and disembowelling them. When he was eventually caught (while attempting to murder a young woman), he claimed he was a messenger of God. He was sent to the guillotine in 1898.
Henri Landru was another French serial killer, only he had a penchant for lonely widows. He frequented the lonely hearts advertisements of Parisian newspapers, placing ads to attract hopeful ladies seeking marriage. Sadly all the ladies who answered Henri’s adverts ended up disembowelled and burnt in his oven.
The real Hannibal Lechter was psychopath called Albert Fish, upon whom the infamous character from Silence of the Lambs was based. Albert Fish managed to ingratiate himself with the family of ten year old Grace Budd and when he offered to take the little girl to a party, nobody batted an eye. Instead Fish took Grace to his home where he strangled her, chopped her into pieces, and cooked her body parts. It was six years before the case was solved thanks to an anonymous letter pointing the finger of blame in Fish’s direction. He was executed in the electric chair.
Possibly the most famous psychopath in history is Jack the Ripper, although he was never caught and his identity remains a mystery to this day. Jack the Ripper preyed on women in the Whitechapel area of London, England, in 1888. He murdered at least five women, strangling or slashing their throats before mutilating the bodies and removing some of the internal organs.