Multiple Murderers: Most Influental

There has always been a public fascination with horror. Natural Born Killers is just a newfangled penny dreadful.

Given that, who do y’all see as the most significant multiple murderers of modern times (excluding warriors in the field, such as W. T. Sherman) in terms of their impact on popular culture or collective psychology?

Important caveat: I don’t intend to spawn discussions of who were the “greatest” monsters, or get into descriptions of the gruesome details. I guess I can’t stop hijacking or snarking – all I can do is ask folks to take this topic for what it is, or leave it.

My choices, coming from a late 20th century American perspective:

Adolph Hitler: Not for launching WWII, but for the exterminations, which were not part of the battle campaign. While Stalin did more killing, Hitler’s systematized eugenic program, together with the holocaust remembrance movement in its wake, makes him an icon both for those who are still fueled by his ideology and those who vow “never again”. The psychological studies of the relationship between implied power and obedience that were performed after the war remain classics.

Jack the Ripper: An icon and a byword for senseless violence for over a century, Jack’s ticket to fame was not eviscerating five prostitutes, but flaunting it and getting away with it. He became nameless fear incarnate, and the subject of hundreds of books, stories, films, even plays.

Ed Gein: A partial model for pop culture classics Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in the 1950s Ed Gein brought Jack the Ripper to the heartland, and gave him a face. In doing so, he solidified the popular image of the serial killer as a twisted loner, a quiet but deranged outsider.

Charlie Starkweather / Charles Whitman: Starkweather, immortalized in the Sheen/Spacek movie Badlands and the Springsteen album Nebraska, and Charles Whitman, who gave us the phrase “climb a bell tower”, became pop images of the regular guy who “snaps” and goes on a spree of senseless violence. “Going postal” is just another iteration of the Starkweather/Whitman phenomenon.

Charles Manson: The sheer insanity of the Manson family’s motives and the audacity of their crimes against celebrity victims made for instant and lasting fame. The legal issues surrounding prosecution of Manson for the actions of his associates also made his trial a landmark case.

Ted Bundy: Along with John Wayne Gacey, Bundy shifted popular conception of the serial killer to something much more frightening than the weirdo loner, the impulsive spree killer, or the loony druggie. Handsome, disarming, even charming at first blush, and with apparent middle-class credentials, Bundy made Wednesday Addams’s joke possible – that serial killers look just like everybody else. His multi-state years-long killing binge, two escapes, and eventual execution made him even more iconic than the “old school” Son of Sam.

Jim Jones: The Jonestown massacre revived interest in the kind of psychological studies of power and charisma that flourished after WWII. It also solidified the popular image of modern cultism. “Drink the Kool-Aid” has become a pop phrase (especially in business) for committing oneself totally to an ideology.

The Zodiak: Heir apparent to the Ripper, The Zodiak, while losing mind-share among the general public, still holds a powerful grip among those who (for good or ill) seek out the extremes of senseless violence. His coded, taunting letters, including references to (even artifacts from) the crime scenes, are like something from a cheap movie. Yet he was never caught. The image of the cold, calculating, savvy, elaborate, even cartoonish killer still finds a place in films like Se7en.

Osama bin Ladin: I don’t think this one needs elaboration.

Oh c’mon, if you’re going to include Hitler, how can you not include Stalin. Mao. and Pol Pot? Murderous heads of state make other muderers look like trick or treaters.

Oh, Boyo Jim, have you been shopping at Sam’s Club? Because I agree with you that for sheer volume, you can’t beat Stalin. How do you turn an agrarian country spread over ten time zones into a modern world power in ten years? Forced evolution. Still, I think there’s something to be said for your mom-and-pop killers who put lots of time and effort into the job.

I mean, at the end of the day, you can be remembered for quantity or quality – but the only way to really do quantity is to escape the gravity of society. You have to take out several hundred at once and yourself with 'em, or you have to be the guy making the rules. For your average joe, killing twenty people before you get caught is hard work, even if you’re doing them two or three at a time!

I’m asking. If you think they’re up there, post 'em. Sheesh, I can’t get them all.

Anyway, like I said, my list came from my own perspective. Sure, Pol Pot made Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, and his reign was central to The Killing Fields, but he doesn’t have the hold on Western thought that Hitler does.

Again, I didn’t intend this thread to be about who’s the bigger monster, but about who had the most influence on popular thought and iconography.

Stalin I mentioned in the OP. Mao wasn’t included for similar reasons. I would guess that more Americans are familiar with the crimes of Idi Amin than those of Mao.


No one has mentioned Bush yet? On the SDMB? :eek:

9/11 is more influential to American Society today than any of these others. At least right at this moment in history.*

Hitler has a big influence, much much bigger than Stalin. Stalin’s influence on the US wasn’t the people he killed but the army he made. Pol Pot had very little influence on American society. We are not talking about who had the most, but who had the most impact. Who ever killed the Lindburgh baby had a bigger impact on US than Pol Pot.

There is also Pat Sherrel (sp). He was the first Postal worker to “Go Postal”. Heck there is a video game and a sequeal with that as a title.

*Of course some people think of Osama as a warrior in the field so maybe he doesn’t count.

Let’s throw Tim McVeigh in there. You know, the guy who made us remember that all terrorists aren’t foreigners. We seem to have forgotten that again, but I think we will be reminded.

Tim McVeigh has greater weight with me than what happened on 9/11. As do the Columbine boys.

I find it hard to group the independent killers with the people who used others to do the killing. It seems like two very different things to me. It’s odd, as I sit here thinking about it. Somehow, the lone preditor has more impact on me. I’m still trying to figure out why, when clearly the political mass murderers are a much bigger threat.

Manson seems to be a bit of a blend between the two.

Vlad the Impaler.

Didn’t he drink and bathe in his enemies’ (and own people’s) blood in an attempt for immortality? In any case most vampire origins go back to him. That’s pretty influential isn’t it?

I may be wrong but, AFAIK, he was never reported to have consumed or bathed in blood. He just liked to have supper in front of battlefields full of the impaled.

I think you may be confusing him with Elizabeth Bathory, who could be another addition to the list.

I completely disagree. Stalin was a MUCH bigger influence than Hitler. Besides killing more, he rewrote a good part of the world map. He was the architect of the Cold War. His destructiveness lasted for generations beyond him. And plenty of Russions STILL pine for him.

But I think Hitler as a murderer has a bigger influence than Stalin as a murderer.

I agree that Stalin and the Cold War are huge influences but I don’t think it was his progroms that really make the Cold War what it was.

:smack: Yes, McVeigh is way up there!

As for the Columbine killers, I’m waiting to see. (Personally, I find **Andrew Golden ** more chilling, but “Columbine” seems destined to become the byword.)

Boyo, please recheck the OP:

I’m not talking about impact on history, but rather mind-share. Not reality, but perception.

In Russia and former SSR’s, I’m sure Stalin is up there with Hitler. But in America, Papa Joe just doesn’t get the bad rap he deserves. You didn’t see posting ads comparing Bush with Stalin.

The only reason I didn’t include Vlad (and Torquemada) is that he’s not in the modern era (see OP). Some may consider his acts part and parcel of his style of warfare, but I think it’s fair to consider them separately. But he’s a good addition in any case, given the amazing longevity of his legend.

Btw, Coral Watts may soon join the ranks, if he attains the status of being the first serial killer to be set free in America.

How about good old Dr Harold Shipman? The man who broke the doctor’s trust.

Or Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the Moors Murderers: they recorded themselves torturing their victims, new for the time, and their victims were children. It also brought home that women were also capable of depravity to children.

Or Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper

You know, I saw this thread last night but was too tired to respond, but I had Vlad and Torquemada on my list. Seriously. I was first, and I demand credit.

In all seriousness, and IMHO, if you’re going to talk about “social influence” and “collective psychology” or whatever, a murderer(ess) should get bonus points for having his/her name be part of that. So as much influence as Ed Gein or Charlie Starkweather may have had, I’d bet that 90% of Americans wouldn’t know who the hell they were. So they get negative bonus points.

For that reason, I think Lizzie Borden gets on the list.

I also agree with the poster who said that we should separate the “nation-leaders” (Hitler, Stalin, etc) from those who did their murdering personally. It’s hard to reconcile them both.

So on my list, Manson and Jack the Ripper far outstrip any others, with possible exception of Bundy. With McVeigh and the Columbine killers on the list with a bullet (no pun intended).

The TV show “Millennium” focused one of its strongest episodes on a Zodiac-like killer.