The United States may have churned out the highest number of serial killers in the world over the years, but it certainly doesn’t hold exclusive rights on brutal murders. In fact, serial killing as a practice dates back thousands of years, and some of the world’s most violent and prolific criminals have lived in locations far removed from our shores. Most recently, a former German nurse, Niels Hogel, admitted to having murdered 100 patients, making him the most prolific serial killer in the country’s post-war history.
The reasons why and how someone becomes a serial killer vary there, just as they vary here. But international serial murder can sometimes be tied to larger socioeconomic and political issues. Offering examples, Jack Rosewood, author of The Big Book of Serial Killers, says, “There have been political bombings in Thailand on several occasions which may qualify as serial killings/terrorism, and seem to have been politically inspired.” He continues, “And in Sweden…Peter Mangs is in prison for killing two people and hurting many more for his racial-political views. He is not a serial killer yet—but is suspected in other cases which would [qualify] him as a serial killer.”
International serial killings are also handled differently on a broader scale. In Europe, for instance—where serial-murder rates are lower than they are in the U.S.—”the prison environment and sentences are generally much softer,” according to Rosewood. But, just as U.S. law enforcement tends to be reluctant to declare a serial killer on the loose until there is ample evidence to support that assertion, the same holds true in European countries.
“There has to be a spectacular case over a long period of time that gives authorities indications that there might be an active serial killer,” Rosewood notes. “Those events are so uncommon that they will only be talked about when a pattern starts to become obvious or suspicious.”
Keep reading for more on a few international serial killers you may not be familiar with—as well as what became of them.
Please note, the following content contains disturbing accounts of extreme violence and sexual violence. Discretion is advised.
Name: Andrei Chikatilo
Nickname(s): “The Butcher of Rostov,” “Rostov Ripper,” “Forest Strip Killer”
Location: The Ukraine (then the USSR)
Victim count: 53-plus
Andrei Chikatilo, who lived from 1936 to 1994, was a schoolteacher and father of two who developed a taste for something far more sinister. He was executed by gunshot in 1994 after confessing to assaulting, killing and mutilating 56 people between 1978 and 1990. (He was tried and convicted for 52 of those murders: 21 boys, 14 girls and 17 young women.)
His case is noteworthy not only because of how gruesome his crimes were, but because of the communist tenets of the then-Soveit Union, which influenced how his case played out. Although the Soviet police tried to issue warnings to the public during their investigation, they were hampered by the country’s official ideology, which maintained serial killings were impossible in a communist society.
Chikatilo grew up in the wake of the great Ukrainian famine of the 1930s, and stories of cannibalism were part of daily life. In fact, his mother reportedly told him that Chikatilo’s older brother had been abducted and cannibalized by the family’s neighbors. Though her claims are unconfirmed, Chikatilo went on to cannibalize some of his victims.
He became a teacher in 1971, but Chikatilo resigned when parents complained he had groped their kids. (He just got another teaching job.)
In 1978, he began killing young people he’d picked up at cafes and train stations, luring them into the woods and violently raping and killing them. The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to Chikatilo’s court testimony, “He often gouged out his victims’ eyes, cut out and chewed on their sexual organs and stuffed their bodies with dirt.”
He was questioned by police and released more than once, before finally being yanked off the streets for good in November 1990.
On the stand, Chikatilo denounced his troubled childhood but also admitted, “I know I have to be destroyed. I understand. I was a mistake of nature.”
But why did he kill? “The whole thing—the cries, the blood, the agony—gave me relaxation and a certain pleasure,” he said.
Name: Pedro Rodrigues Filho
Nickname: “Pedrinho Matador” or Killer Petey
Victim count: 71 to 100
Pedro Rodrigues Filho is one of Brazil’s most prolific serial killers. He’s murdered somewhere between 71 and 100 people, 10 of them before he even turned 18. He’s also unique; the media dubbed him a “real-life Dexter” because he targeted fellow criminals like murderers, rapists and folks who wronged him, instead of everyday Joes.
Born in 1954 in Minas Gerais, Brazil, Filho suffered a skull injury as an infant due to his mother being horrifically beaten by Filho’s dad. (Filho’s father was convicted of murdering her with a machete years later.)
At 14, Filho made his first kill, shooting the vice-Mayor of Alfenas, in front of City Hall, after the man fired Filho’s father from his job. He fled to Sao Paulo, where he got tangled up in drugs, and later went on a retaliatory murder spree when his girlfriend, Maria Aparecida Olympia, was killed by gang members.
Filho’s next kill was even more personal—he killed his own father , stabbing him multiple times and then cutting out and chewing on the older man’s heart.
He continued murdering, maiming and torturing, even after his arrest on May 24, 1973. In fact, prison became Filho’s new hunting ground, and he murdered at least 47 of his fellow inmates. Though he was sentenced to 400 years in prison, he was released in 2007 because a 30-year term is the maximum amount of prison time that can be served in Brazil.
Name: Luis Alfredo Garavito
Nickname: El Loco, “The Beast”
Victim count: 140-plus
After his arrest in April 1999, a Colombian drifter and handyman named Luis Alfredo Garavito was dubbed the “worst murderer in history” by The Guardian. BBC South America correspondent James Reynolds also noted that “Colombians, who are used to violence, have been shocked by the Garavito case.”
The killer terrorized the country during a years-long crime spree in which he molested little boys, slit their throats, tied them up and mutilated them. He confessed to raping and killing 140 boys (most between the ages of eight and 16) throughout 11 states in Colombia, but it is believed he actually murdered more.
Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was born in Génova, Colombia on January 25, 1957. He claims to have been sexually abused as a child. Garavito left home at 16 and began his killing sprees in 1994. He’d moved around before then, also living in Ecuador.
Garavito, pretending to be a monk or a priest, reportedly lured his young victims with the promise of food, drinks or money, leading them off on a walk as he reportedly drank heavily (bottles were often found near his victims). Most of the kids he targeted were the progeny of poor local street vendors who were forced to live apart from their families.
In 1997, a graveyard with the bodies of 36 boys was discovered near the city of Pereira. It was initially believed to be the work of a satanic cult, per BBC. After Garavito was caught, he eventually confessed to raping and killing 140 boys (most between the ages of eight and 16) throughout 11 states in Colombia, but it is believed he actually murdered more. In 1999 he received 52 years in prison for the murder of one of those boys and the rape of another. He later received 36 years added to that sentence, after confessing to additional murders.