When Rozalia Zemlyachka arrived in the Crimea, that peninsula was one of the last remaining enclaves of the Whites – those opposed to the Bolshevik Reds. She was determined to stamp out that opposition, once and for all. Say what you will about her, but she was conscientious about her job, and about economizing on mass murder so it was done as cheaply as possible. At a time when the Bolsheviks were running low on munitions, she decreed that wasting bullets on captives slated for execution was unreasonable. One of her cost cutting measures was to tie rocks to the legs of the condemned, then toss them off barges into the sea. Tens of thousands were killed that way, and when the waters were calm and visibility was good, rows of standing bodies could be seen swaying like a horrific underwater forest, swaying with the currents on the sea bottom.
Was she history’s deadliest woman?
Zemlyachka returned to Moscow, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner – then the highest Soviet military award. She spent the rest of her life climbing the Communist Party’s rungs, joining the Central Control Commission – the organization that kept a watchful eye on the party. She worked closely with the NKVD during the Great Terror, and so impressed Stalin with her ruthlessness that she was made head of the Control Commission in 1939. That made Zemlyachka the only woman in the USSR’s highest administrative body, the Council of People’s Commissars. She died of natural causes at age 71 in 1947, and was honored with a burial in the Kremlin. However, deadly as she was, the claims that Zemlyachka was “history’s deadliest woman” are overstated: she had far fewer victims than the next woman on this list.
Queen Ranavalona I (1778 – 1861), who had a tongue twister of a birth name, Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, ruled Madagascar from 1828 until her death in 1861. Nicknamed “Ranavalona the Cruel”, she was a tyrant at best, or a certifiably insane madwoman at worst. Whatever her deal was, Ranavalona’s 33 year reign was a complete and utter disaster for the people of Madagascar. Between murder, massacre, mass enslavement, repression, and resultant famines, millions of her subjects perished. During the craziest stretches of her reign, it is estimated that half the population of Madagascar died, either directly according to her orders, or as a result of her disastrous policies.
Ranavlona’s rise began when her father informed Madagascar’s king Andrianampoinimerinandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka (they went for ludicrously long names in Madagascar) of a plot against his life. So the king showed his appreciation by selecting the informant’s daughter to marry his son and heir. The marriage proved loveless and produced no issue. When Ranavalon’s husband died childless in 1828, she engineered a coup and seized power, inaugurating her reign by massacring all potential rival claimants to the throne. She then proclaimed herself Queen Ranavalona I. It was a bloody start to what would prove a bloody reign.
Ranavalona inaugurated her reign by killing every member of the royal family she could get her hands on. It was taboo to spill royal blood, so she did them in either by strangulation, or by locking them in a cell and starving them to death. Having secured her throne against domestic challengers, she turned her attention to encroachments from European colonial powers, and killed or expelled nearly all foreigners. She nullified all treaties with Britain and France, and banned Christianity. In lieu of a legal system, she introduced trial by ordeal: the accused were fed poison and three pieces of chicken skin. If they vomited all three pieces of skin, they were innocent. If they did not, they were not, and were accordingly executed. She also isolated Madagascar from the outside world, and turned it into a hermit kingdom.
Ranavalona introduced widespread forced labor, whereby Madagascar’s poor – the majority of the population – were made to perform labor in lieu of high taxes they could not afford to pay. These de facto slaves were used to build houses and palaces, clear lands and maintain roads, carry nobles and royal dependents in litters, serve in Ranavalona’s army, and carry any other tasks set them by the queen. They were unpaid, poorly fed, if at all, and they died in droves. In the meantime, the British and French were unhappy with being shut out of Madagascar, where they had been welcomed by previous rulers. So they mounted joint punitive expeditions, but the attempts ended in failure. When the Europeans retreated, Ranavalona beheaded the corpses of their dead, put the heads on stakes, and lined them up on Madagascar’s beaches, facing the ocean.
Ranavalona sent her army on numerous punitive expeditions into those parts of Madagascar resistant to her rule or expressing anything less than enthusiasm for her overlordship. The queen’s men engaged in scorched earth policies, and devastated regions resistant to her rule. As object lessons, Ranavalona’s soldiers routinely massacred the inhabitants of towns and settlements viewed as disloyal. Those spared from the mass executions were enslaved and brought back to the queen’s domain, to toil the rest of their lives away on her projects. Between 1820 to 1853, over a million slaves were seized, and the percentage of slaves rose to one third of the population of Madagascar’s central highlands, and two thirds of the population of Antananarivo, Ranavalona’s capital.
Between massacres, mistreatment, forced labor, and widespread famines resulting from Ranavalona’s scorched earth policies and heavy handed repression, Madagascar’s population crashed. During just a six year stretch from 1833 to 1839, the island’s population is estimated to have declined from 5 million to 2.5 million inhabitants. In Ranavalona’s own home district, the population took a nose dive from about 750,000 in 1829, to a mere 130,000 by 1842. These are genocide level figures, comparable to those inflicted by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge on the people of Cambodia a century later. Unlike Pol Pot, however, Ranavalona was not chased out of power. After a 33 year reign, she died in her sleep of natural causes, at age 83.
33. The Japanese Doctor Who Experimented With Deadly Microbes on Thousands of Innocents
Shiro Ishii (1892 – 1959) had been a brilliant medical student and doctor, before he was commissioned into the Imperial Japanese Army as a surgeon in 1921. He became one of Japan’s greatest bacterial research specialists, and invented a revolutionary filtration system that could remove all bacteria from stagnant water. In 1933, he turned to the dark side, and shifted his focus from preventing bacterial infections to weaponizing bacteria for use in warfare. That year, Japan had seized Manchuria from China, so Ishii moved there with a team of researchers, and set up a biological experimentation operation, Unit 731. For guinea pigs, Ishii and his researchers experimented upon live humans, mostly captured Chinese soldiers and civilians deemed hostile to the Japanese occupation. They also experimented upon Soviet soldiers captured in border skirmishes, and on Allied POWs after Japan joined WWII.
Experimentations of Death
Thousands of inmates were killed from a host of deadly pathogens, ranging from the bubonic plague to botulism, to which the prisoners were exposed in a variety of ways. Prisoners were injected with bacteria, had it added to their food and drink, or it was smeared on their clothes. To test the effectiveness of aerial dispersal of diseases, bombs full of gangrene or other deadly bacteria were exploded over prisoners. Shiro Ishii and Unit 731 subjected the prisoners to other atrocities as well, including starving them, exposing them to extremes of temperatures, bombarding them with X-rays, killing them in giant centrifuges, boiling them alive, or even dissecting them while they were still alive.
32. Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night: The Plan to Infect America With the Plague
Thanks to the thousands of test subjects killed in the camps of Unit 731, plus the hundreds of thousands Chinese civilians outside who were exposed to the plague, Shiro Ishii brought biological warfare to new heights – or depths. By 1945, even as Japan was reeling on her last legs, she still had a horrific last card to play: weaponized deadly pathogens. Ishii and Unit 731 had encased the bubonic plague, botulism, anthrax, smallpox, cholera, and other diseases into bombs that were routinely dropped on Chinese combatants and civilians alike. If Ishii had had his way, American civilians would have shared the same fate: on March 26th, 1945, he finalized plans for Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, to attack America with biological weapons.
The operation called for five I-400 long range submarines, each carrying three Aichi M6A1 Seiran float planes, to cross the Pacific Ocean. Upon reaching the US West Cost, the submarines were to launch the float planes, loaded with plague-infected fleas, to attack San Diego. As one of pilots put it in 1998: “I was told directly by Shiro Ishii of the kamikaze mission “Cherry Blossoms at Night”, which was named by Ishii himself. I was a leader of a squad of seventeen. I understood that the mission was to spread contaminated fleas in the enemy’s base and contaminate them with plague.” The operation was scheduled for September 22nd, 1945, but the atomic bombing of Japan in August ended the war. Japan formally surrendered on September 2nd, less than three weeks before the launch date of Cherry Blossoms at Night.
31. After Killing Over Half a Million People, Shiro Ishii Walked Away Scot Free
After the war, it was estimated that the Japanese germ warfare and experiments overseen by Shrio Ishii had killed anywhere from tens of thousands to 400,000 Chinese from bubonic plague, anthrax, cholera, and other diseases. According to the most reliable recent estimate, from the 2002 International Symposium on the Crimes of Biological Warfare, victims of the Japanese biological warfare overseen by Ishii numbered as high as 580,000. Yet, the Japanese doctor never faced a war crimes tribunal, nor was he ever prosecuted for his horrific deeds.
Unit 731 Evacuates
In August of 1945, just before the Soviets conquered Manchuria, Ishii evacuated Unit 731 back to Japan. He destroyed most traces of his camps, and had all remaining prisoners, plus 600 workers, murdered. The Soviets nonetheless captured some documents, which they used in their own biological warfare program. After the war, American microbiologists deemed Ishii’s work “absolutely invaluable .. [it] could never have been obtained in the United States because of scruples attached to experiments on humans“. So he cut a deal to avoid prosecution, in exchange for sharing the results of his experiments with American biological warfare experts. Although Unit 731’s victims included American POWs, General Douglas MacArthur, who ran the occupation of the Japan, officially denied the existence of any Japanese experiments upon Americans. Shiro Ishii lived a free man, until his death in 1959 from throat cancer.
Karl Denke (1860 – 1924) did not kill nearly as many people as others in this list. But unlike most of the rest, he did not order others to kill: he did that himself, up close and personal. Then he dined on his victims. Born into a wealthy farming family near Munsterberg in Prussia, Denke’s early life is shrouded in mystery. He ran away from home at age 12, and apprenticed himself to a gardener. He worked a variety of jobs, including taking a stab at farming after his father’s death, when he used his share of the inheritance to buy a plot of land. However, farming and Denke were not a great match, and working the fields soon reminded him of why had why he had run away from home as a child.
So he sold his land, and bounced around a variety of occupations for a few years. He eventually bought a small house in Munsterberg, and became an organ player in his local church. Denke developed a reputation as a devout Evangelical, and became a well liked and respected member of his community. A friendly avuncular figure, always kind and helpful to people, he was nicknamed “Vatter Denke“, German for “Papa Denke”, by his admiring neighbors. However his standing in the community took a turn for the worse in 1924, when people discovered just who the real Papa Denke was.
On December 21st, 1924, a man passing by Denke’s house heard cries for help coming from within the dwelling. Rushing in to help, he saw a young man staggering in a corridor, bleeding copiously from a head wound. Before collapsing on the floor, the victim blurted out that “Papa Denke” had attacked him with an ax. Police were called, and Denke was arrested. A search of his house turned up identification papers for a dozen men, plus various items of male clothing whose sizes made clear they were not Denke’s. It was in the kitchen, however, where they found the real shocker: a pair of large tubs, containing meat getting pickled in brine. The meat was attached to human bones, and by tallying the various bits, investigators estimated the Papa Denke had been in the process of pickling up to thirty victims.
Police also found a notebook, in which Denke had listed the names of many more victims, with the dates of their murders going back to 1921, plus the weight of their pickled bodies. Investigators did not get the opportunity to grill Denke about his motives: he used a handkerchief to hang himself in his cell during his first night behind bars. Evidence gathered, however, revealed that he ate his victims. He also disposed of their meat by feeding it to guests, jarring it and selling it as pickled pork, or giving jars of the “pickled pork” to his neighbors as gifts.
Josef Mengele (1911 – 1979) was an SS extermination camp doctor, who became infamously known as the “Angel of Death”. The son of a Bavarian farm machinery manufacturer, Joseph grew up in comfort, and developed an early passion for music, skiing, and art. He studied philosophy in university, and joined the Brown Shirts in 1934. A year later, he got a PhD in anthropology from the University of Munich, which got him into the Institute for Hereditary Biology and Racial Hygiene.
Mengele joined the SS in 1938, and served as a combat doctor on the Eastern Front until he was wounded in 1943. Upon recovery, he was transferred to Auschwitz, as camp doctor. There, Mengele greeted new arrivals, cursorily sorting out those who got to live as slave laborers from those to be sent immediately to the gas chambers. He was also a sadist who conducted gratuitously cruel and deadly human experiments upon the camp’s prisoners, with little regard to the safety or well being of his victims. Unfortunately, he got away with it.
After the war, Josef Mengele was taken prisoner and held in a British POW camp. However, he hid his true identity with an assumed name, so his stint in captivity was relatively brief, before he was released. He then went into hiding, and through a network of Nazi sympathizers in the Vatican, he was able to reach South America, settling in Argentina in 1949. By the early 1950s, he had resumed living under his real name, and made a good living as a salesman’s for his family’s farm equipment business, Karl Mengele & Sons. He also acquired an interest in a pharmaceutical company.
In 1960, however, Mengele’s deeds in Auschwitz became more publicly known, and West German prosecutors sought to have him arrested and extradited. Between that and fears that the Israelis – who had recently seized Adolf Eichmann in Argentina – might be after him, Mengele went on the lam once again. This time, he headed to Brazil, where with the help of Nazi sympathizers, he settled down and purchased a coffee and cattle farm in Sao Paulo. He was never brought to account for his crimes, and died in a swimming accident in 1979.
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada (circa 1925 – 2003) was a military officer who seized power in a 1971 coup, and ruled his country until 1979. He was commander of the Ugandan army when he got wind that he was about to be arrested for theft, so he overthrew the government and declared himself president. His regime was known for repression, ethnic persecutions, human rights abuses, economic mismanagement, corruption, and nepotism. But what sets him apart from other brutal and incompetent kleptocrats, and earns him a place on this list, was his off the charts level of weirdness.
Idi Amin’s behavior was odd from the start, and grew increasingly more erratic and unpredictable with time. He started off as a conservative, and was initially supported by the West and Israel. Suddenly, he made a sharp turn in the other direction, and became an ardent supporter of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi and the PLO. He ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s ethnically Asian citizens and residents, and seized their businesses and enterprises, as well as those of Europeans in Uganda. Those enterprises, which formed the economy’s backbone, were handed over to Amin’s relatives and supporters who promptly drove them into the ground. That was not even close to the worst of it, however, because Amin was not just a clown, but a mass murderer as well.
Idi Amin’s bonkers behavior led to a rupture with Britain, and a severing of diplomatic relations. After, Amin declared that he defeated Britain, and awarded himself a CBE (“Conqueror of the British Empire”) medal. Additionally, he conferred upon himself a VC, or Victorious Cross, a copy of the better known British medal. He also showered himself with titles, including “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular“. He also declared himself King of Scotland.
A Bizarre Personal Life
Amin’s personal life was just as bizarre. A polygamist, he married at least 6 women, at least one of whom he murdered and dismembered. In 1975, a 19 year old go-go dancer caught his eye, so he had her boyfriend beheaded, then married her in a lavish wedding that cost about 10 million dollars – this, at a time when much of Uganda was hungry and malnutrition was widespread. Estimates of his victims range from 100,000 to half a million. A boneheaded attempt to seize a province of neighboring Tanzania led to a war which Amin swiftly lost. He was forced to flee in 1979, first to Libya, and then to Saudi Arabia, whose royal family gave him asylum, refused to honor requests for his extradition, and paid him generous subsidies until his death in 2003.
The first serial killer in recorded history lived in Ancient China in the 2nd century BC: Prince Liu Pengli, a member of the Han Dynasty’s imperial family. Emperor Jing, Liu Pengli’s cousin, appointed him king of the city of Jidong and its surrounding district in 144 BC. That was bad news for the good people of Jidong: Pengli preyed upon his subjects, killing them for kicks and giggles. He actually enjoyed hunting human beings for sport. He murdered at 100 people for his amusement, and the true number of his victims was probably much higher. His reign of psychotic terror lasted for 23 years, during which his subjects were too scared to come out of their homes at night. It only ended after one of Pengli’s subjects finally screwed up the courage to travel to the imperial capital, where he complained to the emperor.
Arrogant and Cruel
As described by Han historian Sima Qian: “Liu Pengli was arrogant and cruel, and paid no attention to the etiquette demanded between ruler and subject. In the evenings he used to go out on marauding expeditions with twenty or thirty slaves or young men who were in hiding from the law, murdering people and seizing their belongings for sheer sport. When the affair came to light … it was found he had murdered at least 100 or more persons. Everyone in the kingdom knew about his ways, so that the people were afraid to venture out of their houses at night. The son of one of his victims finally sent a report to the [Han Emperor], and the Han officials requested that he be executed. The emperor could not bear to carry out their recommendation, but made him a commoner and banished him to Shangyong”.
Georg Karl Grossmann (1863 – 1922) was a German career criminal whose record included perversions ranging from child rape to bestiality. He lived in a Berlin slum, where neighbors often heard screams coming from his apartment. However, it was the kind of neighborhood where people minded their business, so nobody called the police. In the early 1920s, dozens of dismembered bodies began popping up around Berlin, and the police announced that a serial killer was on the loose. That made Grossmann’s neighbors more attentive, because the next time screams came from his apartment, somebody finally called the cops. Bursting into Grossmann’s apartment, the police found the corpse of a recently killed woman on his bed. He was arrested and charged with murder. Neighbors recalled that Grossmann had many young female visitors, but now that they thought about it, they did not remember seeing any of them leaving the apartment.
Brutalizing and Cannibalizing
Acquaintances also remembered that during WWI, despite severe food shortages that caused widespread hunger, Grossmann always seemed to have a steady supply of meat to sell on the black market. He even had a hot dog stand outside a Berlin train station. Turns out the meat came from his victims, whom Grossmann literally butchered after raping and killing them. Grossmann’s modus operandi had been to hang out at a train station, where he would meet young women, many of them recently arrived in Berlin from the countryside, seeking a new life. It was estimated that over 50 such women were lured to Grossmann’s apartment. There, they were sexually abused, murdered, dismembered, and their flesh consumed by Grossmann and the unwitting customers who bought meat from him. He was convicted and sentenced to death, but hanged himself before the execution.
Baron Otto Gustav von Wachter (1901 – 1949) was an Austrian aristocrat and fervent Nazi. A member of the SS as well as a practicing lawyer, he represented Austrian Nazis until 1934, when his participation in a failed coup that included the assassination of Austria’s Chancellor forced him to flee to Germany. He returned to Austria in 1938 after it was annexed by Germany, and ran a commission that oversaw the firing or compulsory retirement of all Austrian officials who did not conform to the Nazi regime.
In 1940, von Wachter was made governor of Krakow in the recently conquered Poland, in which capacity he ordered the killing of numerous Poles in retaliation for partisan activities. He also directed the expulsion of tens of thousands of Jews from their homes, and their forcible relocation to the Krakow Ghetto. From there, most of them were eventually transported to the death camps, from which few emerged alive. However, von Wachter’s activities in Krakow were just a prelude to the horrors he would visit upon hundreds of thousands, when he was made governor of Galicia, in today’s Ukraine.
When Galicia’s governor was arrested and shot for corruption and extensive black market activity, Hitler personally picked Otto von Wachter to fill the vacant slot in 1943. There, the baron capitalized on the Ukrainians’ hatred of the communists to recruit a Waffen-SS division from the local population, the SS Division Galicia. He also continued overseeing the rounding up and transportation of Jews and others to their deaths: during his time as governor, about 500,000 in his province were sent to their deaths, and thousands more were murdered in reprisals for partisan activities.
The horrors in Galicia only came to an end when the entire province was lost to the advancing Red Army in July of 1944. As a major war criminal, indicted by the Polish government in exile as early as 1942 for atrocities, it was unsurprising that von Wachter went on the lam as soon as the war ended. He evaded capture after the Third Reich’s collapse, hiding in the Salzburg mountain district in Austria for four years, before crossing the border into Italy. There, he was sheltered by a pro-Nazi Austrian bishop, who hid von Wachter in the Vatican until his death in 1949 of kidney failure.
20. This British General Shot Thousands of Civilians in Cold Blood
During World War I, British India made significant contributions to the British war effort. Millions of Indians served their colonial overlords as soldiers or laborers in the conflict’s various theaters. Even as Indians fought and toiled on Britain’s behalf, the British authorities in India enacted a series of repressive laws to counteract potential subversion. This gave the military and police broad emergency powers. When the war ended in 1918, Indians expected that the emergency powers would be repealed, granting more autonomy. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Colonial authorities enacted new laws in early 1919, expanding the repressive wartime laws even further.
Protests Shock the Nation
Protests erupted throughout India. The Punjab, in particular, became a hotbed of anti-colonial activity. Indians poured into the streets in massive protest rallies. Strikes erupted, rail, telegraph, and communications systems disrupted. The local colonial administration suffered near paralysis. Many officers in the British Indian Army believed that the protests signaled a prelude to an uprising. Much like the 1857 Indian Mutiny (or Revolt). On April 13, 1919, a crowd of about 10,000 Indian civilians gathered in Amritsar, Punjab. They protested the British authorities’ recent arrest and deportation of two Indian nationalist leaders. In response, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer of the British Indian Army ordered his troops to open fire on the unarmed protesters. An estimated 1,000 were killed in the ensuing massacre, and an additional 1,500 were wounded.
Protests had been fueled in Amritsar in April of 1919, when two popular Indian nationalists, adherents of Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha nonviolent resistance movement, were arrested. In the days preceding the massacre, troops had fired on protesters, killing several. Mobs retaliated by attacking Europeans in the streets, which led to yet more retaliatory fire from colonial troops, and a steady escalation of violence. Brigadier Dyer was ordered to restore order, and he ordered a ban on public gatherings. On the afternoon of April 13th, 1919, about 10,000 Indian men, women, and children, gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh, a seven acre public garden in Amritsar. It is unclear how many had gathered to protest, and how many were simply passing through after celebrating Baisakhi, a religious spring festival, at a nearby temple. What is clear is that they were unarmed civilians, and that their numbers included many women and children.
The Jallianwala Bagh, measuring about 200 yards by 200 yards, was enclosed by walls on all sides, with one main entrance, and some smaller gated exits. At 4:30 PM, Dyer arrived with about 90 troops, and without warning the crowds to disperse, blocked the main exits. He then ordered his men to open fire, and they kept firing for the next ten minutes, until their ammunition was exhausted. The troops then withdrew, leaving the carnage behind. As Dyer later explained it, his goal “was not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience“. A week later, an unrepentant Dyer issued an order to humiliate the locals and emphasize British racial supremacy. It required every Indian man using a street where a British missionary had been attacked to crawl its length on his hands and knees.
18. The German General Who Carried Out the 20th Century’s First Genocide
In the 1880s, Germany established a colony in South West Africa – today’s Namibia – that was home to African pastoralists such as the Nama people, numbering about 20,000, and the Herero, a grouping of about 75,000 cattle herders. The German colonists ruled with a heavy hand and a deliberate brutality that stood out even amidst the brutal norms of European colonization. As the German commander in charge of subduing the region put it in 1888: “only uncompromising brutality will lead to victory“. The African natives’ livestock and best lands were confiscated and given to German settlers, and the Africans themselves were frequently seized and used as de facto slaves.
Germans vs. Africans
Racial discrimination was rife, and most German settlers viewed the natives as a source of cheap labor, while others simply called for their extermination. The Africans’ resentment was further exacerbated by the frequent rape of native women and girls by settlers – a crime that the German authorities rarely addressed, let alone punished. Unsurprisingly, such abuses alienated the natives. When the Herero and Nama learned that the Germans planned to further divide their lands and herd them into reservations, they rose up in rebellion. In January of 1904, they launched a surprise attack that killed about 125 Germans. In response, the Germans sent an expeditionary force of about 14,000 soldiers, led by a General Lothar von Trotha. His planned solution was genocide.
General Lothar von Trotha made clear his intent to end the uprising by exterminating the Herero. As he put it: “I believe that the nation as such should be annihilated, or, if this was not possible by tactical measures, have to be expelled from the country“. In August of 1904, Trotha’s men defeated about 3000 Herero combatants. As a guide employed by the Germans described what happened next: “After the battle all men, women, and children who fell into German hands, wounded or otherwise, were mercilessly put to death. Then the Germans set off in pursuit of the rest, and all those found by the wayside and in the sandveld were shot down and bayoneted to death. The mass of the Herero men were unarmed and thus unable to offer resistance”.
Dehydration and Death
The Germans pursued the survivors into the desert, and kept them from accessing water by placing armed guards on water sources, or poisoning the wells. Thousands perished from thirst. On October 4th, Trotha wrote his superiors: “I believe that this [Herero] nation as a nation must be exterminated… I prefer for the nation to disappear entirely rather than allow them to infect our troops with their diseases“. As to the Nama, those who did not flee were sent to concentration camps, with one third of the captives dying en route. Once in the camps, many more died of epidemics and mistreatment. The captives were subjected to forced labor, beaten, whipped, and tortured, while many of the women were raped or made into concubines. In total, about 65,000 Herero, 80% of their total population, perished in the genocide. 10,000 Nama, 50% of that people, were also killed.
16. The Sadistic Doctor Who Froze Prisoners and Infected Them With Gangrene
Josef Mengele is probably the best known Nazi doctor, but equally horrible and horrific was his colleague, Doctor Walter Schreiber (1893-1970). A medical student when WWI erupted in 1914, Schreiber voluntarily enlisted in the German army. He was wounded early in the conflict, and after his recovery resumed his studies, then served as a military doctor until war’s end. After the war, he became a professor of biology and hygiene, and gained renown one of the world’s foremost experts on epidemics. In the Nazi era, Schreiber introduced the use of lethal phenol injections “as a quick and convenient means of executing troublemakers“. During WWII, he rose to the rank of major general in the Wehrmacht Medical Service. He was also a member of the Reich Research Council, and in that capacity, he he conducted cruel and sadistic medical experiments upon prisoners.
During the war, Schreiber experimented upon prisoners in Auschwitz by freezing them in order to examine the effects of extreme cold. He conducted other sadistic medical experiments on female prisoners in Ravensbrueck concentration camp, by cutting open their legs and deliberately infecting them with gangrene. He then gave them bone transplants. The subjects of his experiments usually suffered slow and agonizing deaths. At war’s end, Schreiber was captured by the Red Army and taken to the USSR, where he was held in the infamous Lubyanka prison in poor conditions. His conditions improved when his captors discovered his true identity, and the Soviets put him to work providing medical care to high ranking German prisoners.
15. Dr. Schreiber Evaded Accountability For His Medical Atrocities
Doctor Walter Schreiber was produced at the Nuremberg Trials to testify against Herman Goering, who had been in charge of Germany’s biological weapons development. Goering was convicted and sentenced to death, but Schreiber himself was never made to account for his atrocities. He slipped his handlers in 1948 and fled to the West, where he was hired by the US military and the CIA to work as chief medical doctor in Camp King, a clandestine POW interrogation site in Germany.
In 1951, Schreiber arrived in the US as part of Operation Paperclip, which recruited German scientists, engineers, and technicians, and sent them to America to work for the government. He began work at the Air Force School of Medicine in Texas, but the publication of newspaper articles soon thereafter about his medical atrocities led to a public outcry. So his intelligence handlers relocated him and his family to Argentina in 1952. There, he worked as an epidemiologist in a research laboratory, until his death from a heart attack in 1970.
14. The King Who Turned His Colony Into a Horror Story
In 1885, Belgium’s King Leopold II, painting himself as a humanitarian philanthropist, convinced the European powers to award him the Congo. He promised to develop the region and uplift its residents, but instead subjected the locals to atrocities that contemporaries described as the “Congo Horrors”. It began when Leopold consolidated his power in the Congo by allying with a slave trader named Tippu Tip, appointing him governor of the eastern Congo and giving him a free hand there, in exchange for Tippu’s promise not to interfere in the western Congo. Tippu immediately ramped up his slaving activities, until European public opinion forced Leopold to hire a mercenary army, with which he expelled Tippu. The Belgian king then reorganized his mercenaries into an occupation army named the Force Publique, and turned it loose to visit a reign of terror and horrors upon the natives.
A Dystopian Plantation
Leopold turned the Congo into a dystopian plantation, and the Congolese into de facto slaves. The natives were given quotas of rubber, ivory, diamonds, or other goods, to produce, and men who fell short of their quotas were mutilated by having their hands or feet amputated. If a man escaped, or it was deemed necessary that he keep his limbs to continue producing, the Belgian king’s goons would mutilate his family instead, amputating the hands of his wife and children. Millions were mutilated for failure to meet production quotas. Millions more were murdered, starved, worked to death, or perished from various forms of mistreatment and misgovernment under Leopold’s colonial regime. Numerous villages were wiped out, with all their inhabitants massacred, for daring to protest. It is estimated that between 10 million to 15 million Congolese died in order to enrich Leopold.
Gary Ridgway (1949 – ) was obsessed with prostitutes in the worst possible way: he could not get enough of killing them. Born in Salt Lake City, Ridgway grew up in a poor neighborhood, raised by parents who often engaged in violent arguments. He had a bed wetting problem until he was 13, and whenever he wet the sheets, Ridgway’s mother would wash his genitals. He informed psychologists that in his teens, he had been sexually attracted to his mother, even as he fantasized about killing her. His father, a bus driver, was given to complaining about the proliferation of prostitutes in and around the neighborhood. The end result of that background was that Ridgway, also known as “The Green River Killer”, ended up convicted of killing 49 women, most of them prostitutes, and eventually confessed to killing 71.
A dyslexic with an IQ in the 80s, Ridgway’s violent criminality began in the 1960s, when at age 16, he led a 6 year old boy into the woods and stabbed him in the liver. The child survived, and described Ridgway walking away laughing. After high school, Ridgway was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Upon his discharge, he got a job painting trucks, and spent 30 years doing that. A family man, although one who had trouble keeping a marriage going, he was married three times. Ridgway was also a regular churchgoer, described by many who knew him as a religious fanatic. He was also into hookers, and long before he started killing them, he was a frequent customer of prostitutes.
Ridgway began killing in the early 1980s, when he started picking up prostitutes, teenage runaways, and other vulnerable women, along Route 99 in King County, Washington, and taking them home. There, he usually choked them to death with his bare hands, but sometimes, just to switch things up, he garroted them with a cord or wire. He dumped the bodies in remote forested areas, and often returned to the corpses to have sex with them. Authorities suspected that a serial killer was on the loose was when sex workers and teenage runaways started disappearing along Route 99. After the first five bodies surfaced in the Green River, the press dubbed the unknown culprit “The Green River Killer”. In 1987, suspicion fell upon Ridgway when many prostitutes working Route 99 – which he drove to and from work – gave descriptions of a suspect who resembled him.
The Truth Comes Out
Investigators discovered that the disappearance of many victims coincided with Ridgway’s days off work. He was taken into police custody, but passed a polygraph test, and allowed investigators to take hair and saliva samples. Released for lack of evidence, he was soon back on the prowl. Finally, in 2001, a new generation of detectives began making effective use of computers in investigating the Green River Killer. They also had access to modern DNA techniques that had not existed in the 1980s. When Ridgway’s hair and saliva samples, carefully preserved since 1987, were sent for DNA analysis, they returned a match tying him to 4 victims. He was arrested, and entered a plea bargain in which he disclosed the locations of dozens of still-missing women. In exchange, he was spared the death penalty, and was sentenced instead to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Perhaps the parents of Stella Kubler (1922 – 1994) should not have coddled her so much. Born and raised as the only child of an assimilated middle class Jewish family in Berlin, Stella was treated like a princess by her overprotective parents. She grew up financially comfortable, but not as wealthy as other students in her Jewish school. That ate at Stella, and left her harboring resentments against her richer schoolmates. During WWII, she became infamous for collaborating with the Gestapo to track down and denounce other Jews hiding from the Nazis. Many of those denounced by her were her former schoolmates and their families, whom she repaid in spades for their crime of being richer than Stella’s family.
A Wannabe Aryan
When Germany began rounding up Jews and sending them to the death camps, Stella secured forged identity papers that listed her as a German Aryan. She was blond and blue-eyed, so it worked for a while. However, she and her boyfriend were eventually denounced to the Gestapo by a “Jew Catcher” – a Jew working for the Gestapo to find other Jews in hiding. To save their necks, her boyfriend and future husband offered the Nazis their services. The Gestapo put the couple to work as Catchers, paying them 300 Reichsmarks for every Jew they turned in, and promising to spare Stella’s parents so long as she kept producing. The duo had good instincts for finding other Jews’ hiding places, having lived in hiding themselves, and went at it with a will.
10. Stella Kubler’s Victims Numbered in the Thousands
Stella Kubler was particularly effective at finding Jews in hiding, because she knew many of Berlin’s Jews from her years in a Jewish school. She had not chosen to become a Jew Catcher of her own free will, but how she exercised what freedom of choice she had while doing that was entirely within her control. She exercised that freedom of choice by pursuing hidden Jews with remarkable zeal. Even after the Jews she turned in were arrested, and her task was over, Stella enthusiastically took part in beating, torturing, and humiliating them. Notwithstanding her zeal, the Nazis reneged on their promises to Stella, and deported her parents to their death in a camp. Her husband and his family were sent to Auschwitz in 1943. Despite that, Stella’s enthusiasm for seeking out hidden Jews and denouncing them to the Gestapo did not wane.
Betting on a German victory, Stella secured a promise from a high ranking Gestapo official in 1944. She wanted to be declared an Aryan after the war. By war’s end, she was responsible for the arrest, deportation, and subsequent murder of untold hundreds of Jews. Estimates of her victims range from a low of 600, to as many as 3000. They included many of her personal friends, former schoolmates and their families, and even some of her own relatives. She got off light. After the war, the Soviets sentenced her to 10 years imprisonment. After her release, she moved to West Berlin, where West German authorities sentenced her to another 10 years. However, she served no time of that sentence. She then converted to Christianity, and became a lifelong anti-Semite. In 1994, Stella Kubler took her own life by jumping out the window of her Berlin apartment.
Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Hoess (1901 – 1947) is often described as history’s greatest individual mass murderer. Born into a strict religious Catholic family, he reportedly had no friends in his early childhood, and socialized only with adults until he entered elementary school. His father, a former army officer who had served in German East Africa, wanted his son to become a priest, and raised him with military discipline on strict religious principles. As a result, Hoess grew up with a fanatical belief that duty was the key to a good moral life.
In his autobiography, Hoess claimed to have been scarred in his youth, when he was abducted by Gypsies. It might not be true – a fanciful origin story he made, to try and explain the horrors he visited upon Gypsies, Jews, and others in later years. Whatever the truth about his childhood and early years, by the time he was a young man, Hoess was the kind of person who thought the Nazis were awesome. So in 1921, at age 20, he became a member of the Nazi Party, and in 1934, he joined the SS. In 1940, Hoess was appointed to command a then-little-known prison camp in western Poland: Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was a small and nondescript prison camp when Rudolf Hoess became its commandant in May of 1940. He transformed it into the biggest industrial scale killing factory ever created, where more than a million people were murdered. By the autumn of 1941, Hoess had expanded Auschwitz by adding to it an annex: Birkenau, which served as a pure extermination camp. In the resulting hybrid Auschwitz-Birkenau establishment, Auschwitz served as a concentration camp in which labor was squeezed out of brutalized slave workers. Birkenau served as a pure murder factory, capable of “processing” up to 10,000 victims a day, from their arrival at its train platform, to their murder, then cremation.
Crimes Against Humanity
Hoess so impressed his superiors with his diligence, that in 1943 he was transferred back to Germany as an inspector of all concentration camps. He would temporarily return to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May to June of 1944, to oversee the extermination of Hungary’s Jews. Hoess’ enthusiasm for his work was in jarring contrast to his private life. A mild mannered and happily married man, Hoess enjoyed a normal family life with his five children, notwithstanding the view of the camp crematoria’s smoke stacks from his bedroom windows. After the war, he was tried and convicted of crimes against humanity, and hanged next to the death camp’s crematorium.
7. The Black Magic Practitioner Who Killed Hundreds
German bandit and black arts practitioner Peter Niers (died 1581) was one of history’s most prolific serial killers. Niers began his criminal career as a highwayman in Alsace, present day France, and eventually came to head a gang that numbered about 24 bandits. He also became a leading figure in a loose network of bandit and highwayman gangs, that joined forces on occasion to conduct major operations requiring large numbers of men. His criminal activities spanned a large territory that included western France, the Rhineland, and Bavaria in southern Germany.
What set Niers apart from other bandits was his bloodthirstiness and gratuitous cruelty. He was not content to simply rob or kill his victims: Niers also relished torturing those who fell into his hands, and murdering them in a variety of monstrously creative ways. He was captured in 1577, and under torture, confessed to 75 murders during the previous 11 years. However, before he could be executed, he managed to escape. After breaking free, Niers returned to his criminal activities, resuming them with even greater cruelty and bloodthirstiness.
6. After Regaining His Freedom, Niers Doubled Down on the Sick
The majority of Niers’ murders and depravities occurred after his escape. He had murdered 75 people in the 11 years preceding his arrest in 1577, but went on to murder an additional 569 people in the 4 years from 1577 to 1581, when he was arrested for a second, and final time. He confessed to having murdered 544 people, and to having cut the fetuses out of the wombs of 24 pregnant women. The fetuses were used as ingredients in his black magic, and consumed in cannibalistic acts.
Niers was taken to the Bavarian city of Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz for a public execution, during which the authorities went Medieval on him, literally and figuratively. Even for an era in which torture and gruesome executions were routine, Peter Niers’ execution, which commenced on September 16th, 1581, stood out. It was a 3 day ordeal, with the first day spent flaying Niers’ skin, then pouring hot oil on his exposed muscles to slough off layers of his flesh. On the second day, his feet were coated in grease, and his lower body was slowly grilled over a low fire. On the third day, his body was broken on the wheel, with dozens of blows that smashed his major bones to pieces. Finally, the executioners quartered him while still alive, by sawing his body into pieces.
Jean-Bedel Bokassa (1921 -1996) is now largely forgotten outside the Central African Republican (CAR). But there used to be a time when he made headlines as the world’s most batty ruler. A military officer, Bokassa launched a coup in 1966 and seized power. He then ruled the CAR as its dictator until 1979. Erratic and prone to delusions of grandeur, Bokassa declared his small landlocked country an empire. He then anointed himself Bokassa I, Emperor of the Central African Empire.
Bokassa lived as a captain in the French colonial army when Central Africa gained its independence from France. The newly-independent country’s president, a distant cousin, appointed Bokassa to head its armed forces. He showed his gratitude by staging a coup, ousting his cousin from power. And, of course, appointed himself president. A huge fan of Napoleon Bonaparte, Bokassa emulated his idol by crowning himself Emperor of Central Africa. He then bankrupted his impoverished country with a lavish coronation event that cost about 80 million dollars. This event featured a diamond-encrusted crown worth 20 million.
4. The Central African Emperor’s Mad and Murderous Rule
Bokassa’s rule created a reign of terror. During his reign, he personally oversaw the judicial beating of suspects. He also ordered that thieves lose an ear for the first two offenses, and a hand for the third. Bokassa also tortured suspected political opponents, then fed their corpses to lions and crocodiles kept in his private zoo. He also practiced cannibalism. In Paris-Match magazine, an expose that ran photos of a deep freezer in Bokassa’s palace, containing the bodies of children. The best known of Bokassa’s atrocities includes the arrest of hundreds of schoolchildren in 1979. The reason? Refusing to buy school uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives. Bokassa personally oversaw the murder of more than 100 of the kids by his imperial guard. That caused an uproar, and soon thereafter, French paratroopers deposed Emperor Bokassa I.
A Lavish Exile
However, he spent his exile comfortably in France, financed by millions of dollars embezzled from his impoverished country. Which, of course, he stashed in Swiss bank accounts. But his comfort did not last for long. Within a few years, Bokassa managed to waste his fortune; reduced to poverty. Things got so bad that he made a brief reappearance in international news in the 1980s. One of his hungry children was arrested for shoplifting food. Bokassa returned to Central Africa in 1986, where he was tried and convicted of murder and treason, and sentenced to death. However, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and he was released in 1993. He lived another three years, before dying in 1996.
Zhu Houzhao (1491 – 1521) became China’s emperor at age 14 in 1505. Perhaps making a teenager supreme ruler was a mistake: Zhu was uninterested in governing, and disregarded state affairs. Instead, he dove headfirst into a profligate lifestyle. Marked by lavish spending, bizarre behavior, and poor choices that set the stage for the Ming Dynasty’s downfall. The 14-year-old emperor entrusted governance to trusted eunuchs. He devoted himself to pleasure seeking. With governance left entirely in their hands, palace eunuchs became China’s most powerful class. Without checks or oversight, corruption became endemic and public offices were openly bought and sold. Taxes soared to pay for the emperor’s pleasures and to feather the nests of courtiers and officials. In the meantime, Zhu took to learning foreign languages and traveling incognito.
An Alter Ego
He began creating an alter ego for himself, a generalissimo Zhu Zhu. Upon whom, he lavished praise and rewards. He also built a city block within the imperial palace so he could pretend to be a shopkeeper. But he possessed less innocent habits. He took his companions on thrill raids. Bursting into the homes of wealthy citizens, they violently seized and kidnapped their daughters, holding them for ransom. Officials who criticized the emperor’s erratic and irresponsible behavior were arrested, tortured, and executed by the hundreds. He eventually drowned in 1521, when his pleasure barge capsized. This finally brought his reign to a merciful end. Although he left the scene, the damage he left behind proved permanent. During the years of his reign, without oversight from the throne, palace eunuchs went too far. They achieved such power within the government’s structure, subsequent emperors were unable to dislodge them.
Hans Frank (1900-1946): one of history’s most murderous lawyers. As an enthusiastic early Nazi, he took part in the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch. Armed with a law degree, he boasted the role of Hitler’s personal attorney, as well as general counsel for the Nazi Party. When the Nazis took power in 1933, Hitler rewarded Frank’s loyalty by making him a Reich Minister without portfolio. He also made him President of the Reichstag – Germany’s parliament. Hans’ true career as a monster emerged during WWII, when Hitler made him Governor-General of newly-conquered Poland.
An avid proponent of Nazi racist ideology, Frank set out to stamp out Polish identity. He also wanted to let the conquered Poles know that they existed merely to serve. Mainly, as de facto Helots for the Aryan ‘Master Race’. To that end, Frank ordered the execution of hundreds of thousands of Poles. He also engineered the wholesale confiscation of Polish property. He ordered the rounding up of hundreds of thousands Polish workers. They shipped them to Germany to toil as slave laborers. Even that paled in comparison to his most atrocious actions, all directed at Poland’s Jews.
As ruler of rump Poland, Hans Frank instituted a reign of terror, featuring the segregation of Jews into ghettos. Then their wholesale extermination. It did not matter that he fathered five children. Frank reconciled affection towards his own kids with coldhearted indifference towards the murder of thousands of other people’s children. In December of 1941, he instructed his subordinates.
“Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feelings of pity. We must annihilate the Jews wherever we find them and whenever it is possible”.
Under Frank, the mass murder of Jews morphed from ad hoc massacres to deliberate policy. Of the Holocaust’s six extermination camps, four were located in Frank’s General Government. After the war, he tried to pretend he knew nothing about the millions of Jews killed in his territory. But documentary evidence exposed the lie in that claim. Captured by US troops in the war’s closing days, he faced trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg. Convicted, sentenced to death, he hanged on October 16, 1946.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading