History's Top Executioners of All Time
History’s Top Executioners of All Time

History’s Top Executioners of All Time

Khalid Elhassan - June 5, 2020

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
A contemporary woodcut illustrating the types of tortures to which Peter Niers was subjected. Ranker

17. Going Medieval on a Monster

After his second arrest in 1581, Peter Niers was taken to the Bavarian city of Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz for a public execution. 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.

Niers underwent a three-day ordeal. On the first day, torturers flayed his skin, then poured hot oil on his exposed muscles to slough off layers of flesh. On the second day, Niers’ 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. That was the end of this killer.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Stella Kubler. Landesarchiv Berlin

16. The Antisemitic Jew

Unlike the other monsters on this list, Stella Kubler-Isaacksohn (1922 – 1994) did not personally kill her victims. Instead, she hunted them down, and delivered them to the Nazis, who killed them. Born Stella Goldschlag, she was raised as the only child of an assimilated middle-class Jewish family in Berlin, and was treated like a princess by overprotective parents.

Stella grew up financially comfortable, but not as rich as her schoolmates in a Jewish school. That gnawed at her, and left her harboring resentments against her richer schoolmates. During WWII, Stella 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.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Stella Kubler and two fellow Jew Cathcers. Donna Dietch

15. Becoming a “Jew Catcher”

During WWII, Stella Kubler secured false identity papers that listed her as a German Aryan. She was blond and blue-eyed, so it worked for a while. However, Stella 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 hiding places, having lived in hiding themselves. Stella was particularly effective, because she knew many of Berlin’s Jews from her years in a segregated Jewish school.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Stella Kubler. Free Republic

14. Going After Fellow Jews With a Will

Stella Kubler had not chosen to become a Jew Catcher of her own free will. However, how she exercised what freedom of choice she had while working as a Catcher 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 the arrestees.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
The gate of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where the Nazis sent Stella Kubler’s parents. Yad Vashem

Notwithstanding her zeal, the Nazis reneged on their promises to Stella, and deported her parents to their death in an extermination 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, she secured a promise from a high-ranking Gestapo official in 1944, that she would be declared an Aryan after the war.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Stella Kubler during her trial. Spiegel

13. Getting Off Light

By the time WWII ended, Stella Kubler had been responsible for the arrest, deportation, and subsequent murder of hundreds of Jews. She was a cold-blooded killer. Estimates of the total number of her victims ranged from a low of 600, to possibly as high as 3000. Their numbers included many of her personal friends, former schoolmates and their families, and even some of her own relatives.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Stella Kubler at home after her release in 1950. Ullstein Bild

Nonetheless, Stella got off light. Captured by the Soviets, she was tried and got a ten-year sentence. After her release, she moved to West Berlin, where she was tried by the West German authorities, and sentenced to ten years. However, she did not serve any time of that sentence. She then converted to Christianity, and became a lifelong anti-Semite. In 1994, Stella Kubler committed suicide by jumping out the window of her Berlin apartment.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Crown Prince Sado. Wikimedia

12. A Royal Serial Killer

Korea’s Crown Prince Sado (1735 – 1762) was the son of King Yeongjo, and heir to the throne. He never got to inherit, and is best remembered today as a monstrous serial killer. Sado was the king’s second son, but the first one had died in 1728. For years, the king’s wives and concubines had given him only daughters, and he despaired of ever getting another male heir. When Sado was born in 1735, his arrival was met with widespread rejoicing.

The infant was set up in his own palace with an army of maids, governesses, and servants. However, his father took little part in raising or supervising his upbringing. So Sado was spoiled rotten, and grew up doing whatever he liked. On the few occasions when the king visited, he was highly irritable, and grew angry at even trivial missteps by his son. Sado grew up oscillating between a great fear of his father, and a desperate need to please him.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Poster from a movie about Prince Sado. Online Korean News

11. An Intimidating Father

Crown Prince Sado found it difficult to please his father. The king was not into displays of affection, and whenever the two met, Sado’s father was more critical than affectionate. As a result, Sado grew up feeling unloved and resentful (later turning him into a killer). Between those daddy issues, perceived lack of affection, lack of fatherly supervision, indulgence and flattery by courtiers, and other deep-seated neuroses, something broke inside Sado, and he grew up to become a monster.

He was a troubled young man, given to extremely violent and erratic mood swings. One day, he would behave with such decorum, dignity, and probity, so as to be all that his father had ever wanted in a son and heir. The next, he would undergo a transformation, and give free rein to violate outbursts during which he would turn rapist and murderer. Historians are unsure what exactly ailed him, but he was clearly mentally unstable, and many today think that he was schizophrenic.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Still from a movie, depicting the sealing of Prince Sado in a rice chest. SBS Australia

10. A Monstrous Prince

Alcohol was forbidden at court, but Prince Sado was nonetheless given to downing heroic amounts of wine and spirits. He became a raging alcoholic. When a depressive mood fell upon him, murdering servants brought Sado relief. On many a day, several dead bodies were carried out of the palace. He also enjoyed raping court ladies, and after murdering his concubine, he started harassing his own sister. As a result, he became widely feared throughout the kingdom as a serial rapist, serial killer, and all around dangerous psychopath.

Eventually, Sado’s father had enough, and determined that he could not, in good conscience, inflict his criminally insane son upon the Korean people as their next king. On July 4th, 1762, Sado was summoned by his father, who ceremonially struck the floor with a sword and declared the crown prince deposed. Taboos prohibited the outright execution of the prince, so the king had Sado placed inside a heavy wooden chest used for storing rice, and locked him inside. There, the deposed prince was left to starve to death, and he perished eight days later.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Karl Denke’s house in 1924. Spiegel

9. You Did Not Want to Accept a Dinner Invitation From This Man

Karl Denke was born in 1860 into a wealthy farming family near Munsterberg, Silesia, Kingdom of Prussia – today’s Ziebice, Poland. Little is known of his early life, other than that he ran away from home at age twelve, and apprenticed himself to a gardener. As he grew up, he pursued a variety of professions, including farming after his father’s death, when he used his share of the inheritance to buy a plot of land.

Denke was not a good farmer, however, and it did not take long before working the fields reminded him 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. Few would have predicted he would go down in history as one of Germany’s scariest serial killers and cannibals.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Karl Denke’s house today. Polska

8. Papa Denke’s Secret

Karl 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. His standing took a turn for the worse in 1924, when people discovered just who the real Papa Denke was.

On December 21st, 1924, a passerby heard cries for help coming from Denke’s house. Rushing in, he encountered a young man staggering in a corridor, and 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 size precluded them from belonging to Denke.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Karl Denke’s tools and his meat products. Nasza History

7. Pickled Long Pig

What most shocked police about Karl Denke’s house was the kitchen. There, they found two large tubs, containing meat pickling 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: during his first night in prison, he used a handkerchief to hang himself in his cell. However, evidence gathered 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.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Gilles de Rais. Wikimedia

6. The Real Life Monster Behind the Fairy Tale

The inspiration behind Bluebeard, Gilles de Montmorency-Laval, Baron de Rais, better known to history as Gilles de Rais (1404 – 1440), was an aristocrat from Brittany. De Rais was a respected knight, and a national hero who rose to prominence as Joan of Arc‘s chief captain and right-hand man. Then his true nature was revealed, and his celebrated career was cut short, along with his head, when it was discovered that, away from the limelight, he was an outright monster.

De Rais’ family, the House of Montmorency, was one of the oldest, most respected, and most distinguished aristocratic families in France. From an early age, de Rais seemed to live up to the high expectations of a scion of such an illustrious clan. By age fifteen, he had distinguished himself militarily during a series of wars of succession that wracked the Duchy of Brittany. He distinguished himself even more in Anjou, fighting for its duchess against the English in 1427.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Gilles de Rais. Wikimedia

5. The Rise Before the Fall

When Joan of Arc emerged in 1429 to challenge the English, Gilles de Rais was one of France’s most celebrated military men, despite his youth. He was assigned to guard The Maid of Orleans, and fought in several battles at her side. De Rais particularly distinguished himself in her greatest victory, the lifting of the English siege of Orleans. He then accompanied her to Reims for the coronation of King Charles VII, who made Gilles de Rais Marshall of France – a distinction awarded to generals for exceptional achievements.

De Rais inherited significant estates from both his father and maternal grandfather. He married a rich heiress, which match brought him even more extensive holdings, and made him one of France’s greatest magnates. He retired from the military in 1434, but it soon emerged that he was not as good at managing money as he was at managing men in battle. It did not take de Rais long to dissipate his fabulous wealth with a lavish lifestyle that rivaled that of the king.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Alchemy. Wikimedia.

4. Alchemy, Satanism, and Serial Killing

Within a year of de Rais’ retirement, he lost most of his lands, and his family secured from the king a decree forbidding him from mortgaging what was left. To raise more cash, de Rais turned to alchemy, hoping to figure out a way to turn base metals into gold. He also turned to Satanism, hoping to gain knowledge, power, and riches, by summoning the devil.

Another thing he turned to was the serial rape, torture, and murder of children. In 1440, an increasingly erratic de Rais got into a dispute with local church figures, and things escalated until he ended up kidnapping a priest. That triggered an ecclesiastical investigation of Gilles, which unearthed some horrific stuff. It turned out that the once-celebrated national hero had been murdering children – mostly boys, but also the occasional girl – by the hundreds.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
A nineteenth century illustration depicting Gilles de Rais and his victims. Missed in History

3. An Aristocratic Sicko

The killer, Gilles de Rais’ modus operandi was to lure children from peasant or lower class families to his castle with gifts, such as candy, toys, or clothing. He would initially put them at their ease, feed and pamper them, before leading them to a bedroom. There, de Rais and his accomplices would seize their victims. As he confessed in his subsequent trial, de Rais got a sadistic kick out of watching the children’s fear, when he explained what was in store for them.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Bluebeard. Bedtime Short Stories

What was in store was not good. Suffice it to say that it that it involved torture and sodomy, and ended with the child’s murder, usually via decapitation. The victims and their clothing would then be burned in the fireplace, and their ashes dumped in a moat. After de Rais confessed to his crimes, he and he and his accomplices were condemned to death. He was executed on October 26th, 1440, by burning and hanging, simultaneously. His infamy inspired the fairy tale of Bluebeard, about a wealthy serial wife killer.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Emperor Jing of Han, who appointed Liu Pengli ruler of Jiangdo. Wikimedia

2. Ancient China’s Serial Killing Royal

Ancient China’s Prince Liu Pengli was a member of the ruling Han Dynasty. He was also the first serial killer in recorded history. In 144 BC, Emperor Jing, Liu Pengli’s cousin, appointed him king of the city of Jidong and the surrounding district. That was bad news for the good people of Jidong, who would be ruled by Pengli for the next 23 years.

The killer, Pengli preyed upon his subjects, killing them for kicks and giggles. He probably would have liked the Ramsey Bolton character from Game of Thrones, because, like that fictitious character, Pengli enjoyed hunting human beings for sport. At least 100 people were murdered by Pengli for his amusement, and the true number of his victims was probably higher. His reign of psychotic terror lasted for over two decades, during which his subjects were too scared to come out of their homes at night. It only came to an end after one of Pengli’s victims finally screwed up the courage to travel to the imperial capital, where he complained to the emperor.

History’s Top Executioners of All Time
Ancient Chinese historian Sima Qian. Taida Student Journal

1. Getting Away Light

Throughout most of history, justice has often been illusory, and usually unequal. Which explains why Prince Penglii got off light: he was not executed, but was simply stripped of his rank and banished. 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“.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

ThoughtCo – Gary Ridgway: The Green River Killer

All That is Interesting – Peter Niers: The Medieval Boogyeman Who Ate Babies

Crime and Investigation – Charles Sobhraj: The Serpent

Crime Library – Green River Killer: River of Death

Encyclopedia Britannica – Elizabeth Bathory

Encyclopedia Britannica – Gilles de Rais

Gabory, Emile – Alias Bluebeard: The Life and Death of Gilles de Raiz

Kidd, Paul B. – Australia’s Serial Killers (2006)

Korea Times, November 27th, 2009 – Book Reconstitutes Secret of Prince Sado’s Death

Listverse – 10 Terrifying Serial Killers You’ve Never Heard Of

Mad Monarchs – Sado of Korea (a killer)

Murderpedia – Charles Sobhraj

Murderpedia – Karl Denke

Philbin, Tom and Michael – The Killer Book of Serial Killers: Incredible Stories, Facts, and Trivia From the World of Serial Killers (2009)

Ranker – Terrifying Facts About John Lynch, the Worst Serial Killer in Australian History

Ranker – The Untold Story of Peter Niers, The Cannibal Magician Who Killed 500 People

Rejected Princesses – Elisabeth Bathory: The Blood Countess

Russiapedia – Prominent Russians: Darya Saltykova

Tovar, Diana, UC Santa Barbara – Stella: the Story of Stella Goldschlag

Wikipedia – Charles Sobhraj a killer

Wikipedia – Gilles de Rais a killer

Wikipedia – Liu Pengli a killer

Wyden, Peter – Stella: One Woman’s True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler’s Germany (1992)