Although there is some disagreement among experts in the field, the FBI defines a serial killer as an individual who has committed two or more murders, committed separately, usually by acting alone in search of psychological gratification of an abnormal nature. Often a serial killer’s victims are slain in similar fashion with their predecessors, for motives which can include; for the thrill of it, money, anger, attention, sexual conquest and virtually any other reason which can be conjured up within a disturbed mind. Sometimes a serial killer is a murderer for hire such as the hitmen associated with Mafioso activities.
Serial killers are not a recent phenomenon, with incidents of such murderous activities dating back to the Roman Empire in Europe and the Chinese Han Dynasty. Usually identified in the public consciousness as men, many serial killers have been women. Locusta of Gaul, for example, was a maker and user of poisons who worked at the behest of Agrippina the Younger and her son, the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero became so pleased with Locusta’s work killing his enemies that he rewarded her with landed estates and pupils to whom she could teach her craft. Locusta was directly responsible for the killing by poison of up to seven people before Emperor Galba, Nero’s successor, had her executed for her crimes.
Other serial killers of the ancient world claimed their victims in China, India, the Americas, Sri Lanka, and the Horn of Africa, to name a few. The Seminole tribe of Florida recorded a serial killer, as did the Abenaki of New Hampshire and what was then called Upper Canada.
Fame, or infamy, is not a measure of the evil done by any serial killer, most of whom remain relatively unknown to the public.
Here are just ten of them.
Over a period of three days in September 1581, the good people of Neumarkt, a village about 25 miles from Nuremberg, Germany, gradually put to death confessed serial killer Peter Niers. On the first day the executioners sliced flesh from the miscreant’s body and tormented the open wounds with heated oil. The following day Niers was suspended over an open fire, roasting his feet and legs and finally, on the third day, Niers was dismembered alive after first being broken upon the medieval torture device known as the wheel.
Although it was a vicious age, the execution of Peter Niers seems to indicate he practiced a particularly heinous criminal life. He did. Over the course of his career as a bandit and thief, Niers murdered 544 victims – according to his confession – including two dozen unborn children whose fetuses were used for black magick rituals. He also confessed to cannibalism.
Niers was a member and alleged leader of a gang of thieves and killers, who were responsible for thefts and the murder of their victims across wide portions of Europe, including in Alsace, the Netherlands, and within the German principalities. The gang usually operated under disguise as shepherds, justifying their wanderings as necessary to ensure their sheep had sufficient grass to eat and thus avoiding suspicion.
Niers was betrayed by a follower and arrested and tortured in Gersbach, Germany but somehow escaped to resume his career. Niers practiced his career as a thief, murderer, and sometimes cannibal for nearly thirty years before the people of Neumarkt put an end to him – although he lived on in ballads and pamphlets which continued to terrorify the region for centuries.