America might be the land of dreams and opportunities, but like most other places, it’s had its fair share of bad luck. In its storied history, there’s been no shortage of men and women who’ve gone berserk and taken the lives of others to satisfy their bizarre cravings. As these despicable people have wrought death upon the populace, some of them caught while other cases remain unsolved, there’s been no shortage of obsession for true crime media. Hollywood, too, has remained consistent with adapting them for the screens.
Netflix’s recent release of Monsters: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is only the latest in a long, still-increasing line of content that chronicles the activities of these psycho killers. While we leave the debate of if these adaptations are doing more harm than good for the populace for another day, let’s get into the details of 10 notable real-life serial killers who’ve had movies/TV shows made after their ill exploits.
In no particular order, here they are:
Jeffrey Dahmer – My Friend Dahmer (2017), Monster: The Jeffery Dahmer Story (2022)
Jeffrey Dahmer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal or the Milwaukee Monster, was an American serial killer and sex offender who committed the murder and dismemberment of seventeen men and boys between 1978 and 1991.
Dahmer’s repulsive stoy has been told many times since the public first got wind of him, via different media. The latest sees the character played by Emmy award-winning actor Evan Peters in a limited series by Netflix.
Dahmer was caught and imprisoned for a cumulative number of years that’d have seen the murderer spend the rest of his life in jail, but a brutal encounter with a fellow inmate saw his life cut short just about two years into his sentence, an ending many thought fitting for the unremorseful killer.
Ted Bundy – No Man of God (2021); Extremely Evil, Shockingly Wicked and Vile (2019)
Theodore Robert Bundy (aka Ted Bundy) was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more than a decade of denials, he confessed to 30 murders he committed in seven states between 1974 and 1978.
Ted Bundy is one of the most popular names in America serial killer lore and has seen his story adapted for screen more times than one can count off hand. Bundy was an easy charmer, a quality which aided his evil ventures. He died by electric chair execution at Florida State Prison in Raiford on January 24, 1989
Robert Hansen aka The Bucher Baker – The Frozen Ground (2013)
Robert Christian Hansen, known in the media as the Butcher Baker, was an American serial killer. Between 1971 and 1983, Hansen abducted, raped, and murdered at least seventeen women in and around Anchorage, Alaska; he hunted many of them down in the wilderness with a Ruger Mini-14 and a knife.
In The Frozen Ground, Nicholas Cage stars as an Alaskan state trooper who suspects that Robert Hansen is a murderer who brutally tortures and molests young girls. He seeks help from one of his victims, who is a drug addict, to bring him to justice.
Hansen confessed to murdering 17 women and raping another 30 women over a 12-year period. He was sentenced to 461 years plus life in prison without parole in 1984 and was imprisoned at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska, where he died in 2014.
John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner, and James Spyridon Vlassakis – The Snowtown Murders (2011)
The trio of John Justin Bunting, Robert Joe Wagner, and James Spyridon Vlassakis committed the loudest murders the people of Australia had ever seen, up to that point. Tagged the Snowtown Murders, these young men committed a series of murders between August 1992 and May 1999, in and around Adelaide, South Australia. A fourth person, Mark Haydon, was convicted for helping to dispose of the bodies. The trial to bring them to justice was one of the longest and most publicised in Australian legal history.
Most of the bodies were found in barrels in an abandoned bank vault in Snowtown, South Australia, hence the names given in the press for the murders.
Although motivation for the murders remain unclear, the killers were led by Justin Bunting to believe that the victims were paedophiles, homosexuals, or “weak”. In the case of some victims, the murders were preceded by torture, and efforts were made to appropriate victims’ identities, social security payments and bank accounts.
The Zodiac Killer – Zodiac (2007)
The Zodiac Killer is the pseudonym of an unidentified serial killer who operated in Northern California in the late 1960s. The case has been described as the most famous unsolved murder case in American history, becoming a fixture of popular culture and inspiring amateur detectives to attempt to resolve it.
This unsolved mystery has also inspired a slew of sleuth movies, most notably 2007’s Zodiac starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Ed Gein aka The Butcher of Plainfield (2007)
Edward Theodore Gein (akak Ed Gein), also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul, was an American murderer and body snatcher.
Ed Gein’s killings were so notorious that he inspired a lot of the movies that came out around the time of his catching.
Gein’s crimes, committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gathered widespread notoriety in 1957 after authorities discovered he had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein also confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and hardware store owner Bernice Worden in 1957.
Gein was initially found unfit to stand trial and confined to a mental health facility. By 1968, he was judged competent to stand trial; he was found guilty of the murder of Worden, but he was found legally insane and was remanded to a psychiatric institution. He died at Mendota Mental Health Institute of respiratory failure, on July 26, 1984, aged 77. He is buried next to his family in the Plainfield Cemetery, in a now-unmarked grave.
Gein’s story has had a lasting effect on American popular culture as evident by its numerous appearances in film, music and literature. He served as the inspiration for myriad fictional serial killers, most notably Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs) and the character Dr. Oliver Thredson in the TV series American Horror Story: Asylum.
Aileen Wuoros – Monster (2003)
Aileen Carol Wuornos was an American serial killer. In 1989–1990, while engaging in street prostitution along highways in Florida, she shot dead and robbed seven of her male clients.
Wuornos claimed that her clients had either raped or attempted to rape her, and that all of the homicides were committed in self-defense. Wuornos was sentenced to death for six of the murders and on October 9, 2002, after 12 years on Florida’s death row, was executed by lethal injection.
Charlize Theron won the Academy Award for Best Actress for portraying Aileen Wuoros in the 2003 movie Monster.
John Wayne Gary aka The Killer Clown – To Catch a Killer (1992)
John Wayne Gacy was an American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. Gacy regularly performed at children’s hospitals and charitable events as “Pogo the Clown” or “Patches the Clown”, personas he had devised. He became known as the Killer Clown due to his public services as a clown prior to the discovery of his crimes.
Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980 and was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.
Henry Lee Lucas – Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Henry Lee Lucas was an American convicted serial killer. Lucas was convicted of murdering his mother in 1960 and two others in 1983. He rose to infamy while incarcerated for these crimes when he falsely confessed to approximately 600 other murders to Texas Rangers and other law enforcement officials.
On March 12, 2001, at 11:00 pm, Lucas was found dead in prison from congestive heart failure at age 64.
Albert Desalvo – The Boston Strangler (1968)
Albert Henry DeSalvo was an American rapist and serial killer in Boston, Massachusetts, who purportedly confessed to being the “Boston Strangler,” the murderer of thirteen women in the Boston area from 1962 to 1964. In 1967, DeSalvo was imprisoned for life for committing a series of rapes.
In 1968, a film about the murders Desalvo committed, titled The Boston Strangler, was released, with DeSalvo being portrayed by Tony Curtis.
On November 25, 1973, he was found stabbed to death in the prison infirmary.
Honourable mention: There are still so many other serial killers who’ve tormented America over the years; the non-exhaustive list includes the likes of Larry Hall, Harold Shipman aka Dr. Death, H.H. Holmes, and Pedro Lopez, to mention but a few.