Jack the Ripper is widely regarded as the first British serial killer and, unfortunately, many have followed in his horrific footsteps. Since Jack the Ripper, there have been 34 known British serial killers, and we’re still so far from wholly understanding the psychology of a serial killer. Detailed below are some of Britain’s most notorious serial killers.
One of the most infamous British serial killers is Harold Shipman, who was a medical doctor, and used to this advantage, killing upwards of 200 patients until he was arrested in 1998. He began his medical career in 1970 and injected his patients with deadly doses of painkillers up until he was caught.
Shipman was the middle child of his family and the firm favourite of his domineering mother. Consequently, he obtained a sense of superiority, which hindered his ability to make friends in later life. The devastation caused by his mother’s death in 1963 pushed him to pursue a career in medicine.
Perhaps one of the most similar serial killers to the Ripper himself is Peter Sutcliffe, who was referred to as the Yorkshire Ripper in the media until he was caught. Sutcliffe went on a murder spree between 1975 and 1980, killing as many as 13 women and attacking seven others. It wasn’t until 1981 that he was caught; however, the search for him encountered various difficulties. These included the police’s inability to process the evidence they’ve gathered, the disregard shown for the wellbeing of sex workers, and a hoax that led the case astray.
Sutcliffe was the oldest of six siblings and was described as a loner with voyeuristic tendencies in his teenage years.
We can’t possibly talk about Britain’s most notorious serial killers without addressing Jack the Ripper himself. Due to murders being believed to have taken place between 1888 and 1891, the data surrounding the case is almost non-existent. We have no way of knowing whether Jack the Ripper only carried out the proposed 11 murders or executed hundreds more. Nor is it possible to say with confidence who Jack the Ripper was with 17 suspects and no fool-proof way of determining whether any one of them was him.
From the limited evidence available, we’re able to deduce that the Ripper’s intention wasn’t to inflict suffering and nor were his killings financially motivated. Instead, he killed his victims quickly to mutilate their bodies, meaning he didn’t obtain pleasure from delivering pain. On the contrary, his methods suggest that he wished to dominate his victims out of sheer resentment for them; he wanted to completely destroy them.
Dating back to even before the Ripper’s time, in 1873, Mary Ann Cotton was convicted of murdering her stepson via poison and executed for the crime. Although she was only convicted of the one murder, it’s believed that she murdered three of her four husbands for insurance purposes, as well as 11 of her 13 children and around seven other victims. Poisoning with arsenic was her chosen method of killing.
Cotton’s father died tragically when she was eight years old, resulting in her mother’s remarriage to a man that Cotton hated. He repeatedly assaulted her, which led to Cotton leaving home at 16.
Amelia Dyer’s crimes took place between 1869 and 1896, meaning that the time of her murders will have overlapped with those of the Ripper. She is believed to have killed anywhere from 200 to upwards of 400 children, whom she obtained the care of via baby farming. Baby farming was the practice of adopting unwanted babies in exchange for money and, initially, Dyer legitimately cared for these children; however, many eventually died in her care. This led to a conviction for neglect, in which Dyer had to complete six months’ hard labour. Following this, she intentionally strangled her adopted children and disposed of their bodies.
Dyer was admitted to numerous mental asylums throughout her lifetime and survived a minimum of one serious suicide attempt. She was the youngest of five children, and she regularly witnessed her mother’s violent fits caused by Typhus.
Delving into the more recent past, Beverley Allitt’s crimes took place over the course of 59 days in 1991. She was convicted of killing four infants, attempting to kill three more, and inflicting grievous bodily harm on an additional six. In her role as a state enrolled nurse, she administered large amounts of insulin to a minimum of two of her victims, whilst an air bubble was found in the body of another one of her victims. Despite this, it’s still not known how she carried out every single one of her attacks.
It’s believed that Allitt committed these crimes as a result of Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition in which a caregiver figments a health problem within another person. This sometimes results in the caregiver injuring the person in order to prove their sickness.
Responsible for the Moors Murders that took place between 1963 and 1965 was Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. The couple was responsible for the sexual assault and death of five children between the ages of 10 and 17.
Hindley was born into a family with an alcoholic father who abused her, her mother, and her siblings. As a child, Hindley was reduced to tears as a boy had scratched her cheek and drawn blood. Her father threatened to “leather” her if she didn’t retaliate, meaning violence was instilled in her from an early age.
Brady didn’t have a secure home as a child and, despite his objections, he was known to torture animals. Similarly, he threatened his childhood girlfriend with a flick knife after she attended an event with another boy.
Between 1967 and 1987, Fred and Rosemary West abducted, tortured, sexually abused, and killed at least 12 girls and young women. Before Fred could be convicted, he hung himself in 1995, whilst Rose remains in prison to this day and will remain there until she dies.
Fred was born into a family of a disciplinarian father and an overprotective mother, of whom he was the favourite child. He claimed to be introduced to sex by his mother at the age of 12, engaged in bestiality in his early teens, and encountered incest between his father and his sisters. Despite this, his youngest brother claims this to be a fallacy. Fred was said to be very sexually aggressive towards women and his 13-year-old sister even revealed that he had been raping her and had impregnated her.
Whilst pregnant with Rose, her mother suffered from depression and was given electroconvulsive therapy, which could have led to prenatal injuries. Later, Rose’s parents separated, leading to Rose living with her father at the age of 16, who violently and sexually abused both Rose and her sister. Additionally, Rose was said to be fascinated by her body, parading naked around the house in front of her younger brother. She was also said to molest both of her younger brothers during the night from the age of 13.
Although disturbing, the psychology of a serial killer is a fascinating one. Book into one of our tours to learn more.