Meet history's 10 most murderous real-life monsters in this week's feature!
Power corrupts. Don’t believe us? Just get your ouija board out and ask Maximilien de Robespierre…
One of the most influential and instrumental figures of the French Revolution, this lawyer, politician and skilled public speaker would galvanise audiences with his heartfelt speeches about freedom, patriotism and civil rights for French people. Once he rose to power however, Robespierre became fixated on instilling public fear as a means of effecting the change he believed the country needed, and soon he was using a constant threat of execution to terrorise the public into subordination.
De Robespierre’s favourite method of execution was the guillotine, and it was by this device that he sentenced hundreds of people to death without trial during a ten month “Reign of Terror”. Not even Maximilien’s own family and friends were safe from the guillotine, with many of them falling foul of the tyrant.
In 1794, and with around forty thousand victims executed or sentenced to life under his watch, Maximillien eventually met his own end (and in his favourite fashion, naturellement).
Cited as the inspiration for the creepy fairytale Bluebeard, the true story of this French nobleman is much darker in nature. A distinguished knight and Breton lord, who at one point served as a military commander for Joan of Arc in the Hundred Years War, Gilles de Rais’ fine reputation was somewhat tarnished when he was arrested for crimes relating to Satanism, abduction and child murder…
The nobleman-come-serial infant-killer had reportedly turned to occult practises sometime around 1435, when he tried to invoke the devil to help him gain knowledge, power and riches (because why else?).
After his arrest in 1440, de Rais was put on trial and eventually found guilty of the abduction, torture and murder of more than 140 children (though many believe the total number of victims was closer to 800).
This ancient Asian conqueror and founder of the Timurid Empire’s favourite method for dispatching his enemies (or ‘finishing move’, if you will) was to force them to commit suicide. According to accounts during his time in (what’s now known as) India, Timur ordered over 200,000 captured soldiers to jump from a cliff to their death, a la Frank Miller’s 300.
During WWII, in a period which counts some of the worst human atrocities in recent memory among its key events, Ilse Koch still managed to rise to notoriety. The wife of a Nazi commandant at the Buchenwald concentration camp, Koch was known to gallop through the camp on horseback whipping random prisoners (often to death). Worse, Koch would select victims from the camp in whose skin she took a particular sadistic interest; the prisoner would be killed and flayed, and their skin offered to Koch to use as she saw fit… chillingly this included making lampshades, book bindings and- her personal favourite- a handbag which she carried everywhere.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett, H.H Holmes began his career as an insurance scammer, but soon began a new racket donating human skeletons to a number of Chicagoan medical schools. Now if something about this new enterprise smells fishy to you… it’s probably the rotting human remains in H.H’s cellar.
You see, Herman Mudgett is known today for being America’s first serial killer (in the modern sense of the term at least). After moving to Illinois around the time of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, H.H. set about constructing a three story hotel for weary travellers, complete with built-in torture chamber. A number of rooms were found to have hidden peepholes, trap doors and pipes through which Holmes would pump poison gas; a labyrinth of secret passages, ladders and hallways also featured, as well as a greased chute which led down to the basement, where Herman had installed a surgical table and furnace. It’s worth noting that this was all pre-Trip Advisor, so there were no reviews to give curious guests warning.
Holmes was eventually arrested in 1896 for the murder of 4 people; before he was hanged the man admitted to killing at least 27 more.
Aside from being a shockingly prolific serial killer, with at least 931 victims to his name, cult leader Thug Behram makes this list of monsters for the particularly chilling method he used to dispatch his victims; strangling. With a ceremonial cloth known as a Rumal, Behram would ritualistically kill his victims in front of his fellow thuggee cult members. (A similar cult appears in Hammer’s The Stranglers of Bombay).
You don’t get dubbed “The Blood Countess” without doing some serious dirty deeds to earn it, and it’s the story behind this nickname which earns Elizabeth B·thory a comfortable place on this list.
Being a member of Hungarian royalty, and thus all-but-untouchable by law at the time, Countess B·thory was able to act upon her uniquely sinister passions without fear of repercussion for years. Passions which included the mutilation and murder of adolescent girls, in whose blood she was rumoured to bathe…
Many of the victims were the daughters of local peasants, who gladly headed to Bathory’s Csejte Castle to enter work as maids; others were abducted by the Countess’ servants. In total hundreds of unwitting girls are believed to have been lured or forced through Csejte’s doors, never to re-emerge…
When Bathory was finally arrested, the horrific accusations of the Countess’ crimes were verified by the testimony of over three hundred witnesses and survivors, as well as the physical evidence of mutilated dead, dying and imprisoned girls found in the castle chambers.
The only empress in Chinese history, Wu Zetian made sure she would be remembered for some time after her reign. A fearsome, ruthless ruler, Zetian was regularly known to order the tortures, executions and forced suicides of all who stood in her way, and many who didn’t: allies, clergymen, members of her public, even her own daughter died at her command, and all in the most brutal of fashions.
After being kicked in the stomach by a man while in her teens, causing her to miscarry her first child, Norwegian Belle Gunness is said to have changed from a normal girl into the legend now known as “Hell’s Belle”.
Looking for a drastic change of scenery after her miscarriage Gunness moved to New York, where she quickly gained employment as a servant, got married, and had children. Happily ever after? Not quite. A few years into motherhood, “unfortunate” things began to happen… Belle’s children died one by one, each death supposedly caused by “stomach issues”. Then Belle’s husband passed away, on the one day of the year his two life insurance policies overlapped.
Clearly heartbroken, Gunness took her late husband’s money and remarried, but trouble followed close behind and soon the new husband’s child had passed away too. Not a year after and Belle’s second husband followed suit, dying from a mysterious head wound. Leaving poor Belle all alone.
Suspicion was eventually cast over Gunness in the early 1900s, at which point she emptied her bank accounts and seemingly vanished into thin
What would a list of monstrous murderers be without dear Vlad, eh??
The inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s caped Count was a 15th century ruler of Wallachia (an area which today comprises part of Romania), who became a legend thanks to his unparalleled cruelty and proclivity for monstrous executions, often of his own people. Disembowelment, beheading, flaying, boiling alive and- of course- impalement were Vlad’s favourite techniques to send his victims into their next life.
Indeed, one story tells of the aftermath of Vlad’s victory against the Ottoman Turks, when he ordered 20,000 men to be impaled on the banks of the Danube.