The United Kingdom has a vast history full of good, bad, and ugly characters. Alongside the fascinating elements of our past, there are parts of our rich history which are stained by dark and twisted characters – serial killers. Take a look at some of the most infamous UK serial killers, and which ones may have hit a little too close to home.
- What makes a serial killer?
- Worst UK serial killers
- Serial killers across the UK
- A timeline of serial killers’ active periods
- Most recent UK serial killers
- Infamous UK serial killers
- The growing obsession with true crime
- Murders In The UK
What makes a serial killer?
The definition of a serial killer can differ slightly from country to country, but this is the generally accepted definition of what a serial killer is.
Usually, a serial killer will have 2+ victims across the span of their ‘career’.
Worst UK serial killers
Compared to other countries, the UK has not had an abundance of serial killers. However, the killers that have targeted the UK public have been particularly gruesome.
1. Harold Shipman
The worst UK serial killer is widely agreed to be Harold Shipman. He was a GP who killed a total of 218 people from 1975 – 1998 – causing a huge scandal amongst the medical community and the general public. He was based in Manchester, and would administer lethal doses of diamorphine to his victims. Once the death certificate was signed, Shipman would edit the victims medical records to make it look like they had been unwell leading up to their ‘untimely’ deaths. The majority of his victims were older, widowed women.
2. Peter Sutcliffe
With a total of 22 kills, Peter Sutcliffe is the UK’s 2nd most prolific serial killer and is also known most commonly as the Yorkshire Ripper. He was sentenced to 20 consecutive life sentences in prison, and died in 2020. Mirroring Jack The Ripper, Sutcliffe’s victims were all women, and many of them were found in ‘Red Light District’ areas. He claimed that God had sent him on a mission to kill prostitutes. He was found to have killed 22 women, and had attempted to murder 7 others.
3. Mary Ann Cotton
One of the few females on the serial killer list, Mary Ann Cotton killed 21 people between 1865 and 1873. She was executed for poisoning and killing her stepson, but it came to light that she had actually murdered many more people – including 11 out of 13 of her children. She also killed 3 out of 4 of her husbands, her motivation being to access their insurance policies. Her murder weapon of choice was arsenic, a deadly poison.
4. Dennis Nilsen
Denis Nilsen was a Scottish serial killer who murdered at least 12 young men and boys in London from 1975 to 1983. Despite killing 12 people that we know of, he was convicted of six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. For his crimes, Nilsen was sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served until his death in 2018. Due to the location of the latter half of Nilsen’s murders, he was given the nickname of the Muswell Hill Murderer, Muswell Hill being a district in North London.
5. Bruce George Peter Lee
Bruce George Peter Lee is a serial killer who was arrested on 11 counts of arson. After a fire that killed three members of the family inside, Lee confessed to starting that and nine other fatal fires in the local area. Although Lee claimed to have started the fire that killed three people as a revenge ploy, he admitted to starting the others simply because he liked fire. At the time, he was 19 years old. Due to the fatal fires he started, Lee pleaded guilty to 26 counts of manslaughter. However, 14 of these were overturned. To this day, Lee remains detained in a secure hospital.
See our full ranking for the worst UK serial killers below.
Serial killers across the UK
Since Jack the Ripper, one of the most infamous (and still unidentified) serial killers there has ever been, 34 known serial killers have been identified in Britain. Wondering how many of these were born in your home town? The below map shows the areas which have produced the most serial killers.
A timeline of serial killers’ active periods
According to the map above, Manchester, Yorkshire and Glasgow are three locations where the most serial killers have been born. But when were the killers identified across the UK active? And who are they?
The earliest recorded is William Palmer, who was active in 1955, and killed 5 people during his active period. Palmer trained as a doctor, and earned the nickname Prince of Poisoners after several suspected poisoning cases in his youth, which culminated in his poisoning one of his friends over money troubles and, ultimately, his capture. This was one of the most notorious cases of the 19th century, with Charles Dickens declaring William Palmer “the greatest villain that ever stood in the Old Bailey.”
Take a look at our timeline of all UK serial killers from William Palmer in 1855 up to today.
Most recent UK serial killers
The most recent serial killer who has been sentenced in the UK is Mark Martin. He targeted homeless people in Nottingham and killed three women between 2004 – 2005. Since, he has made it known that it was his ambition to become Nottingham’s first serial killer. In 2008 he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Infamous UK serial killers
Some serial killers have become common household names after shocking the nation with their actions. Of course, one of the infamous UK serial killers that comes instantly to mind is Jack the Ripper. This formidable killer murdered at least 5 women that we know of in the late 1800s. However, his number of victims is believed to be much higher. Although rumours abound as to who may have been behind these killings that shocked the nation, Jack the Ripper remains unidentified to this day.
Here are more of the most infamous UK serial killers throughout history.
The growing obsession with true crime
People around the world are becoming more obsessed with true crime and serial killer documentaries than ever before. According to recent data, true crime shows are spending days at number one after their initial release.
True crime has gained popularity over the past 5 years in the UK according to Google Trends data.
Murders In The UK
Aside from serial killings, murders have seen a slight rise over the past couple of years, after hitting an all time high in 2002/2003. These are the figures on homicides that have been committed across the UK.