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Television’s Top Ten Most Ruthless Serial Killers

by Craig "Wex" Wexler
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Serial killers are extremely popular these days, not as people but as entertainment. As morbid as that may be, people love watching TV shows and movies about murderers, both fictional and non-fictional. True crime shows about real-life killers have been popular since the late 1980s; since then, the public has become fascinated with compulsive murderers.

In the 21st century, fictional dramas starring cold-blooded killers have become all the rage. The public has a way of connecting with the dark, tortured pasts of these bringers of death. Some have even become lead characters on flagship shows for major networks and have significantly impacted pop culture. With that in mind, here is a list of the essential top t\Ten m\Most ruthless television serial killers for your reading pleasure.

Related: Top 10 Serial Killers Only Crime Buffs Know About

10 Lon Suder: Star Trek Voyager

Why Voyager | “Meld” #VOY25

Brad Dourif is one of the most respected actors in TV and film today. His appearance in Star Trek Voyager as Betazoid Lon Suder was one of his most powerful performances despite its relative obscurity. Dourif excels at playing dark characters such as Wormtongue in the LoTR series. What could be creepier than that? Obviously, it’s a Betazoid—who is fully empathic but kills for fun.

When viewers saw Dourif first appear as Suder in the season two episode “Meld,” they knew something disturbing would happen. Like the rest of the Voyager crew, Suder is stuck on a ship 70 years from home. Unlike his crewmates, he kills time on the long voyage by killing people. He openly admits he had no motive other than boredom.

To that end, Tuvok performs a mind-meld with Suder and inadvertently gains the Betazoid’s thirst for violence. After a year in the brig, Suder is somewhat rehabilitated, but his thirst for violence is never fully quenched. He dies while battling a Kaison warrior in defense of Voyager, allowing that violence to be put to good use in the end.[1]

9 Norman Bates: Bates Motel

Norman Becomes ‘Mother’ During Therapy | Bates Motel

Norman Bates is the infamous killer from the Psycho movie series. The original film, directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, was based on the real-life killer Ed Gein. In 2013, A&E released a TV series based on the killer’s formative years.

Norman has an unusual relationship with his mother, Norma, and they are intensely close. After the death of Norman’s father, Norma purchases a motel in White Pine Bay, Oregon. The series focuses on “how Norman Bates’ psyche unravels through his teenage years and how deeply intricate his relationship with his mother truly is.” Norman amasses a massive body count through the series’ five-year run, and his mother may or may not be helping him cover it up ( no spoilers).

In Hitchcock’s film, he suggests that Norman was driven crazy by his over-protective mother, and that’s why he’s a psychotic killer. Bates Motel suggests the same theory, along with the possibility that the killings were all Norman and Norma simply wished to protect her son. Either way, Norman Bates is one of TV’s most ruthless serial killers.[2]

8 Benjamin Linus: Lost

LOST – Ben Kills His Father

Benjamin Linus from Lost has killed countless people in his defense of “The Island.” He helped “the hostiles” kill the entire Dharma Initiative, including his own father, who he watched die in agony. He personally murdered fourteen people in the years after, including John Locke. Ben claims to be a leader and dedicated to the Island, but ultimately, he is only loyal to himself. He allows his own daughter to be killed rather than turn himself over to mercenaries.

While he does get vengeance for his daughter’s death, that only proves that Ben would rather kill than compromise. In the end, Ben helps Hurley set things right for the Island and all who have been affected by it, but it seems that there is no redemption for him. He lied, killed, kidnapped, and tortured in the name of the Island, but in reality, he did it for his selfish desire for power. What’s terrifying about Linus is his utter lack of emotion—he kills as calmly as he pours a cup of coffee.[3]

7 Joe Goldberg: You

Joe covers up Love’s murder | You Season 3

You is a perfect example of the public’s obsession with serial killers. Social media and other technologies are ever-present in this modern series. Joe is a NYC bookstore manager who quickly becomes obsessed with aspiring writer Guinevere Beck. He tracks her movements using Facebook and Instagram, removing her friends and exes from her life to make room for their love—but that’s just the first season.

Throughout the four seasons of the show, we find out a lot more about Joe, including the time he buried his ex-girlfriend Candace alive. Joe kills about a dozen and a half people during the series from New York to California. He gets married and has a son with a character named Love, who also has a penchant for killing, but eventually, he kills her, too.

Joe is charming and seemingly ordinary, but he consistently becomes obsessed with the women in his life, invariably leading to murder. Suffice it to say, You boasts a not-stop killing spree, and Joe is one of TV’s most ruthless killers.[4]

6 Bloody Face: American Horror Story

AHS ASYLUM: Oliver Thredson’s Story

Oliver Thredson, who was abandoned by his mother, grew up in an orphanage. Upon reaching adulthood, he attended medical school. He tried to seek comfort with a cadaver that reminded him of his mother, but the cold, dead skin repulsed him. He began kidnapping women that he thought had maternal-looking skin. While he would frequently find them lacking and flay and behead them, he then disposed of the corpses and turned the skin into furniture and/or his “Bloody Face” mask.

However, to the public, Thredson appears to be a calm and somewhat friendly doctor who listens to his patients. Thresdon was brilliant, unhinged, cunning, and bloodthirsty. His reign of terror started in the 1960s. There have been copycats and the second Bloody Face (Johnny Morgan), so Bloody Face’s body count is unknown; however, both Thresdon and Morgan met their end with a bullet to the back of the head from Lana Winters.[5]

5 Hannibal Lecter: Hannibal

Hannibal Lecter Lures Two Serial Killers To His Office | Hannibal | PD TV

No one could forget Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in the classic film Silence of the Lambs, but that was just the start for Hannibal the Cannibal. The bone-chilling character has now been played by several actors in both film and TV. The TV series Hannibal stars Mads Mikkelson in the title role, and Mikkelson excels at creepy and intimidating roles.

The story is that of a psychiatrist, serial killer, and cannibal turned FBI consultant. The Feds turn to Lecter for help; they want him to help them get into the mind of a killer. He obliges because of the thrill of working alongside the FBI, but being a killer himself is too much to pass up. Not only does Hannibal spend his evenings killing, but he also consumes the bodies of his victims. Meanwhile, having Will (the FBI agent he works with) in his back pocket means he can thwart the authorities and continue to hunt and eat people for fun.[6]

4 Arthur Mitchell aka “The Trinity Killer”: Dexter

The Evolution of Dexter & The Trinity Killer | Dexter | SHOWTIME

Dexter is about serial killers; it’s the central theme of the successful series, which features a wide assortment of psychotic murderers. John Lithgow’s “Trinity Killer” stands out as the best of the baddies. Arthur Mitchell is an unassuming family man who builds homes for charity—called Trinity because of a recurring pattern of three killings based on traumatic events during Arthur’s childhood.

Mitchell and Dexter play a tense game of cat and mouse throughout season four, and in the end, Dexter kills Mitchell with a hammer the same way Mitchell killed his third victim. Unfortunately, we find that before Dexter puts the hammer down, Mitchell killed Dexter’s wife, Rita. He then left their son Harrison in a pool of her blood, just like Dexter’s adoptive father, Harrison, found him when he was a baby. This series of events has long-lasting ramifications for Dexter and his son. The character was expertly written, brilliantly portrayed, and considered one of the most ruthless TV villains ever.[7]

3 Walter White: Breaking Bad

Breaking bad 5X16(Felina) – Walt kills Jack’s gang like a boss

Walter White is one of the most memorable TV characters of all time. What’s most frightening about Walter is that he doesn’t see himself as the villain, at least not until it’s too late. His character development is nothing short of magnificent. The first person Walter kills in the first episode is Emilio, which is self-defense and incidental.

The first true murder he commits is Krazy 8, and it takes him two episodes to convince himself to do it. By the fifth season, however, Walter is a ruthless drug lord who kills even his closest associates (like Mike) for any number of reasons.

This one-time meak high school science teacher slowly becomes a suburban Scarface with an ocean of bodies in his wake. White left a body count of nearly 300 people, many indirectly, but enough directly to make him one of the most ruthless TV serial killers ever.[8]

2 Dexter Morgan: Dexter

Why Dexter is So Terrifying

Dexter is the most well-known serial killer-themed TV series, inspired by the real-life vigilante killer Pedro Rodrigues Filho. Dexter is found in a pool of blood by police officer Harrison Morgan after a drug dealer killed his mother with a chainsaw; Dexter was three years old. As a boy, he becomes fascinated with killing things, and Harry teaches him a code. A code that allowed him to kill people.

Dexter hides in plain sight and works as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami PD. This situation lets him keep a step ahead of both the police and rival killers. His code only allows him to kill other predators, such as himself, which leads to many tense standoffs during the series run. The show aired for eight seasons, initially from 2006 to 2013, and then concludes with Dexter: New Blood in 2021.

This series featured a veritable smorgasbord of killers, and Dexter was decidedly the best one. Dexter Morgan tallied 144 known kills with plenty of potential unknown kills throughout his lifetime; he is an efficient and ruthless killing machine.[9]

1 The Lopper: Seinfeld

Seinfeld-The Lopper

In the season nine finale of Seinfeld, a serial killer is working in New York City’s Riverside Park. While primarily a comedy about nothing, the Seinfeld reference is a bit alarming, considering how many serial killers have existed in Manhattan. Whoever the Lopper is, they were a brutal and cold-blooded killer who went around cutting people’s heads off. More frightening still, we never find out who the Lopper is and whether they are still at large.

There are many theories on the subject decades after the series’ conclusion. Some say they have evidence pointing to cousin Jefferey; others say it was Joe Davola; others postulate it was “Slippery Pete.” The TV world will likely never know, and while Seinfeld exists in a fictional world, the close parallels to real life that this killer brings to light are indeed frightening.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen