Sometimes, what comes down to us as history is actually a mixture of fact and fiction. Biased accounts, hidden agendas, and not-so-hidden ones skew what we read, hear, and learn. This is certainly the case when it comes to stories about medieval and Renaissance-era serial killers, but it doesn't make those tales any less disturbing. In fact, it compounds their overall creepiness.
Much of what we know about serial killers from the Middle Ages and Renaissance reveals as much about the individuals accused as the accusers themselves. Concerns about witchcraft and accusations of being a werewolf, for example, reflect religious, political, and social fear and uncertainty. The same is true for cries of Satan worship and sorcery. That said, plenty acts of violence and brutality are bad enough on their own and need no embellishment.
The following stories are about unexplained and horrific deaths, acts of heinous mistreatment, and lots of torture. Vote up the ones that creep you out the most.
Called the "Werewolf of Bedburg," Peter Stumpp (known as Stubbe Peeter in some accounts) was, by his own admission, a killer. The 16th-century German farmer reportedly received a gift of wolf's fur from the devil when he was a young boy.
Along with it came "the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like brands of fire; a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth; a huge body and mighty paws."
When Stumpp put on the wolf's fur, he felt compelled to go after children and women. He reportedly killed more than a dozen, ripping apart their bodies as he consumed their flesh. He also tore fetuses out of at least two women and ate the hearts of the unborn babies, calling them "dainty morsells." He also said they were "best agreeing to his appetite."
Stumpp carried out his werewolf deeds for decades in Germany, even killing one of his own children. When he was eventually captured and put on trial in October 1589, so too were his daughter (with whom he'd reportedly had an inappropriate relationship) and his cousin (or mistress). Stumpp was put on the breaking wheel as punishment:
With red hot burning pincers to have the flesh pulled off from the bones, after that, his legs and arms to be broken with a wooden... hatchet, afterward to have his head struck from his body, then to have his carcass burned to ashes.
His daughter and cousin (or mistress) were also burned in 1589.
- 21,468 VOTES
Peter Niers Confessed To Being A Cannibal Who Ate Fetuses
Under extreme torture, Peter Niers confessed to multiple murders and cannibalism. He was originally part of a gang that traversed the German countryside during the mid-to-late 16th century. Believed to have been mentored by another known serial killer, Martin Stier, Niers was apprehended in the late 1570s but escaped and remained on the run until 1581.
Details about how many people Niers killed are shrouded in myth, but the consensus is 544. Twenty-four of those deaths were fetuses he cut from the wombs of pregnant women. According to accounts, he used the fetuses for magic and as a supernatural fuel of sorts.
- 31,552 VOTES
Elizabeth Báthory Was Introduced To Satanism And Sadomasochism As A Child
Born in 1560, Erzsébet Báthory (also known as Elizabeth) was a Hungarian noblewoman who, in 1609 or 1610, was accused of killing numerous girls and young women.
Báthory was raised by her aunt and uncle, who are thought to have practiced Satanism and sadomasochism. By the time she married Count Ferenc Nadasdy at the age of 15, Báthory had likely already been exposed to various rituals and torture techniques under the guidance of her relatives. When she moved to her husband's castle, he reportedly built her a torture chamber.
During the first decade of the 1600s, Báthory tortured her servants, driving needles under their fingernails and applying honey to them so insects would attack. After her husband passed in 1604, Báthory's actions became more extreme, with indications that she ate the flesh of her living and dead victims, and that she bathed in human blood.
When Báthory went on trial, she was accused of killing 80 people, although some theories suggest she killed hundreds. She was found guilty, but instead of being executed, she was imprisoned. She died in 1614.
A French knight who served alongside Joan of Arc during the Hundred Years' War, Gilles de Rais is also known as a man who killed numerous children. Nicknamed Bluebeard, he not only took the lives of his victims, but also had this infamous legacy:
When the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the said children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them perish.
Prior to his secular and ecclesiastical trials in 1440, Rais was also said to have had an interest in alchemy, summoning demons, and conducting Black Mass rituals - all of which were akin to heresy. Despite him confessing to tormenting, abusing, and defiling roughly 150 victims, some accounts suggest there were hundreds more.
In October 1440, Rais was executed (either hanged or strangled) and his body was burned, but numerous questions remain about whether he was actually guilty of the offenses to which he confessed.
- 51,179 VOTES
Bjorn Petursson Is Considered The Only Serial Killer In Icelandic History
Bjorn Petursson, also called Axlar-Bjorn, was a 16th-century killer with an unknown death count. Born into a farming family, he was from the Snaefellsnes peninsula in western Iceland.
According to accounts, Petursson committed his first murder when he was 15 years old, using an ax he'd found atop a nearby mountain. He'd dreamt of the ax and was obsessed with it, using it to take the lives of as many as 18 people.
Many of Petursson's victims were travelers and wanderers. He buried their bodies in dung heaps or threw them into ponds, but it's not entirely clear how authorities caught him. He may have gathered too much wealth from the people he killed (specifically too many horses) or, after multiple people arrived at his home, he was seen killing one by the others who fled.
Petursson admitted to killing nine people and was executed in 1595. Before he was beheaded, his limbs were broken with sledgehammers. It's also possible he was put on the breaking wheel, drawn and quartered, and hanged, depending on which version of his story you read. One additional element was the accusations made against his wife, Thordis, of being an accomplice to his offenses.
- 6884 VOTES
Christman Genipperteinga Was Said To Have Killed Nearly 1,000 People
The deeds of Christman Genipperteinga, a 16th-century bandit from Germany, took place over 13 years. During that time, he reportedly killed 964 people. He's said to have documented this in a diary, which was found on him when he was taken into custody in 1581.
History and folklore converge heavily in this story. There are some assertions that Genipperteinga never existed, and, over time, his story became one of sex slavery, cannibalism, and execution on the breaking wheel. For the latter, he allegedly endured nine days of torture before finally succumbing, having been kept alive with just enough sustenance to keep the pain going as long as possible.