California is known for its beautiful beaches, towering redwoods, and vibrant cities, but it also has a dark side. The state has been home to some of the most notorious serial killers in American history. These individuals have committed heinous crimes, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake. In this article, we will explore the top 10 most notorious serial killers from California.
Edmund Kemper, also known as the “Co-ed Killer,” was a notorious Californian serial killer who murdered ten people, including his own family members, between 1964 and 1973. Kemper began his killing spree by murdering his grandparents at the age of 15, for which he was sent to a state hospital for the criminally insane. He was released in 1969, at the age of 21, and began murdering young women, mostly college students, in the Santa Cruz area.
He also murdered his mother, her best friend, and several other women before turning to murder men as well. Kemper was known for his intelligence and manipulation, as well as for his grotesque behavior of necrophilia and cannibalism. He was arrested in 1973 and later confessed to all of his crimes. He is currently serving eight consecutive life sentences in prison.
Richard Ramirez (Night Stalker)
Richard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker,” was a notorious Californian serial killer and burglar who terrorized the greater Los Angeles area between June 1984 and August 1985. Ramirez broke into homes during the night, murdering his victims with firearms, knives, and blunt instruments. He also raped and tortured many of his victims. Ramirez’s killing spree was notable for its randomness and brutality, and the fact that he killed both men and women, of all ages and races.
He was arrested in 1985 after being recognized by a citizen and was later convicted of 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to death in 1989, and while on death row, he died of natural causes in 2013.
Juan V. Corona, also known as the “Machete Murderer,” was a Mexican-American serial killer who murdered 25 migrant farm workers in Sutter County, California, in 1971. Corona would lure his victims with promises of work, then kill them with a machete and bury them in shallow graves on a ranch he owned. He was arrested after an investigation was launched when several bodies were found on the ranch. He was convicted of 25 counts of first-degree murder in 1973 and was sentenced to 25 consecutive life sentences. Corona has always maintained his innocence and has been denied parole multiple times. He died at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California.
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It is notable that Corona’s guilt was in doubt by many experts and journalists as the case against him was primarily built on circumstantial evidence and a lack of any physical evidence linking him to the crime. His attorney argued that the police mishandled the evidence and coerced a confession from him. His conviction was upheld on appeal, but in later years several legal scholars and journalists have re-examined the case and raised serious questions about his guilt.
Herbert Mullin murdered thirteen people between 1972 and 1973 in California. Mullin’s killings were motivated by his belief that he had to prevent earthquakes and natural disasters by committing murders. His victims were mainly random strangers, and he killed both men and women, of all ages and races. He was arrested in 1973 after a patrol officer found him with a dead body in his car.
Mullin confessed to all of his crimes and was later found guilty of ten counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Mullin was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had a history of mental illness. He has been denied parole multiple times and died in August 2022.
William Bonin (Freeway Killer)
William George Bonin, also known as the “Freeway Killer,” was a serial killer and rapist who murdered at least 21 young men and boys between 1979 and 1980, in Southern California. Bonin would pick up hitchhikers, mostly teenage boys, along the freeways, sexually assault them, and then strangle them to death. He also participated in the murder of at least one other victim with an accomplice.
Bonin was arrested in 1980 and later convicted of 14 counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death in 1983 and was executed by lethal injection in 1996. Bonin’s case is notable for being one of the first in which DNA evidence was used to link a suspect to a crime.
Leonard Lake & Charles Ng
Leonard Lake and Charles Ng murdered at least 11 people, mostly women, between 1983 and 1985 in California. Lake and Ng met while serving in the US Marines and later became partners in crime. They would lure their victims with promises of jobs or by pretending to be police officers, then kidnap and torture them in a remote cabin in Calaveras County, California. They recorded many of the murders on videotape.
Lake was arrested in 1985 for shoplifting and was found to be carrying a false ID, Ng was later arrested in Canada. During the investigation of their cabin, multiple remains of victims were found buried in shallow graves. Both Lake and Ng were charged with 11 counts of murder, but Lake committed suicide before trial, Ng stood trial and was convicted of 11 counts of murder and sentenced to death in 1999. He remains on death row in California as of 2023.
Randy Kraft (Scorecard Killer)
Randy Steven Kraft, also known as the “Scorecard Killer” was convicted of murdering 16 young men between 1972 and 1983 in California. He was arrested in 1983 after being pulled over for a traffic violation and a dead body was found in his car. Kraft had a “scorecard” which listed details about his victims, including their names, dates of death, and cause of death. He would often abduct and murder his victims, who were mostly young men after they were drunk or drugged, and then dump their bodies on the side of the road.
Kraft was convicted in 1989 of 16 counts of murder and was sentenced to death. He is currently on death row in California. Kraft’s case is notable for a large number of victims and the length of his killing spree. He is also known for his intelligence, as he was able to evade capture for a long time, and for his lack of remorse, as he has never confessed to any of his crimes.
Gerald Gallego & Charlene Gallego
Gerald Gallego and Charlene Gallego operated in the late 1970s and early 1980s in California and Nevada. They kidnapped, raped, and murdered at least ten people, mostly young women. The couple would lure their victims with promises of drugs and alcohol, then abduct them and take them to a remote location where they were held captive and sexually assaulted before being killed. They would then bury their victims’ bodies in shallow graves. They were arrested in 1980 after a witness recognized them at a mall.
Gerald Gallego was sentenced to death in 1984 and died in prison of cancer in 2002 while awaiting execution. Charlene Gallego pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison, with the possibility of parole. She was denied parole multiple times and remains in prison to this day.
Their case is notable for the level of violence and sexual assaults they inflicted on their victims, as well as for their young age, as they were both in their 20s when they committed their crimes.
Theodore Bundy was a notorious serial killer, kidnapper, and rapist who killed at least 30 people during the 1970s. He was born in 1946 and raised in a middle-class family in Vermont. He attended the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington, where he studied psychology.
Bundy’s killing spree began in 1974 and lasted until 1978, during which time he targeted young women in several states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, and Florida. He would often lure his victims by posing as a helpful authority figure or by feigning injury. He would then kidnap, rape, and murder them.
Bundy was finally caught in 1978 in Florida and was found guilty of three murders. He was sentenced to death and was executed in 1989. During his trial and imprisonment, he confessed to additional murders, but the true number of his victims remains unknown. He was known for his charm and good looks, which helped him lure in victims and avoid suspicion.
After his execution, many books, movies, and documentaries were made about his life and crimes, which have only served to further his infamy.
David Carpenter (Trailside Killer)
David Joseph Carpenter, also known as the “Trailside Killer,” murdered at least eight people in California during the late 1970s and early 1980s. He targeted hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts in state parks and wilderness areas, earning him his nickname. He was a Vietnam War veteran and a skilled outdoorsman, which allowed him to evade capture for a long period of time.
Carpenter was first arrested in 1981 for the murder of a hiker and was later linked to other killings through DNA evidence. He was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death. He was also convicted of attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and kidnapping. He was sentenced to death for his crimes and died in prison in 2018.
Carpenter’s killings were notable for their brutality; he often shot his victims and then raped or sexually assaulted them. He also mutilated some of the bodies. His crimes sparked fear among hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts in the San Francisco Bay Area and prompted increased patrols in state parks.
Chester Turner was convicted of the murders of ten women in Los Angeles, California between 1987 and 1998. He is currently on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Turner’s victims were primarily drug-addicted, homeless, or prostituted women who lived in South Los Angeles. He strangled them and then left their bodies in alleys, dumpsters, and abandoned buildings.
Turner was first arrested in 1987 for an unrelated crime, and DNA evidence collected at the time linked him to several of the murders. He was ultimately convicted in 2007 and sentenced to death. However, in 2019, it was discovered that LAPD officers had mishandled the evidence and Turner received a new trial and was found guilty again in 2020.
The case is notable for the LAPD’s mishandling of evidence, which resulted in Turner’s convictions being overturned. It also highlights the issues of poverty and addiction that affect many of the victims of serial killers, and the ways in which they are often overlooked by law enforcement and society at large.
Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris
Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, also known as the “Tool Box Killers,” were active in California in the late 1970s. They were convicted of murdering five young women between June and November 1979.
Bittaker and Norris met while they were both serving time in prison. After their release, they began to plan and carry out a series of brutal murders. They would lure their victims, who were mostly teenage girls, into their van, where they would sexually assault, torture, and kill them. They used various tools, including pliers, hammers, and screwdrivers to carry out the murders, which is how they got their nickname “Tool Box Killers”.
The pair were arrested in 1979 and were subsequently convicted of five counts of murder. Bittaker was sentenced to death and remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison. Norris was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Charles Manson & The Manson Family
Charles Manson was convicted of orchestrating the murders of nine people in the summer of 1969. The victims included actress Sharon Tate, who was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder, as well as several other individuals. The murders were committed by members of Manson’s cult, known as the “Manson Family.”
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Manson and his followers lived together on a ranch in California, where they engaged in drug use and a communal lifestyle. Manson preached a philosophy of impending apocalypse and convinced his followers that they were helping to bring about a race war, which he referred to as “Helter Skelter,” a term taken from a song by The Beatles. He instructed his followers to commit the murders in order to create chaos and trigger the race war.
Manson and several of his followers were arrested and put on trial for the murders in 1970. Manson and three of his followers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Manson died in prison in 2017.
The Manson Family murders were one of the most notorious and shocking criminal cases in American history and it continues to be widely covered in popular culture and media. The case also brought attention to the issues of cults and mind control, as many of Manson’s followers were young, impressionable individuals who were drawn to his charismatic personality.
In conclusion, California has seen its fair share of notorious serial killers throughout the years. From the “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez to the “Tool Box Killers” Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris, these individuals have committed heinous crimes that have left a lasting impact on the state and its residents. Their actions have not only resulted in the loss of innocent lives, but also in a sense of fear and unease among the community. Some of these killers have been caught and punished, while others remain at large. These cases continue to be studied by criminologists and law enforcement officials, in the hopes of understanding the motives and methods of these killers, and preventing similar crimes from happening in the future.