A Brief History
On March 7, 1274, Saint Thomas Aquinas died having not completed his masterpiece, the Summa Theologiæ, in which he defines evil as the absence or privation of good. Tragically, numerous men and women have walked our Earth demonstrating few if any “good” qualities. This article lists these most evil examples of humans in chronological order by their dates of birth.
A few quick things to keep in mind before reading this list: First, this article is a work in progress in that it only links to people featured in greater detail in existing articles on History and Headlines, Fact Fiend, or TopTenz. Thus, not all of the usual suspects who typically appear in lists of the most evil people in history will necessarily appear on this list when it is first posted. Besides, we are not looking to merely copy what others have done. As such, the list combines people who demonstrated varying capacity for “evil” behavior. Obviously, if we just said, “Here are the top five or so most evil people in history,” few would be considered in the same breath as say Hitler and Stalin due to the unprecedented scale of people who lost their lives or suffered as a result of these dictators’ criminal policies. Yet only listing the people responsible for the all-time highest numbers of deaths as the result of genocide or war would neglect serial killers responsible for smaller death tolls, but who nevertheless brutalized people in such a personally sadistic manner (such as being the one to actually rape and torture individuals as opposed to having others do it) that not even Hitler nor Stalin did. Some of these serial killers may not have caused as widespread of carnage as Hitler or Stalin, but their personal capacity to harm others does give credence to considering them as individuals void of much if any “good”. Put simply, ordering someone to shoot a dozen people may result in more deaths than raping, murdering, and eating one child, but someone who actually personally molests and cannibalizes a child is undoubtedly a rare kind of evil. Thus, we are also including people based on the extreme nature of their crimes. So, please keep in mind that this list is not about numbers and please keep in mind that some horrible humans you may expect to see are only currently excluded until we have produced articles to which we can provide direct links for you to learn more information.
Gaius (31 August 12 AD – 22 January 41 AD), also known as “Caligula”, is the stereotypical mad Roman emperor. Claiming to be a divine being, he ordered many executions of his subjects before he was assassinated along with his wife and daughter. How much of a bad guy do you have to be when your killers bash your child’s head in for good measure?
Nero (15 December 37 – 9 June 68) might given Caligula a run for his money in the wicked Roman ruler department, given that he even killed his own wife and mother! Oh, and he also ordered a slave castrated before marrying him… For better or worse, Nero escaped assassination or execution only by taking his own life.
Elagabalus ( c. 203 – 11 March 222), Roman Emperor from 218 to 222, showed a disregard for Roman religious traditions and sexual taboos having married as many as five times, lavished favors on male courtiers popularly thought to have been his lovers, employed a prototype of whoopee cushions at dinner parties, and was reported to have prostituted himself in the imperial palace before finally being assassinated.
Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476/77), inspired DRACULA!! Seriously, we really should not have to say much more than that! Anyone whose claims to fame are shoving stakes through people’s body and serving as the inspiration for the world’s most well-known vampire has a “stake” (ha, ha!) to the claim of history’s most evil man.
Ivan IV Vasilyevich (25 August 1530 – 28 March 1584), known as the Terrible, conducted various military campaigns of conquest and yet is most infamous for his treatment of his own family, including beating his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing immodest clothing and potentially causing a miscarriage before striking his son in the head with his pointed staff thereby causing his son’s death.
Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658) ruled as a regicidal dictator in 1600s England, ruthlessly overthrowing his king before conducting what might even be characterized as genocidal campaigns against Catholics in Ireland and Scotland. He spoke of having to break his enemies “in pieces” and banned newspapers that criticized him. And yes, he even hated Christmas?! He was so despised that his body was dug up and “executed”!
Claude François de Malet (28 June 1754 – 29 October 1812) was expelled from the Kingdom of Italy on allegations of black market activities and propaganda, was interned in the La Force prison from July 1, 1807 to May 30, 1808, was jailed again the next year on suspicion of belonging to a republican and anti-Bonapartist society, remained under house arrest in Paris from July 1810 until his escape on October 23, 1812, and was finally executed by firing squad, six days after staging a failed coup d’état against Emperor Napoleon!
Andrew Philip Kehoe (February 1, 1872 – May 18, 1927) killed his wife and 43 other people (including 38 children) by setting off bombs in the Bath School disaster on May 18, 1927 before committing suicide near the school by detonating dynamite in his truck, causing an explosion which killed several other people and wounded more. He had earlier set off incendiary devices in his house and farm, destroying all the buildings, as well as two horses and other animals.
Aleister Crowley (12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947) was denounced in newspapers across Europe as “the wickedest man in the world!”
Joseph Stalin (18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) is easily in the top five or so of leaders in all of human history responsible for the largest number of deaths as a result of his policies that resulted in wars and famines. The number of people persecuted, tortured, and murdered under his regime is perhaps only rivaled by the number of people who starved. Moreover, before Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union had taken over part of Poland shortly after the Nazi invasion traditionally cited as the start of World War II. One need only read about the Great Purge, the Holodomor, and the Katyn massacre to get a sense of how despicable of a man Stalin was. Perhaps the tyrant said it best himself, when after his first wife died, Stalin remarked: “This creature softened my heart of stone. She died and with her died my last warm feelings for humanity.”
Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) brought about World War II (the world’s deadliest and most destructive war) and the Holocaust (one of history’s deadliest genocides), which mean only a handful of others (Stalin and Mao?) really merit comparison in terms of worst people who ever lived. To further cement his status is what his subordinates did with regards to human experimentation and to demoralize Allied soldiers. Not to mention his allies who massacred people. What is particularly baffling, given that the Nazis lost World War II and Hitler died via suicide, is that neo-Nazi organizations still exist around the world, including bizarre offshoots that officially claim they are not Nazis, but practice the same disgusting policies.
Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976) served as 1st Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from June 19, 1945 to September 9, 1976. During his over thirty years as China’s communist dictator, his policies resulted in perhaps more deaths than any other democide in human history (estimates range from as “low” as 40 million to maybe even as high as 70 million), surpassing Hitler and possibly surpassing even Stalin. He led China’s communists during their involvement in The Chinese Civil War (12 April 1927 to 22 December 1936, which was paused due to Japan’s invasion of China, but resumed after World War II ended from 31 March 1946 – 1 May 1950), The Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 9, 1945), The Korean War (25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953), The Vietnam War (December 1956 to 30 April 1975), and The Sino-Indian War (20 October – 21 November 1962). In addition the massive loss of life of both Chinese soldiers and civilians and their opponents in these conflicts, Mao’s instigation of The Great Leap Forward and The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution resulted in some of history worst catastrophes, including the Great Chinese Famine that resulted in official and scholarly estimates of somewhere between 15 million and 45 million deaths. All of these tragedies occurred while Mao promoted a personality cult revolving around himself.
Rudolf Walter Richard Heß (26 April 1894 – 17 August 1987) served as Deputy Führer to Adolf Hitler from 1933 until 1941, when he flew solo to Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom during World War II. He was instead taken prisoner and eventually convicted of crimes against peace, serving a life sentence. He had earlier signed into law much of the legislation, including the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, that stripped the Jews of Germany of their rights in the lead-up to the Holocaust. He committed suicide, while still in custody in Spandau, in 1987 at the age of 93.
John Bodkin Adams (21 January 1899 – 4 July 1983) worked as doctor with an appalling record: 160 of his patients perished under suspicious circumstances! And you thought Gregory House had a poor bedside manner!?
George P. Metesky (November 2, 1903 – May 23, 1994) achieved infamy as the Mad Bomber, ultimately being charged with attempted murder, damaging a building by explosion, maliciously endangering life, and carrying concealed weapons. He planted at least 33 bombs, of which 22 exploded, injuring 15 people.
Otto Adolf Eichmann (19 March 1906 – 31 May 1962), a German Nazi, was one of the major organisers of the Holocaust. In 1960, he was captured in Argentina by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service. Following a widely publicised trial in Israel, he was found guilty of war crimes and hanged in 1962.
Vincent Kosuga (January 17, 1915 – January 19, 2001) showed that not all “evil” men are necessarily murderers. Instead, he manipulated the onion futures market in a controversial way that resulted in government attempts to regulate the market.
Jean-Bédel Bokassa (22 February 1921 – 3 November 1996), a military officer and the head of state of the Central African Republic and its successor state, the Central African Empire, from his coup d’état on 1 January 1966 until 20 September 1979, began a reign of terror, taking all important government posts for himself, personally supervising judicial beatings, introducing a rule that thieves would have an ear cut off for the first two offenses and a hand for the third, practically bankrupted the country, had hundreds of schoolchildren arrested for refusing to wear uniforms made in a factory he owned, was reported to have personally supervised the massacre of 100 of the schoolchildren by his Imperial Guard, and was tried and sentenced to death for treason and murder.
Walter Seifert (June 11, 1922 – June 12, 1964), a man who fought for the Nazis during World War II, achieved infamy as the perpetrator of the Cologne School Massacre, which left ten people dead, not including Seifert’s suicide.
Idi Amin Dada (c. 1925 – 16 August 2003) has had so many frightening allegations leveled against him, including even cannibalism, that it is almost hard to imagine someone could participate in or sanction so much cruelty. Yet, given that he considered himself His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular, and the uncrowned King of Scotland, well, we suppose such a man was probably willing to go beyond the usual dictatorial excesses!
James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 – April 23, 1998) may have joined the served in the US Army in Germany during World War II, but his post-war history is nothing to brag about. From the 1940s through 1960s, he convicted numerous crimes: a burglary in California, an armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois, and finally mail fraud and then armed robbery in Missouri, where he ended up escaping from his penitentiary. He ended up in Mexico where he tried to film prostitutes doing pornographic acts. Of course, topping all of the above is his conviction for murdering beloved Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. He nevertheless, briefly escaped from prison yet again only to be recaptured and have his sentenced extended to 100 years. Conspiracy theorists do speculate on whether he acted alone or even as to his complicity, but even without the MLK shooting, which if he was behind would be his most horrendous crime, the man undeniably spent three decades committing numerous other diverse crimes across the country and therefore contributing little to the good of civilization.
Marshall Herff Applewhite, Jr. (May 17, 1931 – March 1997) founded the infamous Heaven’s Gate cult. During his time as a cult leader, he spouted off bizarre beliefs about UFOs and other absurdities. His criminal activity includes an arrest in Texas in 1974 for failing to return a car that he had rented, because, as he claimed, he had been divinely authorized to keep the car. He ultimately manipulated seven people to join him in being surgically castrated before later manipulating over thirty people to join him in what is the largest group suicide that has occurred inside the U.S.
Albert Henry DeSalvo (September 3, 1931 – November 25, 1973), or at least whoever was the Boston Strangler, killed thirteen people from June 14, 1962 to January 4, 1964. The Strangler’s attacks reportedly included posing as a detective and rape.
Charles Milles Manson (born November 12, 1934), an American criminal, led what became known as the Manson Family in the late-1960s. In 1971, he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit the murders of seven people, actress Sharon Tate and four other people at Tate’s home, and the next day, a married couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, all carried out by members of the group at his instruction.
Henry Lee Lucas (August 23, 1936– March 13, 2001) may or may not have actually been America’s most prolific serial killer as he was inconsistent in both how many victims he claimed were his versus what police could prove. Nevertheless, with a dead victims list ranging from a “low” 11 to perhaps more than 600, he was unquestionably one of the worst people to ever walk this Earth.
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti (28 April 1937 – 30 December 2006) played a key role in the 1968 coup (later referred to as the 17 July Revolution) that brought his party to power in Iraq, created security forces through which he tightly controlled conflict between the government and the armed forces, formally rose to power in 1979, suppressed several Shi’a and Kurdish movements seeking to overthrow the government or gain independence, maintained power during the Iran–Iraq War and the Gulf War, was widely condemned in the west for the brutality of his dictatorship, and was accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction and having ties to al-Qaeda. Following his capture on 13 December 2003, Saddam was eventually convicted of charges related to the 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi’ites and sentenced to death by hanging in 2006.
Kim Jong-il (16 February 1941 – 17 December 2011) was the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, commonly referred to as North Korea, from 1994 to 2011 as well as the General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, and the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, the fourth-largest standing army in the world.
Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (c. 1942 – 20 October 2011) became simultaneously ridiculed as an Idi Amin like “mad dog”, while also being feared for his involvement in international acts of terrorism. His people, with American and French assistance, ultimately brought about his downfall in an absolutely humiliating manner as seen on the numerous recordings of his final moments.
Theodore John “Ted” Kaczynski (born May 22, 1942), also known as the “Unabomber,” spent nearly two decades planting bombs across America that took the lives of three people in addition to injuring over twenty others. He is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
James Oliver Huberty (October 11, 1942 – July 18, 1984) shot and killed 21 people, including five children, and injured 19 others, before being fatally shot by SWAT team sniper Charles Foster, in the deadliest mass murder committed in America until the 1991 Luby’s shooting. The 1984 massacre remains the deadliest shooting rampage in which the perpetrator was killed by police as opposed to suicide.
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (born October 4, 1943) has had a lengthy criminal career that landed him on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. His alleged crimes include inciting to riot in 1967, attempted robbery in 1971 (that was followed by a shootout with police), and speeding and impersonating a police officer in 2000. For failing to appear in court for the 2000 incident, two African-American deputies attempted to the serve the Muslim man an arrest warrant. Another shootout ensued, in which both deputies were shot, one of whom died. Al-Amin was later convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Dennis Lynn Rader (born March 9, 1945) is known for not merely killing his 10 victims, but binding and torturing them prior to murdering them, in addition to stealing and wearing his female victims’ underpants! What makes him particularly complicated is that he served in the United States Air Force, was elected president of the Congregation Council of the Christ Lutheran Church, and was even a Cub Scout leader. In these roles, he could have contributed immensely to humanity and yet he will forever be best known for his crimes.
Theodore Robert “Ted” Bundy (November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) had intelligence and charisma and might have done good working on behalf of the Republican Party had he not devoted so much of his time from killing a minimum of 30 fellow human beings. His crimes included performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses of his victims until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made further interaction impossible, as well as decapitating at least 12 of his victims and keeping some of their severed heads in his apartment for a period of time as mementos. This sicko ultimate died on the electric chair.
Gary Leon Ridgway (born February 18, 1949), known as the Green River Killer, was convicted of “only” 49 murders, although he confessed to at least 71, and is presumed to have committed over 90!
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gavíria (December 1, 1949 – December 2, 1993) was behind so much criminal activity as a drug lord and cocaine trafficker, the actual number of tragedies that occurred as a result of his criminal enterprise surpasses those of many serial killers on this list.
Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden (10 March 1957 – 2 May 2011) is probably the most infamous terrorist of modern times. The founder of al-Qaeda, this Islamic fanatic’s organization has conducted a worldwide campaign of terror taking the lives of thousands in various countries. By the time he was finally killed, the death toll of his group’s activities and the international wars spawned as a result of them may well be in the hundreds of thousands. He was easily one of the biggest wastes of life in all of human history.
Ariel Castro (1960 – 2013) was arrested for domestic violence in 1993 and later held three teenage girls against their will in his house in Cleveland, Ohio from August 22, 2002 until May 6, 2013. He was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape before pleading guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder as part of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole plus 1,000 years, but he committed suicide by hanging himself with bedsheets in his prison cell just one month into his sentence.
Bruce George Peter Lee (born July 31, 1960), one of Britain’s most prolific killers, confessed to a total of 11 acts of arson and was convicted of 26 counts of manslaughter earning Lee a sentence of imprisonment for life in 1981.
Marc Lépine (October 26, 1964 – December 6, 1989), an extreme misogynist, has the dubious distinction of being behind one of the worst school shootings in Canadian history, having killed fourteen and having wounded another fourteen (mostly females).
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (October 30, 1966 – June 7, 2006), a militant Islamist, ran a paramilitary training camp in Afghanistan before going to Iraq where he was responsible for a numerous bombings, beheadings, and other attacks during the Iraq War.
Nidal Malik Hasan (born 8 September 1970), an Army psychiatrist of all things, went on a murderous shooting spree on 5 November 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas. The scene of the worst slaughter of US military personnel at an American installation left 13 dead and 32 wounded. Among the wounded was Hasan, 39 years old at the time of the shootings.
Anders Behring Breivik (born 13 February 1979) is the perpetrator of the 2011 Norway attacks in which he bombed government buildings in Oslo, killing eight people, before then killing 69 more people, mostly teenagers, in a mass shooting at a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) camp on the island of Utøya. In August 2012 he was convicted of mass murder, causing a fatal explosion, and terrorism.
Eric David Harris (April 9, 1981 – April 20, 1999) and Dylan Bennet Klebold (September 11, 1981 – April 20, 1999) were two American high school seniors who committed the Columbine High School massacre during which they killed 13 people and injured 24 others, three of whom were injured as they escaped the attack, before the two mass murderers then committed suicide in the school’s library.
Seung-Hui Cho (January 18, 1984 – April 16, 2007), a South Korean mass murderer, killed 32 people and wounded 17 others (six other people suffered injuries due to jumping from windows to escape) before committing suicide on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, The United States of America. The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history and one of the deadliest by a single gunman worldwide.
Question for students (and subscribers): What was the most evil person in history? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more on the topic of evil people, please read…
Black, Ray. The World’s Most Evil People. Time Warner Books Uk, 2005.
Greig, Charlotte. The World’s Worst Criminals. Arcturus, 2017.
Twiss, Miranda. The Most Evil Men and Women in History. Barnes & Noble, 2002.
For some great lists on specific kinds of evil people, see our lists of the “Top 10 Evil Doctors” and the “Top 10 Pure Evil Fictional Characters”.