Famous sociopaths in history
10 of The Most Famous Sociopaths in Modern History
Though only one percent of the population is sociopaths, their crimes are so bone-chilling they usually stand out from the crowds and news. Unfortunately, sociopaths are somewhat after that attention and embrace. But, even the most famous sociopaths have mental health struggles that they don’t truly understand.
What’s a Sociopath?
There’s no official definition for sociopaths as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t use this term. Instead, doctors use the phrase: antisocial personality disorder.
A sociopath is someone who can’t understand other people’s feelings. They often make impulsive decisions that might harm others without feeling guilt or remorse. The most famous sociopaths are manipulative and controlling but also charismatic and charming.
For an antisocial personality disorder diagnosis, someone must be over the age of 18 and show behavioral patterns for at least three months that include three of the following traits:
- Disrespect for social norms or laws
- Compulsive lies for personal gain
- Inability to make long-term plans
- Aggressive or aggravated behavior
- Inability to feel guilt or remorse for their actions
Psychopaths vs. Sociopaths
Though both terms fall under an antisocial personality disorder, there are some critical differences between the two. A sociopath usually doesn’t cause serious harm or distress, whereas a psychopath is usually more physically violent or prone to put others in danger. However, this isn’t to say that sociopaths can’t do harm or engage in aggressive behavior.
Some of the most famous sociopaths in history were young men and young women with charming personalities. To this day, many of their crimes remain a subject of study to behavioral health experts.
1. Ted Bundy
Perhaps one of the most prolific and famous sociopaths and psychopath figures in modern history. Ted Bundy was a charming young man who was famously enchanting with women. Yet, he killed at least 30 people across the United States. After studying his case, many psychologists agreed Bundy had an antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and addictive disorder.
2. Jack Henry Abbott
A notable novelist and author, Jack Abbott, had some struggles with law enforcement as a young man, but never something outstanding. A bank robbery sent him to prison, where he contacted famous author Norman Mailer and convinced Mailer to write a book. Through this penpal relationship, Mailer even helped Abbott get out of parole, who later stabbed to death a waiter who wouldn’t let him use the employee’s bathroom. Abbott went back to prison, where he died by suicide in 2002.
3. John Gacy
On the surface, nothing about John Gacy made him appear like a sociopath. He even received a Man of the Year award from Des Plaines, Illinois. There are even photos of him with the First Lady at the time, Rosalynn Carter.
He was charming and an outstanding figure to many who knew him. He even entertained kids as a clown at birthday parties. Yet, years later, investigations lead to the discovery that he was also a serial killer, who later became known as the Clown Killer.
4. Joey Buttafuoco
Joey Buttafuoco was an auto repairman in Long Island who engaged in a relationship with a minor, Amy Fisher, who later shot Buttafuoco’s wife in the face. Both Fisher and his ex-wife described Buttafuoco as a charming man who had the power to charm snakes out of a tree.
5. Diane Downs
Though female sociopaths are rare, few characters stand out throughout history. Diane Downs was after men who didn’t want children. However, she couldn’t find it. She found a man to have a family with and later murder her children. Psychiatrists diagnosed her with narcissistic, histrionic, and antisocial personality disorders.
6. Deidre Hunt
Deidre Hunt had a rough childhood, with her mother confessing to early abuse. Unlike other famous sociopaths, Hunt’s love partner was the mastermind of the shooting murder of two young men. Her mom says there’s no doubt Deidre had multiple personality disorders. This switch of personalities and sociopathic tendencies is probably what led her to commit these crimes.
7. Billy McFarland
It’s important to know that not all sociopaths are killers. Remember, one of the distinctive traits of a sociopath is that they feel no remorse for their actions, even after harming others. Billy McFarland was the creator and organizer of the infamous Fyre Festival. The festival promised luxury accommodations and access to VIP parties and celebrities.
However, it was all a scam that barely delivered on the promises made to its members. Even after being charged with wire fraud and conducting schemes, he never showed remorse for the fraud, even when admitting there weren’t prepared to set up such a festival. He still refuses to admit he lied to investors, festival-goers, and other people involved.
8. Elizabeth Holmes
On the surface, Elizabeth Holmes was a pioneer in her industry and working towards changing the world at the young age of 19. Theranos was a $10 billion company at one point; the company was on the verge of revolutionizing the healthcare industry, finding a technology that could test for a long list of diseases using a single drop of blood.
At its peak, she even has former Secretaries of State sitting on her company’s board of directors. She and her partner were charged with multiple counts of wire fraud. Even after being indicted by a federal jury, she continued to talk to investors about starting a new business and denied any allegations against her.
9. The Zodiac Killer
Many sociopaths are after the attention and fear of the masses. The Zodiac killer was the epitome of that definition. For decades, he sent encrypted messages to various media outlets teasing them about his horrific actions. He was active in the 60s and 70s but remained silent after 1974.
Although psychologists never had the chance to examine him, since no one ever knew who he was, his crimes showed a lack of empathy, a hint of psychopathy, and his reach to the media was considered a sociopathic tendency. Unlike killers like Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy, Zodiac didn’t appear to be obsessed with killing. He was obsessed with fame.
10. Aileen Wuornos
You’ve probably seen documentaries about Wuornos’ life, also known as one of America’s most famous female murderers. She had an exotic figure, an outgoing personality, and a charismatic way of being that made her irresistible to many. Yet, many believe she wasn’t a sociopath since sometimes she would admit her guilt but later deny it. After her sentencing for murder, psychiatrists diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder.
Most Famous Sociopaths To Ever Walk The Earth
Tanya J. Peterson
Ninety-nine percent of humanity are not sociopaths. One percent is. Of that one percent, there are some that are so inhuman, so bone-chillingly awful, that they become famous sociopaths. Unfortunately, that's exactly what they want, and their infamous notoriety pleases them to such a degree that prison doesn't bother them. If anything, prison is just another playground (What Is A Sociopathic Person Like?).
Serial Killers Make Famous Sociopaths
Not every sociopath is a serial killer, but it tends to be the most brutally violent that make the headlines and become the most famous sociopaths.
- John Gacy lived in Des Plaines, Illinois. He was the epitome of both local and national citizenship, receiving a Man of the Year award from his city's Junior Chamber of Commerce and, separately, taking his picture with Rosalynn Carter, the First Lady at the time. He entertained kids as a clown at their birthday parties. People adored him. What they didn't know because he hid it so skillfully was that he also happened to be a sociopath, one of the most famous sociopaths to ever walk the earth. In the 1970s, he murdered thirty-two young men and buried most of them in the crawl space under his house.
- Ted Bundy was an attractive, charismatic young man living in Seattle in the 1970s. He lured women to him with his charm. Dozens fell prey and were brutally beaten and murdered by his hands. He was so well-liked that he got away with it for quite some time.
- Jeffrey MacDonald had power and admiration as an officer in the Green Berets, a medical doctor, and family man. He was a husband, the father of two daughters with another child on the way, and he was a narcissistic sociopath who brutally murdered his pregnant wife and daughters.
- Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal, raped, murdered, dismembered, and sometimes ate seventeen boys and men in the 70s and 80s.
Famous Sociopaths Who Aren't Serial Killers
Not every sociopath is a serial killer. Some find that different crimes better fit their needs and motivations.
- Jack Henry Abbott was a respected and highly praised author when the crime of forgery sent him to prison. He actually didn't commit murder until he was in prison where he stabbed someone. Upon escaping from prison, he robbed a bank and was sent back. He contacted famous author Norman Mailer (who was not in prison but was in the world writing novels, plays, films, and the like) and convinced Mailer to help him write a book. Out of prison, he charmed his way into Mailer's literary circle in New York and enjoyed attention for a few weeks. When a waiter wouldn't let him use the employee bathroom in a restaurant, Abbott stabbed him to death and returned to prison. He died by suicide in prison in 2002, but his sociopath charm lives on. He has his own section on BrainyQuotes.com
- Joey Buttafuoco has never committed murder, but he gained fame nonetheless. His affair with teenage Amy Fisher and Fisher's attempted murder of his then wife, Mary Jo, thrust him into the spotlight. His charismatic behavior captivated the media and gained him national attention, further fueling what Mary Jo termed his sociopathic tendencies. While he isn't a murderer, Mary Jo says Joey Buttafuoco is a sociopath, albeit a famous sociopath.
Famous Female Sociopaths
Male sociopaths outnumber female sociopaths by anywhere from three to one (Fallon, 2013) to seven to one (Hare, 1999). While neither gender has regard for law or feelings of others, males tend to commit more violent crimes and to be the famous sociopath serial killers. Still, female sociopaths are famous criminals, too.
- Diane Downs was after a man who didn't want children. To get what she wanted (him), she murdered her children.
- Deidre Hunt played an equal role with Constantine Paspalakis in torturing and murdering a young man. They videotaped the whole thing, presumably for their own pleasure and entertainment.
It may be a good idea to learn the signs of a sociopath to protect yourself. You never know when you might meet one. Some sociopaths are so well-known they can be considered among the most famous sociopaths ever to walk the Earth. Others are famous sociopaths within their own circles. No matter the scale, sociopaths are infamous.
Peterson, T. (2021, December 17). Most Famous Sociopaths To Ever Walk The Earth, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/sociopath/most-famous-sociopaths-to-ever-walk-the-earth
Last Updated: January 28, 2022
Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD
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Stories about globally known sociopaths
This man has no conscience, he deceives you without looking away. Are you familiar with this type of people? Congratulations. Although, in fact, there is nothing: most likely, you are familiar with a sociopath, and before it's too late - run away from him as far as possible. You won't like talking to him.
Many sociopaths were cold-blooded killers and rapists, and some were just cruel people...0008
Richard is a contract killer who has killed at least 100 people in his 30-year career. Kuklinski killed his first victim at the age of 13, and for the next 30 years she worked with a gun, a noose, a knife and poison. His favorite poison was cyanide. Kuklinski was also connected to the Gambino Mafia. One day, he came up with the idea to conduct a series of experiments to find out how cold temperatures affect the decomposition of bodies. Richard carried out his experiments in an industrial refrigerator of one of the Gambino establishments. It was after them that Kuklinski received the nickname "Ice Man". During his imprisonment, the Iceman behaved quite normally, willingly testifying and talking to psychiatrists.
Will is a 16-year-old boy who grew up in a classic English family. At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with a serious illness, after which his life changed radically. Will began to develop a pathological hatred for his 59-year-old Catholic college Spanish teacher. Carrying out a crime plan for 3 years, as a result, the boy stabbed his teacher right in the classroom. At the trial, the boy said that he was proud of his act. Will also wanted to kill two more teachers and his girlfriend. For what he did, he received a life sentence.
Dean Arnold Corll ("Lollipop") - American serial killer
Since the early 1970s, Corll, with two accomplices, raped and murdered at least 27 boys between the ages of 13 and 28. He loved perverted ways of killing, as well as castration. The guy's parents owned a candy factory in Houston Heights and Corll often lured his future victims with free candy (hence the killer's nickname).
Ted Bundy - American serial killer and rapist
Ted Bundy is tall, well-featured and attractive, but he is one of the most feared and brutal maniacs in US history. To charm any lady for him is a trifle. But under the mask of a handsome seducer, the most real psychopath is hiding.
Shortly before his execution, Bundy confessed to killing at least 30 women (between 1974 and 1978), but the exact number of victims has never been established. After killing the girls, he raped them, cut off their heads, and also engaged in cannibalism. Bundy was executed in the electric chair.
Josef Mengele - German doctor who conducted experiments in Auschwitz
Josef Mengele - doctor who conducted experiments on Auschwitz prisoners during World War II. He personally selected prisoners for experiments, in total, about 10 thousand people suffered from his experiments. The doctor bore the nickname "White Angel", but his actions were incredibly cruel. For example, he broke the legs of children, let the bones heal, and then broke them again to see how many times the bones could heal on their own. He performed experiments without resorting to anesthetics and dissected live babies. He tried to stitch twins together, change their eye color with chemicals; he pulled out teeth, implanted them and built new ones.
It is said that Mengele simply covered his craving for sadism with scientific activities.
Jack Henry Abbott - American criminal and writer
Jack Henry Abbott spent most of his childhood in juvenile correctional institutions and later in adult prisons. He served sentences for a number of criminal offenses, including murder. In his works In the Belly of the Beast and My Return, Henry criticizes the American prison system, which, according to him, does not reform criminals, but only harms society.
Alex from A Clockwork Orange
Alex is a character in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange and Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the same name, in which he is portrayed by Malcolm McDowell. The boy is a sociopath who robs, rapes and eventually kills for pleasure. Alex himself is aware that his behavior does not correspond to any social norms, but he is not going to do anything about it. He stimulates his activity with a special drink - milk with stimulants, drugs and hallucinogens.
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14 revelations of a sociopath that will question the normality of all your friends / Bright Side
The main characteristic of a sociopath is a complete disregard for the rights and feelings of others. Contrary to popular belief, these people do not run away from society and do not hide in their dark apartments, but live among us. According to studies, at least 1 out of 25 people suffer from this disorder, and many simply do not realize that they are sick.
ADME looked at this phenomenon from the inside. We carefully studied the book, the author of which was diagnosed with sociopathy, and backed up the vision of the girl with the authoritative opinion of doctors.
Recently, sociopathy and psychopathy have become synonymous. Instead of these words, the term "dissociative identity disorder" is now used. For ease of perception and following the author of the confessional book, we will use the old term "sociopathy".
Attention! The text is quite harsh and arrogant. Passionate love for one's own person is one of the striking features of a sociopathic personality. We have kept the original vocabulary to give you the opportunity to get to know the inner "I" of the author better.
“Even in my youth I realized that I was smarter than almost everyone around”
- “The egos of sociopaths are always in the body, like the women on the canvases of Rubens. I radiate self-confidence , and its level does not correspond to my condition and social position.
- “The easiest thing for me is to take care of myself. I have manicured nails and carefully plucked eyebrows .”
- “I believe that true intelligence is characterized by an innate ability to analyze the environment and an irrepressible desire to learn. Intelligence of this type is rare. A and I realized in my youth that is smarter than almost all surrounding .
- “My smile is like that of a TV show star: I smile, showing (very rare!) shining teeth, and attract rather than repel attention. Your parents would be very happy to see such a smart and successful girl like me in their house. ”
Science Opinion: According to a book by 25-year-old psychotherapist Martha Stout, any sociopath is arrogant, and with good reason. Joking aside, people with this disorder typically have high IQs, excellent taste, and meticulous grooming.
“I donate 10% of my income to charity and teach Sunday school”
- “I was treated very well as a child. And I did not become a criminal. I have never been in prison. I am a certified lawyer, a typical scientist who regularly publishes articles in magazines. I donate 10% of income to charity and teach Sunday school .”
- "Have you ever found that your charm and self-confidence make people do for you what they would never do for another person? Some call it manipulation0007 I I think that has the ability to manage what God has given me .”
- “I am free from confused and irrational emotions, I am good at making strategic plans, I am smart, self-confident and charming. At the same time, I try to notice when other people are emotional or embarrassed, and respond in the way that is customary in society .
Opinion of science: The same Martha Stout in her book confirms that sociopaths do not have any internal moral constraints at all, and these people act, relying only on cold reason. As a rule, for the purpose of obtaining one's own benefit. They are also incapable of empathy, but usually they successfully mimic, copying the behavior patterns of healthy people.
“Sociopaths raised in middle and upper class families are more likely to become leaders”
- “I find it hard to focus on one thing for long, I rarely stay in one job for more than a few years .
- “Sociopaths' need for external stimulation manifests itself in different ways, depending on personality traits. I am not at all surprised that some sociopaths satisfy this need through crime or violence. Others choose legal paths: enter the service of the fire brigades or intelligence .
- "I think that sociopaths who grew up in the lower strata of society most often become drug dealers, for example, and sociopaths raised in middle and upper class families become surgeons or executives."
Scientific opinion: The desire for power is the most striking feature of a sociopathic personality. It is believed that the ideal career for such a person is the head of a company or an official. Cold passion and a complete lack of conscience can, under favorable circumstances, make a world-class leader out of a sociopath.
According to Dr. Robert Hare's book, a person with sociopathic disorder is 4 times more likely to become a company executive than to end up as a salesperson or clerk.
"Punishment does not scare us or deter us from further crimes"
© Suicide Squad / Warner Bros.
- « Most sociopaths are not in prison . The vast (and silent) majority live free, quietly and inconspicuously; they work, get married, get married, have children and achieve significant success in society.”
- "Detaining a sociopath for a crime is not effective because the punishment does not scare us and does not deter us from further crimes ."
- "The threat of punishment in the family and school served only as a challenge for me, giving rise to the desire to come up with a way to avoid consequences in the future without giving up desires."
Science opinion: These words are confirmed by Robert Hare's well-known experience with electric shock. Sociopaths and healthy people were given light electric shocks, and a timer was previously turned on, which counted down the seconds until the shock. Normal people experienced growing nervousness as time drew to a close, but sociopaths showed no sign of unease.
The lack of reaction to negative events can be explained by the high content of dopamine in the brain of sociopaths. This hormone is responsible for reward and motivation. That is, the desire to win something or get from patients is so high that they forget about the consequences.
"The only way to get to the bottom of them is with questions that provoke emotions"
© Blade Runner / Warner Bros.
- “In the sci-fi movie Blade Runner, the equivalent of sociopaths are replicants. They are so much like people that they can be seen through only with the help of an extensive psychological questionnaire with questions that provoke the test subject to the manifestation of emotions.
Science Opinion: The disorder is indeed difficult to detect. Few people with a symptom of lack of conscience go to see a psychiatrist. Usually, a questionnaire compiled by Dr. Hare is used for diagnosis.
By the way, if you are not afraid and ready to be sincere, take the psychopathy test yourself (in English).