American Serial Killers Who Predated The 20th Century

The true American crime genre has become one of the most popular and prolific Killers categories in today’s media landscape. Many people find themselves drawn to the more violent and sinister side of society. They revel in both fascination and disgust at the real events that are thankfully so foreign to their everyday lives.


While we may all be acquainted with the horrors committed by the likes of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy, serial killers aren’t a recent occurrence. They have been around since the dawn of humanity.

The United States especially has had its fair share of homicidal psychopaths who willed harm upon their fellow humans. Here are 10 serial killers who committed their crimes before the turn of the 20th century.

H.H. Holmes

H.H. Holmes was a con artist and fraud who eventually transitioned to a murderer around the early 1890s. He was extremely good at manipulating and tricking people into trusting him and lending him whatever he needed to pull off his latest con. In 1886, he moved to Chicago to become a pharmacist under the name “H.H. Holmes.” (He used a pseudonym because his real name, Herman Mudgett, was much less catchy.)

He didn’t commit murder due to a desire to kill. Rather, he did it for money. Besides seducing women, gaining access to their assets, and then killing them, Holmes took out life insurance policies on some of his employees and collected the money after they met an “untimely demise.”

The most famous aspect of his murders was his so-called “Murder Castle.” Holmes claimed to be constructing it for use as a hotel during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

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Carl Feigenbaum

Carl Feigenbaum is an interesting case. He was not an American-born killer. Instead, he was a German-born sailor. It was in the United States, however, that he was tried and convicted of murdering his landlord. He is relevant in the annals of history because he is suspected of being one of the most notorious serial killers of all time: Jack the Ripper.

The first person to suggest this was his lawyer. After Feigenbaum’s execution in 1896, his lawyer said that Feigenbaum had confessed to committing the famous crimes in London. In recent years, the theory of the Ripper having been a merchant or sailor has gained traction. It provides an explanation as to why he was never caught and why the killings stopped so suddenly.

Stephen Dee Richards

Eventually known as the “Nebraska Fiend,” Stephen Dee Richards was born in West Virginia around 1856. Although he once said that he was born in 1836, he appeared to be in his early twenties when he died in 1879. Most estimates put his date of birth in the mid-1850s. He spent much of his youth in Ohio.

Richards lived a relatively uneventful life until taking a job at the Iowa Lunatic Asylum in Mount Pleasant. There, he lost most of his empathy for humanity after he was assigned to work in one of the most violent wards at the hospital.

Richards began to travel in the Midwest. In 1878, he entered talks with a mother of three with the intent to purchase her property in Nebraska. Before the sale was finalized, he decided to kill the whole family and bury them in a mass grave. About a month later, he also killed a neighbor with a hammer.

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Jesse Pomeroy

Jesse Pomeroy was born in 1859 in Charlestown, Massachusetts. From a young age, he was bullied due to a deficiency in his right eye. It caused a white film to cover his pupil entirely and repulsed many people who met him. As a result, Pomeroy was bullied incessantly. In turn, he began to bully and torture those around him who were smaller or weaker than he was.

In 1872, he and his family moved to South Boston. Two years later, he murdered a four-year-old boy and left his mutilated body in a marsh in Dorchester Bay. Authorities linked Pomeroy to the murder by tracks left near the body that matched perfectly with a pair of his boots. Once caught, he provided a full confession. He even admitted to murdering a 10-year-old girl the previous March and burying her under an ash pile.

Lydia Sherman

Lydia Sherman worked as a housekeeper and caregiver for most of her life. Although she hid behind an innocent and motherly demeanor, she was anything but. Lydia had a habit of marrying men, getting their wills changed in her favor, and then inheriting their money after they mysteriously fell ill and died.

Her first marriage resulted in the deaths of her husband and their six children, all of whom perished from unknown illnesses (attributed at the time to typhoid fever). The deceased were later found to be victims of arsenic poisoning.

Her second marriage ended in the death of only her husband, an elderly farmer and fisherman with a considerable amount of wealth. Her final marriage resulted in the deaths of her husband and his two children from another marriage. In her confession, she revealed that her final husband’s death was accidental and that she had only meant to poison her stepchildren.

Lydia escaped from prison but was caught less than a year later. Only months after her recapture, she fell severely ill. Lydia Sherman died in prison on May 16, 1878.[6]