Most Infamous Criminals in World History

Source: Florida Memory Project / Wikimedia Commons

Some people gain fame by inventing something that advances society, inspiring social change, creating immortal works of art, or performing athletic feats that are the stuff of legend. Unfortunately for humankind, some people have become famous – or infamous – for the criminal acts they perpetrated.

To compile a list of some of the most infamous criminals in world history, 24/7 Tempo turned to sources including Britannica, Biography, Crime Museum Mysteries Unresolved, the BBC, the New York Times, Fox News, and CNN, using editorial discretion to assemble our final list. While the majority of people here are mass murderers, we have also included examples of massive fraud, and several other horrible crimes. (These are the most depraved serial killers in history.) 

Some of the heinous crimes in human history are represented here: Hungarian noblewoman Elizabeth Báthory may have killed as many as 600 people in the 17th century; Austrian Josef Fritzl who held his daughter captive in his basement as a sex slave for 24 years and fathered seven of her children; one-time medical student Henry Howard Holmes built a house of horrors in Chicago where he killed over 200 victims. (Here’s a look at the most infamous crime committed in every state.) 

Not of all of the criminals have blood on their hands – directly, anyway. Italian immigrant Charlie Ponzi created a scheme in the early 20th century to defraud investors that bears his name to this day. Bernie Madoff, once a respected member of the investment community, concocted a pyramid scheme in the 1990s that victimized high-powered figures including movie director Steven Spielberg and former Mets owner Fred Wilpon. The most recent criminal on our list, 31-year-old Samuel Bankman-Fried, was the architect behind the spectacular collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange that cost investors billions.

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