Who are the UK's worst ever serial killers?

Harold Shipman is the UK's most prolific serial killer. (Reuters)
Harold Shipman is the UK's most prolific serial killer. (Reuters)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series

On this day 18 years ago, Harold Shipman killed himself in his prison cell.

He was found dead at Wakefield prison on 13 January 2004, the day before his 58th birthday.

An inquiry found that Shipman, a GP, had 218 identified victims, although he is estimated to have murdered as many as 250 people.

He tops the list of the UK’s most prolific serial killers.

Harold Shipman

Photograph of Harold Shipman. Harold Frederick Shipman (1946-2004) an English general practitioner and one of the most prolific serial killers in history. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
It is thought serial killer Harold Shipman murdered as many as 250 people. (Getty Images)

Harold Shipman, a GP from Nottingham based in Manchester, administered lethal doses of diamorphine to patients and signed their death certificates, before falsifying medical records to suggest they had been in poor health. About four out of five of his victims were elderly women.

On 31 January 2000, Shipman was found guilty of murdering 15 patients and was sentenced to life in prison with the recommendation that he never be released.

The Shipman Inquiry identified 218 of his victims and estimated he had killed 250 people.

Mary Ann Cotton

Born in Durham in 1832, Mary Ann Cotton was convicted of the murder by poisoning of her stepson, Charles Edward Cotton. She was hanged in March 1873.

However, it is thought she also murdered three of her four husbands to collect money on their insurance policies.

It is suspected she may have murdered up to 21 people, including 11 of her 13 children, mainly though arsenic poisoning.

Peter Sutcliffe

(Original Caption) Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, (with beard), is shown leaving court under heavy police guard after giving evidence after which, James Castello, a fellow inmate, in Parkhurst Jail, attacked him and caused a five inch gash on his face. Sutcliffe is serving a life sentence for the murder of 13 women in Yorkshire County.
Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, murdered 13 women and attempted to murder another seven. (Getty)

Dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe was found guilty in May 1981 of murdering 13 women and attempting to murder seven others between 1975 and 1980.

Sutcliffe was sentenced to 20 concurrent sentences of life imprisonment, converted to a whole life order in 2010.

Watch: Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe dies aged 74

West Yorkshire Police was criticised for interviewing Sutcliffe nine times during its five-year investigation but failing to catch him.

He died in November 2020 of complications from COVID-19 in hospital while in prison custody at the age of 74.

Dennis Nilsen

BLACK AND WHITE ONLY File photo dated 04/11/83 of mass murderer Dennis Nilsen (right), with a prison warden at his side, after he was sentenced to a minimum of 25 years imprisonment after being convicted of six murders and two attempted murders at the Old Bailey. Michael Harte, the director of a new Netflix documentary about serial killer Dennis Nilsen has said he hopes to shine a light on how the murderer got away with his crimes for so long. Issue date: Wednesday August 18, 2021.
Serial killer Dennis Nilsen (right) in a prison van. (PA)

It is thought that Scottish serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen murdered between 12 and 15 young men and boys in London between 1978 and 1983.

He was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and sentenced in November 1983 to life in prison, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years. This was changed to a whole life tariff in 1994.


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He lured his victims to his home in north London and strangled them. He died at York Hospital in May 2018.

Fred West

Frederick West, who is suspected of killing thirteen women and girls, including his first wife and two of his daughters. West is also suspected of being an accomplice to ten murders committed by his second wife Rose West. West hung himself in jail in 1995 while his wife Rose is serving a life sentence. (Photo by Mathieu Polak/Sygma/ Sygma via Getty Images)
Fred West murdered at least 12 women. (Getty Images)

Fred West murdered at least 12 young women, the majority with his wife, Rose, in Gloucestershire between 1967 and 1987.

Their victims’ dismembered bodies were buried in the cellar or garden of the couple’s home at Cromwell Street in Gloucester.

Fred West hanged himself while on remand at Birmingham prison in January 1995 while the couple were charged with nine murders, and he with a further three.

Rose West was convicted in November 1995 of 10 murders and sentenced to 10 life terms with a whole life order.

Watch: Fred and Rose West, England's notorious serial killers