Everybody uses an inspirational quote to pick them up sometimes. Some people like to get them printed out and put up on the wall, or maybe they’ll share them on social media, or maybe they’ll just keep one close to the chest to provide a little reassurance in tough times. These are not those quotes. Just as people throughout history have uttered words to inspire and comfort, they have just as frequently said things that can disturb and terrify.
Though often the chilling last words of a serial killer or the twisted mantra of a warlord stick in people’s heads, that doesn’t mean that all of the most haunting words in history have passed through evil lips. Great intellectuals have sometimes made truly unsettling comments upon witnessing world-changing events or after learning new and frightening details about reality. From the wicked to the horrifying, here are 41 quotes that are most likely to make your hair stand up on end.
41. First Encounters
For almost the entire history of European people in the New World, the one constant has been the brutal mistreatment and decimation of the Indigenous people who are already here when the colonists arrived. So knowing what we know now, this quote about Indigenous peoples from the diary of Christopher Columbus sends chills down the spine: “They would make fine servants….With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Happy Columbus Day everyone!
40. Benito’s Blood
Benito Mussolini didn’t mind ruling over Italy with an iron fist while he attempted to create a new Roman Empire, and he acknowledged it with the words “It is blood which moves the wheels of history.” Perhaps it was in part this philosophy that made Mussolini one of the most hated dictators in history.
39. Son of Sam
Responsible for New York City’s single largest manhunt in history, David Berkowitz, known as the Son of Sam, began killing victims in the summer of 1976 and drove the city crazy until August 1977. After originally trying to convince the police he was crazy by saying that he was possessed his neighbor “Sam’s” demon dog named “Harvey,” he confessed to the murders: “I was literally singing to myself on my way home, after the killing. The tension, the desire to kill a woman had built up in such explosive proportions that when I finally pulled the trigger, all the pressures, all the tensions, all the hatred, had just vanished, dissipated, but only for a short time.”
38. Not Clowning Around
John Wayne Gacy, who worked as a clown named Pogo, made clowns even scarier than they already were after his horrible killing spree of several young men and boys. A man who was quite full of himself, he once taunted with the words: “The only thing they can get me for is running a funeral parlor without a license.” Thank the lord these words turned out to be untrue.
37. Still, Not Clowning Around
There is another Gacy quote displaying just how pompous he really was. Once, before he was caught, he was being watched by two detectives, so he invited them to a restaurant for dinner. Over the course of their conversation, Gacy actually told them: “You know… clowns can get away with murder.”
36. Never Ending War
Ridley Scott’s film Black Hawk Down begins with a quote from Plato that manages to sadly and succinctly sum up the tragedy of warfare, even in the modern age: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Though it’s easy to believe that a man as great as Plato would have made this observation, sadly (for Ridley Scott especially!) he doesn’t actually seem to have ever said these words. This belief came around after General Douglas MacArthur misattributed the quote to him. The first known source of the words was actually the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana.
35. Harsh Words
H.L. Mencken was a journalist and social critic who was called the “Sage of Baltimore,” and he was known as one of the most and influential American writers of the early 20th century. But that doesn’t mean that he necessarily had the greatest respect for humanity, as evidenced by his quote: “No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” This quote has commonly been paraphrased as “You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” and has been attributed to many different people, including circus magnate PT Barnum, but it was Mencken who said it first.
34. Nursing to Death
Jane Toppan was a nurse in Boston, Massachusetts in the late 19th century, and she used her position to kill the patients that were under her care. She would lie to these patients and give them a deadly cocktail of drugs to kill them, saying that she got an intimate sexual thrill from their death journey. After “Jolly Jane” confessed to killing 31 people while working as a nurse, she was quoted as saying: “That is my ambition, to have killed more people—more helpless people—than any man or woman who has ever lived.”
33. Freedom of Speech
Infamously known to the Western world through Forest Whitaker’s brilliant portrayal of him in the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, Idi Amin was the tyrannical ruler of Uganda who took power in a military coup and who would be responsible for one of the most brutal regimes in recent memory, with anywhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Ugandans losing their lives under his reign of terror. A glimpse at life under Amin can be seen in his quote: “There is freedom of speech, but I cannot guarantee freedom after speech.”
32. Mouthing Off
As one of the most infamous serial killers in history, Jeffrey Dahmer was famous for eating his victims. He was so deranged and detached from human reality that he said: “My consuming lust was to experience their bodies. I viewed them as objects, as strangers… It’s hard for me to believe that a human being could have done what I’ve done.”
31. Control Freak
Dahmer was truly terrifying because nothing he did was ever enough for him—he always sought something more: “The killing was a means to an end… That’s why I tried to create living zombies with uric acid in the drill [to the head], but it never worked… I just wanted to have the person under my complete control, not having to consider their wishes, being able to keep them there as long as I wanted.”
30. Werewolf of Wysteria
Albert Fish was one of the most horrifying serial killers in American history. While he was eventually convicted and executed for a single murder, he was tied to several others, and boasted of killing nearly 100 children, though this was never proven. Once, when asked why he did the utterly brutal things that he did, he said: “I always had a desire to inflict pain on others and to have others inflict pain on me. The desire to inflict pain, that is all that is uppermost.”
29. For the Sake of Children
The murder that finally got Fish put away was his killing of the nine-year-old Grace Budd. Police were eventually led to Fish after an anonymous letter was sent to Budd’s mother where her killer confessed to what he had done in chilling and graphic detail. Later, when Fish was asked about why he targeted children, he gave the absolutely chilling response: “I like children, they are tasty.”
Once Joseph Stalin took over the Communist regime in Russia after the death of his mentor Vladimir Lenin, he embarked on a reign of terror that would see the country’s entire populace living in fear for decades and would result in the deaths of up to 25 million people. It is this fact that has led the quote “The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic” to be attributed to him. While it is possible that Stalin did, in fact, say this, there is actually no definitive proof that he ever did. But whether or not he ever said the words, they have been used by people the world over to try to comprehend the kind of evil, twisted mind that could be responsible for so much death.
27. Playing with Police
Drifter Henry Lee Lucas confessed to more than 3,000 murders, and while this was almost certainly mostly boasting on his part, he was still a notorious serial killer and he was eventually convicted of 11 homicides. When asked about his motivations, he admitted that he got pleasure out of making those who are supposed to protect the public look stupid, saying: “I made the police look stupid. I was out to wreck Texas law enforcement.”
26. Kill and Forget It
The crimes of Henry Lee Lucas spanned more than two decades, from 1960-1983. It is hard to comprehend how someone could embark on such a long and horrible killing spree, but according to Lucas, he found it easy. When he was asked how many people he killed, he simply said: “Once I’ve done it, I just forget it.”
Dennis Rader made people reconsider the limits of humanity. Becoming known to the public as the BTK Killer, he was caught after 15 years on the loose. During his spree, he would send letters to police and news outlets describing his murders in detail, yet he still managed to evade the law years. When speaking about how he was able to do what he did, he said: “When this monster entered my brain, I will never know, but it is here to stay. How does one cure himself? I can’t stop it, the monster goes on, and hurts me as well as society. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t.”
24. Zodiac Killer
To this day, nobody knows who the Zodiac Killer was, or is, which makes his rampage all the more terrifying, as he has kept part of the United States on edge since he started sending in taunting letters to the newspapers of Northern California. One can only imagine the reaction editors must have had when they came across his infamous quote on why he killed: “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest because man is the most dangerous animal of them all.”
23. Reform Practices
The criminal justice system is largely based on the belief that criminals can be reformed, and can one day re-enter society after having done restitution for their crimes. This is perhaps why this quote from convicted murderer Carl Panzram is so chilling, because it seems to be fundamentally at odds with this entire system: “I believe the only way to reform people is to kill them.” Perhaps he had no argument then when he was executed for his crimes in 1930.
22. Lie, Cheat, Kill
Panzram was a depraved and dangerous man who claimed to have killed more than 20 people and to have committed more than 1,000 sexual assaults. He was caught on more than one occasion, but he managed to escape from prison several times. He took advantage of the people around him whenever he felt he had the upper hand, which makes his words even more sickening: “Those I have harmed were all either weaklings either mentally or physically. Those who were strong in either mind or body I first lied to and led into a trap where they were either asleep or drunk or helpless in some way. I always had all the best of it.”
21. Alien Aileen Wuornos
Immortalized by Charlize Theron’s depiction of her in the 2003 film Monster, Aileen Wuornos lived a hard life that eventually culminated in her taking it out on seven different men, killing them all with a point-blank shot. Her words chill us to the core because while most of us understand that pain exists in the world, she exclusively thought of it in the most painful of ways: “To me, this world is nothing but evil, and my own evil just happened to come out ’cause of the circumstances of what I was doing.”
20. Terror in the Family
Edmund Kemper committed his first two murders at just 15 years old, killing his grandparents. After he did so, he immediately called the police and confessed, and when he was asked why he committed such a horrifying crime, to his own flesh and blood of all people, he said that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma.”
19. Once a Killer…
Kemper was sent to live in a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane after killing his grandparents, but he was released at just 21 years of age, and he soon reverted to his killing ways. Before killing his mother and turning himself in once again, he committed a series of murders that involved young females because: “When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things: one part of me wants to take her home, be real nice and treat her right; the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick.”
18. Point of No Return
David Alan Gore knew that after he committed his heinous crimes, there was no way he could return to any sort of normal life, so he just kept doing it. He encapsulated the feeling by saying: “All of a sudden I realized I had just done something that separated me from the human race and it was something that could never be undone, I realized from that point on I could never be like normal people.”
17. Green River Killer
A misanthrope is someone who outright hates all people and every aspect of human nature. One such person was Gary Ridgway, the most prolific confirmed serial killer in the history of the United States. Despite being convicted of more than 40 murders, he was spared the death penalty by reaching a plea bargain wherein he disclosed the locations of several of his missing victims. When he was asked about his motivations for his monstrous acts, he simply said: “I don’t believe in man, God, or the Devil. I hate the whole damned human race, including myself.”
16. Voices from Delusion
Herbert Mullin thought he was doing the world a service by killing people because he genuinely believed that every time he murdered someone, he was preventing an earthquake. Naturally, he must have a good reason for going into a church confessional and stabbing a priest, right? Nope: “I saw the light over the confessional and the voice said, ‘That’s the person to kill.’”
15. Feeling Death
Ted Bundy may not need any introduction, as not only is he perhaps the most famous serial killer of all time, but he did more than enough talking about himself through the years. He committed his numerous twisted murders because of the sick power he felt in the situation, saying: “You feel the last bit of breath leaving their body. You’re looking into their eyes. A person in that situation is God!”
14. Society’s Children
Echoing what is underneath the fear that the public has for serial killers, Ted Bundy said: “We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere. And there will be more of your children dead tomorrow.”
13. American Mobility
The last quote from Bundy is perhaps the most unsettling. Spoken in the third person, he conveys American society as something particularly susceptible to serial killing: “A factor that is almost indispensable to this kind of behavior [serial killing] is the mobility of contemporary American life. Living in large centers of population, and living with lots of people, you can get used to dealing with strangers. It’s the anonymity factor, and it has a twofold effect. First of all, if you’re among strangers you’re less likely to remember them, or care what they’re doing or what they should, or should not, be doing. If they should or shouldn’t be there. Secondly, you’re conditioned almost not to be afraid of strangers. Mobility is very important here. As we’ve seen… the individual’s [referring to himself in third person] modus operandi was moving large distances in an attempt to camouflage what he was doing. Moving these distances, he was able to take advantage of the anonymity factor.
12. For the Fun of It
Enjoying his time as a murderer on the loose, Albert Desalvo said of his killings: “It wasn’t as dark and scary as it sounds. I had a lot of fun… killing somebody’s a funny experience.”
11. Night Stalker
Richard Ramirez was a vicious serial killer who terrorized California in the 1980s, becoming known as “the Night Stalker.” Known for his chilling demeanor, he put why people were afraid of him into words, saying: “We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid control life.”
10. Killing Celebrity
As a member of Charles Manson’s “Family,” Susan Atkins, also known as Sexy Sadie to the other members, participated in the Family’s infamous murder of eight different people, including actress Sharon Tate. When speaking about the Tate murders, she said: “They didn’t even look like people… I didn’t relate to Sharon Tate as being anything but a store mannequin… [she] sounded just like an IBM machine… She kept begging and pleading and pleading and begging [for the life of her unborn child], and I got sick of listening to her, so I stabbed her.”
9. Not the Superstar
Charles Manson had some seriously sadistic things to say about the world, but perhaps none captured his insanity as much as when he not only compared himself to Christ, but claimed he was Christ: “I’m Jesus Christ, whether you want to accept it or not, I don’t care.”
8. Contemplating More
Apparently, his murders were not enough for him, as Charles Manson felt he didn’t leave enough of an impact on society: “Maybe I should have killed four, five hundred people. Then I would have felt better. Then I would have felt like I really offered society something.”
7. Using the Youth
Although Field Marshall Douglas Haig was praised immediately after World War I for his command on the Western Front, in the years that followed he became a symbol of the war’s unparalleled, senseless violence, as evidenced by the two million British casualties under his watch. His view of warfare can be seen especially in one disturbing quote from his diary: “The Adjutant-General reported today that the total casualties are estimated at over 40,000 to date. This cannot be considered severe in view of the numbers engaged, and the length of the front attacked…” Sounds pretty severe to me.
6. A Genius Fear
Stephen Hawking will truly be missed. While he was a man who loved the universe, he feared for our world: “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Preach it, Stephen.
5. In the Genes
Hawking also feared for the traits with which we as human beings have evolved and the direction in which we naturally may be led: “I fear evolution has inbuilt greed and aggression to the human genome. There is no sign of conflict lessening, and the development of militarized technology and weapons of mass destruction could make that disastrous.” Now that’s truly scary.
4. Dropping the Bomb
Robert Oppenheimer was instrumental in the construction of the deadliest weapon that the world has ever seen, and upon viewing his creation, he was forced to grapple with the impact it would have upon humanity. When writing about the first ever test of a nuclear bomb, he famously said “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
3. The Doctor’s Hotel
H.H. Holmes was not only a con artist and a bigamist, but he was also a serial killer who went to enormous lengths in order to satiate his desires. Holmes owned a building that he added an entire third floor to, telling investors it was to be used as a hotel, except it never opened for business. Instead, he used the establishment to kill, and the building has since been fittingly known as “The Murder Hotel.” His words have put the shivers into people ever since he said: “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.”
2. Red Ripper
While most of the notorious serial killers we hear about are from the Western Hemisphere, they are certainly not limited to any specific region. Case in point, Andrei Chikatilo, AKA the Red Ripper or the Butcher of Rostov, who went on a 12-year murder streak through Soviet Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, killing more than 50 women and children between 1978 and 1990. After he was caught, he seemed to understand that there was something deeply wrong with him, once saying: “I was a mistake of nature, a mad beast.”
1. The Vampire of Düsseldorf
Some people know just exactly how to put the chill into others. Considered to be “the king of sexual perverts,” Peter Kurten left the world with the words: “After my head has been chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”
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