Can You Identify the Worst Criminals in American History?

By: Gavin Thagard

Charles Manson was a rejected musician who became a cult​ leader of a group known as the Manson Family. After organizing several murders throughout California, Manson was arrested and charged in 1971, spending the rest of his life in prison where he died at the age of 83.

Eric Harris and his friend, Dylan Klebold, entered their high school on April 20, 1999, killing twelve students and one teacher in a rage-filled shooting. The kids claimed the attack was due to prior bullying.

John Dillinger was killed by Federal agents in the summer of 1934 when he was leaving a movie at the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Dillinger tried to flee as the agents approached him, and they shot him as he ran.

Prior to her trial, Jodi Arias gave several different statements to police, which mostly contradicted each other. When her stories failed to line up, she tried to plead self-defense but was found guilty of first-degree murder.

Paul John Knowles traveled around the United States in the 1970s killing upwards of 20 people. When he was finally arrested and being transported by police, he tried to escape the police cruiser and was shot to death, ending his reign of terror.

Donald Harvey called himself the "Angel of Death," as he supposedly helped dozens of elderly people reach the afterlife. However, the jury didn't see it that way, and Harvey was sentenced to 28 consecutive life sentences.

Jesse James was the leader of the James-Younger Gang who robbed banks throughout the mid-west from around 1868 until the 1880s. In 1882, James was shot by Robert Ford: a new member of his very own gang.

Known as the "BTK Strangler," Dennis Rader had a method of murder where he would bind, torture, then kill his victims. Despite moving away from his murdering ways after 1991, he was discovered after sending letters taunting police in 2004 and 2005.

Bonnie and Clyde have moved beyond being simple American criminals as they now hold a place in American folklore. There have been several movies and books detailing their journey as star-crossed lovers.

"Whitey" Bulger fled police in 1994 remained in hiding for nearly two decades, until 2011. He was finally discovered after a domestic dispute led police to his apartment in California.

Abraham Lincoln led the country through the most brutal war in its history, the American Civil War, only to be assassinated near the war's end at Ford's Theatre by John Wilkes Booth. Booth was an actor, which gave him access to the president that night.

Former CEO of Petters Group Worldwide, Tom Petters committed major business fraud during his time with the company. His main method of fraud was the Ponzi scheme where he used money from new investors to pay off old investors.

Edgar Ray Killen was a high-ranking KKK member in Mississippi when he organized the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in 1964. However, he wouldn't actually be convicted of the murders until 2005.

Ted Kaczynski is best known as the "Unabomber," a name he got for sending bombs to university and airport personnel. Kaczynski believed his actions were justified as the world desperately needed to slow down the progress of industrialization.

"Bugsy" Siegel was instrumental in turning Las Vegas, particularly the Strip, into what it is today. However, major financial losses after he opened the Flamingo Hotel caused his bosses to turn on him before he had the chance to turn a profit.

Though it's been said he killed upwards of 200 people, only nine of H.H. Holmes murders have been confirmed. He was executed by hanging in 1896.

Billy the Kid's fame grew substantially after he took part in the Lincoln County War. He killed several people during the war and was forced to spend the remainder​ of his short life as a fugitive.

Known as the "Milwaukee Cannibal," Jeffrey Dahmer committed heinous acts against his victims which included necrophilia and cannibalism. He was also known for keeping his victim's body parts as souvenirs.

Timothy McVeigh was the domestic terrorist responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing. The bombing occurred at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, killing 168 people.

Henry Louis Wallace was given the death penalty after being convicted of rape and murder. Despite several failed attempts to have his sentence overturned, Wallace awaits execution on death row.

After Colin Ferguson made the decision to represent himself in court, his trial became highly publicized. A debate over Ferguson's mental capacity ensued, but a psychiatrist determined he was sane enough to stand trial.

Aside from the National Crime Syndicate, "Lucky" Luciano also founded the Commission, which replaced the title of "Boss of Bosses." The Commission united the Five Families of organized crime in New York and helped alleviate​ some of the bloodshed in the city.

Bruno Hauptmann's kidnapping and murder of Charles Lindbergh's son became a national affair since Lindbergh won the Orteig Prize for being the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. The murder became known as "The Crime of the Century."

"Pretty Boy" Floyd's crimes are considered a product of the Great Depression. With no money and little food, he and other men turned to robbing banks in the 1930s. Much of their early success was due to having weapons, such as the Tommy submachine gun, that officers didn't have at the time.

Jim Bakker rose to fame as a televangelist host on "The PTL Club." He returned to televangelism on "The Jim Bakker Show" after his release from prison.

Mary Surratt owned a boarding house in Washington D.C. that was frequented by John Wilkes Booth before he murdered President Abraham Lincoln. She was accused of conspiring with Booth and others after the assassination and was hanged for her part in the crime.

According to his adolescent partner, John Allen Muhammad wanted to organize a group of fighters that he would train to carry out attacks under his orders. He intended to accomplish this by recruiting young boys from orphanages on his way to Canada.

"Curly" Bill Brocius was one of the assassins responsible for the death of Morgan Earp, the brother of Wyatt Earp. Seeking retribution, Wyatt hunted Brocius down, eventually finding and killing him in 1882.

David Berkowitz committed murders across New York City from 1976 through 1977. As his confidence grew, he left letters to police to mock them for their efforts in catching him.

"Machine Gun Kelly" got his nickname from his weapon of choice, the Thompson submachine gun. He reached a high level of notoriety across the United States after kidnapping Charles Urschel, an elite entrepreneur​ in the country.

A wealthy family from Beverly Hills, California, the deaths of Jose and Mary Menendez surprised the nation. Even more surprising was the reactions from their two children, Lyle and Erik, who went on a spending spree after their murders.

John F. Kennedy was still in his first term as president when he was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald has been connected to various conspiracies since the assassination, but none of them have stuck.

"The Boston Strangler" killed thirteen women in Boston between 1962 and 1964. Even though Albert DeSalvo confessed to all of the murders, only one of them has been connected to him through DNA.

By the time Andrea Yates had her fourth child, she was showing signs of severe depression, even attempting suicide several times. Despite doctors telling her to avoid having further children, she had a fifth child which caused her condition to worsen.

Richard Ramirez died at the Marin General Hospital in 2013 from complications due to a history of B-cell lymphoma. He had been awaiting execution on death row since 1989.

John Gotti gained significant power in the crime world after murdering Paul Castellano in 1985. Gotti took control of the Gambino crime family after the murder, though instability within the family grew under his rule.

Benedict Arnold was an American military officer in the Continental Army before he saw the opportunity to switch sides. The commander at West Point, Arnold intended to give the fortification away to the British, but his plot was discovered, and he was forced to flee.

The movie "Monster" starring Charlize Theron depicted the life of Aileen Wuornos. The movie won several awards, including Best Actress for Charlize Theron.

John Wayne Gacy, known as "The Killer Clown," dressed up regularly as a clown at fundraiser events around his community. He would often call himself either "Pogo the Clown" or "Patches the Clown" as he claimed he tried to escape adulthood.

Al Capone is most known for his bootlegging operation in Chicago during Prohibition in the 1920s and early '30s. However, his violent ways eventually brought attention to his operations as Capone became known as "Public Enemy No. 1."

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Image: Wiki Commons by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

About This Quiz

From violent serial killers to bank robbers and corrupt businessmen, America has a criminal history that rivals any other country in the world. In fact, the history of American criminals can be traced back to a well-known traitor in the Revolutionary War. Since then, American criminals have found countless ways to keep the populace mesmerized, constantly upping the ante with each new crime. 

For most, it's hard to understand exactly what makes someone commit these horrible acts on those around them, which is why there is such an obsession with these criminals for years and even decades after they have been locked away or executed. They never quite fade from the grander American story, as countless books and movies depict their lives while followers find new ways to replicate the actions of the criminals who came before them. 

Do you have an obsession with criminals and what drives their actions? How well do you know the worse criminals in American history, those from the Wild West to the modern day? Do you think you can identify most of those American criminals from an image? This quiz will give you a chance to find out. 

When you're ready, get started and see how far your criminal obsession will take you in the quiz! 

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