The state of Wisconsin has produced some of America’s most notorious serial murderers. These Wisconsin serial killers committed crimes so horrific that they will forever remain in the public consciousness.
This state is famous for its great lakes and its cheese; it’s known for being a fairly quiet, friendly and unassuming state. But once you get a load of these Wisconsin serial killers your perception of America’s Dairyland might just change.
4. Walter Ellis
Known as the North Milwaukee Strangler, Walter Ellis was a free and dangerous man for more than twenty years, beginning in 1986 and ending with his arrest in 2007. He raped and murdered several women of African American descent and proved to be illusive, leaving little evidence and no trail.
Law enforcement had DNA evidence, but these were cold cases and they remained that way for some time. When he was finally fingered for the crimes, Ellis denied everything, got himself an attorney and prepared to knuckle down. But it didn’t quite work out for this Wisconsin serial killer as his attorney withdrew from the case and he was forced to plead guilty to his crimes.
He received a total of 7 life sentences, one for each murder victim, and was told that there would be no possibility of parole. Ellis remained in a Wisconsin prison for some time after his arrest, but he was eventually moved to a maximum-security facility in South Dakota.
In 2013, just a few months into his term at the maximum-security prison, Ellis passed away of natural causes. He was fifty-three years old.
3. David Frank Spanbauer
Third on our list of Wisconsin serial killers is Spanbauer. In 1994 Spanbauer was convinced of the kidnapping, rape and murder of two children, as well as the murder of a young woman. Although the number of victims was not high, the severity of these crimes is what earns him his position on this list of Wisconsin serial killers.
Spanbauer’s victims had their whole lives ahead of them, aged just 10, 12 and 21. He brutalized them, raped them, and them finished them off with an execution. For his crimes he was sentenced to three life terms without parole, plus an additional 403 years (it sounds ridiculous now, but if he had turned out to be immortal then this sentence would have looked like a genius move). He spent less than a decade in prison before passing away aged 61 in 2002.
Spanbauer was a despicable human being who acted on his sickening urges and took the lives of several innocent people. But as evil as he was, there are other Wisconsin serial killers who make this monster look tame by comparison.
2. Ed Gein
If the name doesn’t ring a bell then just think of Norman Bates in his iconic role, because this Wisconsin serial killer went on to inspire the iconic Hitchcock character. In fact, Gein would also inspire the creation of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. In other words, this Wisconsin serial killer’s crimes were so gruesome, so grotesque and so unthinkable that they inspired two of the most sinister creations in horror cinema.
Just like Normal Bates in psycho (see more in our Best Movies on Serial Killers guide), Ed Gein lost his mother very early on and was looked after by his mother throughout much of his life. His mother convinced him that the world was a scary place and did her best to keep him away from it. He was a recluse, a paranoid hermit, and when his mother passed away he had a mental breakdown.
He began grave robbing in order to steal body parts, using skin to craft lamp shades and collecting organs for other seemingly frivolous means. When he tired of collecting from the already-dead, he branched out into murder.
As far as we know, Gein only killed two women before he was arrested. But it was the level of atrocities at his farmhouse that ensures this Wisconsin’s serial killer’s legacy lives on. Police raiding his house discovered his collection of parts and skin. They found a collection of preserved skin that Gein had been collecting in order to prepare a costume that he could wear.
After his arrest, it was deemed that Ed Gein was not fit to stand trial and so he was sent to a psychiatric hospital. He moved back and forward between the court and the hospital for a couple years and then eventually died of heart failure in the hospital, having never stood trial for his crimes.
1. Jeffrey Dahmer
Not only is Jeffrey Dahmer one of the most famous Wisconsin serial killers, but he’s one of the most well known serial killers worldwide. As luck (the bad kind) would have it, he was born in the same year as Walter Ellis.
Born in Milwaukee, which was also the same city as Ellis, Dahmer had a troubled existence from the outset and was always going to have a rocky ascent into adulthood. His parents were fairly normal by many accounts and Dahmer was also perfectly normal until the age of 6, after which he began to display some odd traits.
When he was just 14 years old his parents divorced and Dahmer’s personality experienced a dramatic shift. He had already developed an obsession with dead things, but this began to spiral out of control.
When he was 18 his life took on a direction that would earn him a place in the annuals of infamy. This is how old he was when he committed his first murder, getting his first taste for blood and beginning on a path that would lead to the death of at least 16 men from the city of Milwaukee.
Dahmer was a necrophiliac, which means he derived sexual pleasure from sexually abusing the corpses of his victims. He is also said to have eaten parts of his victim’s body and when the police finally uncovered his crimes they stumbled upon a house of horrors, with body parts hidden away and with a head on display in the fridge.
Wisconsin’s most famous serial killer was sentenced to multiple life sentences and in prison he proved to be a model prisoner. However, in 1994 he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate seeking his own piece of infamy.
Dahmer will go down in history as one of the worst Wisconsin serial killers and one of the worst serial killers period. This is a man who combined two of the most sickening taboos—cannibalization and necrophilia—and will likely live forever in the memory as a result.