Britain's most prolific serial killers in modern history

Steven Wright aka 'The Suffolk Strangler'
Steven Wright is also known as the 'Suffolk Strangler' and murdered at least five women in 2006 | Killer Britain with Dermot Murnaghan

The case of Steven Wright, the Suffolk Strangler, is covered in Killer Britain with Dermot Murnaghan (S4, E5), available to stream now on Crime+Investigation Play.

The United States reports three times more serial killers per capita than every other country in the world and has produced 67.5% of all the world's known serial killers. While people in the UK might feel smug about their comparative lack of repeat murderers, the truth is they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, the country has seen its fair share of tragedy over the years.

Here are the most prolific UK serial killers from modern history:

Stephen Akinmurele

Perhaps the least-known character on our list, Stephen Akinmurele murdered a minimum of five elderly people in the north-west of England between 1995 and 1998. Dubbed ‘The Cul-de-Sac Killer’ for his choice of locations, Akinmurele later confessed to his crimes, admitting that he “got a kick” out of murdering people of pensionable age.

Akinmurele strangled and killed by arson until he was caught and convicted. In August 1999, he took his own life and left a note to his mother saying: "I couldn't take any more of feeling like how I do now, always wanting to kill." Before his suicide, he admitted to three other murders, but police have since dismissed the claims.

Steve Wright

‘The Suffolk Strangler’ picked up and cruelly killed five sex workers across five months in Ipswich in 2006. He was caught in that same year and given a whole life order, meaning he’ll never leave prison. He is currently behind bars at HM Prison Long Lartin in Worcestershire.

While Wright was convicted of murdering those five women, police across the country suspect him of killing more. Forces have connected him to the disappearances and murders of several other young women, but are yet to link him strongly enough to press charges.

Kenneth Erskine

In 1986, seven elderly people were murdered by a man who became known as 'The Stockwell Strangler'. His real name is Kenneth Erskine. He broke into his victims' homes, burgled, and then strangled them. Before that, many of them were sexually assaulted.

Erskine was, understandably, given a hefty jail term. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a recommended minimum term of 40 years. Since then, it has been established that the man was suffering from a severe mental disorder. He was 24 at the time of the murders but had the mental age of a ten-year-old. He has since been moved to the famous maximum-security hospital Broadmoor. Aged 66, Erskine could be free from 2028.

Dennis Nilsen

Scottish serial killer Dennis ‘Des’ Nilsen has gone down in British crime lore as one of the country’s most notorious serial killers. A murderer of young men and boys, Nilsen would keep the bodies of those he killed in his flat for weeks on end, talking to them and even having sex with them.

The ‘Muswell Hill Murderer’ was found guilty of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder, but he likely killed more. Based on his confessions and circumstantial evidence, that number could well be up to 16. He was given a whole life order in 1983 and served that sentence until his death in 2018.

Bruce George Peter Lee

Manchester-born Bruce George Peter Lee (born Peter George Dinsdale) confessed to 11 acts of arson between 1973 and 1979 and pleaded guilty to 26 counts of manslaughter. 14 of the charges were later overturned on appeal, taking the arsonist killer's 'official' murder count down to 12. It was determined that some of the deaths that Lee was responsible for were not intended.

Lee received an indefinite detention sentence at a secure hospital facility back in 1981, where he remains to this day.

Peter Sutcliffe

Due to the ferocity of The Yorkshire Ripper’s murders and his ability to operate (largely) undetected for five years, people have always wondered if he’d racked up more than his 13 confirmed murders. He’s known to have attacked 22 people, so it seems as if the hypothesis could be accurate.

We’ll likely never know whether Peter Sutcliffe killed 13 or 33 women (or somewhere in between). The 1970s serial killer was arrested in 1981, given a life imprisonment sentence, and died in 2020.

Harold Shipman

Of course, at the top of this macabre list was only ever going to be one man. Harold Frederick Shipman, also known as ‘Doctor Death’. Greater Manchester Police held him responsible for the deaths of 218 of his patients. However, he was found guilty and convicted of murdering just 15 of them.

Shipman injected diamorphine into his patients, after convincing them to leave money to him in their wills. He was able to commit his crimes from 1975 all the way up until 1998 before he was apprehended. After being sent to prison for the rest of his life, Shipman hung himself in his cell.