While hundreds of thousands of people died during the American Civil War, few of them were murdered in cold blood in broad daylight in front of numerous witnesses. This was, however, the case in the death of Union Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson. Nelson was the commander of Federal forces in Louisville, Ky., when he was shot and killed by fellow Union Gen. Jefferson C. Davis on Sept. 29, 1862. Davis and Nelson had been squabbling for a week following Davis’ return to Louisville from sick leave. On the morning of the shooting, Davis threw a ball of paper in Nelson’s face. Nelson responded by slapping Davis across the face, prompting Davis to ask a friend who was standing nearby if he had a pistol. When that man said no, Davis found another friend who gave him a gun. Davis returned to Nelson’s office and immediately shot him in the chest at 8 a.m. Thirty minutes later, Nelson was dead. Davis was arrested but never charged due to the Union’s need for competent field commanders. He later served with William Tecumseh Sherman during his famous “March to the Sea” through Georgia.
In the 21st century, the vast majority of people who are executed are killed by lethal injection. However, some centuries-old methods of execution have been used recently. Convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner’s death sentence was carried out by a firing squad on June 18, 2010, in Utah. Gardner was the fourth person executed by firing squad in Utah since 1960. Utah was the only state to still offer the firing squad as a means of execution until South Carolina’s senate added it as an execution option in 2019.
The vast majority of serial killers seem to be men in the prime of their lives, but there are exceptions to this rule. Amardeep Sada, an 8-year-old boy from India, claimed three victims in 2007. He first bludgeoned his 8-month-old sister and later a 6-month-old cousin to death with a rock in a field. He followed these murders by strangling a 6-month-old girl to death and attempting to bury her body in the same field.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists 17th century Slovakian noble woman Elizabeth Báthory as the most prolific female serial killer, claiming she murdered well over 600 virgins so she could drink, and bathe in, their blood. While this number is hard to prove, the 42 victims of Juana Barraza, known as the La Mataviejitas (the Old Lady Killer) in Mexico are much easier to verify. Barraza, a former professional wrestler who wrestled under the name the Silent Lady, strangled or bludgeoned at least 42 elderly women to death from the late 1990s until 2003. All of Barraza’s victims were at least 60 years old and lived in and around Mexico City. She would pose as a government social worker and then kill and rob them. Barraza was eventually caught. She was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to 759 years in prison.
Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes, was a prolific serial killer who operated in the Chicago area around the end of the 19th century. In 1887, Holmes purchased a vacant lot in the Englewood neighborhood and started construction on a two-story building, which later expanded to three stories plus a basement. He used this house to commit his crimes and dispose of his victims’ bodies. The entire second floor of Holmes’ building was comprised of rooms designed for various acts of torture. There was also a chute that led directly to the basement where he would dissect his victims before often selling their various body parts on the black market. Holmes had no real taste for the act of killing, so many of the rooms on the second floor were airtight, allowing him to murder his victims with poisonous gas. By the time he was done, Holmes killed at least nine people. He confessed to another 27 murders, although some suspect the number is as high as 200. Holmes was hung to death in 1896. His murder castle was ruined by a fire in 1895 but stood until 1938. A post office now stands in its place.