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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > Christmas 2015 > 50 MOST INFAMOUS VILLAINS OF ALL TIME

50 MOST INFAMOUS VILLAINS OF ALL TIME

Bank robbers, pirates, con artists and serial killers – there are countless names that continue to horrify and fascinate. Nige Tassell runs down our top 50 who have made history for all the wrong reasons...
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1: Elizabeth Báthory. 2: Jesse James. 3: Bonnie and Clyde. 4: The Krays. 5: Blackbeard. 6: Jack the Ripper. 7: Ned Kelly. 8: Al Capone.

9: Titus Oates. 10: Butch Cassidy. 11: The Sundance Kid. 12: Dick Turpin. 13: Herostratus. 14: Thomas 'Colonel' Blood

NB: In compiling our list, we chose to avoid selections from the very recent past for reasons of sensitivity. We also ruled out rulers – so we've not included any dangerous dictators, evil kings and queens, or tyrannical despots.

50

WILLIE SUTTON

ACTIVE: 1912-52

CRIME: BANK ROBBER

In an era where bankrobbers shed plenty of blood, Brooklynite Willie Sutton was a more gentlemanly stick-’em-up figure. He later admitted his gun was never loaded, and reportedly aborted any robbery if a woman or baby was screaming. His career, during which he stole in the region of $2 million, lasted 40 years before his capture in 1952. Upon his release in 1970, he lectured on prison reform.

49

TOM HORN

ACTIVE: c1876-1903

CRIME: GUN FOR HIRE

ALAMY X4, BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X1, CORBIS X1, GETTY X9, TOPFOTO X3, REX X1

Horn had many lives – US Army scout, spy for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, prospector, cowboy and rodeo rider. Most notoriously, though, he was a gun for hire, implicated in 17 murders across the western states. In 1902, he was convicted of the murder of a 14-year-old sheep rancher in Wyoming and hanged the following year.

48

TILLY DEVINE

ACTIVE: 1920-55

CRIME: BROTHEL MADAM

Born into a prominent South London crime family, the young Matilda Twiss was a teenage thief and prostitute. Then, at the age of 20, she followed her Australian husband Jim Devine to New South Wales where the couple ran brothels and became major drug dealers. Devine became one of Australia’s richest women. “I have more diamonds than the Queen of England,” she once quipped. “And better ones too!” It all came crashing down in 1955, however, when she was ordered to pay more than £20,000 in unpaid income tax.

47

MEYER LANSKY

ACTIVE: c1918-83

CRIME: MAFIA BANKER

The man better known as ‘ The Mob’s Accountant’, Polish-born Lansky teamed up with notable mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Their gang was one of the most violent Mafia organisations in the US, allowing Lansky to amass substantial holdings in casinos in Las Vegas and pre-revolution Cuba. His only convictions were for illegal gambling and, upon his death, he was officially worth nothing, although his sharp accounting obscured a rumoured fortune of $300 million.

46

HOWARD MARKS

ACTIVE: 1970-88

CRIME: DRUG SMUGGLER

Through his memoirs and a subsequent film, the man known as ‘Mr Nice’ has become arguably the most recognised drug smuggler of recent times. Adopting more than 40 aliases, he went largely unrecognised by the authorities across the world until 1988 when he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years, of which he served seven. One of the Welsh-born Oxford graduate’s innovative techniques was hiding cannabis in the speaker cabinets of fictitious British rock bands ‘touring’ the US.

45

CHARLES PEACE

ACTIVE: 1854-1879

CRIME: BURGLAR, MURDERER

SWIFT JUSTICE It took just 12 minutes for the jury to pass judgement at his trial in Leeds

Over 25 years, the inappropriately named Peace committed many burglaries in London, Sheffand Manchester. When he was sentenced to hang in 1879, however, it was for the murder of a neighbour, who he shot after becoming obsessed with his wife. Before his execution, he also confessed to shooting and killing a police offcer.

ARMED AND DANGEROUS

To avoid detection by the police, Peace would wear a prosthetic arm in order to disguise the fact that he had a missing finger.

44

HH HOLMES

ACTIVE: 1893-1896

CRIME: SERIAL KILLER

The name Dr Henry Howard Holmes This largely followed by the words ‘America’s first serial killer’. The Chicago drugstore owner opened a hotel to cater for visitors to the city for the 1893 World’s Fair, but the building was not what it seemed. Later known as his ‘murder castle’, its design included torture chambers and secret corridors where Holmes would suffocate, hang and gas his (mostly female) victims. When captured, he confessed to 27 murders, but he was believed to have actually taken up to a staggering 200 lives in just a few years.

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