America has a dark and checkered past. From mass shootings to serial killers, the country has some of the most prolific and brutal killers ever recorded.
According to the FBI, a murderer becomes serial when they kill two or more people in separate events. While the majority of serial killers commit their crimes for the thrill and "enjoyment," others are done out of anger and financial reward. Though it's easy to think that nothing bad like that has happened in Tennessee, the Volunteer State has seen plenty of heinous crimes through its history.
So, who are some of the most notorious criminals and serial killers in Tennessee history?
According to the FBI, Samuel Little confessed to committing 93 murders between 1970 and 2005, making him the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. He was arrested in 2012 at a Kentucky homeless shelter, but he is believed to be responsible for three murders in Tennessee, in addition to his crimes committed in other states. He was accused of strangling his victims who were typically marginalized or vulnerable women. He died in December 2020 while serving a life sentence in a California prison.
Champ Ferguson is responsible for the most murders committed on this list. Ferguson was a ranger and guerilla fighter during the Civil War who was convicted and executed for his war crimes. It is believed he killed dozens of soldiers and civilians throughout the war, potentially claiming up to 100 victims. In October 1865, he was found guilty and later hanged for his crimes.
Thomas Dee Huskey aka "Zoo Man"
Thomas Dee Huskey, also called the "Zoo Man," is a convicted rapist and supposed serial killer who is serving a decades-long prison sentence. He was given his nickname by local sex workers, likely because of his former job as an elephant trainer. Huskey is believed to have strangled four sex workers in Knoxville in the early 1990s, but a judge ruled that missteps in the case and a "coerced" confession meant that he couldn't be tried for murder. He was convicted of rape and sentenced to 64 years in prison.
The Vicious Harpes
Micajah "Big" Harpe and Wiley "Little" Harpe, also known as "The Vicious Harpes," are responsible for the oldest crimes committed on this list. In the late 1700s, they were considered by many to be murderers, highwaymen, and river pirates who operated across Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and Mississippi. Some historians call them America's first true serial killers, as it is believed they killed dozens of men, women, and children. Micajah was killed in 1799, but Wiley was sentenced to death and hanged in 1804.
Kenneth Gordon Taylor
Originally from Ohio, Kenneth Gordon Taylor is accused of committing murders in several states between 1977 and 1978. He was arrested when he was pulled over in Nashville for a traffic violation, but he told the police officers that he had just committed a murder, sending them to the body of David Willie. Once he was in custody, he confessed to killing 16 others in Tennessee, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He ended up recanting his confessions later, claiming insanity, but was ultimately convicted of second degree murder in 1979. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
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