I’ve never understood the appeal of serial killers. Sure, there is the shock value of an individual taking remorseless pleasure in unspeakable acts. But shock value is not enough; a murder without a motive just isn't a story.
Though I am not a fan of serial killers, I am a fan of historical accuracy and apparently so is Dan Norder, Crime Historian for examiner.com. His post, Crime history 101: Who was the first American serial killer?, provides a sampling (admittedly incomplete) of American serial killers in reverse chronological order.
Though he lists Jack the Ripper as a possible American serial killer, like me Norder does not think any of the arguments asserting this are convincing. And his list easily debunks the myth that H. H. Holmes (1890s) was America’s first serial killer.
So, who was America’s first serial killer? Norder likes the Harpe brothers (1799). Until something earlier turns up, so does Murder by Gaslight.