5 Killers Who Taunted Police

Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.

Serial killers do what they do for a number of different reasons, and figuring out those motives is a huge part of behavioural profiling. Authorities believe if they understand the why, they can find the who. For some, killing is about power—and that extends to the ability to evade capture. What they do after their crimes is just as important as how they choose their victims and how they kill. For example, it has been theorized that the alleged Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo would call his victims months and even years after he attacked them because he liked maintaining control over them, making sure they were still afraid.

You would think that most killers who be highly adverse to getting caught. But sometimes their cockiness and need for attention clouds their judgement. Instead of laying low, they will actually contact the detectives who are looking for them. Here are five killers who were so convinced of their own superiority, that they couldn’t resist taunting the police.

Zodiac Killer
The Zodiac Killer killed at least five people in Northern California from the late 60s to the early 70s. His identity is still unknown despite the fact that there are detailed sketches of his face and he wrote multiple letters to the police and to the press. After three murders, three nearly identical letters were sent to three different newspapers from the person who claimed to be responsible. They each included one third of a cryptogram that would supposedly reveal the killer’s identity. Only one of the cryptograms has been definitely solved and in it the killer claims to be “collecting slaves for the afterlife”.

As Zodiac (which is what he chose to call himself, not a name the press or the police came up with), continued to kill, he also continued to call the police to report his own crimes, and sent letters and greeting cards to the press. In the letters, he made demands and threatened to kill more people if they weren’t met while also leaving more impossibly to solved cryptograms. He took responsibility for a number of murders, although there isn’t enough evidence to confirm they were all him. The last letter attributed to the Zodiac was received by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1974 and in it, he claimed to have killed 37 people concluding the letter with “Me = 37, SFPD = 0”

Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader, aka BTK, was a respected husband and father in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. He killed 10 people between 1974 and 1991 during which time he sent multiple letters to the press taking responsibility for the murders. In one letter sent to TV station KAKE in Wichita, Rader suggested multiple names for himself including the “Poetic Strangler,” “The Wichita Hangman”, and “The Asphixiater”.

He took a decade-long break and remained undetected after he committed his last murder in 1991, but in 2004 the letters started back up again. Interest in the case had died down, which apparently didn’t sit well with Rader. So he sent a latter to KAKE entitled the “BKT Story”. He continued to leave letters and packages for the police including one that contained a doll that was bound with a plastic bag over its head. In one letter, Rader asked police if they would be able to trace him using a floppy disk. They, of course, said no, so he sent them one. Investigators used metadata stored on the disk to zero in on Rader and eventually arrest him. Needless to say, if he hadn’t felt the need to taunt police, Rader might still be at large.

Jack the Ripper
One of the oldest serial killers was also one of the first to taunt police with letters detailing his crimes. In reality, the police received hundreds of letters from people claiming to be the killer of multiple prostitutes in London’s Whitechapel area. Since the killer has never been caught, no one can be 100% sure of the legitimacy of the letters. Still, there are a few letters in particular that are considered by many people to be most likely from the real killer.

The first letter received is referred to as the “Dear Boss” letter. It was written in red ink and the first time the name “Jack the Ripper” was used. The second note is called the “Saucy Jack” postcard. The third, called the “From Hell” letter was received along with a preserved piece of a human kidney. In the letter, which is full of spelling mistakes, the killer claims to have consumed the rest of the kidney. Some theorize that the lower literacy level demonstrated and the fact that it is not signed by “Jack the Ripper” are signs that the “From Hell” could be the one and only note from the real killer as a journalist admitted to writing some of the letters in an effort to keep interest in newspapers alive. Today, there are hundreds of possible theories, and with all the misinformation and a lack of preserved evidence available, we’ll probably never know the truth about Jack the Ripper’s identity.

Axeman of New Orleans
The Axeman of New Orleans murdered six people and left 12 more injured in 1918 and 1919. He would break into people’s homes in the middle of the night and kill them with their own weapons—either and axe or a straight razor. The reason for the murders is unclear but there were theories. Some believed the murders were ethnically motivated since most of the victims were Italian immigrants or Italian-Americans. Others thought they were sexually motivated and the Axeman only killed men if they got in the way of him going after his intended female victims.

A common theory, and one that was dramatized in American Horror Story: Coven, was that he was trying to promote jazz music. That theory came from a letter that was published in a newspaper during his killing spree. In it, the writer claims to not be a human being, “but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell.” He called out a specific day and time where he planned to travel through New Orleans and kill anyone in a house that wasn’t playing loud jazz music. The Axeman committed his last known murder on October 27, 1919 and he has not been heard from since.

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam killed six people and wounded seven more in New York City from 1976 to July 1977. During his year-long killing spree, he would leave letters to investigators including one addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. In it, he expressed anger at being called a “woman hater” in the media. He claimed that he was “programmed to kill” and to stop him they would have to kill him. After reading the letter, psychologists believed that the Son of Sam enjoyed the feeling of control he got from eluding police and managing the public’s perception of him.

Before he was caught, Berkowitz also sent a rambling letter to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. He praised Breslin’s coverage of what were then called the .44 caliber murders, and again mentioned “Sam” and his orders to kill. When Berkowitz was finally caught, he reportedly said to the arresting officer, “Well, you got me. How come it took you such a long time?”

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