Serial killers have a notorious past of taunting the police with messages and haunting clues. Either sent privately or left behind at crime scenes, the message is quite often very clear: Catch me if you can.
Forensic psychologist J. Reid Meloy described it to the L.A. Times as “both a desire to link with law enforcement and a desire to devalue it.” Many killers begin to see their killing sprees as a contest with the police – a cat and mouse game. Other experts say it’s a way they can get attention.
Charles Bahn, a forensic psychologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, explains “These kind of individuals have illusions of grandeur; they believe they have a unique mental capacity beyond mere mortals. The problem is, they don’t give the police credit for being smart too.”
However, those who dare to mock the law enforcement don’t always get to enjoy the last laugh…
11. Rory Enrique Conde
Rory Enrique Conde, known also as “The Tamiami Trail Strangler” was a Columbian serial killer who butchered six prostitutes in Florida.
During his earlier life, he married his 15-year-old wife, Carla, in 1987 when he was 21-years-old. The pair had two children together but they would often fight over Rory bringing women back home with him. Carla claimed Rory would disappear during the night for long periods of time and she eventually moved away from him after he threatened to kill her.
His desire for sex and power did not stop there. In 1994, he killed a cross-dressing male prostitute, Lazaro Comesana. Later he claimed he murdered the man after feeling tricked into believing he was a woman. One month later he killed two females prostitutes, writing on one of the victim’s back “THIRD! (with a happy face dotting the ‘i’) I will call Dwight Chan 10″ (Which was a reference to Dwight Chan the news anchor” then added, “See if you can catch me.” (Using two eyes instead of “e’s” for the word “see.”)
During the months that followed, he would kill three more victims and taped a note to the police on one of the victim’s arms as he continued to taunt them. Finally, in 1995, he was caught after he bound a prostitute named Gloria Maestre head to toe, she had made enough noise to alert the neighbors.
He is 50-years-old today and currently waiting on death row.
10. Paul Michael Stephani
Paul Michael Stephani became known as the “Weepy-Voiced Killer” after he made a series of phone calls to the police anonymously reporting his crimes using a distraught and high-pitched voice. He killed four young women in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area, but he only made his sinister and frightening phone calls about three.
On New Year’s Eve in 1980, he beat his first victim, a young woman named Karen Potack, to death with a tire iron as she was walking home from a party in Prescott, Wisconsin. At 3 am, after the attack, Stephani called the police in an emotional voice and told them to hurry to the railroad tracks. He said: “There is a girl hurt there.” Stephani had beaten her so badly that police initially thought her throat had been cut open with a knife. She miraculously survived but suffered severe brain trauma after the attack.
In 1982, stabbed 21-year-old Denise Williams several times with a screwdriver. During the attack, Williams hit Stephani on the head with a glass bottle. He made the once again sinister call to the police but when he returned home he realized he was bleeding from his head from being hit with the bottle. He went to the hospital to have the cut looked at and medical staff alerted the police as the two incidents were clearly linked.
During the trial, Stephani’s ex-wife and sister testified that it was his voice that could be heard on the recordings. He was sentenced to forty years in prison. Finally, 20 years after the first phone call, Stephani confessed in prison to four killings. He died behind bars from cancer in 1998.
9. The Washington Snipers
In 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo were responsible for a coordinated shooting spree that took place over three weeks in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The attacks are now known as the “The Washington Sniper attacks” or “The Beltway sniper attacks”. Ten people were killed and three other victims were critically injured. All their victims were killed with a stolen .223 semi-automatic Bushmaster XM-15 assault rifle.
Within the first 15 hours of their D.C shooting spree, there were six deaths from seven separate shootings, which promoted news channels to start covering the events live. America’s Most Wanted also devoted a whole show to the shooters in the hopes that they could be stopped. Many of the attacks took place at gas stations, those who were stopping by to fill up their cars would move quickly around the vehicles as they would be a harder target to hit.
At several of the crime scenes, the snipers left the “Death” tarot card. They had scrawled: “Call me God” written on the front, and “For you mr. Police”, “Code: Call me God” and “Do not release to the press” on the back.
At another location, they left a ransom note asking for ten million dollars. Then another letter was found, this read: “Don’t say anything. Just listen. Dearest police, Call me God. Do not release to the press. Five red stars. You have our terms. They are non-negotiable. If you choose Option 1, you will hold a press conference stating to the media that you believe you have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose. Repeat every word exactly as you heard it. If you choose Option 2, be sure to remember we will not deviate. P.S.-Your children are not safe.”
Their shooting spree came to an end during the early hours of the morning on October 24th, 2002, when Muhammad and Malvo were found sleeping in their car, a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice which matched the description investigators were looking for.
The true motive behind the killings is still unknown, although according to Muhammad’s wife she believed this was an elaborate plan to later kill her so he could gain custody of their children. Prosecutors argued that this was an act of terrorism, using various jihad-related images as proof.
In September 2003, Muhammad was sentenced to death and Malvo was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. In 2009, Muhammad was executed by lethal injection at the Greensville Correctional Center near Jarratt, Virginia.
8. William Heirens
William Heirens also became known as the “Lipstick killer” after he scrawled sinister messages on the walls in lipsticks at the crime scenes. He confessed to three murders in 1946. Heirens was popular at school and even gained a scholarship for the University of Chicago. One graduate Riva Berkovitz said of him: “I remember (him as) the most popular boy in my class, who was handsome, smart and a good dancer. We all wanted to dance with him – the foxtrot, tango or a waltz. It didn’t really matter.”
Then in 1945, his killing spree began when he was just 16-years-old. Josephine Ross had been found dead in her apartment at North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago. She had been repeatedly stabbed and there were dark hairs clutched in her hand indicating a struggle. No valuables had been taken from the house and her former boyfriend and ex-husband both had alibis. All the police had was a witness account of a man seen running away from the crime scene.
Six months later, a woman named Frances Brown was found with a knife in her neck and bullet wound to the head in her apartment at North Pine Grove, Chicago. Once again no valuables had been taken but this time the killer had scrawled on the walls with lipstick: “For heavens sake catch me. Before I kill more. I cannot control myself.” They also discovered a bloody fingerprint on the door.
A year later in 1946, a six-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was missing from her bedroom at North Kenmore Avenue, Edgewater, Chicago. After her parents searched the apartment and could not find her they called the police. The police discovered a ransom note in her bedroom which read: “GeI $20,000 Reddy & wAITe foR WoRd. do NoT NoTify FBI oR Police. Bills IN 5’s & 10’s.” On the reverse of the note was written: “BuRN This FoR heR SAfTY.”
Police managed to then tie the handwriting to a similar note which had been sent to Chicago’s mayor which read: “This is to tell you how sorry I am not to not get ole Degnan instead of his girl. Roosevelt and the OPA made their own laws. Why shouldn’t I and a lot more?” During the time of his murders, there was a nationwide meatpackers stroke and the OPA were rationing dairy products. Police then believed the killer was a meat packer and more than 170 meat packers in the area sat through polygraph tests.
Investigators had reached a dead end until Heirens struck again – this time he had been caught waving a gun at a janitor and threatening to shoot him. He was arrested and held in custody. Heirens then told the police he was two people – himself and a boy named George. He claimed he first “met” George when he was 13-years-old and liked to rob houses for fun, but the thefts soon moved on to murder.
Psychologists revealed that children often make up imaginary friends to avoid responsibility for their actions. However, officers were not convinced and they believed Heirens was paving the way for an insanity plea. After his fingerprints were tied to the letters and the crime scene he was sentenced to life in prison at the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Illinois.
At the time of his death, Heirens was Chicago’s longest-serving prisoner, having spent 65 years in prison. Heirens had always claimed he was innocent and that his confession was through coercive interrogation and police brutality.
7. Axeman of New Orleans
Between the years of 1918 and 1919, The Mad Axeman is believed to have brutally killed 12 men and women within the New Orleans area, splitting their heads open with his ax and dismembering their bodies. Seven were killed and six were left critically injured. Yet whoever the axeman was, he was never found.
He would often write to newspapers informing citizens when he planned to carry out his next attack, claiming every household who played loud Jazz music would be spared and would live to see another day.
His haunting full letter read:
Hell, March 13, 1919
They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.
When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.
If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Francis Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.
Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.
Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:
I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.
Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.
6. Dennis Rader
Dennis Rader is known as the BTK killer which stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill”, his infamous signature when it came to his victims. During his 16-year killing spree, Dennis Rader murdered ten people, yet he still managed to outwardly appear like a pillar of his community in Pittsburg, Kansas.
He would taunt the police during his killing spree with letters describing the details of the killings and where the murders took place. One his poems “Black Friday Poem” read:
Just a quick glance and I knew all was lost.
I saw in real life…now a on going mind view, the black and white, were now my new boss.
I saw my life as I know quickly fade away.
I saw my love ones, in mind and thoughts that I would never be able to touch, hold, communicate closely with and kiss with care will now be at bay.
I saw the Black Side of me, was now caught and others would not suffer from my lots,
But then it dawn on me, it was not as I thought.
Yes the other in me will cause no suffering.
The living remained, the Mother, Brother, Sisters, Children, Close Friends and wife will suffer.
Ands the real me of blood, flesh and mind will suffer.
Another letter he sent expressed his frustration with the media not reporting on his crimes enough:
It was actually Rader’s gloating that proved to be his undoing. In 2005, the hunt for the “BTK killer” had died down due to lack of evidence and so had the media attention. Rader, possibly frustrated with the lack of interest, wrote to the police asking if they could trace information off a floppy disc. His letter read: “Look, be honest with me. If I send you a disk will it be traceable? Just put (the answer) in the newspaper.” The police claimed they could not trace him through a floppy disc and their trap was set…
When the police received the floppy disc, they were then able to find out that the author of the letter was called Dennis, he owned a black Jeep Cherokee and that he was involved with the local Lutheran Church. However, this information wasn’t enough to convict. Controversially, the police acquired DNA from Rader’s daughter’s smear test. That DNA matched evidence found under the fingernails of one BTK victim. DNA evidence plus Rader’s letters led to an arrest.
Rader is currently serving ten consecutive life sentences at El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. He is 71-years-old.
5. Hillside Stranglers
Kenneth Bianchi, alongside his cousin Angelo Buono, Jr., killed twelve women between October 1977 and January 1979 around the Los Angeles area.
Their victims, who were women and girls aged between 12 to 28, would be taken to Buono’s home before they were tortured and murdered. Together they became known as the Hillside Strangler until their arrest in 1979. Police had known all along there were two killers because of the presence of multiple seminal fluids and the positions of the bodies but withheld this information from the press.
Since a young age, Bianchi had an obsession with the police force and had studied police science and psychology at Monroe Community College, but dropped out of college after just one term Before his killing spree he had applied for an officers job although he was unsuccessful. He then got his hands on an L.A police badge and taught his cousin Buono how he just had to flash it to get free sex from prostitutes. He would even wear an officers uniform and his L.A police badge when he attacked his victims.
Bianchi later taunted the police with the bodies of his victims, always leaving them on a hillside and close to police stations. His taunts wouldn’t end there, as he continued to apply for law enforcement jobs even while enjoying his own killing spree. He had made some acquaintances in the LAPD and been brought along when officers were driving around the city looking for the killers.
The two cousins were eventually arrested when they unsuccessfully lured a woman to an abandoned house. Whilst awaiting trial, Bianchi started dating Veronica Compton, a playwright with a serial killer obsession he had met while in prison. Crompton was imprisoned for luring a woman to a motel and strangling her. She was trying to fool police into believing that the Hillside Strangler was still on the loose and that they had the wrong guy. Bianchi had even allegedly given her some semen from another prison in order for the attack and murder.
They were both handed life sentences after unsuccessful insanity pleas. Buono died of a heart attack in 2002 and Bianchi is serving his sentence at Washington State Penitentiary and will be eligible to apply for parole in 2025.
4. David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam killer”, shot and killed six victims, and wounded seven more, in New York City, between the summer of 1976 and July 1977. As the police hunted him down he wrote taunting letters and achieved worldwide notoriety.
During his killing spree, police uncovered a letter addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli from “Son of Sam”. The police kept the letter from the media but were concerned with the feverish tone of the letter and the expressed determination to kill again. An introduction to the letter read:
“I am deeply hurt by your calling me a women hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the “Son of Sam.” When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. “Go out and kill” commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young — raped and slaughtered — their blood drained — just bones now. I am on a different wave length then everybody else — programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first — shoot to kill or else. Keep out of my way or you will die!”
Psychologists who read the letter described Berkowitz as neurotic and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who believed himself to be a victim of demonic possession. They weren’t wrong because when he was finally arrested in August 1977, he claimed he was obeying the orders of a demon, which took the form of a dog named “Harvey” that belonged to his neighbor, “Sam”.
Intense coverage of the trial earned him celebrity status and almost every media outlet wanted to interview him. Publishers also offered him huge sums of money for his story. In response, the New York State introduced the new “Son of Sam laws”, which stops criminals from profiting financially from any publicity surrounding their crimes. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
After years of believing he was part of a satanic cult, Berkowitz has since penned a new book in prison: Son of Hope. 10 years into his sentence, he met a fellow inmate who encouraged him to share “Christ’s love, hope, and forgiveness.” Berkowitz now claims he has fully accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and has been a Christian for more than 18 years. The description reads that this “prison journal offers irrefutable evidence that God has indeed done a marvelous and miraculous work in this man’s life.”
As of 2015, Berkowitz remains serving his sentence at Sullivan Correctional Facility and he is now 62-years-old.
3. Ted Kaczynski
Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski was an American anarchist, mathematical prodigy, and domestic terrorist. He grew up in Evergreen Park, Illinois and was named a child prodigy, excelling academically from an early age – he has an I.Q of 167. Aged just 16-years-old, he was accepted into Harvard University where he earned an undergraduate degree and later he gained a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan. At 25-years-old, he became an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley but he resigned just two years later.
In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin in Lincoln, Montana without electricity or running water, where he lived a reclusive life while learning survival skills. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski began a nationwide bombing campaign against people involved with modern technology. He would plant or mail homemade bombs, which killed three people and injuring 23 others.
Kaczynski sent an anonymous handwritten letter addressed to the police via The New York Times on April 24th, 1995 promising “to desist from terrorism” if the Times or the Washington Post published his article: Industrial Society and Its Future or the “Unabomber Manifesto”). He argued that the bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization.
Napa County sheriff’s Captain Kenneth A. Narlow, who retired soon after the Unabomber was captured, recalled, “It was him saying, ‘I’ll match wits with you any day.'” James A. Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University, also added in an interview with the L.A Times, “He’s proven over the last 17 years that he’s very careful, very thorough, and very cunning.” The letter had taunted the police officers but it wasn’t long after the manifesto was published that he was finally caught.
His sister-in-law and his brother recognized his style of writing causing them to tip off the FBI. Kaczynski then entered a plea agreement and he was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
2. Jack The Ripper
The Whitechapel Murders took place in impoverished areas around Whitechapel, London in 1888. The serial killer was never identified but was given the name “Jack the Ripper”. The Ripper became of the first criminals in history to be profiled. His reign of terror has inspired many books, movies, poems and chilling ghost stories throughout history.
In 1888 one police postmortem read: “All murders no doubt were committed by the same hand. In the first four the throats appear to have been cut from left to right, in the last case owing to the extensive mutilation it is impossible to say in what direction the fatal cut was made, but arterial blood was found on the wall in splashes close to where the woman’s head must have been lying.
All the circumstances surrounding the murders lead me to form the opinion that the women must have been lying down when murdered and in every case, the throat was first cut.”
The Ripper was known for targeting female prostitutes who worked in the slums. The victim’s bodies were often discovered with their throats slit and their internal organs removed. Although none of the victims were sexually assaulted, he would often leave the bodies in sexually degrading positions with their wounds exposed to haunt investigators. Psychologists believed The Ripper received sexual satisfaction from his attacks – whoever he might have been.
Then on September 27th, 1888, the police received a very chilling letter which read:
I keep on hearing the police have caught me but they wont fix me just yet. I have laughed when they look so clever and talk about being on the right track. That joke about Leather Apron gave me real fits. I am down on whores and I shant quit ripping them till I do get buckled. Grand work the last job was. I gave the lady no time to squeal. How can they catch me now. I love my work and want to start again. You will soon hear of me with my funny little games.
I saved some of the proper red stuff in a ginger beer bottle over the last job to write with but it went thick like glue and I cant use it. Red ink is fit enough I hope ha. ha. The next job I do I shall clip the ladys ears off and send to the police officers just for jolly wouldn’t you. Keep this letter back till I do a bit more work, then give it out straight. My knife’s so nice and sharp I want to get to work right away if I get a chance. Good Luck. Yours truly
Jack the Ripper
Dont mind me giving the trade name
PS Wasnt good enough to post this before I got all the red ink off my hands curse it No luck yet. They say I’m a doctor now.
Still, to this day, nobody knows who Jack the Ripper really was.
1. The Zodiac Killer
The self-proclaimed “Zodiac Killer” carried out the random, brutal murders of five people in California’s Bay Area in 1968 and 1969. He then sent a series of taunting cryptic notes including a cipher code to the police, claiming that if they were de-coded it would reveal his true identity.
The Zodiac Killer also sent taunting letters to the San Francisco Examiner. Beginning “Dear Editor: This is the Zodiac speaking…” where he continued to describe the murders in detail and taunted police for not being able to crack his code or catch him.
The FBI has been investigating the case since 1969. They have enlisted cryptanalysts and code-breakers to help unravel the complex cipher that used more than 50 shapes and symbols to represent the 26 letters of the alphabet.
Ultimately the code was published by local newspapers and broken by two university professors – all they could read was: “I like killing people because it is so much fun.”
Despite the code, fingerprints left at the scene of the crimes and witnesses helping police to sketch a description – the identity of the Zodiac killer still haunts police today.