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7 serial killers who taunted the police

Two detectives looking at files

1. Jack the Ripper

Let’s begin with the most infamous example of a vicious killer mocking those paid to catch him - Jack the Ripper.

The fact that we still don’t know - for certain - the identity of this notorious killer of sex workers from 1880s London will tell you that his taunts didn’t lead to his apprehension. Instead, we know him only by his pseudonymous moniker. ‘Jack the Ripper’ is known as such because that’s the name he gave himself in the various graffiti he left at the scenes of his crimes and the letters he wrote to mystified police.

‘Catch me when you can,’ he teased them with, signing off one of his missives. Famously, they never did.

2. The Zodiac Killer

The USA’s very own Jack the Ripper didn’t claim his first victim until 80 years after his East London predecessor stopped his reign of terror. He went by a different name, though: ‘The Zodiac Killer’.

The Zodiac’s true kill count is also unknown, but it’s believed to be anywhere up to 37. Along with sending extremely difficult-to-solve codes and puzzles, the killer taunted police and the media with more than 20 mocking letters that included specific details of his crimes and little cut-off snippets of his victims' clothing.

3. Dennis ‘The BTK Killer’ Rader

Taunting the police is a risky business. Ask Dennis Rader. As his serial killing career went on, he began contacting police, taking fewer and fewer precautions each time. Criminologists and psychologists have since suggested that perhaps, in doing so, he secretly wanted to get caught. Whether or not this was the case, he was caught.

Rader began communicating with police via anonymous floppy disc drop-offs. On the discs were documents written by Rader talking about his crimes and dismissing police attempts to identify him. Also on the discs was enough metadata to tip investigators off as to where the documents were created, leading to his eventual arrest.

4. The Hillside Stranglers

Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono Jr. were a seriously twisted pair of killers who were eventually caught and convicted of raping, torturing, killing and mutilating a dozen women between them from October 1977 to February 1978. Although they almost certainly claimed more victims than that.

They taunted police not by notes or phone calls or calling cards, but by dumping the bodies of their victims in extremely visible spots up on hills (hence their nickname), very often extremely close to police stations. Such was the pair - or mainly Bianchi's - extraordinary audacity, ego and narcissism.

Both were apprehended in 1979 and got life in prison.

5. David ‘Son of Sam’ Berkowitz

New York City in 1977 was a tough place to live. A sweltering hot summer was made even more uncomfortable by the gun-toting serial killer shooting people with a snub nose .44 calibre handgun. Six people died and seven were injured, the mysterious ‘Son of Sam Killer’ was eventually pinpointed and arrested. But only after a series of notes from the murderer which helped give the game away.

'I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam.' Berkowitz wrote in one letter left at a murder scene. He went on to send several more notes to the NYPD and one to a reporter. With the help of some of the clues left in them, the police were soon able to catch their man. He is now serving a 364-year prison sentence.

6. The Freeway Phantom

In Washington, DC, between April 1971 and September 1972, a man stalked, sexually assaulted and strangled six young women and girls in the city. He went by the name ‘The Freeway Phantom’ and remains unapprehended.

When police searched the clothing of the killer’s fifth victim, 18-year-old Brenda Denise Woodward, they found a misspelt note from the killer addressed to them. It read:

‘this is tAntAmount to my

insensititivity to people

especiAlly women.

I will Admit the others

wheN you cAtch me iF you cAn!

FRee-wAy PhanTom’

Samples were analysed and no real clues could be gleaned from the note as it turned out to have only been dictated by the killer. He’d forced Brenda to write it before he repeatedly stabbed her and strangled her to death.

7. John Allen Muhammad & Lee Boyd Malvo, aka 'The DC Snipers'

We stay in the US capital for our final example of serial killers driven to goad the authorities over their audaciously bloody and evil crimes.

Between February and October 2002, 17 people were killed and ten injured in a shocking and headline-grabbing series of murders known as ‘The DC Sniper Attacks’ (also referred to by some as ‘The Beltway Sniper Attacks’). All were shot, most by sniper fire coming from a hole bored into the back of a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.

It turned out that the snipers were John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, a 41-year-old and 17-year-old, who drove around Washington DC shooting people seemingly at random. Before their identities were known, the two left tarot cards as calling cards at various shooting scenes, including one ‘Death Card’ that had the phrases ‘For you Mr. Police’, ‘Do not make this public’ and ‘Call me God’ written on them.

Muhammad was later executed and Malvo was sentenced to life without chance of parole.