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Serial killers are a strange group of criminals, which is precisely why they're the most heavily studied prison population in America. The studies they have been involved in have helped criminal investigators determine signs a person will be a serial killer in the making, and also helped them understand why killers are the way they are.
Though much about them is very different from fellow criminals, one trait that many killers have in common with other inmates is the habit of leaving a signature or message that taunts police and marks them as the killer. Even then, those aren't necessarily the same as a typical criminal signature would be.
Unlike robber or gang member business cards, serial killer calling cards aren't just a "catch me if you can." They are a grim reminder that they can and will kill again, and that the person who died at their hands was an innocent victim who experienced a horrific demise.
Over the years, many mass murderers have left some pretty terrifying calling cards. These, though, were the worst.
The BTK Killer Poems
Dennis Rader, most commonly known as the BTK Killer, was famous for binding up his victims, torturing them, and then killing them in gruesome ways. Rader has been accused of killing at least ten different women this way and became one of the most famous murderers to have serial killer calling cards.
Rader's card of choice was handwritten poems, letters, and postcards that he'd sent to police shortly after he murdered another victim. Eventually, he got tired of sending taunts via a paper means and just started carving them into his victims' bodies.
It was only when Rader sent a floppy disk with information admitting to murder to a local TV station that police were able to catch him. Police arrested him in 2005—a total of 31 years after his first murder.
In many cases, the signs killers leave behind are their eventual undoing. As the BTK Killer later said, "The floppy did me in."
Jack the Ripper's Body Part Souvenirs and Letters
Serial killer calling cards, it seems, are as old as the history of this particular crime style itself. One of the first of these criminals ever witnessed, Jack the Ripper, was known for leaving letters taunting police... and taking body parts of the women he murdered, keeping them as trophies.
His infamous "Dear Boss" letter was a perfect example of taunt from a murderer proud of his killings. It taunted the London police, saying:
"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."
The infamous murderer then talked about what it's like to kill his targets, making it even creepier:
"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"
Initially, police didn't believe Jack the Ripper wrote the letters. Proving otherwise, he sent the police a human kidney with a note saying that he ate the other.
It took over 100 years to do so, but forensic scientists have solved the mystery of at least two letters. However, no one fully knows for sure who Jack the Ripper was, making him one of the most successful serial killers to ever live.
The Zodiac Killer's Coded Messages
While a lot of serial killer calling cards are written in plain English, the Zodiac Killer took a different approach. He created letters that were partially English and partially encoded in their own alphabet, using a unique code that police and cryptographers have yet to crack.
Since he started his killing spree in 1968, the Zodiac Killer spent years sending messages and letters to local TV stations, detailing the killings and then continuing in his strange encrypted way.
The Zodiac Killer's non-encrypted letters have claimed that he has killed around 17 victims, though only five can certainly be linked to him. One of his victims survived and described him as a white man with glasses.
Much like Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac Killer has never been identified or caught.
Richard Ramirez's Lipstick Pentagrams
Richard Ramirez was known for being one of the most vicious sex killers in California history, and got his nickname for stalking couples in the middle of the night.
The Night Stalker, as he was called, had raped and killed over 25 different people during his two-year spree. The victims would often be found with their throats slashed, beaten to death, and sexually assaulted.
Unlike the letter writers of this bunch, Richard Ramirez took a different spin on the concept of a killer's signature. Whenever he attacked a new victim, he would draw a pentagram somewhere in the scene of the crime using the victim's lipstick.
Keith Hunter Jesperson's Happy Faces
There's an obvious horror aspect to letters detailing the crimes that were committed; there's no denial there. Though shocking letters can have an impact, few have the seriously unsettling effect than seeing a crudely drawn happy face next to a dead body.
It's the weird juxtaposition of a happy face next to a corpse that makes Keith Hunter Jesperson's serial killer calling cards so jarring. Jesperson, also known as the Happy Face Killer, had raped and killed over a dozen women while on the road as a truck driver.
He had originally confessed to a murder on a trucker bathroom stall and signed it with a happy face. No one paid attention, so he ended up doubling down by sending murder confession letters to media outlets—all of which were punctuated by a smiley face.
It took a while for police to track him, but they managed to do so thanks to the signatures he left at the crime scene. Currently, he's serving life in prison.
Charles Albright's Eye Collection
If a smiley face makes for a scary killer trademark, we don't know what to make of a Charles Albright's criminal signature of choice. People soon started to call him the Texas Eyeball Killer, primarily because he'd turn his victims' eyes into the clue that made him a known killer.
He would target prostitutes, beat them, shoot them, and then take out their eyes as a grisly trophy. When investigators would examine the body, they'd seem like they just had their eyes closed. However, closer inspection would always reveal that there was no tissue in their eyes—nor any eyeballs.
Randy Steven Kraft's Scorecards
Imagine being a police officer looking through the house of a potential killer, only to come across a binder with names. Imagine the creeping dread when you realize that binder will filled with names of people who were killed or missing.
That slow boil of horror is what makes the Scorecard Killer's serial killer calling cards so horrifying. Kraft's binder contained a coded list with not 10, not 20, but 61 different names.
No one knows for certain how many of those names are of dead people, but enough of them were linked to the killings to get Kraft sentenced to life in prison.
William Heirens's Lipstick Notes
Seems like serial killer calling cards often involve writing or lipstick, and in the case of the Lipstick Killer, it's both. Though his killing spree is one of the shortest on this list, it's worth pointing out that he still had a signature that led to his arrest.
William Heirens, who was arrested for stabbing three women to death, left his clue by scrawling notes to police using the victim's own lipstick.
What's chilling about Heirens is that the notes often seemed to be cries for help. One note he left read:
"For heavens [sic]
sake catch me
before I kill more
I cannot control myself."
The Beltway Snipers' Tarot Cards
In 2002, the Washington DC Beltway area was gripped with a terrible killing spree that was highlighted by people getting shot by a sniper. When a victim would be targeted, police would find one of the most unusual calling cards out there: a tarot card next to each victim.
The tarot card in question was the Death card, and on the back of each card was a phrase written in marker:
"For You Mr. Police. Code: Call me God. Do not release to the press."
What made this calling card so unusual, besides it being a literal card, is that police later discovered that it belonged to not one, but two people who killed as a sniper duo. They were caught. One was executed in 2009, the other was given six consecutive life sentences.
The Sad Face Killer's Frowning Face Drawings
It seems like the Happy Face Killer is not the only one who leaves a signature featuring simple drawings. In what appears to be a copycat murder, a new serial killer only known as the Sad Face Killer has been attacking young brunettes in the Midwest.
After stalking the victims for days, he kills them and leaves the drawing of a sad face somewhere near the scene of the crime. Recent crime scenes have had sad faces in rocks and on car windows.
Unfortunately for people in the area, the Sad Face Killer has not been caught and is currently active in the Midwest.