by Taylor Leonard
The FBI estimates there are anywhere from 25 to 50 serial killers active within the United States at any given time. The global number is no doubt much larger. The majority of these true life monsters work exclusively in the shadows, but over the years some have preferred to step farther out into the limelight by contacting police and the press. Often these outreach efforts are conducted through letters .
In several cases these individuals remained indefinitely at large. This despite their willingness to taunt authorities and communities by way of letters with the potential to lead to their identity. The most chilling letters ever sent by unidentified serial killers are as follows:
The assailant responsible for at least five murders around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s, known only as the Zodiac Killer (or Zodiac for short) is as notorious for the numerous letters and cryptograms he sent to the press over the years as he is for his heinous crimes. The majority of these coded messages remain unsolved.
The first confirmed communication from the Zodiac occurred on July 31st, 1969, when nearly identical letters were mailed to the three major Bay Area newspapers, each accompanied by one-third of a single cipher. The author threatened to go on an all-night killing spree if the papers did not publish his coded message on the front page. They all obliged, and a week later a school teacher solved the cipher:
I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND ALL THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE. EBEORIETEMETHHPITI
Axeman of New Orleans
From May 1918 to October 1919 the city of New Orleans and surrounding communities were gripped by fear thanks to a vicious serial killer eventually known as the Axeman. The name, as one can guess, is derived by the assailant’s preferred murder weapon of choice.
The Axeman of New Orleans would break into homes in the middle of the night by kicking in the back door or smashing a window. Upon entry he would locate an axe somewhere in the residence (or a razor if no axe was available) then hack or stab his sleeping victims to death.
Midway through the rampage, on March 13, 1919, a letter purportedly written by the Axeman was published in several New Orleans newspapers threatening a upcoming attack. Homes where jazz bands were performing, the author alleged, would not be targeted. No attacks occurred that night, but the letter made it clear the Axeman lacked remorse and was primed for more violence:
“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.”
Golden State Killer
“The Golden State Killer” is the name coined by the late Michelle McNamara for the unidentified individual otherwise known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker. The multiple names are a reflection of the perpetrator’s decision to both relocate across California and reinvent his M.O. about halfway through his violent career spanning from 1976 to 1986 – changes drastic enough that police were not aware the crimes were committed by the same person until DNA made the connection in the early 2000s.
The Golden State Killer is perhaps most notorious for the lengths to which he would go in conducting surveillance on his targets and planning his attacks. Oftentimes the GSK would enter homes in the weeks and days before his attacks to hide rope and other tools later used to fulfill his wicked and lethal desires.
In 1977 the Sacramento Bee received a poem purportedly written by the GSK, known then as the East Area Rapist, entitled “Excitement’s Crave.” In it, the author seems to suggest a cinematic portrayal of his crimes would lead to his retirement, meanwhile making a point that he isn’t deterred by tough looking men (he targeted couples) but in fact seeks them out as victims:
“To make a movie of my life
That will pay for my planned exile.
Just now I’d like to add the wife
Of a Mafia lord to my file.”
Debate as to whether the letters sent by the self-proclaimed Zodiac Killer were in fact written by the actual murderer or by an unconnected kook were laid to rest on October 13th, 1969. A cab driver had been shot dead in San Francisco the previous night, and the latest letter included a piece of the victim’s bloody shirt.
It’s in this letter that the Zodiac made his infamous threat of attacking a school bus, saying he planned to shoot out the front tire and “pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.” The massacre never occurred, but was later dramatized in the 1971 film Dirty Harry, where a rogue SFPD detective hunts down a Zodiac-like madman calling himself “Scorpio.”
Perhaps most chilling of all, the letter boasts about the killer’s ability to elude police as they searched for him in the aftermath of the cab driver murder (he claims they were goofing off rather than trying to find the shooter):
“The S.F. Police could have caught me last night if they had searched the park properly instead of holding road races with their motorcicles seeing who could make the most noise. The car drivers should have just parked their cars and sat there quietly waiting for me to come out of cover.”
Jack the Ripper
“Jack the Ripper” is the most popular name associated with an unknown individual believed to have murdered and mutilated at least five prostitutes in the impoverished Whitechapel District of East London between late August and early November, 1888. The name Jack the Ripper originates from a letter claimed to be written by the killer, although most police of the era and modern criminologists consider it fraudulent – the likely work of a journalist looking to juice up the story.
In fact, every letter purportedly written by Jack the Ripper was and is still considered the work of kooks and trolls rather than the actual murderer – except for one. The so-called “From Hell” letter, though not conclusively proven to be from the killer, is believed by many experts past and present to have the strongest case for authenticity.
The letter, postmarked October 15, 1888, was addressed to George Lusk, the head of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. Accompanying the letter was half a kidney, claimed by the author to have been taken from the body of a Ripper victim. Indeed, the kidneys of the fourth woman believed to be killed by Jack the Ripper had been removed. Medical evaluation at the time determined the half kidney sent with the letter was human. The author went on to claim he made a meal of the other half:
I send you half the
Kidne I took from one women
prarsarved it for you tother pirce
I fried and ate it was very nise I
may send you the bloody knif that
took it out if you only wate a whil
Catch me when
In a world with so many people, serial killers are an inevitable albeit horrible fact of life. Most of them just stick to killing, while some choose to provoke the public and law enforcement with taunting letters. Occasionally, these especially audacious psychopaths manage to elude capture indefinitely. In the end, the only clues to their identities will likely be the letters they sent. Otherwise, these serial killers will forever remain real life boogeymen.