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This article was updated to reflect the new 2022 season of "Mark of a Serial Killer."
Serial killers commit their crimes for a variety of reasons. Some are so traumatized by past events that they feel the need to relive their own victimhood, while others harbor a deep hatred of women. Many do it to be in control in a world where they believe they have no power.
There are some serial killers, however, who murder to attain a twisted level of fame, and they often leave behind calling cards or signatures to taunt police and achieve notoriety.
Calling cards, such as evenly slicing eyeballs out of victims or dismembering gay men, are the subject of the show "Mark of a Serial Killer," premiering Saturday, April 2 at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Here are 10 serial killers who let the world know they were behind some of the sickest crimes imaginable.
1. 'Jack The Ripper'
The first serial killer of the modern age and still unknown fiend gruesomely murdered and mutilated five women in London’s East End in the summer and fall of 1888. He gained his name from a letter sent to London’s Central News Agency following the murder of Catherine Eddowes, signed “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper.” Another letter was soon delivered, which said it had been delivered “From Hell,” and was accompanied by half a human kidney, the other half of which the author claimed to have “fried and ate.” Police, however, believed all the letters to be hoaxes. Meanwhile, the killer himself took his own mementoes from his victims, removing their uteruses, one woman’s heart and in the case of Eddowes, her left kidney.
2. William Heirens, 'The Lipstick Killer'
In 1945, Chicago was held in the grip of fear after two women were murdered. At the second crime scene, a message was written on the wall in lipstick, saying, “Catch me before I kill more I cannot control myself.” The 1946 kidnapping, murder and dismemberment of a 6-year-old was attributed to the same killer, who police said was Heirens, a 17-year-old burglar. Heirens, whose confession was the result of beatings and truth serum, maintained his innocence until his death in 2012 at the age of 83.
3. 'The Zodiac Killer'
The enigmatic, sometimes-costumed killer left a trail of blood through San Francisco’s hippie epoch, killing five and possibly more. In the summer of 1969, the killer sent letters to three area newspapers claiming responsibility for three murders, each one accompanied by one-third of an indecipherable cryptogram, asking they be published on the front page. Another letter, sent a week later, began, “This is the Zodiac speaking.” After deciphering the code, which bragged about hunting people for game and taking victims into the afterlife as slaves, he struck twice more. He later sent newspapers pieces of the bloody shirt of his final victim, taxi driver Paul Stine. Though the Zodiac killings would stop in 1969, letters would continue to arrive for years, many of which are thought to be hoaxes. The identity of the Zodiac Killer remains a mystery to this day, though police hope modern breakthroughs in DNA evidence may yet crack the case.
4. Dennis Rader, 'The BTK Killer'
Between 1974 and 1991, Rader killed 10 people, terrorizing his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. Ten months after committing his first murders, he sent a letter to The Wichita Eagle newspaper, which was signed “YOURS, TRULY GUILTILY,” adding in its post-script, “The code words for me will be…Bind them, Torture them, Kill them, B.T.K., you see be at it again. They will be on the next victim.” He would murder sporadically up through the early ‘90s, often followed by communications to local news media. Unfortunately, his need to taunt police on the 30th anniversary of his crimes via another letter would begin a chain of events that led to his arrest in 2005. He would eventually confess to all 10 murders and was given 10 consecutive life sentences.
5. David Berkowitz, 'The Son of Sam'
Seen as emblematic of New York’s 1970s urban decay, “The .44 Caliber Killer” trawled the city’s outer boroughs looking for prey, eventually killing six and wounding seven. At a Bronx murder site in April ’77, police found a letter proclaiming, “I am the Son of Sam.” A month later, he would write to famed Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, saying, “Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood,” before wishing police “the best of luck” in finding him. They did, tracking him via a parking ticket to his Yonkers apartment and arresting him that summer. He is currently incarcerated, but he has been eligible for parole every two years since 2002.
6. Richard Ramirez, 'The Night Stalker'
Throughout 1984 and ’85, Ramirez spread fear and mayhem from the Los Angeles suburbs to the San Francisco Bay, with a series of break-ins that included vicious rapes, beatings and murder. An avowed Satanist, Ramirez scrawled satanic pentagrams at several of his crime scenes, including on one of his victims, and made other victims “Swear to Satan.” In August 1985, he was apprehended by a mob in East Los Angeles after his identity was released to the press. In court, he later held up his left hand, on which he had drawn a pentagram and the number “666,” and shouted out “Hail Satan.” While awaiting the death penalty, he would die from cancer in prison at the age of 53.
7. Keith Jesperson, 'The Happy Face Killer'
What does a serial killer have to do to get some attention around here? That was the question Jesperson faced after a woman claimed she and her boyfriend were behind the death of his first victim. In response, the interstate truck driver left a confession on a bathroom wall and signed it with a smiley face. When that didn’t get the desired response, he began sending letters to The Oregonian newspaper, bragging about his crimes. He was eventually arrested in 1995 for the murder of his girlfriend and confessed to killing up to 185 others, though only seven can be confirmed.
8. Charles Albright, 'The Eyeball Killer'
Also variously known as “The Dallas Ripper” and “The Dallas Slasher,” Albright earned his infamous nickname not for what he left behind, but for what he took from his victims. In the winter of 1990 through ’91, Albright allegedly murdered three sex workers, in each case carefully removing their eyeballs, a skill he learned through his interest in taxidermy. After being identified by two sex workers, he was taken into custody, and fibers found on two of his victims were matched to him. He was later found guilty for one of the murders and sentenced to life in prison.
9. John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, 'The Beltway Snipers'
In 2002, 41-year-old Muhammad and Malvo, his 17-year-old protégé, carried out a series of shootings throughout the Baltimore and Washington D.C. metropolitan area and other states, killing 17 and injuring 10. At one of their crime scenes, police found a tarot card with the message, “Call me God.” Tarot cards would be left at other locations, as well as handwritten notes, which helped police profile the shooters. The pair were arrested in October 2002, and Muhammed was executed in 2009. Earlier this year, Malvo’s sentence in Virginia of life without parole was overturned due to his age at the time, however, his life sentences from his crimes in Maryland remain standing.
10. The Smiley Face Killings
This murder theory purports that the accidental drowning deaths of hundreds of college-aged men since 1997 were the work of a group of serial killers operating in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Former NYPD detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte were investigating the death of 21-year-old Chris Jenkins in Minneapolis when they noticed graffiti of a smiley face grimly staring back at them where he entered the river. They would later claim to find similar graffiti near 12 other drowning sites. Despite a press blitz in 2008, no arrests have ever been made related to the case, which has largely been dismissed by law enforcement. In an official statement, the FBI said, “To date, we have not developed any evidence to support links between these tragic deaths or any evidence substantiating the theory that these deaths are the work of a serial killer or killers.”
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