A murderer graduates to a serial killer when he kills at least two people in separate events at different times. The term is also different from a mass murderer who, by definition, kills several people at a time in a single location.

Throughout crime history in the United States, there has been a long list of both identified and unidentified serial killers, each with varying numbers of victims and activity periods.

Many died in prison and committed suicide while fugitives, whereas some were executed and killed by police during shoot out or, in fact, by intended victims.

Serial killers commit their crimes for a variety of reasons. A killing spree has many possible triggers, such as trauma by past events, troubled childhood, deep hatred of certain people with specific characteristics, cannibalistic behavior, and twisted desire to gain fame.

In some cases, serial killers enjoyed being the objects of an investigation by the authorities and fascination by the media that they even taunted the police, as if they were sure no one would get to them. Unfortunately, they were quite right sometimes.

10 /10 The Cleveland Torso Murderer

Active in the mid-1930s with confirmed 13 victims and possibly dozens more, the Cleveland Torso Murderer has never been identified.

Authorities developed a theory that the serial killer would decapitate victims; some heads were never found. 

Whoever the serial killer was, he seemed to take pleasure in taunting Eliot Ness, who at that time was Cleveland’s Safety Director.

The killer once placed the remains of his two victims near the director’s office. Despite previous success with putting Al Capone in prison, Ness was heavily criticized for failing to capture the Cleveland Torso Murderer.

9 /10 The Axeman Of New Orleans

A serial killer known as The Axeman of New Orleans was responsible for the death of six or seven people in the city and surrounding areas in 1918 – 1919. 

The Axeman reportedly taunted the police and the public at large by sending a letter to the local newspaper suggesting he would not attack any house that played jazz.

It was unclear if the letter did come from him. After the newspaper published the letter, the killer seemed to disappear. The cases went cold and remain unsolved.

8 /10 The Freeway Phantom

During the early 1970s, in a series of cases primarily believed to be the first serial killings in the Washington D.C. area, six black girls were murdered by someone named The Freeway Phantom.

The killer’s fifth victim, Brenda Denise Woodard, who had been stabbed multiple times and strangled, was discovered in an area near Prince George’s County Hospital.

Inside her pocket, the authorities found a note believed to be dictated by the killer and, written by Woodard, signed “Freeway Phantom.” The killer was never identified and captured.

7 /10 Zodiac Killer

No stories of serial killers in the United States will be complete without mentioning the Zodiac Killer, who remains unidentified until today.

The serial killer claimed to have killed 37 people, but the authorities only confirmed five of those.

He was active throughout the 1960s – 1970s in Northern California and seemingly eager to taunt the authorities by sending a letter and cryptic codes to several newspapers. Police are using DNA traces in the hope of solving long-cold cases and finding the Zodiac Killer.

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6 /10 Jack The Ripper

With so many films and books trying to tell stories about Jack the Ripper, you may think the murderer is indeed a fictional character. Jack the Ripper was a real person and is believed to be the first serial killer of the modern age.

The actual number of Ripper’s victims remains unknown; only five were confirmed. His method was to cut the victim’s throat before abdominal mutilation.

Following the murder of Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper gained notoriety partly for a letter signed “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” sent to the London’s Central News Agency.

5 /10 Keith Jesperson – The Happy Face Killer

Following the death of Taunja Bennett on January 23, 1990, whose body was found a few days later, a woman claimed that she and her boyfriend were responsible for the murder. The couple was later imprisoned for the crime they didn’t commit. 

Keith Jesperson knew the confession was a lie because he was the one who killed Taunja Bennett. The truck driver wrote a confession on a bathroom wall and signed it with a smiley face.

When that didn’t attract the authorities’ attention, he began sending a letter to The Oregonian newspaper to brag about his many crimes.

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4 /10 Theodore Kaczynski – The Unabomber

Over 18 years between 1978 and 1995, Theodore Kaczynski was active in his twisted version of revolution by conducting a nationwide bombing campaign, targeting people involved with modern technology. He killed three people and injured 29 others.

The authorities apprehended him soon after he had released a 35,000-pages manifesto and demanded newspapers to publish the taunt.

When finally the dig was published, his brother recognized the writing style and turned him in. Theodore “The Unabomber” Kaczynski was sentenced to eight life terms in 1998.

3 /10 John Allen Muhammad And Lee Boyd Malvo – The Beltway Snipers

Many as 17 people were killed and ten others injured in a series of shooting throughout Washington D.C. and Baltimore in 2002.

The perpetrators were John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who became known today as The Beltway Snipers.

At one of the crime scenes, the authorities found a tarot card containing the “Call me God” message, allegedly left behind by the two.

More tarot cards and handwritten notes were found in other locations too. Muhammad was executed in 2009, while Malvo was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 2019.

Los Angeles Public Library

2 /10 Angelo Buono And Kenneth Bianchi – Hillside Strangler

The nickname “Hillside Strangler” was coined by the media instead of the authorities, just like many others in serial killers.

It was given to two cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, who raped and killed ten women in Los Angeles during the late 1970s.

They didn’t send letters to newspapers or call the authorities to give information about the crimes. Still, they left the victims’ bodies on the hillside, more specifically in areas where they were sure the bodies would be easily found, for example, near police stations. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment.

1 /10 The Smiley Face Killings

There has been no person of interest, let alone suspects and convictions, in the Smiley Face Killings case because so far, it remains a murder theory rather than proven acts of crime.

The theory purports that hundreds of men’s accidental drowning deaths since 1997 were murders committed by a group of serial killers active in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

Former NYPD detectives who investigated at least 13 deaths of similar circumstances found a smiley face near every drowning site.

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