14 Serial Killers Who Left Behind Terrifying Calling Cards

What is a calling card? For some, it's a physical piece of paper someone might give you with their name and number on it to keep in touch. But for serial killers, it's something much more malicious.

Their calling cards are more figurative - signature ways they killed their victims or things they left behind for police to find to make sure investigators knew it was them. That could include killing with certain weapons, leaving items or notes for police, taking things with them from the crime scene, or going out of their way to be really terrifying. Also called "signature killers," these murderers are most often remembered because their modus operandi showed they took enjoyment in what they did. Some of the most famous serial killers were known to have calling cards. 

Killers who taunt police love to leave calling cards. Sometimes it's a written message or a phone call. Other times, killers pick a trophy, be it a piece of jewelry or an actual body part. Luckily, these calling cards often lead to capture - though not every time. A few of these killers were never found.

This killer behavior is strange, mystifying, and really scary. So if you're curious which killers took the cake for having calling cards, wonder no more. 

  • BTK Wrote Letters And Poems Taunting The Police - Which Ultimately Got Him Caught
    Photo: Sedgwick County Jail / Independent

    Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK Killer, was a depraved murderer who killed at least 10 women and probably more. BTK stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill," which is the process by which he slowly killed his victims. Although Rader started killing people in 1974, the name didn't become a huge part of his persona until 1977. Rader had a habit of sending letters, post cards, and poems to the police, claiming responsibility for his crimes and teasing the detectives for not being able to catch him. In one such letter, he signed BTK, except he arranged the letters so that they looked like a woman, with the B being breasts and the K being splayed out legs. 

    Unfortunately, this was just the beginning of his calling card. He began to leave messages at the scene, even carved them into women's bodies as he killed into the 1990s. During this time, he was a family man, a loving father, and even the leader of a Cub Scout troop. Ironically it was his calling card that ultimately caused his undoing. One of the letters he sent to a local TV station in 2005 was on a floppy disk. The document had encoded information which traced back to Rader's church, and led to a huge break in the case. Two weeks after he sent the letter he as arrested. 

  • Jack The Ripper Mutilated Bodies, Taunted Police With Letters, And Kept Body Parts
    Photo: Bradford Timeline / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Jack the Ripper may be one of the most famous serial killers of all time, partially because he was never caught. During 1888, in Whitechappel London, five women were brutally murdered in the dead of night, and they were found the next day with their genitals and bodies horribly mutilated. Parts of them were sometimes missing or rearranged, but that's not the most memorable calling card the Ripper left behind.

    The police began to receive letters claiming responsibility for the murders. They were often written in red ink, and the killer called himself "Jack" after "springheeled Jack," an urban legend of a horrifying demon man. The letters were well-written, taunting, and gave intimate details of the killings, right down to how the women screamed. When police didn't initially believe the letters were from the killer, Jack upped the ante. He sent a package, containing part of one victim's kidney, claiming he ate the rest himself. This was one of the first times in history a murderer had taunted the police this way, though it would not be the last.

  • The Zodiac Killer Sent Cryptic, Coded Messages To The Police
    Photo: hermitosis / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Much like Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac Killer was never caught. He also liked to send taunting messages to the police who were searching for him. Unlike Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac killer made sure his messages were more difficult to decipher by putting them in code. This code is so unusual and unique that several letters he wrote are still unsolved. 

    The Zodiac Killer began his spree in 1968, targeting young couples in Northern California who went off to secluded areas to make out. For the next five years, he (or she) sent letters to local newspapers, police, and media outlets, talking about the killings and attaching strange codes. The killing continued, but one victim got away, and gave a description of the killer as having glasses and being white. He claimed to have killed at least 17 people, but only five murders were ever linked directly to him. He is still at large to this day, though he seems to have stopped killing.

  • The Night Stalker Drew Pentagrams With His Victims' Lipstick
    Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    In 1984 and 1985, the San Francisco area was ravaged by a spree of vicious murders. Fourteen people turned up dead, many showing signs of sexual assault and bodily mutilation. Their throats were deeply slashed, they were shot, and they showed signs of being beaten both before and after death. But one of the most chilling things was a calling card found at every scene.

    The Night Stalker, as he was called at the time, always left an upside down  pentagram somewhere at the scene of the crime, sometimes on the bodies of the victims. It was always drawn with the victim's own lipstick, and was even drawn on the inner thighs of a victim who had been sexually assaulted before death. Richard Ramirez was identified as the killer in 1985 and was sentenced to death. Even at his trial, Ramirez still flashed an upside down pentagram at those watching, and proclaimed "Hail Satan." He died on death row in 2014, from B-cell Lymphoma.

  • The Happy Face Killer Left Crude Drawings Of Smiley Faces

    The Happy Face Killer Left Crude Drawings Of Smiley Faces
    Photo: Clark County Sheriff's Department

    Keith Hunter Jesperson first started killing in 1990 near Portland, OR. He was a truck driver who killed and raped at least eight women (though likely more) as he traveled along the West Coast. Still, he could not stand to remain anonymous, and wrote a confession for one murder on the wall of a truck stop. He signed it with a happy face, but this didn't get him very much attention. Disappointed, he began to write letters to media sources detailing his killings. He signed each one with a happy face, which eventually led to him being named The Happy Face Killer.

    After he gained popularity, police worked to track him down, which proved difficult because he was always on the move. Jesperson was finally arrested in 1995, and was sentenced to life in prison only a few years later. He is still imprisoned and serving out his sentence to this day.

  • The Beltway Snipers Placed Tarot Cards At Their Crime Scenes

    The Beltway Snipers Placed Tarot Cards At Their Crime Scenes
    Photo: Montgomery County Police Department / Newseum

    In 2002, two mysterious men began gunning random folks down from the roof tops near Washington D.C. Within 24 hours, they had killed five people, and they didn't stop there. They killed in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C., as well, and before long they killed 17 people and injured at least 10 others. The attacks might have never been linked if the killers had not left a literal calling card.

    John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo had a flair for the dramatic and began leaving tarot cards at the scenes of many of their crimes. One of them was even the death card, with instructions for police to "call me God." The pair also left letters asking for money, and even made a call to a tip line bragging about their works - including a reference to a robbery Malvo committed in Montgomery, AL. Using that information police matched Malvo's fingerprints from that robbery to those found at a crime scene.

    The two were caught in 2002, and Muhammad was sentenced to death by lethal injection, which was carried out in 2009. Malvo is still serving out life in prison.