The hollow-eyed portrait of a serial killer tells a visual story that can chill you to the bone. But their letters tell a different tale altogether. The intimate correspondences betray the inner workings of their murderous minds: the reasons why they decided to have sex with a corpse, to gut the throat of a child or to roast a little girl.
Letters show the personal side unseen by juries or tabloid reports. Many of these passages are handwritten — exposing their naked scrawls and the paper they pored over with neck-crushing fingers. Here are the letters of nine killers:
9. The Green River Killer: Gary Ridgway
"I made a prayer to God I will stop killing if I don’t get caught".
Murders: Convicted of 48 but confessed to almost twice that. He strangled women, mostly prostitutes, in Washington between the 1980s and 1990s. He earned the nickname from dumping corpses in the Green River. After dumping the bodies he would often return to have sex with them.
Letters: Ridgway sent lovelorn letters while in jail to his wife Judith. He used to write maniacally, sending two or three a day. At first the sweet tone almost convinced her of his innocence, but then he cracked and confessed his horrific sins.
Punishment: Life imprisonment without parole. Spared the death penalty through a plea bargain where he gave the whereabouts of still-missing women.
8. Doctor Death: Dr Harold Shipman
"The police complain I'm boring. No mistresses, home abroad, money in Swiss banks, I'm normal. If that is boring I am."
Murders: Convicted of 15 but a later inquiry concluded the doctor killed at least 214, making him the most prolific serial killer ever. He killed by forging medical documents of his patients to make them seem on the verge of death, before giving them a lethal overdose of a painkiller called diamorphine.
Letters: Shipman wrote bundles of letters to two friends after he went to jail in 1998. His arrogant tone showed how he felt above the judicial system.
Punishment: Life imprisonment. Hung himself in 2004.
7. Moor Murderer: Myra Hindley
"I know almost everyone describes me as cold and calculating – 'evil Myra' – but I ask you to believe that I find all this deeply upsetting."
Murders: Five children were strangled or had throats cut with knives, at least four of whom were sexually assaulted. Two of the children were discovered in graves dug on the Saddleworth Moor in the UK.
Letters: This example from 1987 was sent to Ann West, the mother of 10-year-old victim Lesley Ann Downey. When Hindley was up for parole West had led the campaign against Hindley's possible release from jail. The letter was a plea asking the bereaved mother to stop her fight.
Punishment: Life imprisonment. Died in jail of heart disease.
6. Killer Clown: John Wayne Gacy
"But I am an embarrassment to the criminal justice system, because if I am right then they are wrong"
Murders: 33 young men between 1972 and 1978 in Illinois. Gacy — a.k.a. Pogo the clown — would lure men into his house, sexually assault and suffocate them.
Letter: Part of a correspondence between imprisoned Gacy and a college student named Jason Moss. Their extended letters revealed his motivations and paranoia.
Punishment: Death by lethal injection in May 1994.
5. Angel of Death: Donald Harvey
"Lord, grant me the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off."
Murders: Official estimate is between 37 - 57 hospital patients from 1970 - 1987. He claims 87. He killed the terminally ill out of what he claimed was sympathy mixed with anger. He used a wide variety of murder methods while working as an orderly: these included cyanide, turning off ventilators, suffocation and administering the HIV virus.
Letter: This handwritten letter from 1998 is part of a correspondence between him and someone called Jamie while he was in prison.
Punishment: 15 life sentences.
4. The Zodiac Killer
"Peek-a-boo. You are doomed!"
Murders: Confirmed murders in California of four men and three women in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Claimed 37 in total. The killer was never caught.
Letter: A reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle named Paul Avery, who had been reporting the Zodiac murders, received a Halloween card signed with "Z" (see bottom right corner above). This letter received front-page coverage. It was one of four to include a cryptogram puzzle with hundreds of characters. Only one of the letters' codes has been solved. Other messages included scraps of victims' clothing as proof the author had been the killer.
Punishment: Unsolved. The case remains open in Vallejo, Napa County and Solano County.
3. Boston Strangler: Albert DeSalvo
"Does your mother care if you write to me?"
Murders: Confessed to strangling 13 women in Boston from 1962 - '64.
Letters: A 1972 letter DeSalvo wrote to a 16-year-old pen pal named Vivian Wyatt.
Punishment: Life imprisonment. Stabbed to death in 1973.
2. Acid Bath Murderer: John George Haigh
"It was not their money but their blood that I wanted."
Murders: Convicted for six but claimed nine. Haigh killed in the UK by battering to death or shooting victims before stripping them, selling their possessions and using sulfuric acid to dissolve the corpses.
Letter: Haigh wrote to try and console his distraught girlfriend Barbara Stephens after she visited him in prison.
Punishment: Hanged in 1949.
1. The Werewolf of Wysteria: Albert Fish
"Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her."
Murder: Fish was prosecuted for the murder of 10-year-old Grace Budd, whose body he consumed. Confessed to three kills but may have been up to five.
Letter: His chilling letter describing in graphic detail the motive (complete with spelling errors) had to be read aloud to Grace's illiterate mother Delia Flanagan by their son. It was sent anonymously to her house in 1934, but eventually led the police to Fish.
"My Dear Mrs. Budd,
In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the steamer Tacoma, Captain John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was a famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1-3 dollars a pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all the children under 12 were sold to the butchers to be cut up and sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could got to any shop and ask for steak-chops or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or a girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl's behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he sold two boys one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them -- tortured them -- to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked an eaten except head - bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried, stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time I was living at 409 E. 100 St. near -- right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3 -- 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese -- strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in the closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How did she kick -- bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take the meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did NOT fuck her tho I could have had I wished. She died a VIRGIN."
Punishment: Death by electric chair in January 1936
Source: via Ranker