true crime

A parking fine, a floppy disk and stolen stationary: The weirdest ways serial killers got caught.

You know how sometimes you do something wrong, and get busted for doing it by something small? Like when you pretended to make dinner for everyone, and the dog pulls the Uber Eats bag out of the trash can?

Well, it seems that serial killers can have those sorts of experiences, too. Except, it’s more like: pulled over for speeding, then three bodies are found in the trunk.

As it turns out, getting busted for smaller things and then being charged for murder happens to serial killers more often than we realise. Here are some of the most famous examples; and chances are, if you watch Mindhunter, you’ve even ‘met’ some of these guys before.

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David Berkowitz, aka the ‘Son of Sam’: a parking ticket.

David Berkowitz, also known as the ‘Son of Sam’, killed six people and wounded seven others in New York City between 1976 and 1977.

The serial killer targeted young women who were sitting in cars; he would approach a car and fire multiple shots into the window. Then he would leave letters taunting the police about his identity.

One night, a woman named Cecilia Davis, 49, had a chance encounter with the ‘Son of Sam’. On a New York street at 2:30am, she walked past a man who was walking strangely, as though he had something up his sleeve. Five minutes later, she heard gun shots.

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Son of Sam's mugshot in March 2003. Image: Getty.
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When she was giving a statement to the police, she recalled another detail; she’d noticed a police officer tagging an illegally parked vehicle in front of a fire hydrant.

The police connected the dots. They discovered the 1970 Ford Galaxie belonged to the confident killer, who had not even bothered to remove his plates. From that detail, Berkowitz’s home address was found; and it led the authorities directly to the killer.

When Berkowitz saw the police, he said, “I guess this is the end of the trail.”

He was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences, and is currently being held at the maximum security Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York.

Dennis Rader, also known as “BTK”: a floppy disk.

Dennis Rader was known as "BTK”, which stands for his method of murder; bind, torture, kill.

Rader killed 10 people, from around 1974 to 1991. He was arrested and convicted in 2005.

In 2004, Rader decided he needed attention. He began sending documents, including letters, to local news stations to announce he was still alive and relevant.

Rader wanted to load his communication on to floppy disks for convenience, but he was wary of being electronically tracked. So, he literally asked the police through the newspaper classifieds if he could be traced by floppy disk.

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Dennis Rader, aka 'BTK'. Image: Getty
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Naturally, the police told him that he couldn’t.

On one of the floppy disks, they opened a document, searched the properties section, saw it had been saved by a "Dennis", and recently used at a nearby church. When they learned that a Dennis Rader was a member of the congregation, they ran a DNA test, and BTK came undone.

Rader was devastated the cops had lied to him about the disk being traceable.

“I need to ask you, how come you lied to me? How come you lied to me?” Rader reportedly asked when he was arrested.

He later noted, “The floppy did me in.”

Rader is serving 10 consecutive life sentences in the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas. He's now 73 years old.

Our True Crime Conversations podcast takes you through the case of Danny Rolling, the serial killer who inspired a horror film. Post continues after podcast. 

Ted Bundy: a stolen car.

Serial killer Ted Bundy raped and murdered at least 30 women in the 1970s, across numerous states.

A good-looking man by society’s standards, Bundy had a reputation for being charming – terrifyingly sadistic with his victims.

He also was known to evade police. He escaped custody, and attempted to, numerous times.

But that’s not what finally brought him down.

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Ted Bundy confessed to 30 homicides. Image: Getty.
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After his last escape in 1978, Bundy was caught driving a Volkswagen Beetle in Florida, on suspicion of it being stolen. But the killer wasn’t prepared to give up without a fight. He wrestled with the officer for some time, trying to escape, but was eventually subdued.

Bundy was imprisoned for the last time, putting his reign of death to an end, and was given the electric chair in 1989.

Randy Kraft: drink driving.

Randy Steven Kraft is an American rapist and serial killer known as the Scorecard Killer, the Southern California Strangler and the Freeway Killer, who murdered at least 16 young men between 1972 and 1983, mostly in California.

Kraft kept a list of coded names of his victims, but that written evidence was not his undoing.

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Randy Kraft leaving Orange County Courthouse after pleading not guilty to six counts of murder. Image: Getty.

On May 14, 1983, Californian police saw a Toyota Celica driving erratically. They suspected the driver was drunk, which he was, and pulled him over for questioning.

Kraft honestly identified himself; but the identity of his front seat passenger became the issue.

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The passenger was slumped over with his eyes closed, and the police could not wake him. When they discovered no pulse, they also noted signs of strangulation, and that his hands had been tied with shoelaces.

It was the body of Terry Lee Gambrel, a 25-year-old Marine stationed at El Toro air base, who would be Kraft’s last victim.

Kraft was convicted in May 1989, and is currently on death row.

Albert Fish: stolen stationery.

His final victim, 10-year-old Grace Budd, was known to the family; but no one realised that until Fish wrote to her parents in 1934, six years after she went missing.

Pretending he would take her to a party, Fish left the family’s home with Grace, and murdered her in his home.

Evidently pleased with himself, he wrote to Grace’s parents years later, explaining what he had done to her. But it wasn’t fingerprints on the letter which led police to Fish; it was the paper it had been written on.

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Albert Fisher. Image: Getty.

Police traced it to the New York Private Chauffeur’s Benevolent Association, and discovered a janitor had stolen it. That janitor had once lived in the apartment where Fish now did.

From there, the link to Fish was easily made. He was arrested, and electrocuted in 1936.


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Tags: news-stories , serial-killers , true-crime
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