Watching factual, and fictional, accounts of frenzied 1970s era newsrooms always make me feel even more excited to be part of the news media. The breaking stories, hours of investigation, anonymous sources, letters from serial killers – okay so that one's not so common, but you get my point. It's always exciting.
Last night I watched Zodiac for the first time. I don't know why it took me so long to watch it, I love those kinds of movies. Murder, mystery, the newsroom...what's not to love?
The film tells the story of the infamous, still unidentified serial killer from the point of view of journalists, police, and the amateur investigators who spent years trying to crack the code and reveal the identity of a man who claimed to have murdered 37 people.
The Zodiac killer operated in between 1966 and 1974, sending local police and media more than 20 handwritten letters, cryptograms and ciphers, some of which remain unsolved to this day, with demands to publish his submissions or face the consequences.
The Zodiac is by no means the only killer to vie for the world's attention by contacting local newspapers.
Jack the Ripper, who was also never identified, stalked the streets of London murdering women. Of the hundreds of letters sent in his name to police and the press, the three sent in September and October of 1888 to the Central News Agency are considered most likely to be authentic.
The most famous, the “From hell” letter – also the basis of a movie of the same name, was accompanied by a piece of human kidney supposedly from one of his victims. On the paper’s upper right corner, it read “From hell” and detailed the killer's love of his “work” and his desire to start again.
Not all who sought the press' attention remained so mysterious, however.
Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, was active from the 1970s to the 1990s, but was caught after sending letters to local media on the 2004 anniversary of one of the murders, containing photos, a word puzzle and an outline for his memoirs.
For the next year, Rader exchanged messages with police, eventually asking them if it would be secure to communicate via floppy disk. Police seized the opportunity, assuring him that a floppy disk could not be traced.
Investigators used Rader's lack of tech savvy against him, following his digital trail to capture him and end his 30-year reign of terror. Now, he is serving 10 life sentences, without a chance at parole until 2180.
The BTK Killer seems to be the last to try to challenge journalists and police with written correspondences and puzzles.
Taking a break from his preferred method of written communication from 1991 to 2004 would prove to be Rader's downfall when he learned what many of us already know to be true: There is no anonymity in the digital age.
Some of the most infamous serial killers, both known and unknown, have reached out through hand-written letters to terrorize the public and taunt the police for over 100 years.
But now, in today's modern age when no one can operate anonymously, murderers remain silent and criminals' taunts to police are limited to the comments section of Facebook.