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These 5 Infamous Serial Killers Were The Cause of Their Own Capture

Parking tickets, floppy disks and escaped victims helped catch these murderers and bring them to justice.

Serial killers often pride themselves on being untouchable. That confidence can sometimes help them charm their way into their victims’ lives or allow them to lead double lives—tricking their families into believing they are someone else. But it also leads to their downfall. Here are five stories of serial killers who, along with a little luck, were the cause of their capture. 

One Of Dahmer’s Potential Victims Alerted Police

how did jeffrey dahmer get caught
  • Jeffrey Dahmer

  • Photo Credit: Crime Museum

Jeffrey Dahmer, known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal”, got away with molesting, murdering, dismembering and eating 17 victims between 1978 and 1991. By 1988, he had already spent 10 months in jail for fondling a 13-year-old boy and then offering him $50 to pose for pictures in the nude. He was let out early and put on probation, but his case worker never made the required stops by his apartment.

At one point during his 13 year murder spree, Dahmer was also approached by police over a young Asian teen who was found on a curb, naked and bloody. Dahmer told the police that the boy was his partner, and so three officers, who were eventually investigated, turned their heads and declined to investigate further, leading to the young boy’s death. All of that makes how Dahmer got caught so darkly ironic.

Related: 4 Shocking Revelations from Oxygen's Dahmer on Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks 

When Dahmer was arrested, it was thanks to someone he had caught. Dahmer drugged and attempted to murder 32-year-old Tracy Edwards in July of 1991. Edwards got out, and after running away was found by two officers in Dahmer’s neighborhood, almost completely naked with a pair of handcuffs dangling from one of his wrists. When officers questioned him, Edwards told them that a “freak” had drugged and handcuffed him. The police brought Edwards back to Dahmer’s apartment to investigate. 

Upon their arrival, Dahmer offered police the keys to the handcuffs. When Edwards told them that Dahmer attempted to use a knife on him in his bedroom, an officer entered the room to corroborate his account. There, he found photographs of the bodies Dahmer had dismembered. Dahmer was arrested by the police, and further searching of his apartment revealed body parts, skulls, and jars of dismembered genitalia stored in the fridge, freezer, a filing cabinet, and a kettle. 

A Parking Ticket Helped Put Son of Sam Behind Bars

This infamous killer was arrested in Manhattan right before he planned to “go down in a blaze of glory.” Known for shooting 14 people, six of whom were killed, in New York City between 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz was a member of the U.S. Army who served in South Korea as an excellent marksman. After returning to his hometown in 1974 following his service term, he took a position as a U.S. postal worker before turning his combat skills into a method of terror. After attacking and murdering his victims, he would leave a note near the crime scene taunting authorities. Ironically, it would be a different kind of “crime scene note” that took down the man who called himself the “Son of Sam.” 

The first step towards arresting Berkowitz was a result of him regularly harassing his neighbors. Several of the other residents in his Yonkers apartment building claimed that they were left anonymous, sometimes antagonistic notes. One reported that their dog had been shot with the same gun used by the “Son of Sam” while another alleged a fire was started near his apartment. This put the police on to Berkowitz’s behavior and kept him under their watchful eye. What ultimately nailed the “Son of Sam” though was a tip from a 49-year-old woman who had a brief, but unnerving encounter with Berkowitz right before he murdered two people. While walking her dog at 2:30 a.m., Cacilia Davis passed a man who looked her right in the face but held his right arm down stiffly. Minutes later she heard shots and a car horn. She also happened to see an officer ticketing a cream-colored van a block from the site of Berkowitz’s latest (and final) murder. 

Read More: Son of Sam's Reign of Terror: 40 Years Later 

After Davis came forward with her details, Police checked their tickets for that night and was able to find a citation for Berkowitz’s car—which he used for getaways from each murder, but didn’t bother to change his plates for. The authorities caught Berkowitz leaving his apartment. As they caught up to him, Berkowitz turned to an inspector and said, “I guess this is the end of the trail.” 

Ted Bundy Was Caught (Twice) While Driving

ted bundy aspen
  • Ted Bundy

  • Photo Credit: Getty Images

Ted Bundy, known for raping and murdering 36 women in three states, was captured twice while driving. The first instance was for a traffic violation, in which he took a Utah Highway Patrol officer on a chase after he was caught driving his Volkswagen in a West Valley neighborhood without his headlights on. As Officer Bob Hayward questioned Bundy, he noticed weird things: the man was wearing all black, a collection of gas receipts, a missing passenger seat, and a pair of shiny shoes that escaped kidnapping victim, Carol DaRonch, had reported were worn by her captor. When the officer asked Bundy where he had been, the killer told him at a local drive-in watching Towering Inferno. Unfortunately for Bundy, Hayward knew that was a lie—he had been at the drive-in all night.

Hayward called for backup, and he and two other officers searched the car, uncovering a collection of obscure items like rope, handcuffs, pantyhose and a crowbar before bringing him in. Booked for avoiding arrest, Bundy was identified in a line-up by DaRonch, arrested for her kidnapping and sentenced to 15 years of jail time. Hayward had also reached out to out of state police departments, aware of their own missing teen cases. Two years into his sentence, Bundy was linked to the murder of a Colorado woman. After requesting to act as his own representation, he escaped from a prison’s library window while preparing for his case. He was captured eight days later, but would escape again through a hole he dug in the ceiling of his cell. Due to the reduced staff during holiday time, correctional officers didn’t notice he was gone for well over 12 hours, letting him get a significant lead. 

Related: 8 Twisted Confessions from Ted Bundy That Will Make Your Skin Crawl 

Hayward called for backup, and he and two other officers searched the car, uncovering a collection of obscure items like rope, handcuffs, pantyhose and a crowbar before bringing him in. Booked for avoiding arrest, Bundy was identified in a line-up by DaRonch, arrested for her kidnapping and sentenced to 15 years of jail time. Hayward had also reached out to out of state police departments, aware of their own missing teen cases. Two years into his sentence, Bundy was linked to the murder of a Colorado woman. After requesting to act as his own representation, he escaped from a prison’s library window while preparing for his case. He was captured eight days later, but would escape again through a hole he dug in the ceiling of his cell. Due to the reduced staff during holiday time, correctional officers didn’t notice he was gone for well over 12 hours, letting him get a significant lead. 

With the help of his eventual wife, Carole Ann Boone, Bundy was able to travel to Florida, where he attacked the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two college women and beating two others. Days later he would kidnap and murder a 12-year-old Florida girl in a stolen FSU van, and only four days later after that, stole a VW bug. Fearing that authorities were closing in, Bundy traveled all the way to the Alabama state line before getting pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle. That would be the end of Bundy’s run. He was arrested, charged, and sentenced to death for the murders of the FSU students. 

Poor File Security Got Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, Caught

how serial killers were caught
  • Dennis Rader

  • Photo Credit: Crime Museum

After years of going uncaught following the murder of 10 Kansas locals, including four out of five members of the Otero family, the Kansas serial killer whose modus operandi was “Bind, Strangle, Kill” entered into a game of cat and mouse with authorities. After seemingly killing his last victim in 1991, the murderer fell off the radar until 2004, when an article in the Wichita Eagle suggested that the infamous killer may either be dead or in prison. That spurred Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, to send a letter to the newspaper claiming he was responsible for a 1986 unsolved murder. Over the next 12 months, he would send more letters and puzzles to local media outlets. 

In 2005, Rader took the first step to sealing his demise. As he had for the past year, Rader sent a local Wichita TV station a message in the form of a package, placed in the back of a truck. An employee found it and ended up tossing it, but after no response, Rader reached out to the station to see if they had gotten it. The station notified the police, who searched the area and found the cereal box Rader left filled with documents, many of which revealed planned murders. There was also a piece of paper addressed directly to authorities: “Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer?” Rader asked. If the police were “honest,” they should tell him through a classified ad in the paper. So that’s exactly what authorities, less than honestly, did. 

Read More: Nightmare in Kansas: The Story of BTK Killer Dennis Rader 

Two weeks later, a local Kansas broadcast station was sent a package containing a floppy disk. When they opened it, in merely included the message: “this is a test.” After checking the “properties” section of the file, authorities discovered that the last person to save the file was a man named Dennis. They also uncovered that it had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church and the Park City library. Despite the effort Rader took to delete identifying information from the disc, his choice to use a library printer (his own was broken) did him in. The police googled the name and locations attached to the file, used DNA evidence from the Otero crime scene and one of Rader’s relatives, and finally pinned Rader for some of the most infamous murders in America.

Israel Keyes Betrayed His Own Rules

Like the “Son of Sam,” Israel Keyes was a former soldier raised in a Mormon family who reveled in his fascination and obsession with serial murder. With an extensive knowledge of his predecessors, Keyes aimed to be unique and uncatchable but eventually fell to victim to what he thought separated him from the rest—a lack of control.

Identified as a serial killer, rapist, arsonist, burglar and bank robber, Keyes had a girlfriend and daughter, despite having spent more than a decade raping, robbing and killing victims around the country. Three deaths were tied directly to him, but anywhere between 8 and 12 are alleged. Keyes success was due in part to his extensive planning—which includes burying “murder kits” (weapons, cash, and tools to clean up crime scenes)—and an unwritten rule based on his research and knowledge of other captured serial killers. “ ... He would travel outside and go to great lengths to distance himself from any of his victims,” Anchorage homicide Det. Monique Doll told ABC News. 

That was primarily derived from his obsession with “not being like the other” serial killers. "He had researched and read other serial killers,” Doll told ABC. “He knew a lot about Ted Bundy. He was very careful to say that he had not patterned himself after any other serial killers, that his ideas were his own." That necessity for distinction and control (all signatures of serial killers) got the best of him during his last murder, which was only supposed to be a robbery. With plans to take the register at the coffee shop, Keyes confessed that he thought about not killing his victim, a young, female employee working alone if she didn’t have a car. But upon seeing his victim, he was overcome, wrestling her to his vehicle before raping and strangling her there. It broke both parts of his proximity rule as he murdered in his car and his hometown. He then did something even more sloppy: He used his victim’s credit card at several ATMs in another state to take out money, allowing police to track him down.

Photos via: Crime Museum, Getty Images, Crime Museum 

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