It's an astoundingly common trope in TV and films for the 'third act' to be taken up with the serial killer antagonist kidnapping or targeting the protagonist's daughter/son/wife, etc.

Obviously the hero policeman invariably saves the day and we all cheer, but my question is, is this wholly mythical?

Has there ever been any instance where a murderer/serial killer has played a genuine "cat-and-mouse" game with a policeman and attacked their family during an investigation or is this a total fiction and an invention of Hollywood?

  • I'm actually curious how often the serial killer even knows the names of the detectives doing the investigations, which is a somewhat related question to this one... don't the police usually have spokespeople doing all the talking to the media, not the field agents? – KutuluMike Nov 14 '15 at 0:20
  • In a lot of cases, the lead policeman is also the main spokesman – Richard Nov 14 '15 at 0:27
  • Are you sure it was not invented by mystery novel writers before Hollywood started with it? – GEdgar Nov 14 '15 at 1:59
  • @MikeEdenfield The Lead Task Force Investigator for Gary Ridgeway, Dave Reichert, was the spokeman - and almost bungled the case as the spokesman. – Ruut Nov 14 '15 at 2:05
  • 4
    I'm pretty sure I've heard of Mexican cartels and ISIS doing this sort of thing. But your question is strictly about serial killers, not terrorists or organized crime. – Kip Nov 19 '15 at 22:37

Serial killers targeting policeman and their families, so far, is wholly fictional. You can spend hours using different search engines and you simply won't find one case of that outside of Hollywood.

Serial killers target the vulnerable who have been shunned by society, expert says1.

Almost all the victims of multiple murderers in the last 120 years have belonged to the same five categories - children, women, gay men, prostitutes and the elderly. And Professor David Wilson blames our uncaring society for allowing them to become obvious targets.

"It is significant there has never been a serial killer who has targeted Premier League footballers, heart surgeons and professors of criminology2."

There is one serial killer that did murder policemen - but there is no account of her playing 'cat and mouse':

  • Inessa Tarverdiyeva

    She refused to say why she hated policemen. One theory is that she had a lover who was a policeman who left her for another woman. Police now suspect that she later murdered the officer and his new lover.

Some serial killers do taunt police3.

A tarot card bearing a taunting message was found near the scene of one of the sniper attacks that have terrorized the Washington, D.C., area. As police try to determine whether the card is a message from the killer, or merely a prank, they may be thinking of past serial killers who have jeered at police — often in clues that led to their eventual capture.

Here is a look at some of the cases:

  • The Unabomber: He was caught when he released the ultimate taunt — a 35,000-word "manifesto," which he demanded newspapers print.
  • Son of Sam: A note he left at a crime scene read, in part: "I am a monster. I am the 'Son of Sam.'" Berkowitz sent several more notes, one to a reporter.
  • The Zodiac Killer 1: He was never caught, even though he sent a total of 21 letters to local newspapers, revealing details about the murders only the killer could know, enclosing in some envelopes swatches of cloth snipped from one of his victims, and signing off "Zodiac."
  • The Zodiac Killer 2: He wrote several notes to local newspapers and vowed to kill one person born under each of the 12 signs.
  • Hillside Strangler: The attackers taunted police by leaving their victims on hillsides, in areas where they were sure to be found — often near police stations.
  • Jack the Ripper: The killer in one of the world's oldest and most notorious unsolved mysteries also taunted police through letters.

Experts consistently state that serial killers target the vulnerable.

Another distinction for serial killers is their victims. Recall from our discussion of murder in general that victims and offenders most often know each other. In contrast, serial murderers tend to kill strangers. Targeting strangers may also serve to dehumanize the victims and this make it easier to kill them. Serial killers also tend to target victims who are vulnerable, choosing particular subsets of the population4.

Let's ask a serial killer... Gary Ridgway told police:

Well, low-risk victims would be, ah ah, prostitutes who eagerly get in your car for... for money, and they wouldn't be missed. Where the high risk victim would be like somebody at a college... they would be more of a... of risk of... of, ah, people caring more about 'em, and friends asking questions... low risk prostitutes they're not.... they're not as valued as much as a college person... or a business person.

Definitions (For Reference Only)

  • Spree Murder: Two or more murders committed by an offender or offenders, without a cooling-off period.5
  • Serial Murder: One or more offenders; two or more murdered victims; incidents should be occurring in separate events, at different times; the time period between murders separates serial murder from mass murder.6


1The Daily Record (28 October 2009)
2A History of British Serial Killing
3Andrew Chang of ABC News
4Violence: The Enduring Problem
5US Department of Justice
6FBI - Serial Murder

  • A conversation in chat mentioned that the Green River Killer "cased" the house of the chief investigator in the taskforce to catch him. Any truth in that? – Richard Nov 14 '15 at 1:30
  • @Richard I am uncertain of that. I will research and post in comment if I find anything. – Ruut Nov 14 '15 at 1:55

Christopher Dorner did at least threaten to do so:

A manifesto posted on Facebook, which police say was written by Dorner, declared "unconventional and asymmetric warfare" upon the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), their families, and their associates

  • You have my +1. A threat is still a form of targeting. – Richard Nov 25 '15 at 9:42
  • That also fits the whole "it's one of our own" trope too. – Andrew Whatever Nov 25 '15 at 18:42
  • @Richard Christopher Dorner wasn't a serial killer. Mass murderer, certainly, but not a serial killer. The police, and media, declared him a rampage killer, a mass shooter, and a multi-murderer - because that is what they was. Since the question was about serial killers, I can't give this a +1. – Ruut Nov 30 '15 at 16:57
  • @Ruut - You are completely correct. His murders weren't a serial killing. I've retracted my +1. Sorry AmbroseChapel. – Richard Nov 30 '15 at 17:51

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