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At the scene of the boy's shooting, police stumbled upon a trove of clues. A matted area in the brush opposite the school suggested that the sniper had lain in wait for his victim. Police also found a tarot "death" card with the message "Mister Policeman, I am God." The card, which may turn out to be a prank by someone familiar with the Vietnam War habit of leaving calling cards on the bodies of Viet Cong, was sent to the feds to be analyzed for fingerprints and DNA. The card, it would later be reported, also contained a request not to tell the media about its existence. "There is often an indignation on the part of serial killers at news reports about them that are inaccurate, so they start giving little hints about who they really are, what they have done," says Jamie Greene, a clinical and forensic psychologist. "They want recognition."
The indiscriminate shooting of strangers--and a twisted hunt for glory--has plenty of tragic precedent. But generalizations are hard to come by. Killers pick different victims and different M.O.s, depending on their motivation and mental state. In some cases, the victims fit some sort of pattern. Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, convicted of nine murders from 1977 to 1980, has said he was trying to start a race war by shooting African Americans and interracial couples. At the other end of the gory spectrum, notorious shooters like Texas tower sniper Charles Whitman initiate one uninterrupted orgy of violence--as opposed to the methodical drumbeat of the current hit-and-run shootings. Some killers, most famously David (Son of Sam) Berkowitz, who fatally shot six strangers in New York City, make a point of communicating with the world by sending letters to police and media, which is why some experts began invoking him last week when the tarot card was found.
One of the more instructive analogies, however, may be the case of Thomas Lee Dillon. Convicted of killing five Ohio men between 1989 and 1992, Dillon drove around shooting complete strangers from afar with high-powered rifles. He saw himself as an extremely powerful person during these expeditions. And he would later tell forensic psychologist Jeffrey Smalldon that he intentionally picked random victims located across multiple jurisdictions in order to make it harder for police to find him.
Dillon also aspired to commit a crime like none other. "One of his mantras he'd repeat over and over was 'There's never been a crime like this, has there?' There was an extreme preoccupation with distinguishing himself," Smalldon says. He also had an obsession with control. "Dillon wrote a letter to the local newspaper, saying basically, You can never catch me, which indicated how very conscious he was of the appeal of operating under the radar but not too far under the radar--the appeal of having a dialogue with society and basically taunting society." Dillon was captured in part because his best friend reported some of his comments to the FBI.