Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the whole sniper-in-Washington killing
spree (aside from all of those messy deaths, of course) is the fact
that, since there are so few clues left by the sniper, it’s been
difficult for the media in the US to develop and market a suitable
Nickname for it.
Ironically, since it’s a sniper we’re talking about, the very mystique,
secrecy, and mystery is exactly what we should expect until he/she/they
eventually become bored and/or screw up.
In the interim, how are we to carry on without a suitable chroma-key in
adorning our television sets when any breaking news about white panel
vans emerges? How will Ted Turner sell Pepsi Ads during the nation’s
hour of need if he can’t segue the breaking story thing with an
appropriately recognizable moniker?
Washington Sniper Evades Nickname with Few Clues
1 hour, 8 minutes ago
By Laura MacInnis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A sniper has left few clues behind in his
two-week-long shooting spree in and around the U.S. capital, foiling
efforts to coin a suitable moniker for the killer.
Time Magazine dubbed the gunman “The Beltway Sniper,” named for the
highway encircling the Washington suburbs where the gunman has shot 11
people, killing 9, seemingly at random. Newsweek called him “The Tarot
Card Killer,” referring to a Tarot “Death” card found near one of the
Journalism experts said most media outlets have avoided labeling the
killer because too little was known about him or his intentions.
“People are too afraid right now to hand out nicknames,” said Columbia
University professor Andie Tucker.
“There is next to nothing known about this killer, and what we do know
about him is generic. Nobody wants to give him a name which later turns
out to be embarrassing or accusatory or flat out wrong.”
High-profile criminals have a long history of attracting nicknames.
“Jack the Ripper” gained notoriety in London in the 1880s and the
“Blood Countess” of 16th-century Hungary were said to have partly
inspired Bram Stoker to write “Dracula.”
In the 1920’s, new U.S. tabloid newspapers used nicknames like Baby
Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, many of which romanticized crime.
The New York media used the shorthand “Son of Sam” for serial killer
David Berkowitz, who killed six people in 1976 and 1977 and called
himself “Sam’s Creation” in notes to newspapers and police.
Other serial killers are now best-known by monikers like the Unabomber
(Ted Kaczynski), Boston Stranger (Albert De Salvo) and Scarborough
Rapist (Paul Bernardo).
Major U.S. newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post
have referred to the Washington assailant as “the sniper.” Europe’s
press has also shied from labels.
Spanish newspapers depict the shooter as “the mysterious sniper.” The
Greek press describe him as “the Washington sharp shooter” and in
Germany, Der Tagesspiegel refers to the gunman as simply “serial
Since Oct. 2, the gunman has killed nine people and wounded two, each
time with a single bullet fired in busy, public places. Despite witness
reports of get-away vehicles and extensive highway searches, no arrests
have been made and police have not released a composite sketch of a
Police Capt. Nancy Demme, of Montgomery County in Maryland, where the
first five murders took place, said on Wednesday the assailant could be
changing weapons as well as cars with every crime, adding police had
not ruled out the possibility there was more than one shooter.
“The only common denominator thus far is male,” she said in response to
conflicting witness accounts of the shooter.
With so few clues, one media expert said it was premature to
characterize the suspect — or suspects — in any way.
“I was really surprised to see the reference to the ‘Tarot Card
Killer,”‘ Columbia University journalism professor Sreenath Sreenivasan
“We haven’t really established that the man who pulled the trigger is
the man who pulled all the triggers, is the man who left the card …
It’s all too early.”