A man calling himself The Chinese Zodiac Killer has been arrested by the FBI in Jefferson County, New York for sending letters to media outlets, government offices including the White House, and other organisations, claiming he killed people, ate their flesh and that he plans to kill more, including an unidentified bus driver.
Jesse Bartlett, 46, of LaFargeville in Jefferson County was arrested on May 19 for allegedly mailing the letters to addresses in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.
U.S. Attorney Carla Freedman said that Bartlett allegedly mailed “threatening communications” to news organisations, government buildings, houses of worship and private businesses. Bartlett was charged with Mailing Threatening Letters. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and supervision of three years.
Bartlett, a school bus driver who, according to prosecutors, owns multiple firearms, was arrested after he was allegedly caught on surveillance cameras placing what appeared to be brown envelopes into U.S. Postal Service collection boxes. On May 12, the FBI filmed Bartlett dropping 21 envelopes into U.S. Postal Service boxes in Watertown and Clayton, and another 21 in the same Watertown bin on May 15. Further investigation found that the letters were consistent with those written by the so-called “Chinese Zodiac Killer.” Authorities said the letters were signed “Aleister Crowley,” a name that was also referenced in earlier Chinese Zodiac Killer letters, and presumably refers to the late English occultist and artist.
The letters said in part:
EVERY MONTH SINCE NOVEMBER I HAVE KILLED BOTH MALE AND FEMALES. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT I AM KILLING INDIVIDUALS WHOSE IDENTITIES ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO TRACK (I.E., HOMELESS, RUNAWAYS, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS), AND DESTROYING ALL EVIDENCE SO EFFICIENTLY.
In August 2021, a letter was received by a retail company in Syracuse. In the letter, Bartlett allegedly stated:
“EACH MONTHLY LETTER CONTAINS MY CURRENT KILL COUNT – AND WHETHER OR NOT I FEASTED ON THE FLESH OF MY VICTIMS.”
Another letter sent to The Day newsroom pledged to enslave people in a “macabre paradice”, using the same misspelling as the original Zodiac. The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, along with New York State Police, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
The original Zodiac Killer stabbed or shot to death five people in Northern California in 1968 and 1969. He had sent taunting letters and cryptograms to police and newspapers that included astrological symbols. He did not eat anyone (human), as far as we know.
That original Zodiac Killer was never caught, but a group called The Case Breakers, a team of former journalists and law enforcement officers that investigates cold cases, said in October 2021 that they had identified the killer as a man who died in 2018, but authorities debunked the theory. The FBI and San Francisco Police Department both consider the Zodiac Killer murders open cases. The Times Union received a letter in 1973 saying:
YOU Were WRONG I AM NOT DEAD OR IN THE HOSPITAL I AM ALIVE AND WELL AND IM GOING TO START KILLING AGAIN Below is the NAME AND LOCATION OF MY NEXT VICTIM But you had Better hurry because I’m going to kill her August 10th at 5 P.M. when the shifts change. ALBANY is A nice Town.
The Chinese Zodiac Killer also inserted cryptic codes into his letters, which have not been interpreted (if, in fact, they are not simply gibberish.)
However, it seems very unlikely that this latest arrest is Chinese, the Zodiac Killer, or a cannibal killer, but simply a copycat who has added cannibalism to his modus operandi because, you know, it’s just so fashionable. Bartlett has not been charged with any homicide offences, although he was acquitted of the murder of a friend in 2010 after pleading self-defence. His main motivation seems to be recognition and celebrity, warning “I WILL MAKE AN EXAMPLE OF ANYONE WHO REFUSES TO EDUCATE THE PUBLIC OF MY EXISTENCE”:
I HAVE ALREADY KILLED SOMEONE IN THE NEW YORK AREA. HEAR MY PROPHECY: I WILL KILL AGAIN. HELL WANTS MORE SOULS. I AM A SEXUAL PREDATOR AND A KILLER AMONG THE LIVING. I AM NOT HIDING. I AM VERY EASY TO FIND …BECAUSE I NEED TO BE FOUND. BUT I MUST TEST YOU.
Prosecutors also said Bartlett had stated that he is “a sexual predator” and is “on the hunt for your women at all times.” Bartlett is being held at the Albany County Jail, where he is awaiting psychiatric evaluation.
Although prosecutors do not seem to be pursuing any leads to do with murder or cannibalism, we may never know for sure what the Chinese Zodiac killer got up to. Could it be the case, as he wrote, that he is killing people whose identities are impossible to track (i.e. homeless, runaways, illegal immigrants), “AND DESTROYING ALL EVIDENCE SO EFFICIENTLY”?
Cannibalism is certainly a very efficient (and ecologically sustainable) way of destroying evidence.