Disturbing tapes the FBI has that will seriously open your eyes

Ever since J. Edgar Hoover first started illegally wiretapping every politician to cross his path, the FBI vaults have been a treasure trove of disturbing, shocking, and morally dubious recordings. Built up over decades and only infrequently cleaned out (like when a lot of Hoover's kompromat was destroyed after his death), they represent one of the biggest records on Earth of how cruddy Americans can sometimes be to one another. You want recordings of mob bosses ordering hits? Video of politicians accepting bribes? Audio of terrorists attacks as they unfolded? Well, the FBI has all that and even more besides.

But within their vaults, the FBI has a few dubious treasures that are notable even considering who owns them. These are the rare tapes that are so messed up or that deal with such eye-popping scandals that they're in a league of their own. If you've ever wondered what madness and roiling corruption sound like, there's a very good chance the answer lies in these recordings.

The Golden State Killer's sadistic taunt tape

It wasn't until the 21st century that the Golden State Killer was given his notorious nickname. Before that, he'd been known as both the East Area Rapist or the Original Night Stalker. But whether he was known to the public as one serial attacker or two, the Golden State Killer was infamous. From 1974 to 1985, police believe he murdered at least 13 people and raped at least 40 more. And he used technology to terrify his victims, calling up those he'd already assaulted to threaten them with worse.

It's from one of these sadistic calls that the "taunt tape" emerges. Recorded by local police and handed over to the FBI, the audiotape was released onto the internet in 2016, as part of a renewed effort by law enforcement to catch the killer (via Heavy). To call it chilling would be a disservice to subzero temperatures. Over 34 awful seconds, the Golden State Killer breathes heavily into the phone, telling a previous victim he will come back and kill her. Disturbing, huh? It's not even the worst. Another tape released by the FBI was an interview conducted in 1977 with the killer's first victim. It's a painful five minutes of hearing exactly how a monster goes about his work. Thanks to California's statute of limitations, it's also our only record of a crime he cannot be tried for. Sometimes Lady Justice is less blind than she is MIA.

In 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo, above, was arrested for the crimes of the Golden State Killer. He is awaiting trial on at least 13 murder charges and 13 charges related to sexual assaults.

The tip tape that could have stopped the Parkland shooting

On Valentine's Day 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, became ground zero for one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Nineteen-year-old ex-student Nikolas Cruz activated a fire alarm before opening fire on the fleeing students, killing 17. While most of the subsequent media flame wars focused on whether more gun control or more mental health funding might have prevented the massacre, a few noted there had been a much more direct way of stopping it. The FBI had a 13-minute tape in their possession of someone close to Cruz warning the teenager was going to "start shooting places up."

The New York Times has the details. The tape was recorded on January 5, less than six weeks before Cruz slaughtered his former schoolmates. It came from the FBI's official tip line, which was set up precisely to stop this sort of bloodbath from happening. If you read the transcripts, the call is full of warnings that Cruz had posted on Instagram "I want to kill people," that he'd attacked family members and was prone to violence, and that he had pictures up online of small animals he'd butchered with kitchen knives. The call should have been less a red flag than a blaring warning sign with gigantic flashing lights.

The FBI later said the call should have been forwarded to their Miami office and that mistakes had been made. Sadly, those mistakes resulted in the deaths of 17 people.

The accidental recording of two parents killing their own daughter

Most parents recognize their personal prime directive is to ensure no harm ever comes to their children. Most parents aren't Zein and Maria Isa, a Palestinian-Brazilian couple who immigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1980s. Although the couple came from different religious backgrounds (Muslim and Roman Catholic), they both took the "honor thy father and mother" part of the Bible way too seriously. On November 6, 1989, they confronted their 16-year-old daughter, Tina, over behavior they disapproved of. The confrontation ended with Maria holding Tina down while Zein stabbed her to death.

It was the sort of awful tragedy that plays out again and again in the margins of newspapers, with one major difference. The FBI had long suspected Zein Isa was connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which the U.S. government considered a terrorist group at the time, so they had bugged the family's apartment (via New York Times). While they never recorded Zein taking part in any large-scale terrorism, they did accidentally record Tina's murder.

The whole transcript later appeared in People. The worst part is the way it starts out sounding just like any other family argument. Maria and Zein yell at Tina for taking a job and boyfriend they don't like. Tina yells back, only for Isa to suddenly say "Listen, my dear daughter. Do you know that this is the last day? Tonight you're going to die." Then there are only screams and pleading as the deed is done. Thanks to this disturbing tape, Maria and Zein both died in prison.

The 1993 WTC bombing tapes suggest the attack could have been stopped

Prior to 9/11, the most significant date in World Trade Center history was February 26, 1993. That was the day Islamic fundamentalists exploded a gigantic car bomb underneath the Twin Towers, killing six people (including a pregnant woman), injuring over 1,000, and causing millions of dollars of damage. The cell that carried out the attack turned out to contain a mere seven people, one of whom was an FBI informant. During the lengthy investigation into the bombing, tapes made by the informant emerged which appeared to suggest the FBI could have stopped the attack before it happened (via Independent).

At the time, the tapes were as embarrassing for the Feds as pictures of J. Edgar Hoover wearing a pink tutu. Although the majority of the tapes were made after the WTC bombing, the informer can clearly be heard on them discussing with his handler how he'd previously purchased the timer for the WTC bomb as part of his undercover work, using federal money. Although the attackers ultimately didn't use that timer, the mere fact the FBI signed off on its purchase should have set off alarm bells from the J. Edgar Hoover Building to Quantico.

Perhaps even freakier, the tapes made after the bombing appear to show nothing but agents covering their asses for the attack and blaming their supervisors (via New York Times). While it remains a topic of debate how much more the FBI could have realistically done, the tapes still make for sad listening.

The MLK tape is all sorts of screwed up

You know Martin Luther King Jr. as a crusading civil rights activist and probably one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. That's pretty much the exact opposite of how the establishment saw him in the 1960s. King was regarded on Capitol Hill as little more than a Communist agitator. So sure was J. Edgar Hoover that King was one of the bad guys that he authorized illegal bugging and wiretapping of King. Hence the infamous "sex tape." In 1964, the FBI edited together a "highlights" reel of King's extramarital affairs and sent it to his wife, accompanied by a note urging King to kill himself.

The Hollywood Reporter has the story. The tape is reported to have been a collage of King's infidelities, possibly spliced in with a likely fake clip of him propositioning a man. Although the tape has since vanished, the originals it was stitched together from haven't. Smithsonian reports that a 1977 court order means their contents will be unsealed and made public sometime in 2027.

Aside from the vicarious thrill factor of hearing a titan of history having a bit of hanky-panky, the MLK tapes the FBI holds are mostly disturbing for what they say about the Bureau itself. Within living memory, the FBI considered it part of its duties to spy on those campaigning for equality and try and destroy them through blackmail and faked audio clips. In a way, that's creepier than any murder tape.

The Tool Box Killers and their horrifying snuff tape

Even among the pantheon of serial killers, Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris (aka the Tool Box Killers) were seriously sick puppies. From June 1979 to Halloween that year, they drove around California's lonely backroads in a modified torture van, offering rides to teenage girls before raping them and killing them using toolbox implements. As ThoughtCo explains, their insanely sick plan was to murder one girl for each teenage year from 13 to 19. They nearly succeeded, killing five girls aged 13 to 18 before finally being caught.

One of the last to die was Lynette Ledford. We won't go into the details here, but her murder was the exact level of horrible you'd probably expect. The real disturbing aspect, though, was that Bittaker taped part of Ledford's torture session. During his last few weeks as a free man, Bittaker would drive around in his van, replaying that tape over and over again for his own gratification. When the pair were finally caught, it became a key piece of evidence in their trial. Many people in the courtroom when the tape was played were left in tears. Bittaker was sentenced to death, while Norris got life in prison. Nearly 40 years later, Bittaker still hasn't been executed.

As for the gruesome tape, it remains in the FBI archives. A long-standing rumor suggests it's used to this day to desensitize new agents to the reality of torture. If any tape could achieve such a thing, it's this one.

The Waco tapes make clear who started the fire

The fire that started in the Branch Davidian compound on April 19, 1993, sent more than just 76 lives up in smoke. Coming at the end of a protracted FBI siege, it burned the Bureau's reputation into a cinder, destroyed trust in the government, and directly motivated the Oklahoma City bombing, according to History. One key aspect of this fallout was the suspicion the Feds started the fire. In 1999, tapes emerged that showed how the FBI had cleared the use of potentially flammable teargas against the Davidians (via CNN). But the FBI was ultimately cleared by the emergence of another tape: an audio recording of a group of Davidians starting the deadly fire.

PBS reports that during the siege, the FBI allowed shipments of milk cartons to go through to the Davidians. Unknown to those inside the compound, the cartons were bugged. On April 19, one of those bugged cartons just happened to be lying nearby nine Davidians as they discussed starting a fire.

The tape is eye-opening for being so explicit. One Davidian says "start the fire?" while two others discuss fuel. Yet another says, "We should have gotten some more hay in here." While there's little beyond that, it sounds so much like a bunch of people starting a fire, on a day that a historical fire happened, that it's hard to see what else it could be. For all the spin, this may be the tape that reveals what really happened that day.

That time J. Edgar Hoover wiretapped JFK for the sheer heck of it

If you were a gossip columnist in the 1960s, you would have given your eyes, your tongue, and your teeth just for a glimpse of the FBI's Office and Confidential file (and then been unable to read it since you'd just given your eyes away, you fool). A very secret file held in the office of J. Edgar Hoover, it was the FBI Director's personal stack of kompromat. Inside were photos of senators seducing housewives, police records of representatives busted for homosexuality, and a whole galaxy of sensitive notes on everyone in American life. Yet, even in this gigantic pile of blackmail material, one section would have stood out from the rest. Hoover had tapped phone calls revealing JFK was having an affair with a 25-year-old woman named Judith Campbell Exner, who was also sleeping with the notorious mob boss Sam Giancana.

As the Daily Beast explains, Hoover spent his entire career ensuring he had enough material on everyone to keep himself safe. That meant wiretapping and bugging not just politicians but presidents. In March 1962, Hoover scheduled a lunch with Kennedy, just to tell him that the FBI had tapes of his affair. Although Hoover didn't come right out and say it, it was basically a veiled threat against JFK firing him. Perhaps it's no wonder Hoover stayed in power until his death in 1972.

Most of Hoover's kompromat was destroyed after his death, but not all of it. So, yeah, there's still a chance the FBI has a tape somewhere of one of America's most-beloved presidents getting down and dirty.

The tape of FBI agents threatening a Muslim informant

Back in 2009, American Muslim Naji Mansour came onto the FBI's radar as someone the Bureau might potentially want to recruit. At the time, Mansour was living in Kenya, and wound up — as he tells it — accidentally sharing a room with two men later arrested on terrorism charges. According to Mother Jones, this led the FBI to take an interest in Mansour, who they seemed to think could be flipped and made to turn informant. There was only one problem. Mansour wasn't actually a terrorist and wasn't linked to any people who were. But the feds were determined to get a new recruit. So determined, in fact, that they allegedly wound up threatening Mansour's life.

Tapes of discussions between two federal agents and Mansour came to light in 2014, and they did not paint the FBI's recruiters in a flattering light. At one point, the agents discuss what could happen to Mansour if he doesn't cooperate, and tell him "you might get hit by a car." In context it's a little unclear whether that's meant to be a veiled threat or not. The feds were discussing "forks in the road," and it could all just be one gigantic mangled metaphor that wound up accidentally sounding like premeditated murder. But that's certainly not how the media saw it. Headlines of the day were full of tales about the FBI threatening Muslim operatives.

Jared Fogle describes how best to groom schoolchildren

In 2015, former Subway guy Jared Fogle was outed as someone who was less "inspirational" and more "flat-out horrifying." From as early as 2006, he'd been viewing child pornography and having frequent sex with underage teenagers, all while openly boasting about it to anyone who showed even the vaguest interest (via NPR). But his conviction didn't just come out of nowhere. A lot of the charges Jared was indicted for came courtesy of Rochelle Herman-Walrond, a former radio host who won his trust before turning FBI informant. From the mid-2000s onward, she was tasked with recording Fogle talking about his methods for grooming children.

CBS explored the audio tapes, portions of which were eventually aired on Doctor Phil. In them, Jared enthusiastically describes how to get closer to underage girls, at one point effectively giving a blow-by-blow account of how he targeted girls from broken homes. Most disturbing of all, there are sections in which Fogle asks Herman-Walrond if she'd mind setting up hidden cameras in her children's rooms so he could watch them dressing.

The full contents of the tapes have never been released, possibly because they're just too freaking awful. But perhaps the freakiest part of knowing these tapes exist isn't in the crimes they record Jared talking about, but in the missed opportunities behind them. According to CBS, Herman-Walrond had alerted Subway to the tapes' existence as early as 2011. Jared wasn't fired as their spokesman until his arrest in 2015.

Donald Trump's sleazy 'hush payments' tape

The Trump presidency has occasionally felt like a neverending string of scandals all being woven messily together by a drunk seamstress. But a small handful of threads keep emerging, one of the biggest of which is whether Trump paid off an adult model (Karen McDougal, above) to keep her from publicizing the fact that they'd had an affair. According to the New York Times (via MarketWatch) the FBI already knows the answer to this and has known since agents raided the offices of Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, in summer 2018. One of the goodies they netted in the raid was audio tape of Trump discussing those underhand payments.

This was potentially huge news, as Trump having knowledge of payments to those he'd slept with could count as campaign finance violations, which is why you're reading this in a timeline in which the president was impeached and removed from office the day after the tapes broke. Kidding! Obviously. There were actually serious questions surrounding whether they showed what they seemed to, with Rudy Giuliani claiming the phrase "pay with cash" had actually been a misrecorded "don't pay with cash" (via the Atlantic).

Still, there's a realistic possibility that the tape really does discuss what it seems to discuss, in which case the FBI is currently holding the first audio evidence of a president committing high crimes since Richard Nixon taped himself offering to buy off a reporter. Maybe this means Trump, too, will get a guest spot on Futurama some day.

The Jonestown 'death tape' is even creepier than you think

On November 18, 1978, paranoid cultist Jim Jones managed to talk nearly an entire American commune in Guyana into committing suicide by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid or Flavor Aid (via Britannica). The gigantic pile of over 900 bodies that resulted remains one of the largest peacetime massacres of U.S. civilians, behind only 9/11.

If you've ever wondered how a single man, no matter how charismatic, managed to talk nearly a thousand people into killing themselves and their children, wonder no more. Deep in the FBI vaults, a tape officially known as Q042 exists. But it has another name, too, one more suited to its contents. Featuring the speech by Jones that preceded the People's Temple committing mass suicide, it's better known as the "death tape."

There is a transcript, and to call it heavy reading would be like saying War and Peace is somewhat on the long side. What's scary about the transcript is how rational everyone seems to be. This is a big, group meeting, and people are listing reasons why mass suicide might be a kind of terrible idea … and yet they're simultaneously allowing others to squirt cyanide into the mouths of newborn babies. By the time we reach the end, people are openly crying, even as they drink the poison that will kill them. It's both utterly chilling, and a clear example of just how effective brainwashing can be on even otherwise intelligent people.

The ABSCAM tapes will destroy your faith in politicians even further

According to Gallup, Congress has an overall job approval rating of about 20 percent at time of writing. After you've read about ABSCAM, you might be tempted to think it should be closer to 2 percent. In February 1978, the FBI turned a con artist named Melvin Weinberg into an undercover asset, encouraging him to lure in white collar criminals. Weinberg created a fake Middle Eastern company named Abdul Enterprises, and set about spinning tall tales of oil money that could be accessed by illegal means (via Britannica).

By the end of the year, the scheme had gotten big enough for the state senator and mayor of Camden, New Jersey, to take notice. But rather than shut Weinberg down, Angelo Errichetti demanded a massive bribe off him. He then offered a list of other senators Abdul Enterprises might be able to bribe in exchange for favorable treatment. In the blink of an eye, ABSCAM went from a small-time deal to the biggest investigation the FBI was running.

Over the next year, hidden FBI cameras recorded six representatives and one senator offering to change laws in exchange for piles of cash. The tapes still exist in the FBI archives, and offer a litany of wrongdoing that's as shocking to see now as it was in 1980 when the scandal broke. Although all seven Congressmen recorded lost their seats, Congress also made sure to clip the FBI's wings and ensure such an undercover investigation couldn't happen again. Really, who can blame them?