Ever since childhood, most of us have been warned about "stranger danger." The idea is simple: avoid those you do not know. Do not jump in cars with strangers, do not accept candy from strangers, and do not make yourself vulnerable to predators.
All of this can be defined as common sense. However, during the 1970s, "stranger danger" came to the forefront thanks to a series of murders in Oakland County, Michigan. At that time, some stranger killed four or more children in one year. By most accounts, the killer used a car to lure the children into a death trap.
Amazingly, during this same decade and after, a series of serial killers preyed upon men and women who decided to "hitchhike," otherwise known as the subtle art of bumming rides across the country. Because of this, America, which is particularly rotten with highways, became a mobile graveyard manned by human sharks in Cadillacs, Fords, Chevys, and other machines.
"Stranger danger" PSAs did little good for the victims of these freeway murderers. A sizeable portion of these killers have never been caught, despite racking up plenty of bodies in several different states. Whether by knife or gun, these fifteen monsters turned America's asphalt blood red.
15 Larry Eyler
Larry Eyler earned the sobriquet the Highway Killer because he used his car to target gay men in places as disparate as Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and Kentucky. A native of Crawfordsville, Indiana, Eyler grew up in a highly fractured home. Both sides of his family had a history with alcoholism, and Eyler's father mentally and physically abused him. On top of this, Eyler's mother got married and divorced four times during Eyler's upbringing.
At ten years old, Eyler was examined at Riley Child Guidance Clinic at the Indiana University Medical Center. He was described as having "normal" intelligence, but doctors noted that Eyler had a severe fear of abandonment and generally had a poor sense of self-worth.
After dropping out of high school (he would eventually earn a GED), Eyler began working a series of low-paying jobs. These jobs took him all over the Midwest during the 1970s and 1980s. Eyler's first crime, the murder of Jay Reynolds in Lexington, Kentucky, occurred in March 1982.
From then until May 1984, Eyler preyed on runaway youths and male prostitutes. After a building janitor discovered the murdered body of sixteen-year-old Danny Bridges on August 21, 1984, police eventually learned that Eyler was the man responsible. Eyler was convicted of the murder one year later. He eventually died of AIDS while waiting on death row.
14 William Bonin
William Bonin, alias the Freeway Killer, is believed to have killed as many as twenty-one people during his reign of terror between 1972 and 1980. There are some who speculate that he may have killed as many as forty.
Utilizing the many highways of Southern California, Bonin targeted young boys for rape, robbery, and murder. Between 1979 and 1980, fourteen boys fell victim to Bonin. Most were teenagers, while other victims were as old as twenty-one.
Bonin was raised in a very abusive household. His parents were both alcoholics, while his grandfather was a sex offender and convicted child molester. After being raped by his father, Bonin was sent to an orphanage at the age of six. Before leaving the orphanage three years later, Bonin was the victim and the perpetrator of several sexual assaults.
Prior to committing his string of murders, Bonin served in Vietnam as a member of the US Air Force. He is believed to have logged over seven hundred hours of combat in Southeast Asia. After returning to America, Bonin got in trouble with the law many times owing to several cases of sexual assault. Unlike many other serial killers, Bonin had help during his crimes thanks to a string of ex-cons.
13 Thor Nis Christiansen
Thor Nis Christiansen came to the United States from his native Denmark at the age of five. In time, the blond Christiansen would bloom into a full-fledged man who weighed close to three hundred pounds.
Originally just an average kid in Solvang, California, something went bad inside of Christiansen when he turned sixteen. He dropped out of high school, and while working at a gas station, Christiansen routinely day dreamed about murdering women. Between November 20, 1976 and January 18, 1977, Christiansen used a stolen .22 pistol to murder three women -- twenty-one-year-old Jacqueline Rook, nineteen-year-old Mary Ann Saris, and twenty-one-year-old Patricia Laney. All of Christiansen's victims were college-age females who wore their hair straight and long. All three were also killed while hitchhiking. Because of these facts, Christiansen was dubbed the "Lookalike Killer."
After Christiansen killed a fourth victim, twenty-three-year-old Laura Sue Benjamin, police located Lydia Preston, a woman who had managed to survive one of Christiansen's assaults. Christiansen would admit to all four murders and to raping all of the victims after death. He was stabbed to death by another inmate on March 30, 1981.
12 Colonial Parkway Killer
A series of unsolved murders in southern Virginia began in October 1986. During that time, Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski were found just off of the Colonial Parkway, which connects Williamsburg to Yorktown. For the next three years, three more couples would be found dead near the haunted highway. Another couple is presumed dead.
Not much is known about the killer. The clearest piece of evidence was retrieved when police found Thomas and Dowski's Honda Civic just off of a pull-off area near the York River. Some speculate that instead of a serial killer, the Colonial Parkway Murders are actually four separate murders.
There has also been some speculation that the serial killer targeted parked couples who were caught enjoying lovers' lanes in the area. Such an M.O. is very common.
11 Flat Tire Murders
The Sunshine State is not what most people think about when they think about murder. However, according to the latest American crime statistics, Florida suffers from a high murder rate, including 1,040 homicides recorded in 2016. The overall crime rate was higher in the 1970s, especially in the ever-troublesome Dade County (home of Miami).
In 1975, a series of bizarre murders struck the southern edge of Miami-Dade County, not far from the town of Cutler Ridge (today's Cutler Bay). There is absolutely no consensus on these crimes, but investigators theorize that one man was responsible for the deaths of Belinda Zeterower (14), Barbara Schreiber (14), Elyse Napp (21), Ronnie Gorlin (27), and Barbara Stephens (23).
It is believed that the unknown killer deliberately slashed the tires of his victims, then, when they requested help, kidnapped them at knife point. Stephens was kidnapped at a shopping mall and was found stabbed to death days later. A similar fate befell Zeterower and Schreiber.
10 Herb Baumeister
According to some, the story of serial killer Herb Baumeister did not end with the killer's suicide in 1996. For sixteen years, between 1980 and 1996, Baumeister committed what became the known as the I-70 Murders, for Baumeister tended to dump his strangled victims along Interstate 70 in Indiana and Ohio.
From all accounts, Baumeister grew up as a fairly ordinary child in Indianapolis, Indiana. However, in his teens, Baumeister began exhibiting distressing signs of anti-social behavior. Baumeister would eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia in the early 1960s, but did not receive further treatment. Despite this complicated background, Baumeister married in 1971 and settled into the life of a family man.
Throughout this time, police would eventually discover that Baumeister had a double life. While being a father to his children and a husband to his wife, Baumeister frequented the services of male prostitutes. Almost all of these prostitutes wound up dead. Calling himself "Brian Smart," Baumeister cruised for sex and victims between Indiana and Ohio.
When police caught onto Baumeister's other life, they tried to not only question him, but to also search his Fox Hollow Farm. Herb and his wife initially refused to let the police search their house, but when Baumeister's son found a human skull on the family's property, Julie Baumeister relented and let the police comb through the house.
Herb Baumeister evaded justice by fleeing to Canada, where he committed suicide. His suicide note did not confess to any murders. Today, many believe that Baumeister's Fox Hollow Farm is haunted by both Baumeister's victims and the killer himself.
9 B1 Butcher
The highway murderer is not an exclusively American phenomenon. In the southern African nation of Namibia, an unknown serial killer has been dubbed the B1 Butcher for his preference for using the country's B1 Highway.
In the summer of 2007, the killer's crime made headlines when the torso of a thirty-six-year-old woman was found not far from the city of Windhoek. Sanna Engelbrecht was last seen at the Zum Wirt Restaurant before her bifurcated corpse was found by investigators three days later.
Later, in one rubbish bin, police found the legs, head, and arms of two different women. The Butcher's final victim, who was found in 2007, was dismembered and dumped near the city of Grootfontein.
In 2007, a German-Namibian was accused of rape and was further accused of the murders. He was eventually cleared of the murders, while, a year later, another suspect committed suicide.
8 Patrick Kearney
Like William Bonin, California serial killer Patrick Kearney was known as the Highway Killer. Unlike Bonin, Kearney did not have an outwardly traumatic childhood, although he was frequently bullied due to his thin frame and sickly disposition. As an adult, Kearney lived outside of Los Angeles and worked for Hughes Aircraft as an engineer.
Beginning in the late 1960s, Kearney began picking up other gay men all across Los Angeles, San Diego, and Tijuana, Mexico. Kearney frequently crossed America's southern border because he was fluent in Spanish.
Kearney's M.O. was simple, but very effective. Kearney would cruise gay bars or along California's freeways. Once he selected a victim, Kearney would invite them into his car. There, Kearney would shoot his victims in the temple with a .22 pistol. Kearney would then mutilate his victims before dismembering them.
By Kearney's own account, he killed once a month during the height of his spree. In January 1978, Kearney officially admitted to thirty-five murders, including the deaths of fourteen- and thirteen-year-old boys. Kearney also admitted to killing at least one child. Kearney's other nickname, the Trash-Bag Killer, was earned because he disposed of his victims by placing their body parts in common trash bags.
7 The Freeway Phantom
Between April 1971 and September 1972, a brazen and brash serial killer targeted young black women in the Washington, D.C. area. All six of his victims were raped before being strangled to death. All were between the ages of ten and eighteen. Three shared the same middle name - Denise.
Known as the Freeway Phantom, this killer still eludes police investigators. For sixteen months, the Freeway Phantom used Interstate 295 and the highways of Maryland to stalk his victims. Almost all wound up discarded like trash over the hills and embankments of these same highways.
Many then and now make note of the fact that the killer preyed exclusively on black women. At the time, Washington, D.C. was seventy-percent black and still rebuilding after the deadly riots of 1968.
The most notorious discovery connected to the Freeway Phantom came when police discovered the body of Brenda Woodward, the killer's fifth victim. Next to Woodward's body was a note that had been written by Woodward herself. Through dictation, the killer told police "Catch me if you can!"
6 Santa Rosa Hitchhiker Murders
If there is at least a theme to this post, it is this: people were downright suicidal to keep hitchhiking in California during the 1970s. Between 1972 and 1973, seven female hitchhikers in the Santa Rosa area were found murdered. These killings may be connected to other serial killers, including the Zodiac Killer and Ted Bundy, or they could be the work of an as yet unidentified fiend.
The first victim, Yvonne Weber, went missing on February 4, 1972. Her body would not be found until December 1973, when searchers found her corpse at the bottom of an embankment on the western side of the Franz Valley Road. On the same day, investigators also found the body of Maureen Sterling, who was picked up by the killer alongside Weber. The killer's remaining victims were similarly picked up in the Bay Area while thumbing rides. One victim, Lori Lee Kursa, was abducted sometime after being seen with her mother at the U-Save Market. An unidentified eighth victim was discovered in 1979 near the Calistoga Road, which was one of the killer's favorite dumping grounds.
5 Benjamin Atkins
Michigan's Woodward Corridor stretches from Woodward Avenue in Detroit to the city of Pontiac. During the early 1990s, Detroit was already two decades into its economic collapse. Drugs ruled the street, and one vicious predator named Benjamin Atkins fueled his maniac rages with crack cocaine.
Atkins, who was homeless during the time of the crimes, fixated on prostitutes because of his absolute hatred for the profession. All told, Atkins murdered eleven women and left their raped and strangled bodies in abandoned houses in and around Highland Park. Atkins was ultimately charged with four murders and the attempted murder of a fifth woman.
In 1997, at just the age of twenty-nine, Atkins died of an HIV infection.
4 Randy Kraft
The final serial killer to earn the nickname Freeway Killer, Randy Kraft, was also known as the "Scorecard Killer." At the very minimum, Kraft raped, mutilated, and murdered sixteen men between 1971 and 1983. Many scholars today believe that Kraft's kill count was north of sixty.
Like Herb Baumeister, Kraft did not meet the usual profile of a serial killer. A successful computer programmer in Southern California who maintained two long-term gay relationships throughout his twelve-year killing spree, Kraft used these facts to his advantage. In May 1989, when a jury found him guilty of sixteen murders in California (Kraft was also suspected at the time of killing eight men in Oregon and Michigan), it was recommended to the judge that Kraft should receive the death penalty. He's still alive and serving time in prison today.
Kraft's M.O. was simple, yet very specific. Kraft seemed to have a fixation on young Marines, all of whom Kraft picked up either in gay bars or along the highway. Almost all of Kraft's victims had been very drunk and drugged with tranquilizers before their demise. Once in this state, Kraft bound, gagged, tortured, and mutilated his victims before killing them. In 1975, Kraft was interrogated by the Long Beach, California police for the murder of Keith Crotwell. Kraft managed to escape justice this time because his roommate told police that Kraft had called him about car trouble during the time of the murder.
Like California's better known Zodiac Killer, Kraft was a fan of codes and ciphers. Indeed, he was dubbed the "Scorecard Killer" because police discovered that Kraft maintained a meticulous journal of all of his killings. Each entry contained an elaborate cipher. Based on this code book, Kraft may have killed seventy-six people.
3 Connecticut River Valley Killer
Northern New England is well known for his very low crime rate. States like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine lead the country when it comes to safety. However, during the late 1970s and 1980s, an unknown serial killer stalked the Connecticut River Valley region of western New Hampshire and southeastern Vermont.
The case of the Connecticut River Valley Killer began in earnest in 1985. In that year, the skeletons of two women were discovered in the New Hampshire town of Kelleyville. Around the same time, another woman was stabbed to death inside of her home in Saxtons River, Vermont. All victims had been killed with multiple stab wounds. Realizing this, police began reexamining unsolved homicides in the region. This backtracking took them all the way back to 1978, when a series of murders showed the clear signs of the 1985 killer's M.O.
The Connecticut River Valley Killer always stabbed his victims in the same areas, and always dumped their corpses in well-known dumping areas in New Hampshire and Vermont. More importantly, the killer preyed on solitary women, many of them hitchhiking on Interstate 91 and Route 12. A composite sketch released at the time showed a twentysomething young man with dark-rimmed eyeglasses and dark hair.
In 2012, a murder victim found strangled to death in Manchester, New Hampshire was finally identified as Sarah Hunter. Authorities believe that they are likely more victims of the killer that have yet to be identified or recovered.
2 New Bedford Highway Killer
During the late 1980s, New Bedford, Massachusetts witnessed a string of murders wherein all of the victims were either known prostitutes or junkies. The youngest victim was twenty-four-year-old Sandra Botelho, who disappeared in August 1989. The oldest victim, thirty-six-year-old Nancy Paiva, disappeared on July 7, 1989. All told, the New Bedford Highway Killer is believed to have killed between nine and eleven women.
All of the murder victims were picked up by the killer, who more than likely targeted them because of their backgrounds. Similarly, many, if not all of the victims knew each other because of work or social connections. Some of the victims were raped. All were strangled, and all had their bodies hastily dumped in wooded areas not far from the city limits.
There are some who believe that the New Bedford Highway Killer is also the Route 8 Killer who targeted women in Connecticut around the same time. Both cases remain unsolved.
1 The Tool Box Killers
FBI criminal profiler John Douglas once described Lawrence Bittaker as the most disturbing individual that he has ever examined. Bittaker, along with Roy Norris, abducted, raped, tortured, and killed five women between June and October 1979. The pair met each other while imprisoned in California's Men's Colony. They spent their time together daydreaming about torturing and murdering women. They also fantasized about murdering a girl for each age between thirteen and nineteen.
Two years later, with both back in civilian population, this Dyad purchased a 1977 GM cargo van (they called the vehicle "Murder Mack") and began looking for female hitchhikers. The pair's M.O. was usually the same: they'd pick up a hitchhiker, rape her repeatedly, torture her, then strangle her with a wire hanger and pair of pliers. Victim Shirley Ledford was attacked with a sledgehammer, sodomized, and had her screams recorded via a tape recorder.
The two were eventually caught when police arrested Norris for selling marijuana. After finding gruesome evidence linking them to the rapes and murders, both men were charged with multiple counts of homicide. Bittaker is currently on death row in California's San Quentin prison. Norris received forty-five years to life after agreeing to testify against Bittaker.
Sources: murderpedia.org, chicagoreader.com, crimefeed.com, wavy.com, latimes.com
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