Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Murder Along America's Highways

The USA Today recently wrote about an alarming phenomenon--the proliferation of serial killing along our nations highways. It appears that the job of long-haul trucking has been infiltrated by killers who use their mobility to prey on prostitutes at truck stops.

During the past four decades, at least 459 people may have died at the hands of highway serial killers, FBI statistics show. Investigators do not know how many people may be responsible for the killings but at least one such case — of murder, attempted murder or unidentified human remains — has been reported in 48 states, along roads as far north as Alaska and as far south as Key West. They believe the killers find their victims and dispose of the bodies along highways, sometimes near quiet roadside rest areas or at bustling truck stop, according to the USA Today.

Although the FBI launched the serial killer initiative in 2004, violence along the nation's highways is hardly new. Stopping crime at the thousands of rest areas, truck stops and travel plazas, however, remains difficult. In part, that's because the responsibility for policing rest areas varies from state to state. That often means no consistent records are kept about the rate of crimes, and no single agency takes ownership for fighting it.

According to the USA Today, the crimes are difficult to stop because of the location of the rest areas — along major roadways. That makes getting away easy; just jump onto an interstate and speed off. At some locations, private security guards try to keep watch or police cruise through. Elsewhere, cameras monitor the area. Neither of those approaches offer any guarantees.

Below is an excerpt form a column I wrote for the Youngstown Vindicator in July, 2009:

Recently, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI suspects long-haul truck drivers are responsible for the murder of hundreds of women whose bodies have been dumped near highways across the country. This spring the FBI revealed a five year old project known as the Highway Serial Killings Initiative. The Initiative links murder victims that have some connection to highways and suspects who are involved in long-haul trucking.

Information has been collected on more than 500 female victims of murder, some of whom were discovered along major interstates in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. According to the Times, most of the victims were discovered at truck stops, nearby motels and along popular trucking routes crisscrossing the country.

What is the correlation between long-haul trucking and serial murder? Long-haul trucking lends itself to predators who want to circulate among strangers in strange places with the maniacal intent to kill and with ample opportunity to evade detection. An investigator told the Los Angeles Times, “You’ve got a mobile crime scene . . . you can pick a girl up on the east coast, kill her two states away and them dump her three states after that.’’ FBI special agent Ann Todd told the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “The mobile nature of the offenders, the high-risk lifestyle of the victims, the significant distances and involvement of multiple jurisdictions, the lack of witnesses and forensic evidence combine to make these cases almost impossible to solve using conventional investigative techniques.”

This is not to suggest that the truck driving profession is filled with diabolical killers. Most truckers are hard working law-abiding citizens who do many more good deeds than bad as they navigate America’s highways.

The FBI also admits that 500 homicides targeted by the Initiative may only be the tip of the iceberg. According to the Washington Post, there may be as many as 40,000 unidentified human remains known to exist nationwide.

The purpose of the Initiative was to help local law enforcement agencies connect the dots between local slayings and similar murders across the country. Originally, the Initiative’s work was only available to law enforcement entities. The FBI revealed the project this spring with the hope that public disclosure might generate additional leads.

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