Saturday, April 20, 2013

GateHouse: Mayhem and murder on America’s highways

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse News Service
April 19, 2013

Ever hear of Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer? Of course, their names linger in infamy. How about John Fautenberry, Keith Hunter Jasper or Robert Ben Rhoades?

Probably not — they are not so well-known, but they too are serial killers.

The latter three serial killers also share a second common trait — they each worked as long-haul truck drivers. Their common occupation is not a coincidence.

In the early 1990s Fautenberry killed five people in four states. He was executed in Ohio in 2009. Jasper killed eight people in Nebraska, California, Florida, Washington, Oregon and New York. He is still alive serving three life sentences in an Oregon prison. Then there is Rhoades. Last year the 67-year-old pleaded guilty to the killing of a young married couple in Texas. He was already serving life in prison in Illinois for the murder of a 14-year-old girl and is a suspect in a Mississippi murder.

Several years ago the FBI revealed a 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. The FBI suspects that long-haul truck drivers are responsible for the murder of hundreds of women whose bodies have been dumped near highways across the country.

According to the FBI, the victims in these cases are primarily women who are living high-risk, transient lifestyles, often involving substance abuse and prostitution. They’re picked up at truck stops or service stations, sexually assaulted, murdered and dumped along highways.

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.

In 2009, 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 then 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 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 with the hope that public disclosure might generate additional leads.

The initiative has had some success assisting in several arrests, most notable Bruce Mendenhall, a serial killer convicted in Tennessee and awaiting murder trials in Indiana, Alabama and another in Tennessee. It was reported that investigators found the DNA of as many as 10 women in a bag of bloody clothes they recovered from the cab of Mendenhall’s truck.

Nationwide, thousands of murders remain unsolved. The FBI recently disclosed that homicide clearance rates, the percentage of murder cases that are solved, has dropped from 91 percent in 1963 to 66 percent in 2010.

As the number of unsolved murders increases, hundreds of killers move anonymously about society. The Highway Serial Killings Initiative may not drive up the homicide clearance rate, but it appears to have at least shed some light on a dark, mysterious and dangerous world unknown to many, and unfathomable to most.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa. You can read his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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