On second thought, stop the trucking program...
Sunday April 12,2009
By Stuart Winter
THE giant road map of the United States, peppered with hundreds of dots, looks as if it has been pulled off the wall of a freight company.
From the Florida Keys to San Francisco, the spots stretch out along America’s great interstates, crossing the vast prairies and meandering through mountain ranges.
Any of the dots could mark a haulage centre, truck stop, burger bar or gas station.
Only the map’s location – at the FBI’s famous Quantico headquarters in Virginia – gives a clue to what each dot represents.
For the past five years, FBI crime analysts have been sifting through the archives of killings and tallying evidence against new murders along America’s major routes.
Today, 500 dots stretch across each of the Lower 48 States, representing the tragic toll of brutal sex slayings.
Police believe the army of anonymous lorry drivers, who cross the US in their shiny chrome rigs and chatting on their CB radios, hide as many as 200 serial killers.
The FBI’s Highway Serial Killings Initiative database was set up in 2005.
In four years 10 men have been arrested for the murders of at least 30 women. But the death toll along the vast open highways continues to mount. Up to 150 hitchhikers, prostitutes and runaways are killed each year – their bodies dumped by the road. Last week the Feds went public with their “Road Map of Murder”.
One experienced homicide detective revealed that for anyone with a psychopathic inclination to kill, committing crimes on the road creates a feeling of invincibility.
“You can pick a girl up on the East Coast, kill her two states away and then dump her three states after that,” said the detective.
Britain has already experienced the chilling spectre of lorry-driving serial killers in Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and notorious child murderer Robert Black.
But FBI agents admit the number of deaths has been “grossly under-reported”. Agents now hope to prove that the same perpetrators are killing over long time spans.
The FBI first linked truck drivers with serial murders four years ago while helping police to link a trucker to a string of unsolved killings along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma.
After the arrest of John Williams in 2005 on an unrelated crime he confessed to killing 12 women and using his job as a long-distance driver to kill. In chilling detail, he described killing one woman who solicited him for sex at a truck stop in Indiana. “The second she tapped on my window, she was a dead woman,” he said. Williams was jailed for life for kidnap and murder but now faces charges over the killing of a 19-year-old girl in Texas.
Investigators were able to use the FBI database to link him to the murder of Casey Jo Pipestem in 2004. Her naked body was found by the road on a route taken by Williams in his job as a trucker.
Following his confession, agents began compiling the database from information supplied by police forces. They concluded truck drivers were most likely responsible for hundreds of unsolved murders.
In 2007 FBI analysts came across a pattern of prostitute killings with the same .22 handgun. One of the victims, Sara-Nicole Hulbert, was found behind a truck stop in Nashville, Tennessee. Detectives trawled through hours of video taken at the stop and noticed an 18-wheel truck belonging to Bruce Mendenhall. Inside were several blood spots. Mendenhall was charged with the killing. He is also charged with three other murders, including Andrea Hendrix-Steinhert.
All the road victims were young women, aged between 15 and 20. Their bodies were found along well-worn US truck routes.
The FBI’s database could also contain clues that may help the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigating the roadside murder of 15-year-old Delphine Nikal in British Colombia. FBI’s Supervisory Special Agent Mike Harrigan is helping town and state police “connect the dots”.
He said: “We’ve seen it across all 50 states and bodies have been recovered. Some of these stretch back 20 or more years, because we’re looking historically to catalogue these victims that went into a cold case status and were sitting there with all logical leads exhausted.
“So now we’re pulling these together across the country to provide a vehicle, to link when an offender is identified by a local agency, we can go ahead and maybe look at his travels, what jurisdictions he came through and other time-line characteristics.”
Agent Harrigan says by joining the dots it will help highlight a suspect’s movements and proximity to other victims. A major part is so-called “waking the dead” – looking at cold cases afresh for similar attack patterns and vehicle movements.”
“We want to try to bring these cold cases to the nation’s law enforcement agencies – bring them out of cold case storage, so to speak,” said Agent Harrigan. “That’s what our hope is – to shine the light on these old cases that have grown cold.”
Click to view image: 'Truck'
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