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Cover Story

Killer Stops

Alert traffic officers have helped catch some of America’s worst fiends, terrorists, and psychos.

June 01, 2006  |  by - Also by this author

Case #4: David Berkowitz

Violation: Parking Next to a Fire Hydrant

New York City's ".44 Caliber Killer," David Berkowitz, terrorized the city during the Carter years until he was arrested in 1977. Berkowitz, who called himself the "Son of Sam," killed six young men and women and wounded nine others during his bloody career.

The Son of Sam's MO was to walk up on couples sitting in parked cars and open fire on them with his .44 caliber Charter Arms revolver. Ironically, it was a parking violation that helped put him away.

On July 31, 1977, Berkowitz attacked Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante who were parking at Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn, killing Moskowitz. Berkowitz was already a person of interest in the investigation, but the first solid evidence that police gathered against him was a parking ticket that was written in the Gravesend Bay area the night of the Moskowitz murder.

Berkowitz's home was put under surveillance, and officers of the Yonkers Police Department arrested him. Under interrogation, Berkowitz admitted to being the Son of Sam. He was convicted and sentenced to 364 years in prison. Berkowitz now lives in Attica State Prison, where he converted to Christianity and now refers to himself as the "Son of Hope."

Case #5: Joel Rifkin

Violation: No License Plate

If former gardener and prolific murderer Joel Rifkin were to give a lecture to aspiring serial killers, he would probably lead off with the following advice: "Put a license plate on your vehicle."

At 3:15 a.m. on June 28, 1993, New York state troopers Sean Ruane and Deborah Spaargaren spotted a Mazda pickup with no plate cruising on Long Island's Southern State Parkway. They turned on their flashers, and the driver sped away. A high-speed chase ensued, involving multiple officers and ending with the Mazda crashing into a telephone pole.

If you had been Rifkin, you would have run, too. Not only did his pickup have no plate, there was a decomposing body of a woman inside the bed.

A subsequent search of the home that Rifkin shared with his mother and sister led to even more grisly evidence of his deeds, including a chainsaw and human blood found in the garage. Rifkin was convicted on May 9, 1994. He was sentenced to 183 years on seven counts of murder, with 10 counts outstanding. His current home is the N.Y. State Correctional Facility in Clinton. And wouldn't it be great irony if he spends his days making license plates?

Case #6: Timothy McVeigh

Violation: No License Plate

Next to Osama Bin Laden, Pendleton, N.Y.-born Timothy James McVeigh is the greatest terrorist enemy the people of America have ever known. The truck bomb that McVeigh parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killed 168 people and maimed hundreds more.

In some ways the Gulf War veteran was a mastermind. In others, he was a moron. Investigators caught McVeigh through good old-fashioned detective work by the FBI and because he was too stupid to put a license plate on his getaway car.

We can thank Charles Hanger, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer, for making this collar. The day of the bombing he spotted McVeigh's Mercury Marquis cruising down I-35 near Pawnee, Okla., without a plate. Hanger made a traffic stop, used probable cause to search the vehicle, and found a loaded firearm. McVeigh was arrested and, three days later, the FBI came to get him.

On June 2, 1997, a federal jury convicted McVeigh of killing eight federal employees who were victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Eleven days later, the same jury voted that he was a waste of human life.

McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, at the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols got life. Other accomplices are suspected by some authorities.

CONTINUED: Killer Stops «   Page 2 of 3   »

Tags: Serial Killers, Vehicle Stops, California Highway Patrol, Riverside (Calif.) PD, Utah Highway Patrol, Indiana Highway Patrol


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