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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 #7: Wayne Williams

Violation: Stopping on a Bridge

The Atlanta Child Murders are some of the most controversial criminal cases of the last 50 years. In 1979 and 1980, as many as 30 young African Americans-primarily children and teenagers-were killed by a serial murderer or murderers in the Atlanta area.

Atlanta's African-American community was convinced that the slayings were the work of white men, presumably members of the Ku Klux Klan or another hate group. Detectives working the case found that theory less than credible. Investigators caught a break in April 1981 when the bodies of Jimmy Payne, 21, and William Barrett, 17, were pulled from the Chattahoochee River. They decided to watch the bridges and see who was dropping bodies.

Before dawn on the morning of May 22, 1981, a rookie officer positioned below a bridge heard an object fall into the water. Above him two other officers stopped a vehicle driven by Wayne Bertram Williams and cited him for stopping on a bridge. They searched his car and found nothing. Two days later, the body of Nathaniel Carter, 27, was pulled out of the river downstream from the bridge.

Wayne Williams was arrested on June 21 and charged with Carter's murder. On July 17, he was indicted for the murders of Carter and Payne. Forensic evidence was used to make the case, and Williams was convicted on Feb. 27, 1982. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Many people, including some officers, believe that the majority of the Atlanta Child Murders remain unsolved. Others say that Williams is the killer. The debate rages to this day.

Case #8: Bruce A. Davis

Violation: Tampering with a Vehicle

There are several things that can be learned by studying the case of Bruce A. Davis, a homicidal drifter who confessed to dozens of murders that occurred from 1969 to 1971.

Number 1: Traumatic events can lead to later violent behavior. Davis claimed that he was raped by a gay man when he was 13. He spent much of his adult life preying on homosexuals.

Number 2: Never turn your back on a convicted killer. While serving time for a Chicago-area murder, Davis was transferred to the Illinois State Prison in Menard in 1982. There, on Oct. 24, he somehow got his hands on an axe and attacked his guard. The guard was mortally wounded and Davis escaped.

Number 3: Somebody breaking into a car could be a serial killer on the run. Seven days after his escape from Menard-on Halloween night-Davis came to the attention of deputies from the Fayette County (W.Va.) Sheriff's Department. He was apprehended after trying to break into a car in the town of Smithers.

Davis received a life sentence for killing his guard during the escape from Menard. So, he figured he didn't have anything to lose. His confessions closed 32 murders in cities coast to coast and in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Case #9: Larry Eyler

Violation: Parking on a Highway

Like many other serial killers throughout history, Larry Eyler was a conflicted homosexual who preyed on gay men.

Eyler's first known victim was Jay Reynolds, found stabbed to death on the outskirts of Lexington, Ky., on March 22, 1982. He then went on a murder spree that resulted in the deaths of 20 men and boys. All of their bodies were dumped on the sides of roads in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois-a practice that led to the press dubbing Eyler "The Interstate Killer."

Eyler's last intended victim owes his life to an Indiana Highway Patrol Officer who noticed a pickup truck parked along I-65 and saw two men moving toward the tree line. The sharp-eyed officer quickly realized that one of the men was tied up. The officer investigated and discovered that Eyler had picked up the other man for sex and then tied him up. A subsequent search of Eyler's truck yielded a blood-stained hunting knife. Eyler was taken into custody and later released.

But he was now the investigators' prime person of interest. Forensic evidence, including tire tracks and boot imprints, linked Eyler with the murder of Ralph Calise who had been found in a field near Lake Forest, Ill. The blood on the knife matched Calise, who had been stabbed 17 times. Unfortunately, a pre-trial hearing suppressed the evidence found in the truck. And the other forensic evidence was ruled fruit of the poisonous tree.

Eyler was freed and he continued killing. But he got really sloppy, dismembering and bagging the body of a 15-year-old gay hustler before dumping it in his own garbage. A janitor's dog uncovered that horror, and the Chicago police arrested Eyler for murder.

The Interstate Killer was convicted on July 9, 1986. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection, but he died of AIDS in 1994.

Case #10: James E. Swann Jr.

Violation: Running Red Lights

For two months in 1993 the residents of the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., lived in fear of the "Shotgun Stalker," a man who drove around the area blasting pedestrians with a shotgun.

Then on April 19, Metropolitan Police Officer Kenneth Stewart saw a car run through a couple of red lights. Stewart, who was reportedly off duty at the time, gave chase and captured James E. Swann Jr. Inside Swann's car, police found a recently fired shotgun.

Swann was arrested and indicted on four counts of murder and 10 counts of attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Court testimony revealed that Swann was severely schizophrenic, hearing voices that told him to attack his victims. Swann currently resides in a Washington area mental hospital.

Dean Scoville is a patrol supervisor with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and a contributing editor to Police.

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


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