Bobby Joe Long showed no mercy in abducting, sexually assaulting, and killing at least 10 women. The actual number of Long’s victims could be as high as 50. With investigators closing in on him, Long could have continued raping and killing for at least some more time, had he not released a woman after sexually assaulting her for 26 hours, which helped the investigators get to Long sooner. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers.
What further complicated things was that when the FBI laboratory received crime scene evidence for analysis, the fibre specialist who had analyzed the samples from the other two crime scenes was not available because of which a different specialist was assigned to collect evidence from this crime scene. He was not asked to compare the evidence with the samples lifted from the earlier crime scenes, and so he did not look for any similarities.
In terms of forensic evidence, not much was available mainly due to the decomposition of the remains anyway, but one thing was still common – the carpet fibres. Just that nobody was looking to match the fibres then. It was much later that the fibre match confirmed that Loudenback was in fact another victim of the same killer. Furthermore, a note in Loudenback’s room asked the finder of the note to find her boyfriend if anything happened to her. The detectives, led by the cue, had her boyfriend take a polygraph test and he was asked, among other things, if he had ever harmed Elizabeth. He flunked the test, and consequently became a prime suspect in the murder of Elizabeth Loudenback.
However, things changed for the investigators when, some three months later, they received a call from the FBI laboratory informing them that the red trilobal fibres taken from the Loundenback crime site matched those picked from the other two crime scenes. The information changed the orientation of the investigation because with three bodies tied to one killer, they knew they were pursuing a serial killer, and they could safely leave out the people known to the victims because the killings were not personal. The killings were being committed by someone who was targeting mainly the prostitutes working in Tampa, Florida perhaps because they were soft targets.
On October 7, 1984, another Sunday, the homicide detectives were called to another site on the borderline of Pasco County and Hillsborough County, where the nude body of a black female had been discovered next to the dirt entrance road of a cattle ranch. The body had begun to decompose, particularly around the head. The bra of the victim was found tied to the entrance gate in a knot. But she had not been strangled. She had been shot in the neck, which was the cause of death. She had been dead for six days. Serial killers are not known to break pattern, and they generally do not cross racial lines, as in most of the cases they have a specific victim type from a particular racial background. Oddly, in this case, the serial killer had not only picked a victim belonging to a different race but had also changed his modus operandi by shooting her dead instead of strangulating her to death.
The deceased, identified by fingerprints as Chanel Devon Williams (18), had been arrested for prostitution earlier. She often visited a gay bar on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, and had been missing since the night of September 30, 1984, when she had been last seen by a fellow prostitute at Nebraska Avenue.
The FBI laboratory matched the hair and the fibre and confirmed that Williams had been done to death by the same killer who had killed the previous three victims. In addition, the laboratory also found a brown, Caucasian pubic hair, which could and – as it turned out – did help identify the culprit. A serial killer was definitely on the loose, but, having changed his victim preference and methodology, he had become harder to catch.
Exactly a week later, on October 14, 1984, another Sunday, another body was found. Discovered by a couple of amateur archaeologists, wrapped in a gold-coloured bed-sheet tied up with a blue jogging suit, this was the body of a white female, nude from the waist down, found in an orange grove, in an unpopulated area of northeastern Hillsborough County, some 30 feet off a dirty road, wherefrom the body had been apparently dragged down to the spot where it was found. The hands of the deceased had been tied together in front with a red bandana while her feet were tied up with a white string. She had been strangled and had also been hit on the forehead apart from being bound and dragged through the dirt. This was consistent with the regular pattern of the killer, from which he had occasionally deviated in the past. The identification in this case was relatively quick, and the victim was identified by the fingerprints as Karen Beth Dinsfriend (28), a prostitute working in the area of Nebraska and Hillsborough Avenues. She was a cocaine user and had been last seen on the morning of October 14, 1984, which was also the day her dead body was found.
The fibres lifted from the Dinsfriend crime scene matched the ones found at the previous four crime scenes. The string knots were similar to the ones in the previous cases. A brown Caucasian pubic hair was found on the bedspread and the tests run on the semen stains found on the bedspread and sweat shirt once again confirmed the presence of “A” and “H” blood group substances.
With the forensic evidence confirming the link between the killings, the detectives now had five women killed by a single serial killer and the suspect list stood at zero. There was nothing to suggest the involvement of more than one person though the possibility could still not be completely ruled out. By now the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) was desperate to nab the serial killer and had all its detectives working the case in close coordination. All other cases, including suicides and homicides not relating to the serial killing case, were assigned to the property detectives to allow the homicide detectives to focus on this high priority investigation-cum-manhunt.
Two weeks later, on October 30, 1984, the mummified remains of a body were found by a 71-year-old man while he was cleaning a ditch next to the US Route 301. The body was badly decomposed and the victim had been dead for almost a month. No clothing and no ligatures were found on the victim or around, but the detectives had a feeling that this was also the work of the same serial killer though the victim was hard to identify. The FBI forensics laboratory had to soften the skins of the hands to obtain fingerprints.
On Sunday, November 4, 1984, at 7:30 a.m., an unrelated crime was reported. A man called the police to report the abduction and rape of his 17-year-old daughter, Lisa McVey. Lisa had been snatched off her bicycle at around 2:30 a.m. on November 3, 1984, and thrown into a car by an unknown man and driven away when she was riding home from the doughnut shop she worked at in northern Tampa. After stuffing her in the backseat of his car he punched her and held her at gunpoint while he bound and gagged her. He reclined the driver’s seat to keep her pinned down and out of sight of the passersby as he drove down to his apartment, where he repeatedly raped her for the next 24 hours. Her eyes had been covered with a blindfold, because of which she did not know where the apartment she was taken to was located.
The abductor did not really wait to reach the destination and Lisa’s ordeal began right after she was abducted. While he was driving her away, he ordered her to get out of her clothes, and made her perform oral sex on him. He kept driving around for a while as she did his bidding, and then brought her to his apartment, where he repeatedly raped her and made her perform several sexual acts on him for nearly 24 hours. During those 24 hours he slept with her, and also made her shower with him telling her repeatedly throughout that he had no intention of harming her. She could not believe him completely, for she thought that having exposed his face to her, her abductor did not have any reason to let her go alive. The fright and horror of her situation notwithstanding, she did not completely forego hope and kept her mind clear noting every single detail that could be useful to identify her tormentor. Unbeknownst to her abductor, Lisa also dropped a barrette by the bed in which he repeatedly raped her to mark her presence.
After the rape session that continued for hours, the man slept in the same bed. Lisa did not attempt escaping, for she knew he was armed and would kill her if she tried to escape. When he woke up, he told her that he trusted her now, which was perhaps because she had not tried to escape while he slept. He talked to her and was not as brutal with her as before. He also stopped calling her “bitch” and started using endearments like “babe”. She still did not have any inkling as to what he had in mind for her, but she tried her best and managed to keep him from getting angry. She knew that her life heavily depended upon his not getting angry and that she still had slim chances of survival.
He eventually lost interest in Lisa and brought her back to the car. Lisa still did not know whether she was going to survive the event or was about to end up dead. He blindfolded her and drove. Lisa kept peeking from under the blindfold every now and then, making a mental note of whatever details she could notice. And then the car finally stopped, and he let her go telling her to “take care”.
Lisa had been sexually abused before and knew that resistance could enrage the offender and result in serious injuries to her. So, she had quietly complied and did what he wanted. Lisa’s struggle had lasted 26 hours of abuse, after which she, to her surprise, was dropped at around 3:00 a.m. near her house. On the way, her abductor had stopped at an ATM to withdraw money for fuel, and also made a stop at a gas station for a fill. Lisa kept peeking from under the blindfold and took careful note of road signs and also the word ‘magnum’ on the dashboard of the car.
Lisa dashed home and woke her father up to describe what she had gone through. Her father immediately informed the police. After Lisa’s abduction and rape was reported, she was interviewed by the Tampa police officers, who were quite surprised at Lisa’s near-total recall of the details. Lisa was firm in her resolve to have the offender punished to the full extent of the law. Lisa was alive, but there were many uncanny similarities between the man who had abducted her and the man the police suspected of being the serial killer they were trying very hard to identify and get hold of. Lisa had been bound, blindfolded and raped.
…to be continued