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.
As per Lisa’s description of her abductor to the police, he was a white male in his mid-30s with a deep voice and brown hair of about an inch length in “layered cut”. He was a bit feminine and had thin eyebrows, was of compact build but was a bit overweight, had a short moustache, small ears, big nose, and good teeth. The man drove a car with red interior. But the connection was not immediately made between the killings by the serial killer and Lisa’s abduction until forensic evidence appeared to vouch for it. Lisa’s sweater was sent to the FBI laboratory for forensic examination as part of the routine the police had started following, with respect to all sex-related violent crimes against women in the wake of the killings.
However, before the forensic results confirmed the connection, another body was found on November 6, 1984, a week after the last dead body had turned up. Pasco County detectives were called to the same road where the fourth body – that of Chanel Devon Williams – had been found, but this time the body was found to the north in the neighbouring Pasco County. So, Pasco County detectives and Hillsborough County detectives began a joint investigation into the killings. They had a common offender to apprehend. The body was found in a vacant lot by a mobile home park and was decomposed to the bones making the identification of the victim difficult, but the presence of familiar knots, a ligature on one of the arm and a rope around the neck with a leash-like extension confirmed that the detectives were looking at the dead victim of the same serial killer. The victim’s panties and some jewellery were found near the body. The medical examiner put together the remains and concluded that the body belonged to a young white female. The victim was later identified as Virginia Johnson (18), a prostitute. She had disappeared some three weeks before her body was found. The body had been lying around for far too long for any forensic evidence to remain, but, luckily, the FBI laboratory managed to find a single red, lustrous fibre in Johnson’s hair confirming that she, too, had fallen prey to the same killer.
Within a week, on November 12, 1984, another body was discovered by the North Orient Road in the City of Tampa. The body had been freshly dumped, for the victim had not been there for more than 24 hours. It was the body of a young white woman, who had been savagely beaten and there were several defence injuries indicating that she had fought her attacker with all her might. The body lay face down on the ground. A pair of blue jeans and a blue top with flower print were also found near the body. She was naked except for a pair of knee-length stockings. Both her wrists as well as the front of her neck bore ligature marks but no rope was found anywhere on or near the body. The detectives did not fail to note the tiny red fibres stuck to the blue jeans of the victim. Her driving license was found in her pocket, from which she was identified as Kim Marie Swann (21). Swann, a narcotics user and part-time student, worked as an exotic dancer and had been last seen around a convenience store near her parent’s house at around 3:00 p.m. on November 11, 1984. Apparently, the killer had stopped by the road and had cast the body out of his car.
The faint tyre impressions found on the grass by the roadside matched the tyre casts made at some of the previous crime sites, which left no doubt that the same serial killer was involved in this case also. The number of victims stood at eight, but the police had had no breakthrough at all, and they still knew nothing more about the killer than what they had known since the third body was found. Frustratingly, the detectives did not even have a suspect list to work; neither did they have any new clue to proceed with. At this juncture of complete cluelessness, the FBI laboratory called the detectives to inform that they had got a fibre match with the fibre particles found on the sweater of a surviving rape victim, Lisa McVey. This was a major breakthrough for the detectives.
The law enforcement authorities went into an overdrive to get hold of the killer. A task force was formed with the officers and detectives drawn from Hillsborough, Pasco County, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI together with the Tampa Police detectives working on the rape case of Lisa McVey. The task force so formed was then divided into teams with each team having a specific assignment, and a massive manhunt was mounted with patrol cars driving around looking for the killer’s apartment and the red Dodge Magnum car. The information from Lisa McVey had given them quite a lot to proceed with in pursuit of the killer.
Lisa had told that her abductor had used an ATM to withdraw money during the early hours of November 4, 1984. A team of officers obtained the record of all ATM withdrawals for the day, and another team got the list of all the Dodge Magnums in the Hillsborough County. There were around 500 such cars in the area. The detectives then looked for the owner of a Dodge Magnum who had made an ATM withdrawal in the small hours of November 4, 1984. There was only one name that jumped out from both the lists. The detectives had got their prime suspect – Bobby Joe Long.
Another team spotted a red Dodge Magnum on Nebraska Avenue, which the killer was known to frequent. The detectives stopped the car and questioned the owner of the car telling him that they were looking for a robbery suspect. From his driving license they got to know that he was Robert Joe Long. He was photographed and a field report was prepared. Long cooperated for the most part but refused to let the detectives search his car.
The investigators immediately had a surveillance team keep a watch on Long incognito. In the meanwhile a photo pack was put together with Long’s photograph in it. The pack was shown to Lisa, who picked Long as her abductor from the pictures without difficulty. The detectives had their man, and though they did not have a doubt about the identity of the culprit, they chose to tread carefully. The surveillance on Long was beefed up and he was followed everywhere by officers in unmarked cars. Perhaps Long sensed that he was being watched. He started cleaning up his house and his car, but everything that Long discarded in the process of cleaning was scooped up by the police officers from the trash cans, and taken away for forensic analysis.
Within 24 hours of Lisa’s identifying Long as her abductor, the plan to arrest Long was drawn and the task force moved in to apprehend Long. Long had entered a movie theatre to watch a movie dutifully followed by the officers of the surveillance team, and while he watched the movie, the officers kept a watch on him. He did not have a clue that he was sitting surrounded by officers awaiting orders to take him in. But they decided to do a last-minute check to be doubly sure that they had the right guy. The surveillance team outside the theatre was asked to go to the Dodge Magnum and check what kind of tyres the vehicle had. The officers reported that three of the tyres on the car were Goodyear Viva while the fourth one was some odd ‘Vig’ or ‘Vogue’ tyre. The officers in command had no doubt they had the right man. The police officers were ordered to make the arrest.
Long’s car was taken to the garage and a piece of floor carpet was taken from the car for analysis. The FBI fibre expert confirmed that the fibre particles found on nearly all of the victims, including Lisa McVey, came from that particular carpet.
In police custody, Bobby Joe Long waved his right to a counsel, and he was questioned about the crimes he was suspected of, beginning with the abduction and rape of Lisa McVey, which he readily admitted to have committed. However, he initially denied having killed anybody, but when he was told about the mountain of evidence that the detectives had tying him to the killings, he confessed to having raped and killed all those the bodies of whom had been found by the police and one more, whose body was later found at Long’s instance.
In a 5-hour long, tape-recorded confession, Bobby Joe Long confessed to and described each murder in a remorseless, everyday conversational tone.
When asked why he did it, he said that it was a secret that he would rather take to the grave with him. The remains of the ninth victim that Bobby confessed to have killed were also found together with some more of the same red carpet fibre after Long drew a map for the investigators to get to the place where he had dumped the body of the victim. The body had decomposed to mere bones. She was identified by the dental records as Vicky Elliot (21), who had been missing since September 1984. She was walking to attend her midnight shift at Ramada Inn when Long drove up to her and offered her a lift, which she accepted. Later, when he tried to tie her up, she fought him hard with a pair of scissors, which angered him so much, that he strangled her to death right there and then.
In addition, Long also helped the detectives identify his sixth victim whose mummified remains had been found by the US Route 301 on October 30, 1984. She was a white female by the name Kimberly Kyle Hopps (22), who was better known by her street name “Sugar”. Hopps had been last seen by her boyfriend as she got aboard a 1977-78 maroon Chrysler Cordoba, which was perhaps Long’s Dodge Magnum mistaken for a different vehicle. Hopps’s hair were found in Long’s car making the evidentiary connection between her death and her killer.
…to be continued