A brutal serial killer, Darren Dee O’Neall raped and killed more than six girls and women during the 1980s, and remained on FBI’s list of the top ten most wanted fugitives until he was arrested in September 1987. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of O’Neall’s crimes.
Pierce County detectives, Walter “Walt” Stout and Terry Wilson, initiated the investigation into the case, and started with questioning Mary Barnes, who told them that she had left the party for a few hours and when she got back to the apartment in the afternoon, Darren and Robin were not there. Also, Darren’s car was gone. Barnes looked into the apartment and told the detectives that some food, camping gear and a few other items were missing. So, perhaps the two had gone out camping together. However, a television electric cord was also missing, which was odd because it couldn’t be of much use in camping.
Going with a complete stranger for camping right after the first meeting didn’t seem like a very prudent move on part of Robin, but that’s exactly what she seemed to have done. Barnes also told the detectives that Darren used to wear a hunting knife on his belt with an additional one in his boot. According to Barnes, Darren claimed to be well-trained in survivalist maneuvers owing to his extensive training as an enlistee of the Army Rangers and Green Berets. That was quite a lead, and the detectives tried to find out more about Darren’s background as a member of the two elite forces Darren had claimed to have been a part of. They could not find any evidence that Darren had been a member of any of the two although he had indeed been part of the regular army. Barnes also told the detectives that Darren dressed in the western complete with boots, jeans and cowboy hats. The detectives knew, which Barnes confirmed, that Darren was particularly skillful in changing his appearance by growing and cutting hair, putting and removing the moustaches and beard and also by wearing glasses.
While Robin did not return, Darren appeared at the doors of a friend at around 1:30 p.m. on the same Sunday when Crowsten and the police detectives went around looking for Robin. He was driving a 1972 Chrysler New Yorker, which had a Montana license plates. He told his friend that he was going away for some time, but did not tell how long he would be gone or where he was off to. He wanted to borrow some money from his friend, who came to drop him to the car and could not help noticing that something was banging around in the trunk, which, Darren explained, was his other dog, which was giving him some trouble and had been locked up in the trunk for punishment. Darren had also handed over his dog to the friend to be taken care of, and it perhaps did not occur to the friend to inquire if he could leave one dog with him, why he could not leave the other one, too.
Or perhaps he did inquire and Darren told him that two dogs were too many for either one of them to take care of. However, the friend did not approve of putting the dog in the trunk and told Darren that it was sick to put a dog in the trunk, and having told Darren that, the friend walked away without giving him any money. Darren drove away. That was the end of it, the friend told the police later.
Darren’s friend also told the police that Darren looked nervous, and while he did tell that it was the dog in the trunk, it was hard to believe because he did not hear any dog barking from inside the trunk. The friend was right. The dog that Darren said was in the trunk, had actually been left behind by him in his apartment. The dog was later found in Darren’s apartment by Robin’s relatives, who had gone there looking for Robin.
After meeting his friend, Darren went to a hospital at night to get treatment for facial cuts and bruises. When the police got in touch with the hospital staff, the staff on duty that night confirmed that the man who came to their emergency room had a teardrop mark on the cheeks and the word ‘JUNE’ tattooed on his knuckles with each alphabet of the word on each knuckle, which confirmed that they had indeed treated Darren for injuries. The man of the same description had walked into the Safeway grocery store in Enumclaw, Washington, the next morning and had purchased cigarettes, pastry and Black Label beer.
Some two hours after that, Darren was seen by a flagman near Mount Rainier in the Greenwater area, and though Darren seemed to be heading towards the mountains, he was not carrying any skis. Furthermore, he drove off the road and stopped the car, waited there for some twenty minutes and then turned around to drive back in the direction he had come from. When the investigators questioned the flagman and he told what he had seen, they surmised that Darren had stopped by the highway only to get rid of Robin’s body, the chances of whose survival were now very slim.
People who knew Robin told the investigators that it was very unlike Robin to have willingly left with Darren for camping, especially when she was already engaged to Crowston and was quite excited about their marriage.
Despite having looked for Robin frantically, her family members and relatives found no trace of her, and another day passed. However, the next day (March 30, 1987) the dark yellow Chrysler that Darren had been reported as driving around in was found at rest stop 15 miles north of Everett, Washington. In the trunk of the car the investigators found Robin’s jacket soaked in blood along with two teeth and a bone fragment. The inside of the trunk was badly splattered with blood. The investigators surmised that Robin had been badly beaten up with a hammer or some other heavy object, and it was now more likely than ever that Robin was no longer alive.
Detectives performed a thorough search of Darren’s apartment and found that Darren had his future planned in considerable detail, and much of what his future world constituted came from the novel of his favourite author, Louis L’Amour. His ultimate goal in life was to live in an isolated cabin in the wild with bare necessities like Bible and Louis L’Amour’s novels for company. Darren had a special liking for L’Amour’s novels about the fictional Sackett family of the wild west. Detectives also found a number of western books and magazines lying around the house. Darren’s friends and colleagues in Idaho, told the detectives that Darren also called himself Larry Sackett, which was the name he primarily used in Idaho. Larry Sackett is one of the lead characters in L’Amour’s novels about the Sackett family. Another alias that Darren used was found on his medical card — Zebulan J. Macranahan.
Detective Stout found that Darren had told his friends that Sackett and Macranahan figured in L’Amour’s novels, which was where Darren had picked the names from.
It appeared that Darren was guided by his fantasies, which made the investigators think that it was by following his fantasies that they could get to him. While the police investigation was moving at its own pace, Robin’s family was not satisfied with the progress. After the police had searched Darren’s apartment, some of Robin’s family members broke into Darren’s apartment and searched it even more thoroughly. They found syringes and other evidence of drug abuse and also found further evidence that the police seemed to have missed. They also talked to Barnes and something in her responses made them suspect that she had helped Darren in some way; in either committing the crime or fleeing.
Robin’s family member, Jim Chaney paid a visit to Darren’s friend whom Darren had visited to borrow some money from and who had told the police the dog-in-the-trunk story. When they questioned him at length, he looked nervous at one point, and then there was a junkie that appeared on the scene and told that Darren had opened the trunk and he had seen a naked leg with purple and white sock on the foot. Darren’s friend shut the junkie up and called his story a made-up tale. The junkie was interviewed by the police also, but owing to his reputation in the area his story was discounted. However, it did not stop Robin’s mother, Edna, to suspect that Darren’s friend and the junkie knew more than they were letting on.
Edna was desperate to find her daughter and in the urgent eagerness she got in touch with a known psychic in the area, and the physic suggested to look for Robin in the Greenwater area near Mount Rainier. She also told Robin’s mother that the calm she was sensing around Robin could be because she was in coma or was heavily drugged but it could also be because she was dead, a possibility Edna did not want to think about. Over 50 people volunteered to search for Robin despite heavy snowfall the night before. It was a large wilderness and the chances of finding Robin in such a large area after a snowfall were scant. Robin’s sister, who was five-month pregnant, also insisted on lending a hand alongside her brother.
The first day of search did not yield any sign of Robin, but to Edna that was a good news, for if they had not found Robin yet, she could be alive. However, police believed that it was unlikely that Robin was alive and if she was alive, she could only be in a very delicate state of health because judging by blood found in the trunk of Darren’s car, she had lost a great deal of blood already. They later found that they had come within yards of Robin’s remains that were being consumed and thrown around by coyotes and other creatures of the wild. But in retrospect, it was perhaps a good thing that they did not find Robin’s body in that condition, for it could be emotionally traumatic, especially for Edna.
Finally, the detectives found the man whose Chrysler Darren had stolen and had been driving around in. Darren had hitched a ride with the man in Nampa, Idaho, befriended him, and stole his car. The man told the detectives that the man who took his car away called himself Jerry Zebulan Macranahan, and that he had made the mistake of having Macranahan over to his place, where he resided from October 15, 1986 to November 2, 1986. On November 2, 1986, when he was away for a job, Macranahan, to whom he had entrusted his Chrysler, made away with it. When he got back he found that apart from the vehicle and Macranahan, a .357 Ruger and $200 were also missing. The man did not have any difficulty identifying Darren as Macranahan from the pictures shown to him.
The detectives pulled out Darren’s criminal record, which turned out to be quite extensive. Darren’s records revealed that he had been arrested on March 12, 1982, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for causing disturbance and obstructing police. In September 1982 he was held for damaging private property and committing third-degree assault, and in October 1982 he was taken in for drinking in public. In November 1984, Darren was charged with sexual assault in the first degree, but the charge was later altered to aggravated robbery, but the case did not result in Darren’s conviction because the complainant, who was a prostitute, had vanished and could not be traced to take the stand. In July 1986, Darren was again arrested for a second-degree sexual assault, but jumped bail and had been on the run since. He had also been found guilty of public indecency – like urinating and defecating in public -on several occasions.
While the police were piecing together Darren’s story to locate him, Darren landed himself a job as a bartender at the La Paloma Restaurant in Bellingham, Washington on April 24, 1987, which is where he, now known as ‘Mike James Johnson’, met his next victim – Wendy Aughe (29). Wendy was a pretty young woman with two young kids, and came across Johnson (Darren) at the La Paloma. She was last seen leaving with ‘Johnson’ in the early hours of April 25, 1987, after which she was never seen alive again. Her mysterious disappearance was reported to the police by her worried family members. When the police searched Aughe’s apartment in Bellingham, they found blood all over the place. There were blood soaked bed sheets with traces of dried semen on them indicating physical struggle, brutal violence and sexual assault.
… to be continued