He used all kinds of household items as well as rocks and axes to kill over 15 people across the United States and Mexico, and was hard to catch because he was always on the move and had no fixed address. But there was one thing that was common to all murder scenes – proximity with the railroad. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of the infamous Railroad Killer.
On August 29, 1997, a young man called Christopher Maier (21) was walking with his girlfriend by a railroad track in Lexington, Kentucky, when they were attacked by a man, who bludgeoned Maier to death with a rock and raped his girlfriend. However, despite severe injuries, the girl managed to reach a nearby house and sought help. The residents of the house called the police. The case remained unsolved although the girl gave a description of the killer, based on which a sketch was prepared. When Young matched the sketch received from the Lexington Police Department with the pictures of Resendiz, he had no doubt that the couple had been attacked by none other than Resendiz. But a sketch is hardly a viable evidence. Young checked with the Lexington Police Department and found that, fortunately, they had the DNA sample of the offender from the 1997 case. The sample was flown to the FBI’s Forensics Laboratory in Washington, D.C., where it was matched with the samples lifted from the murder scenes in West University Place and Weimer. The three samples matched, and it was confirmed that it was the same person who had committed crimes at all three locations.
On May 28, 1999, the red pick-up truck belonging to the murdered pastor of Weimer was found abandoned by a train yard in San Antonio, which meant that Resendiz was back to train-hopping, which also meant that they now had a massive search area because railroads were everywhere and there was no way to ascertain or even guess which way Resendiz could have gone. Authorities intensified the search. The ‘wanted’ Posters and pamphlets were printed and distributed among those who frequently travelled by trains. There were hundreds of reported sightings and the police responded as quickly as they could, but each time it was someone else. The detectives got back in touch with Resendiz’s sister in the hope of making some headway, but she had no clue about his whereabouts; at least that’s what she told the police.
On June 4, 1999, in Fayette County, Texas, a young woman dropped by her old mother’s place to check on her. When the old woman did not answer the door, the daughter stepped inside the house and found the house in utter disarray. It had been thoroughly rummaged through, and she found her mother, Josephine Konvicka (73), dead in her bed. She had been bludgeoned to death with a pointed garden tool. Her house, in which she had been found murdered, was also near the rail tracks. The crime scene carried the distinctive mark of Resendiz, and the detectives were fairly sure that he had struck again.
The body had been covered by a sheet. Cash and jewellery had been left behind, but the killer had spent considerable time in the house going through the things belonging to the victim and had taken few ordinary personal items, like trinkets, as souvenirs. He also ate in the kitchen and left behind fruit peels. The crime scene did not leave anybody in doubt, but finally fingerprints lifted from the crime scene confirmed that it was indeed Resendiz who had broken into the house from the rear window and had killed the elderly woman while she slept.
However, this time the killer had done something more than just kill. He had left a newspaper on the couch in the drawing room open to the page with the report that the police had found the red pick-up truck of the priest. Also, there was toy train placed on the bed in a guest bedroom. The toy had been recently unpacked. Clearly, Resendiz, called the Railroad Killer by the press, had taken to mocking the authorities. Following the scent of the killer, the police dogs could lead the investigators to the rail tracks but no further.
In less than 24 hours another victim was discovered in Houston, Texas, some 95 miles away from Fayette County. Noemi Dominguez (26), a schoolteacher at Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, lived by the railway tracks and was found raped and bludgeoned to death, much like the earlier victims. Her driving license had been taken out from her purse and had been displayed on the table like it had been studied and left behind. Josephine Konvicka’s car had not been taken away by the killer perhaps because he could not locate the keys to the car, but the killer took away Dominguez’s Honda Civic, which was found abandoned by state troopers on the International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas, eight days later with a knife inside it.
When the Houston Police looked at the crime scene, they did not miss the similarities between the crime at hand and the earlier murders. They got in touch with profiler Mark Young and discussed it with him. Young agreed that it looked very much like Resendiz’s misdeed, which the DNA analysis later confirmed beyond doubt.
With two murders in less than 24 hours of each other, the authorities feared that Resendiz was turning into a spree killer, which was bad news because a number of people could die in a very short span of time. On June 6, 1999, a rail yard worker in Flatonia, Houston, reported sighting Resendiz on radio, and also notified the local police and the FBI immediately, but Resendiz managed to get away.
In FBI’s Houston field office, Operation Train Stop was launched to nab Resendiz with over 30 different law enforcement agencies joining the hunt. Broadly, there were now two teams working on the case. The first one was investigating the crimes while the second one was solely working on catching Resendiz and bringing him home to face trial.
The fugitive squad, entrusted with the task of locating and apprehending the suspect, analyzed the pattern of Resendiz’s movement and realized that he followed the crops. From Avocado crops in Washington and Citrus crops in Florida to Tobacco crops in Kentucky and North Carolina, Resendiz travelled from state to state depending upon where the crops were being harvested. The police from all over the country would get in touch with profiler Special Agent Mark Young whenever they felt that a crime scene suggested that it could be the work of the Railroad Killer. One of such calls was placed by a detective investigating the murder of a father and daughter in Gorham, Illinois.
On June 15, 1999, George Morber Senior (80), and his daughter, Carolyn Frederick (52), were found dead in their house in Gorham, Illinois. The location of the crime carried the characteristic features of a Resendiz crime scene. The house was barely 100 yards from a railway track. The killer had broken into the house from a rear window, and had used a shotgun found in the house to kill the old man and had killed his daughter with a club. He had taken away trinkets and had eaten in their house leaving behind, once again, the fruit peels and partially eaten fruits. The offender had stolen the victims’ car, which was found the next day some 60 miles from the crime scene towards the south near the Kentucky border.
However, this time the killer had left behind a statement written on the wall in large letters, which led the investigators to think that it might be the work of a killer other than the Railroad Killer. The statement on the wall was political in nature and said, “No more Serbians kill by your sons.” But Mark Young had already gone through Resendiz’s file, which included his correspondence, and he knew that Resendiz had been writing political messages and statements in his letters. It was easy to make out from Resendiz’s correspondence that he thought of himself as a deep political thinker. So, a political message scrawled on the wall was all the more reason to believe that it was the same killer in this case as well, for a statement of that kind meant that Resendiz was now playing out the rest of his fantasy – that of being a political thinker pursuing a political cause through his otherwise senseless killings. Perhaps he was trying to justify the murders by giving them a political colour of his own making.
The police across the nation started looking at unsolved murder cases from the past that might look like they were committed by Resendiz. One of them was the murder of one Leafie Mason (81) in Hughes Springs, Texas. She had been found dead on October 4, 1998. The murder remained unsolved but had been thoroughly investigated and every finding had been religiously documented. The killer had gained entry to the house from a rear window, and had bludgeoned the victim to death with an iron rod found in the house. The house of the victim was a mere fifty yards outside from the Kansas City Southern Rail line. The victim had not been sexually assaulted, but after killing her, the killer had covered the body of the victim with a sheet, like in many previous cases. On the crime scene, the killer had also left the driving license of the victim displayed on a table. A partially eaten fruit was found on this crime scene as well. There was every reason for Mark Young to believe that he was looking at another victim of the Railroad Killer.
Travelling by train, Resendiz could be anywhere in the country. So, to improve the chances of nabbing the killer, the FBI decided to place Resendiz on its list of the Ten Most Wanted, and Resendiz’s mug shot with the ten different aliases that he was known to use found place on FBI’s Ten Most Wanted. The FBI placed a reward of $125,000 on assistance leading to the apprehension of Resendiz, and also held several press conferences to spread the word that they were dealing with a dangerous criminal who knew how to evade detention, and who made pretty much everyone living close the railway tracks anywhere unsafe. The FBI received 3178 calls pertaining to Resendiz from the command posts across the country, generating over 1100 leads.
In June 1999, Resendiz was spotted at a shelter for the homeless in Louisville, Kentucky. But between the report of the sighting and the arrival of the police at the shelter, Resendiz slipped away once again.
Another sighting was reported to a Denver field office of the FBI. The caller said that he had seen someone who looked like Resendiz around a house in Commerce City, Colorado. The phone records showed that a phone call had been very recently made from the same house to a town in Mexico where Resendiz family lived. The tactical unit of the FBI raided the house. The occupants of the house were secured and the house was thoroughly searched. Resendiz was not there. It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity.
The authorities had stayed in touch with Resendiz’s sister in New Mexico, but she could not assist them in catching Resendiz. However, at this point, the FBI learnt that Resendiz had a wife living in Mexico. The Mexican media had interviewed her and a copy of one such interview was obtained by a local station. When the local station aired it locally, the FBI agents heard it too, and the information reached the concerned FBI command post in Houston. Resendiz’s wife was called in and was extensively interviewed for two days by the FBI agents. She told that Resendiz wrote to her and also brought her items, mostly jewellery and figurines, and had also brought a guitar for her. Most of these items were stolen from the victims’ houses. She also told that he visited her regularly and had been to Mexico recently, but for the past many days she had not seen him or heard from him. Resendiz’s wife was cooperating with the FBI because she felt that he was no longer safe in Mexico, for, due to the award on his capture, the bounty hunters were after Resendiz.
To be continued…