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.
Following an APB (All-point Bulletin) issued by the authorities for Darren, a US Customs agent reported that he had taken Darren’s picture at the US-Canada border. Darren was crossing back into the US from Canada in Aughe’s 1972 Ford Torino, and was alone in the car. The car was found abandoned in Eugene, Oregon, a week later on May 2, 1987.
Investigators later found that a man of Darren’s physical description had been spotted on several locations across Eugene trying to sell a gold chain necklace. The fingerprints lifted from the food wrapper found in Aughe’s car and from the job application that ‘Johnson’ had submitted to his employers at the restaurant confirmed that ‘Johnson’ was Darren and he was the one who had stolen Aughe’s car, most probably, after raping and killing her.
It had now become urgent to get hold of Darren because having killed two women already, Darren could be looking for a third victim, and if they did not catch him at the earliest, another woman could turn up dead. However, nabbing Darren was going to be difficult because he was known to change appearance frequently and drastically. Both Robin and Wendy had met Darren on a Friday and had disappeared after that, and the two disappearances were exactly four weeks apart. With the fourth week after the last disappearance approaching, it was feared that Darren might claim another victim if he did not break pattern. It did not seem likely that he had any reason to deviate, which added to the urgency.
On Edna’s insistence the police charged Darren with murder although the dead body had not been found yet. However, the police thought that a more serious charge could help the search, and with Edna’s help the police circulated Darren’s posters with “Wanted For Murder” written on them. The posters were especially sent to the stores selling books by Louis L’Amour, Darren’s favourite writer, and to the salons, as Darren got his hair permed quite frequently.
The sad breakthrough came on May 25, 1987, when a few hikers discovered the skeletal remains of a human body in the same wooded area near Greenwater where Robin’s family and the volunteers had conducted a search at the suggestion of a psychic. The remains were found scattered near a running stream. Several items of clothing and other items belonging to Robin were also found partially buried under a decaying tree stump. The area was searched again, and the remains were sent for identification. Edna had been informed by the police that the remains could be her daughter’s.
The medical examiner, while confirming that the remains were of a Caucasian female in her early 20s with blonde hair, said that he needed jawbones and teeth for a positive identification of the victim. A more extensive search of the area was required to get the required bones, and the sheriff’s department, owing to the budget cuts, did not have sufficient manpower and resources to conduct the search immediately. Edna did not have time or patience to wait. She started the search on her own, and after two weeks of tireless search, she could manage to find the additional bones required including a jaw bone. The dental comparisons confirmed that the remains were indeed Robin Smith’s, who had been beaten to death by a heavy object, which could be a hammer. Another search of the area turned up a rusty hammer found near a stream.
By the time Robin’s remains were found, Crowston was already in bad shape and blamed himself for her death, as he thought Robin would still be alive, had he not left her at Darren’s apartment to go fishing. Edna tried to comfort him as much as she could, but it did not help much and he had to finally seek professional help and was eventually put on medication.
Lia Elizabeth Szubert
What the police had been fearing all this while came to pass when on June 13, 1987, a few motorists spotted a nude body on Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon, about 12 miles east of the town of La Grande, when they stopped over to relieve themselves by the roadside. On closer look they realized that at the bottom of the embankment there was a fast decomposing body of a young human female. They immediately reported their gruesome discovery to the Oregon State Police. The victim was identified as Lia Elizabeth Szubert (22), and the autopsy identified strangulation as the cause of death.
The detectives investigating Szubert’s case found that she had left Twin Falls for Boise on June 9, 1987 to pick her fiance, Daune Abbott, from the airport. Abbott was coming to see her from San Diego, California. On her way to Boise, Szubert developed some car trouble and made a call to a friend from a truck shop near Mountain Home, Idaho, along Interstate 84.
Nobody had heard from her again, and she was reported missing the same evening. Several people told the police that they had seen a man fitting Darren’s description in the same area around the same time. Hours after Szubert’s disappearance, Darren was also seen a few hundred miles away in the Spokane, Washington area. The investigators had every reason to believe that Szubert had fallen victim to Darren.
On the other hand, Edna wanted to bury Robin, but she was persuaded by the authorities against it, as it was almost certain that her remains might have to be exhumed at the insistence of Darren’s lawyer when Darren finally stood trial because the defence would want the identity of the victim ascertained beyond doubt. Edna decided to wait so as to obtain justice for her daughter.
To predict Darren’s next move and make an educated guess about his possible whereabouts, the investigators carefully looked into his background and also enlisted the help of FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit to develop a psychological profile. The Behavioral Sciences Unit found Darren befitting the profile of a typical serial killer, and surmised that Darren might be acting out his fantasies based upon the fictional world created by his favourite author, Louis L’Amour. The witnesses who had been in close contact with Darren had told the detectives that Darren often fantasized about living in the wild.
The investigators also got in touch with Louis L’Amour, as Darren was said to have written several letters to the author, but that did not help much because L’Amour had never heard of Darren and Darren had not contacted him so far as he could remember. Darren’s fascination with the outdoor life also led the Green River Task Force have a closer look at Darren to check if he was the Green River killer. But their interest in Darren was brief and the Green River Task Force quickly ruled out Darren as their man. The investigators gradually realized that despite his fascination with the outdoors and the wilderness, Darren actually did not know much about living in the wild.
Darren’s growing notoriety combined with the fact that he could be anywhere preying upon his next victim, got him a place on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, but despite all efforts made by the investigators, Darren remained elusive until he was taken in for a relatively minor traffic violation and interrogated. By then Darren had already assumed a different alias – John Mayeaux – and had gotten himself a girlfriend in Tennessee, with whom he lived in for a while before abandoning her – thankfully, without killing her – in Louisiana and making away with her car to Lakeland, Florida, where he stayed for a short while and was later arrested for the traffic violation on September 22, 1987 after a chase on foot. It was his new name that worked against him, for the rookie female police officer who dealt with Darren’s case found the name ‘Mayeaux’ a little too unusual to be real, and had the good sense of having his prints run against the available database by the State Bureau of Criminal Identification. John Mayeaux did turn out to be a false name, and soon enough investigators from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, Bellingham Police Department, and the Oregon State Police were on their way to Louisiana to have police-suspect conversation with Darren O’Neall alias John Mayeaux. But Darren was not willing to speak to the police.
Edna put up a major fight to have Darren extradited to Washington state to stand trial and eventually managed to have Darren in the dock. The State of Louisiana wanted to keep Darren to face trial for stealing cars, but Edna persisted and prevailed after having run from pillar to post filing petitions and writing letters to all authorities that had any say in the matter.
Eventually, Darren waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk at length with the investigators. During the questioning, Darren admitted to having killed Robin Smith but refused to say anything about Wendy Aughe and Lia Szubert.
Darren’s trial was just about to begin when Robin’s fiancé, Larron Crowston, died of an overdose of drugs taken with alcohol. Although the death was an accident, Edna maintained that Crowston died of the burden of guilt he carried for having failed Robin. He never really got over his depression in the wake of Robin’s death.
Jury selection for Darren’s trial began on January 4, 1989, but before the process was complete, Darren unexpectedly announced that he wished to plead guilty for the murder of Robin Smith. That was no consolation for Edna, who had fought so hard to bring Darren to trial. But nothing could be done about it, as the right to be tried by a jury was for Darren to avail or let go of. Darren was awarded a life sentence, and under the applicable laws in the State of Washington, a life sentence amounted to a prison term for a maximum of 27 years and 9 months. Furthermore, an inmate serving a life term could also be released after serving 18 years for good behaviour. Edna wanted a full-fledged trial and had been pressing the prosecutors to ask for death penalty. To her mind, Darren pleaded guilty only to avoid having the loathsome details of his crimes become public.
However, it was not the end of it for Darren. He was brought to Portland, Oregon, to stand trial for the rape of the 14-year-old girl. Darren pleaded not guilty. He was found guilty of almost all charges, and during the arguments on sentencing, Darren’s lawyer Scott Raivio claimed that Darren’s crimes were a result of substance abuse, and away from cocaine and methamphetamine, Darren was much of model citizen with “polite middle class values”, but Raivio’s efforts failed to be adequately persuasive and Darren was sentenced to a total of 135 years in prison with Judge Kimberly Frankel ruling that the sentence would run consecutive to the life sentence Darren had to serve in Washington for Robin Smith’s murder.
The remains of Wendy Aughe and Lia Szubert have not been found though the investigators are sure that they were Darren’s victims. However, sufficient evidence could not be found to link Darren to the disappearances of Aughe and Szubert in addition to several other unsolved homicides in several states that are believed to be the handiwork of Darren O’Neall. Darren has expressed no remorse at any point of time and is currently serving the sentences at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.