Many murder victims found along highways were killed by truckers, FBI says

Posted on Thu, Apr. 09, 2009

The Kansas City Star

They call her Miss Molly.

Her battered body turned up in a shallow creek 23 years ago west of Salina, Kan., thrown from a bridge on Interstate 70. Despite efforts by investigators that have taken them across the country, she is unidentified to this day.

Miss Molly is among hundreds of murder victims whose bodies have been dumped along highways across the country over the past three decades — 11 of them in Kansas and Missouri. And, according to the FBI, many of the victims were likely killed by long-haul truckers.

This week, the agency announced its Highway Serial Killings Initiative to raise awareness of the issue and the FBI’s effort to support local and state authorities in their investigations into highway murders.

The victims, the FBI says, are usually women living high-risk and transient lifestyles that involve substance abuse and prostitution. Often picked up at truck stops or gas stations, they are sexually assaulted, murdered and discarded along interstates and highways.

“The suspects are predominantly long-haul truck drivers,” the FBI said in a statement. “But the mobile nature of the offenders, the unsafe lifestyles of the victims, the significant distances and multiple jurisdictions involved and the scarcity of witnesses or forensic evidence can make these cases tough to solve.”

At least some truckers are furious that their industry is being linked to serial killers, but the FBI says it is not trying to disparage truck drivers.

Until recent years, no one had made that connection.

Indeed, the FBI initiative developed out of an Oklahoma case in 2004 in which an analyst with the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation noticed that bodies of murdered women were being dumped along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.

FBI analysts checked records in the database to determine whether there were similar patterns of highway killings in other areas.

There were. Working with other agencies, the FBI developed a grid of more than 500 murder victims found along or near highways, along with 200 potential suspects, most of them truckers.

The FBI says the system is working. Since its inception, at least 10 suspects believed to have committed about 30 homicides have been arrested. All of them were long-haul truckers at the time, although not all were on duty when the crimes were committed. The FBI said it couldn’t speculate on whether the killers became truckers in order to gain access to victims.

The FBI’s database includes 11 bodies found in Kansas and Missouri, including three that are unidentified. The FBI declined to disclose details, but interviews with local authorities found two who say they have victims on the list.

In Kansas, Miss Molly was discovered on Jan. 25, 1986, when a trucker heading west on I-70 noticed a body lying in a creek below a bridge. The partially clothed woman was about five feet, five inches tall and 25 to 30 years old. Her clothing was expensive, with French and European markings.

She was well-groomed, and stretch marks on her abdomen indicated that she may recently have given birth. Though she was severely beaten and was injured from the fall, the cause of death was determined to be drowning — in just a few inches of water.

“We have no idea who she is, where she originated from, where she was going to, absolutely nothing,” said Saline County Sheriff Glen Kochanowski. “We have been all over the United States talking to various task forces about this. Nobody has been able to give us anything on her.”

In Missouri, the body of Gloria Barnes was found July 13, 1997, behind the Seven Gables Truck Stop and Restaurant along Interstate 44 in Springfield. Her body was wrapped in carpet padding, and she had died from a blow to the head.

Barnes had last been seen about three days earlier in Joiner, Ark. — 400 miles away.

“It’s a cold case,” said Maj. Kevin Routh of the Springfield Police Department. “There was information that she’d been at a truck stop in the last few days, but that’s about it.”

Those in the trucking industry are angry at any implication that many of their colleagues are serial killers.

“Truckers are just absolutely outraged that various media sources or the FBI would draw the conclusion that truckers are over-represented in the ranks of serial killers,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, based in Grain Valley in Jackson County.

“This stereotypes, totally unfairly, a particular profession,” he said. “If you’re talking 500 murders over a span of 30 years, and given the millions and millions of people who have driven trucks over those years, it doesn’t make any sense.”

The FBI said it wasn’t trying to impugn all truckers.

“While the list of subjects involved in the Highway Serial Killings Initiative consists primarily of long-haul truckers, this represents a very small percentage of the drivers within the industry,” said agency spokeswoman Ann Todd. “The trucking industry is the backbone of commerce in this country, and the vast majority of the drivers are honest, law-abiding citizens.”

The concept of truckers as serial killers is not new. In 1994, Keith Hunter Jesperson confessed to killing numerous women in five states in the early 1990s. Jesperson said he picked the women up in his truck, strangled them and dumped their bodies. He is serving three life sentences for killing women in Oregon, Wyoming and California.

And in 1998, trucker Wayne Adam Ford walked into a sheriff’s office in California carrying a woman’s severed breast and saying that it was just the “tip of the iceberg.” In 2007, Ford was sentenced to death for killing four women across the state in 1997 and 1998. The victims were prostitutes and a hitchhiker he had picked up on his trips. After killing them, he removed their identification and discarded their mutilated bodies.

Since the FBI program began, Mississippi truck driver John Robert Williams and his girlfriend, Rachel Cumberland, have been charged with some of the I-40 murders, and investigators think they may have been involved in others as well.

Another case involves Bruce Mendenhall, a trucker from Illinois charged with the June 2007 shooting death of Sara Nicole Hulbert, whose body was found at a Nashville truck stop along Interstate 24. After his arrest, Mendenhall implicated himself in other murders. He now has been charged with killing three women in Tennessee, Indiana and Alabama and is a suspect in at least two other homicides in Indiana and Georgia.

Hundreds of murder cases, however, remain unsolved, including that of Miss Molly.

Sheriff Kochanowski hopes the FBI database can someday help find her killer.

“And if it can help identify any of the victims,” he said, “it’s a positive thing.”

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send e-mail to
Link to original on Kansas City Star


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