A lot of times we concentrate on serial killers that would kill in one place or close to where they live. We forget that there are so many trucks on the road and the possibilities for a serial killer trucker is perfect as they move around a lot, and it’s hard for the police to pin a murderer if they are not in the same state. I will talk about the ones that got away and the serial killer truckers that were caught through hard work of the police force.
The Highway Serial Killings Initiative dates back to 2004. The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations saw a pattern of bodies being dumped along the I-40 in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. The FBI took over the cases, and the HSK initiative was established, the FBI only made the program public in 2009. Since the start of the program, the FBI have more than 750 murder victims on the U.S Highways. In the 450 suspects, many of them were truck drivers. It does give them the advantage for killing being able to kill and move along at an astounding pace.
An FBI study concludes that most of the victims are women who are involved with substance abuse and prostitution. These women are frequently picked up from truck stops; they are sexually abused, murdered and then dumped along the highway. These women are people too, but serial killer truckers as with other serial killers have no regard for human life, and after they have used and abused these women, they discard them as an afterthought.
Here we will have a look at two caught Serial killer truckers:
Robert Ben Rhoades
Robert was also known as The Truck Stop Killer and rapist. He is an American Serial killer who is suspected of torturing, raping and killing more than 50 women. He has only three confirmed victims. Most people remember him for taking a photo of his last known victim, Regina Kay Walters, before murdering her in a disused barn in Illinois.
Robert was born on November 22nd, 1945. Raised by his mother, but his father did return when he was still in school. He was an ordinary school boy and mostly went unnoticed until he was arrested at the age of 18 for tampering with a vehicle. After school in 1964, he joined the Marine Corps. In the same year that Robert joined the Marine Corps, his father was arrested for molesting a 12-year-old girl and committed suicide. Robert was honorably discharged from the military in 1966, and one year later he was arrested again, and this time it was for theft. Robert married three times; he had a son with his first wife and became a trucker.
Roberts father’s death hit him hard, and he started to blow all his savings on prostitutes and became increasingly interested in extreme S&M. Robert’s father was a strict man, and he claimed that his father abused him.
Robert converted his sleeper cab into his torture chamber. Roberts first known victims were Candace Walsh and her husband, Douglas Zyskowski. They were hitchhiking; Robert immediately killed Douglas and dumped his body in Sutton County, Texas. Robert kept Candace for a week, during that time he raped and tortured her, when he had enough of her he dumped her body in Millard County, Utah.
This was not the end of the terror, and a month after Candace and Douglas, he kidnapped Regina Kay Walters and her boyfriend Ricky Lee Jones. Regina was 14 years old and she and her boyfriend run away from Houston, Pasadena Texas. Robert killed Rickey immediately and kept Regina the same as the previous murders. Photos of Regina that the police found in Robert’s house revealed that he held Regina for a long time based on her hair growth and bruises. Ricky’s body was found on March the 3rd 1991 and only identified in July 2008.
April 1st, 1990 would mark the end of terror for the Truck Stop Killer. Arizona state trooper Mike Miller spotted Robert’s lorry next to the highway. Nothing could prepare him for what he found that evening. Inside the truck, he saw a naked woman who was hanging from the ceiling in shackles and handcuffs. The women were gagged and covered in whip marks and cuts. The girl told the police that she was hitchhiking when Robert picked her up; he handcuffed her and opened his rape kit. It was a briefcase with cruel instruments of pain.
Robert whipped her chest and back, and he pierced her genitals with sharp objects, and if that is not enough, he forced her to walk naked in the dessert on a collar and lead.
The girl said that Robert boasted that he was doing this for 15 years, and his nickname is ‘Whips and Chains.’ Roberts’s third wife told police how he beat and raped her too and she was scared of him. In 1994 Robert was convicted of first-degree murder of Regina Walters. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. In 2005 Robert was extradited to Utah to be tried for the killings of Candace Walsh and Douglas Zyskowski. In 2006 the charges were dropped, and he was sent back to Menard Correctional Centre in Chester Illinois. Robert was later extradited to Texas for Candace and Douglas murders, and he made a deal where they dropped the death sentence to life imprisonment if he pleaded guilty. My opinion Texas should have never dropped the death penalty charge. At least he will die in jail.
For Robert, the killings were more about the torture and sex as it turns him on to reflect pain. Sadists like Robert lack emotion and the ability to feel guilt for their actions. Robert did have some emotion as he liked the way he made his victims feels, the pain that is one of the reasons that drove him. One of the reasons that Robert started with the killings might be that his father was arrested for molesting a young girl and when he tortured and killed he feels close to his father, that might be the connection he made, a sick one but still valid.
Robert was young when he was introduced to violence; he saw his father as a role model and looked up to him for life lessons. So many other serial killers sought advice and guidance from their parents; it makes you think that what if the parents just paid more attention to their children. Maybe they would have never taken a life. Robert’s signature was to shave the pubic hair of his victims and cutting their hair short on their heads. He might be telling us by shaving his victim’s pubic hair he is regressing his victims to pre-puberty, the cutting of the hair on their head, he wants them to look like a male. If you combined the two signatures, you get a pre-pubescent boy. All of this points out to his past when he was a young boy when his father was abusing him.
Keith Hunter Jesperson aka Happy Face Killer
Keith was a Canadian- American serial killer, who murdered nine women in the United States. Happy Face Killer comes from the smiley faces he would draw on his letters to the media and the prosecutors.
Most of his victims were prostitutes and transients. His method of killing was strangulation, he claimed to have killed 166 people, but only nine killings were confirmed. Not that you have to feel proud about killing a human being, Keith had no problem taking it in his stride.
Keith is born on April 6th, 1955 in Chilliwack, British Columbia. Keith’s father was a domineering alcoholic that abused Keith. Keith had a troubled childhood; his own family treated him like an outcast and children at school teased him for being too large for his age. He was a lonely child and turned to torture and killing of animals. Keith attempted to kill children who had crossed him and getting into lots of trouble at school. He somehow manages to graduate school and secured himself a job as a truck driver.
Keith got married and had three children, his life seemed to return to normal with a wife and family, but it did not last. After being married for 15 years he divorced and his dream to become a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman was squashed. He returned to being a truck driver in the year 1990 and that is when the murders started.
1990 The year Keith started killing
Keith’s first victim was Taunja Bennett he killed her on 23rd January 1990 near Portland, Oregon. He met Taunja in the bar and invited her to his house he was renting. They were intimate and then there was an argument, it ended with him brutally beating her and strangling her to death. He disposed of her body and belongings and was on the road the next day. Taunja’s body was found a few days later with no leads and no suspects.
30th August 1992, Keith killed again. He said her name was Claudia, but she is unidentified, he raped and strangled her. Her body was found near Blythe, California. A month later Cynthia Lyn Rose’s body was found. He claimed that she was a prostitute who entered his truck while he slept. Another prostitute’s body was found in November of 1992; her name was Laurie Ann Pentland from Salem, Oregon. According to Keith Laurie doubled her fee for the sex they had engaged in, she threatens to call the police, Keith did not like that, and he strangled her.
In June 1993 another woman was found, police first thought it was a drug overdose, but he claimed her name was Cindy or Carla. In September 1994 another Jane Doe was found in Crestview, Florida. He claims her name was Susanne. January 1995, Keith gave Angela Surprise a lift from Spokane to Indiana to see her boyfriend. A week into the trip Angela became impatient, and Keith responded by raping and strangling her. He strapped her to the undercarriage of his truck and dragged her face down, to grind off her face and prints. What a horrible human being. He must be one of the serial killers that have one of the worst humanity in history. Angela’s body was found month’s after and only because he gave police details.
Two months after murdering Angela, Keith decided that his girlfriend was after his money. On 10 March 1995, he strangled his girlfriend, Julie Ann Winningham in Washougal, Washington. Julie was the only victim that set the police on his trial.
On the 30th of March, his murder spree ended, and he was arrested for the murder of Julie Ann. After the police had questioned him for a week, they had no grounds to hold him after he refused to talk. For reasons only he knows he then tried to commit suicide on two occasions, he failed on both. He turned himself in hoping that it would result in leniency towards his sentencing. Why he did not just talk the first time is beyond me, but hey he is crazy.
While in custody he started to talk about the murders and about many others that he later recanted. A few days before his arrest he wrote a letter to his brother confessing that he killed eight people in the span of five years. After hearing, the police in several states reopened old cases, many of the victims could have been his victims.
Laverne Pavlinac saw an opportunity to end her abusive relationship with her live-in boyfriend John Sosnovske after seeing the news reports of Julie Ann’s murder. Laverne went to the police and gave a false confession, of how John forced her to help rape, kill and to dispose of Julie Ann’s body. She used details in the report to give a detailed story. Laverne and John were convicted of Julie Ann’s murder in February 1991. How crazy can you be if you want to go to jail for someone else’s murder just to get away from an abusive partner? I am sure she must have had other options.
To avoid the death penalty John pleaded guilty and got life imprisonment, Laverne in turn sentenced to 10 years in prison. She thought she was going to get less prison time since she was bullied into the supposed crime, well the law do not play around when it comes to murder. There is no fame and fortune for her in this only jail time that neither John nor she deserved. Laverne saw that prison was not her mate and she soon admitted that she made it all up, surprise surprise nobody believed her, they were so convincing.
On 27th November 1995, four years after their conviction the lawyers of Keith gave sufficient evidence that Keith killed Julie Ann, Keith led police to the purse of Julie Ann. Laverne and John were released, well John must have had lots of anger for Laverne considering she wasted four years of his life in prison for no reason.
With everything that went on and the media attention around Laverne and John, Keith decided to write his confession. He did it on a bathroom wall of a truck stop and signed it with a smiley face. Keith continued to send letters to the media with smiley faces until a journalist Phil Stanford dubbed him the “The Happy Face Killer.”
Keith’s daughter took the media storm in her stride
It looks like Keith’s daughter got a lot of media attention after his arrest. Melissa Moore, his daughter, was featured on Dr. Phil in November 2008 to talk about her father, she was also on The Oprah Winfrey Show, 17 September 2009, and on a 20/20 special in August 2010. Melissa is not ashamed to talk about her father.
She went on to publish a book called, Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of A Serial Killer’s Daughter.
Melissa lived with her father until her parents got divorced in 1990. She said that she noticed her dad was different when she was still in elementary school, her father would kill stray cats and gophers. One day she saw how her dad hung kittens on the clothing line and then he laughed and killed them. She was horrified and ran to her mother. Melissa wrote an article for the BBC in November 2014. Maybe she did all this so that people would not look at her differently when she walked in the street, now the people can sympathize with her and offer her help.
Many people have different coping mechanisms for instance: I had a teacher, every time something bad happened she would literally fold in a ball and sit in the corner of the classroom for a few minutes. I think a lot of people would do the same if they would find out that someone they loved killed people and enjoyed it. Maybe writing about it helped her cope.
One of Keith Hunter’s victims escaped his murderous ways.
Daun Slagle, from Chico, is suing the Lifetime Network for depicting her in a made for TV movie as a prostitute who had sex with Keith in front of her child. 20 Years ago Daun was almost one of Keith’s murder victims.
Daun was at the supermarket with one of her youngest children on an evening in April 1990. Keith forced Daun and her baby into his car and drove them to a out of the way location. There he did his best to force her to perform oral sex on him. Daun refused, and Keith battered and choked her for hours, she somehow convinced him to let her go, she believed that her baby’s cries helped saved her life.
In the lifetime movie, she was depicted as a hooker named Candy Smith who performed oral sex on Keith and then extorts money from him. Daun reached out to Lifetime to act as a reliable source, but she never heard back from them.
Daun is a nurse, mother, and grandmother and they could destroy her career. People would do anything to sensualise a story. The real story was probably too boring and would not draw viewers, and now they put her career in the balance to get more viewers. Daun was seeking damages for defamation and having the movie pulled from the air.
Volker was a man of average intelligence. He was unskilled and worked as a painter, cleaner, and long distance lorry driver.
Volker started murdering when he was 15. He strangled a 14-year-old girl that went to school with him in Plauen, East Germany
1974. The death looked like a suicide, and he got away with it. In 1978, he went to prison for 12 years for an attempted murder on two women. Volker only started his career as a long distance truck driver in 1994, when he was released from prison and living in Hof. He had six victims across multiple European countries.
Volker Eckert’s Murder Victims
- Kenyan Prostitute in Western France – 25th June 2001.
- 24 Year old Prostitute in Macanet de la Selva – 9th October 2001.
- 2 Russian Prostitutes in Sant Sadurni d’Osormort, North-eastern Spain – 1st March 2005.
- 28 Year old Polish Prostitute in Reims, France – 2 October 2006.
20 Year old Bulgarian Prostitute in Catalonia, Spain – 2nd November 2006.
Volker strangled his victims, performed a post mortem, took a picture of them, took samples of their hair and kept them as trophies. He dressed his victims and kept them in his truck and apartment for an unknown period.
The only reason Volker got away with so many murders is that he killed in different countries and the police did not consult each other. He chose his victims carefully, most of the women were vagrants, and when their bodies turned up, nobody came to claim them.
How did the police catch Volker?
The murder that sealed his fate was on the night of the 2nd November 2006. He parked his lorry outside a football stadium in a small town in north eastern Spain. He was waiting for nightfall to dispose of the body. Volker didn’t know that a factory across the road is putting up cameras. The technician adjusted the camera to monitor the factory gates and accidentally caught his truck in the footage. On the surveillance footage, his vehicle was visible next to the naked corpse of his victim.
On 17 November 2006, the German police arrested him in Wesseling, near Cologne. At first, he denied all the charges and told the cops he had a migraine. A police officer went to Volker’s lorry for the medicine and discovered the Polaroids of his naked victims. Also, a book containing information about all the murders. He then confessed to killing six women.
During his criminal proceedings, he committed suicide on the 2nd July 2007. The police uncovered more evidence that linked him to the murders of 19 women. Five months after his suicide the police closed the investigation.