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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: serial killers

Torture dungeon trucker pleads guilty

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas trucker who kept a torture dungeon in the cab of his long-haul rig has avoided the death penalty by accepting life prison sentences for murdering a hitchhiking couple two decades ago.

 Robert Ben Rhoades, who already is serving a life sentence for killing a 14-year-old girl in Illinois, pleaded guilty to two counts of capital murder when he appeared before a West Texas judge this week. He has no chance of parole.

Described by authorities as a sadistic killer, Rhoades was charged with the 1990 abductions and slayings of newlyweds Douglas Scott Zyskowski, 28, and Patricia Walsh, 24. Authorities said the couple left Seattle in November 1989, and were hitchhiking to Georgia to preach the Christian gospel when they accepted a ride from Rhoades near El Paso.

Zyskowski's body was found in January 1990 along Interstate 10 east of Ozona, about 320 miles east of El Paso. He'd been shot, and his body wasn't identified until 1992. The remains of his wife were found in October 1990 by deer hunters in central Utah, but they weren't identified until 13 years later by dental records.

Police believe Rhoades held the woman captive for about a week, systematically torturing and assaulting her before shooting her several times.

Rhoades was initially charged in Utah with her death, but he was later extradited to Texas where authorities said the kidnappings took place. Prosecutors in Ozona said they would seek the death penalty, but his trial was repeatedly delayed since 2009.

Under the plea agreement accepted Monday, the life prison sentences in Texas would keep him behind bars if he somehow gets out of prison in Illinois. The 66-year-old also agreed to waive any rights to appeals and parole. It's unclear whether he'll stay in a Texas prison or be returned to Illinois.

FBI spokeswoman Shauna Dunlap in Houston said agents couldn't comment on the case because investigations involving Rhoades are continuing. District Attorney Laurie English was not available Thursday, and messages left with Rhoades' lawyers were not immediately returned.

Rhoades' Illinois conviction stems from the abduction and slaying of Regina Walters, a 14-year-old runaway from Pasadena, Texas. She disappeared in February 1990 with an 18-year-old boyfriend who told friends they planned to hitchhike to Mexico.

Her body was found months later at an abandoned farm near Greenville, Ill. Her companion has never been located.

By the time Walters' remains were found, Rhoades was in custody — after authorities discovered what was inside his truck.

A state trooper near Casa Grande, Ariz., stopped on I-10 to check on a tractor-trailer with blinking lights in April 1990. He discovered Rhoades inside the cab with a hysterical naked woman who had been chained and shackled to a wall.

She later told investigators that she'd been tortured and whipped, that Rhoades told her he was known as “Whips and Chains” and had been involved in such activity for years.

Houston police found another woman who'd managed to escape from Rhoades and told a similar story of torture. FBI agents called into the case searched his Houston apartment and found torture devices and photos of a teenage girl handcuffed and shackled and in various poses at a barn. The girl subsequently was identified as Walters, who had been strangled with bailing wire attached to a piece of lumber.

Rhoades was convicted and sentenced in Arizona on aggravated assault, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment charges stemming from the woman being held in his truck, then was charged with the Illinois slaying. He pleaded guilty.

Green River Killer admits 49th murder

SEATTLE (AP) — One of the nation's most prolific killers pleaded guilty Friday to killing a 49th person.

Gary Ridgway already is serving 48 life terms at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. He entered his plea on a murder charge at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent, a Seattle suburb.

Ridgway, who has been dubbed the Green River Killer, confessed to killing Rebecca “Becky” Marrero in 1982 as part of a 2003 plea deal that spared him the death penalty.

 Ridgway, who was a commercial truck painter, has been convicted of 48 murders and confessed to or been suspected of dozens more. Several victims were dumped in or posed along the Green River.

He preyed upon women and girls at the margins of society — runaways, prostitutes and drug addicts strangled in a spree that terrorized Seattle and its south suburbs in the 1980s.

Marrero, a 20-year-old mother, (right) was last seen when she left a motel in 1982.

Prosecutors originally declined to charge Ridgway in Marrero's death in 2003 because he was not able to provide conclusive evidence that he killed her. The plea deal required him to plead guilty to future King County charges based on new evidence.

Marrero's remains were discovered Dec. 21 when teenagers found a skull in a ravine at Auburn, south of Seattle. They were found 100 feet from where investigators found another of Ridgway's victims, Marie Malvar, in 2003.

 Ridgway, who turned 62 on Friday, was charged with murder on Feb. 7. He was brought from the state prison for the arraignment, where he sat handcuffed and shackled around his legs.

After Ridgway entered the plea, Marrero's sister, Mary Marrero, told county Superior Court Judge Mary E. Roberts that the family had agonized for 29 years, wondering what happened to her.

“I don't agree with this plea deal to spare his pathetic life,” she said in a halting voice, as Ridgway turned in his chair to face her and two other family members at a lectern. “It makes me sick to my stomach that he beat the system.”

Ridgway, she said, knows where all his victims are and what he did to them. She called them “his trophies.”

She told the judge, “If I had one thing to ask today, it would be to kill him.” (Marrero's mother, who stood by as her daughter spoke, is pictured at left.)

Ridgway rose and began to apologize to the family, but was cut off by a man in the audience who shouted, “Shut your mouth.”

“I'm sorry you had to wait this long for some truth and some justice,” Roberts said to the family.

The judge told Ridgway that in his case, “I can find no compassion,” then sentenced him to a 49th consecutive life term.

Ridgway was arrested in 2001 after advances in DNA technology enabled authorities to link a saliva sample he gave authorities in 1987 to some of the bodies. He pleaded guilty two years later, agreeing to help authorities locate as many remains as possible.

He is serving life without release in solitary confinement at the state prison, where he's allowed out of his cell one hour a day four times a week.

Trimble pleads not guilty to ‘86 murder

The only suspect in the 1986 murder of a Spokane woman was arraigned today on murder charges, two weeks after being extradited from Montana.

Gary L. Trimble, 62, pleaded not guilty to the Dec. 24, 1986, murder of Dorothy E. Burdette in Spokane County Superior Court this afternoon as more than a dozen of Burdette's family members looked on.

Trimble appeared via video from the Spokane County Jail with his public defender, Kari Reardon, and Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.

Trial is set to begin March 14 on charges of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, though Reardon said she likely will ask for a continuance.

Driscoll said he filed the second-degree murder charge as a precaution in case the first charge doesn't stick. Trimble was arrested in Montana in October after DNA he submitted for a felony conviction there was linked to

Burdette, who was 62 when she was found strangled to death in High Bridge Park.

Police have submitted Trimble's DNA to see if it matches DNA found on three other murder victims from 1986 and 1987.

He remains in Spokane County Jail on $1 million bond.

Past coverage:

Jan. 4: Suspect in 1986 murder headed back to Spokane

Nov. 2: Murder suspect fights return to Spokane

Oct. 25: Montana man arrested in '86 death of Spokane woman

‘86 murder suspect’s bond set at $1 mil

A suspect in the 1986 murder of a Spokane woman remains in jail on $1 million bond after making his first appearance before a Spokane County judge Thursday.

Police obtained new DNA samples from Gary Lyle Trimble, 62, that will be analyzed to see if they match DNA found on three other Spokane murder victims, said Officer Jennifer DeRuwe, spokeswoman for the Spokane Police Department.

Trimble appeared via video feed from Spokane County Jail, where he was booked about 3 p.m. Wednesday after being extradited from Teton County, Mont. He's pictured with his public defender, Kari Reardon, and Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll.

Read my full story here.

Past coverage:

Jan. 4: Suspect in '86 murder headed back to Spokane

Nov. 2: Murder suspect fights return to Spokane

Oct. 25: Montana man arrested in 1986 death of Spokane woman

LAPD releases pics in serial killer case

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Police found a stash of sexually explicit photographs and home videos of scores of women when they searched the home of a car mechanic accused of the “Grim Sleeper” serial killings.

Now, they want to know who the women are and what might have happened to them.

Detectives sought the public’s help Thursday when they released images of about 160 women and asked anyone who recognized them to come forward.

“We certainly do not believe that we are so lucky, or so good, as to know all of his victims,” Police Chief Charlie Beck (pictured at right) said. “We need the public’s help.”

Lonnie Franklin Jr. (pictured below) has pleaded not guilty to the murders of 10 women from 1985 to 1988 and from 2002 to 2007.  The  apparent 14-year pause in the alleged crimes led to the nickname “Grim Sleeper,” though detectives suspect Franklin could be involved in other deaths.

The photos and videos were found at Franklin’s home and garage during a three-day search after his July arrest.

“Now that we know who he is and what type of activity he is involved in with women, we are very concerned for everyone in these photographs,” Detective Dennis Kilcoyne said.

Police displayed the photographs for media and have made the images available online. By Thursday afternoon, the LAPD’s website had slowed to a crawl after its Texas-based server was strained by a massive surge in people trying to click through to the pictures.

In almost every photo, the subject is smiling at the camera. Some women could have been naked but it’s difficult to tell in the tightly cropped images. Others were photographed outside as part of a group photograph.

The women appear to be willing participants in what police said were sexually explicit images.

“It baffles me how he is so successful at getting women to do what he asks them to do,” Kilcoyne said. “It’s not like we have pictures of him holding a knife to someone’s neck.”

Detectives said the photos span decades and were taken on 35 mm film, Polaroids and digital cameras. Hairstyles range from 80s-style, big-bang blowouts to cornrow braids and a more contemporary flat-ironed look.

One picture, tagged No. 166, shows a woman in a nurse’s outfit. Her name badge reads: Ms. D. Johnson — a name so common that investigators were never able to track her down.

A Polaroid, No. 141, has the hand-scrawled name Deborah B. Cleveland beneath it along with the date Sept. 18, 2001, and the notation “B.K.A. Chocolate.” Photograph No. 172 shows a woman with rows of curlers in her hair.

The women range from young teens to 60-somethings. Except for two or three white women and a Latina, all the women are black. Some appear to be asleep.

Several known victims of the serial killer were said to be prostitutes. Detectives would not say if any of the women photographed might have been involved in the sex trade.

“We don’t want to go down that road,” Kilcoyne said. “For us to suggest the lifestyles or the situation that these women were in would defeat our plea to the public and to them to come forward.”

Kilcoyne said investigators found the photographs throughout Franklin’s house, including his garage and in his cars.

“Some were fallen behind items — cabinets and walls — others had been purposely secreted away,” he said.

All of Franklin’s alleged victims were killed within a few miles of his home, where neighbors knew him as a talented backyard mechanic.

Police also have said they suspect Franklin in the death of a man who may have discovered he was a killer. In addition, they are reviewing more than 30 other cold-case files to see if they can tie Franklin to other slayings.

Franklin was taken into custody last summer after his son was arrested and swabbed for DNA. Using a technique known as a familial DNA search, the sample came back as similar to evidence in the serial killings, ultimately leading police to Franklin.

Clear Channel Outdoor agreed to provide billboard space across Los Angeles to display the photos.

In a different case, Huntington Beach detectives in March were inundated with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails after they released more than 100 photos discovered in serial killer Rodney Alcala’s storage locker after his 1979 arrest.

More than 20 of the women were identified but none were victims.

The photos were released after Alcala was convicted of the murders of four women and a 12-year-old girl. He later was sentenced to death.

‘86 murder suspect fights extradition

A murder suspect who is a person of interest in at least three other  Spokane slayings in the mid-1980s is fighting extradition from Montana.

Gary L. Trimble, 62, is in jail in Teton County, Mont., charged in Spokane County with first-degree murder for the Dec. 24, 1986, strangulation of Dorothy E. Burdette.

The first-degree murder charge alleges Trimble killed Burdette while trying to rape her.

Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Jack Driscoll said he’s obtaining a governor’s warrant for Trimble’s arrest after the suspected killer refused extradition. A hearing will be held in Teton County.

Read my full story here.

Past coverage:

Oct. 25: DNA links man to ‘86 Spokane murder

Cable show to feature Yates serial killer case

The case of a Spokane serial killer who stalked prostitutes in the 1990s will be featured on a cable TV show next week. 

Death row inmate Robert Lee Yates, Jr., a former Army helicopter pilot and state prison guard, will be the subject of an hour-long episode of “Unusual Suspects” on Investigation Discovery, a sister channel to the Discovery Channel.

Yates (pictured) was a married father of five children when police detectives identified him as a serial killer who killed 10 women in Spokane between 1996 and 1998.

Yates confessed to 13 murders and was sentenced in 2000 to 408 years after Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declined to seek the death penalty.

But the Pierce County prosecutor charged Yates with two murders there, and Yates was sentenced to death in 2002. He remains on death row at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

The cable TV show calls Yates the “monster in Spokane.”

A news release reads: “A multi-agency task force follows every possible lead, and they gather the murder weapon, a sketch of the killer, and even his DNA, but investigators still have no suspect. Finally, the reexamination of an old clue helps investigators zero in on the culprit. Can they discover the identity of this unlikely murderer before he strikes again?” Sorry to spoil it for you.

The episode airs Monday at 10 p.m. and includes interviews with retired Spokane County sheriff’s detectives Rick Grabenstein and Fred Ruetsch, as well as Detective John Miller of the Spokane Police Department, Lynn Everson of the Spokane Regional Health District, and retired sheriff’s Capt. Doug Silver.

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