Sat. Jun 15th, 2024
alert-–-fbi-hunting-500-serial-killer-truckers-loose-on-america’s-roads:-their-favorite-highway-for-finding-victims-revealed-–-and-inside-their-mobile-‘rape-and-torture-chambers’Alert – FBI hunting 500 serial killer truckers loose on America’s roads: Their favorite highway for finding victims revealed – and inside their mobile ‘rape and torture chambers’

At a truck stop in Nashville, Tennessee, long-haul driver Bruce D. Mendenhall was seated in his cab when a homicide detective approached him.

Police were hunting a serial killer. Weeks earlier, the naked body of a 25-year-old woman, Samantha Winters, had been found in a dumpster.

Winters was wrapped in plastic and duct tape, then shot in the back of the head with a .22 pistol.

Now another victim, Sara Nicole Hulbert – also 25 – had been found dead. She, too, was shrouded in plastic and shot in the head. 

These victims were two of nearly 1,000 women who cops believed had been murdered by long-haul truck drivers. And, finally, they had a break in the hunt.

The detective from Nashville Metro Police Department asked Mendenhall simply: ‘Are you the person we’ve been looking for?’

Mendenhall shrugged. ‘If you say so,’ he replied.

What police found inside the 56-year-old’s truck cab defied belief. Investigators called it ‘a killing chamber’.

The stash of torture implements included ‘a rifle, a nightstick, tape, handcuffs, latex gloves, sex toys and a bag of bloody clothing,’ according to the police report.

DNA on the clothing matched five murdered or missing women. One was Carma Purpura, a 31-year-old mother of two who was last seen at a truck stop in Indianapolis, Indiana – nearly 300 miles away.

Also in the truck were Purpura’s mobile phone and her bank card.

Blood spatter in the cab suggested Mendenhall had killed her there – yet he refused to say where her body was hidden. Her remains were not found for another four years.

Mendenhall – from Illinois and married with two daughters – was arrested in 2007 and subsequently convicted of the murders of Winters and Hulbert.

He has also been charged with the killing of Purpura – and is suspected of murdering at least five more women. Two, including sex-worker Robin Bishop and hitchhiker Belinda Cartwright, were likely run down by his truck.

But these deaths are not isolated, according to former Assistant Director of the FBI Frank Figliuzzi.

He has spent years investigating the phenomenon of serial killers who use trucking as a disguise.

In a new book – ‘Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers’ – Figliuzzi lays bare in forensic detail how hundreds of truckers trawl rest stops, motels and roadside restaurants for victims. 

They kill and move on, all but untraceable. Most shocking, the FBI’s ‘Highway Serial Killings Initiative’ (HSK) estimates that between 400 and 500 truckers could be implicated in a huge number of murders over the past 35 years. 

As many as 850 women have disappeared or been found dead along the main interstate routes. And yet only a handful of killers have been caught. 

The HSK is led by Catherine DeVane, she specializes in the behavioral analysis of criminals. Her team match crimes to killers. Forensic evidence is crucial. 

So too is identifying the ‘modus operandi’ – an individual killer’s hallmark techniques. 

The hallmark of Robert Ben Rhoades, one of the first ‘truck-stop killers’ on record, was a sick fetish: He shaved the pubic hair of his victims. 

Rhoades is thought to have killed 50 women over 15 years. Like Mendenhall, he built a mobile torture dungeon into the back of his truck. 

Behind its steel door, women were held captive in handcuffs. Rhoades inflicted agonies by piercing their flesh with fish-hooks. Many were prostitutes. His final victim, Regina Walters, was not – in fact, she was just 14 years old. 

She had ran away from her dysfunctional family home in Pasadena, Texas, with her boyfriend Ricky in 1990. Rhoades picked them up near Houston and swiftly killed Ricky, shooting him in the head. 

He kept Regina prisoner, raping her repeatedly, for weeks. To torment her family, he even called her father and told him, ‘I made some changes. I cut her hair.’ 

Regina’s corpse was discovered at a deserted Illinois farmhouse. She had been strangled. 

Catherine DeVane divides trucker homicides into two categories. Some men want to ‘control life and death,’ she says. They need to ‘feel the power of controlling the outcome’. 

These killers typically rape and sexually torture their victims. They enjoy inflicting fear as well as pain. 

Other men kill out of compulsion. ‘They don’t want to have sex,’ says DeVane. ‘They just want to murder someone.’ 

The two categories can overlap, as in the case of Mendenhall. Some of his killings were protracted exercises in sadism. Others were literally hit-and-run. 

In the U.S., there are a million truckers. 

The largest age group is 45 to 54, but 7 percent are 65 or older. Over 70 percent are white, and just 12 per cent are black. Nearly 10 percent admit to drinking daily, 20 percent describe themselves as binge drinkers, and more than 25 per cent admit to using amphetamines and cocaine to stay awake on long hauls. 

The HSK team has charted truck-stop killings along all the major interstate routes in the U.S. But one stands out. 

On a map, it is a long spatter of red dots like blood droplets, from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Barstow, California. The red dots run through Raleigh, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque and Flagstaff. That’s the I-40 interstate. 

Across America, just 25 ex-truckers are in prison for murder. DeVane and the HSK have been instrumental in the arrest and prosecution of many of them. 

One is Dellmus Colvin, a shaven-headed black man now 64 years old. He was dubbed the ‘Interstate Strangler’. Following his arrest in 2004, Colvin told detectives he didn’t keep a tally of his murders. 

He couldn’t remember them all. But later he estimated he’d killed between 47 and 52 women, almost all sex workers. 

Like Mendenhall, he wrapped their corpses in plastic sheeting and duct tape. But he denied having sexual intercourse with the bodies, and insisted rape was not his chief motive. He just enjoyed killing, he said. 

Detectives believed him. Frequently during interviews, he burst out laughing as he recalled the murders. 

On one occasion, he said, he took a phone call from his mother while he was killing a woman. None of that troubled him. He liked to look into his victims’ eyes as they died, he said. 

‘I always sleep well at night,’ he added.

Colvin has been convicted of seven murders and is held in Lebanon Correctional Institution, Ohio. He told investigators where many other victims were buried but refuses to provide information on killings he committed in states where murder carries the death penalty.

Most of Colvin’s victims, and the great majority of women killed by truckers, are ‘lot lizards’. 

That’s what the drivers call sex workers at truck stops, part of a coded language that has grown up over decades. 

Dr Celia Williamson, a social-work professor at the University of Toledo, has spent 30 years studying adult prostitution and the sex trafficking of minors in America. 

‘Truck-stop and street-level prostitution has its own culture, its own language, and its own processes,’ she told Frank Figliuzzi. Common terms include ‘trick’, a trucker looking for sex, and ‘house’, the trailer behind his cab. 

A ‘stable’ is a pimp’s coterie of sex workers or ‘shorties’. A girl who is ‘out of pocket’ is working for herself – though that’s a dangerous tactic. Without anyone to protect or look out for her, she is easy prey. 

That could be why ‘out of pocket’ can refer to a woman who has simply disappeared. 

To keep an eye on the younger, more vulnerable women, pimps use older, experienced sex workers. These women are known as ‘bottoms’. 

It is usual for a ‘bottom’ to accompany a young prostitute on her rounds as she goes from cab to cab at a truck stop, knocking on windows and offering her services. 

It is not uncommon for a pimp to demand each of his ‘shorties’ must bring back $1,000 a night – and keep working till dawn if necessary. 

Dr Williamson points out how all the power is on the truckers’ side. ‘It’s not a pleasant experience,’ she says, ‘for a girl to put her face in the lap of a trucker who’s been driving for ten hours.’ 

But the ‘shorties’ are desperate to earn money. If they don’t meet their targets, they will be beaten. Addicts (and most truck-stop prostitutes are users) will be denied their drugs, usually heroin or meth. 

The drivers have the money. They also control the rendezvous, the cab of their truck. And when the encounters are over, they can simply drive away. 

Prostitutes who report sex abuse are often not taken seriously. Too often, police officers stop taking notes – and stop taking interest – when they learn how these women earn a living.

That’s all too true even when concerned friends report disappearances or suspected murders.

‘Should a male-dominated police force even be investigating such things?’ asks Dr Williamson, ‘You know, police participate as well.’

Pimps and ‘bottoms’ teach new girls how to keep themselves safe. This includes staying away from truckers with a reputation for violence. But it also means being constantly ready to flee.

‘During [oral sex],’ Dr Williamson told Figliuzzi, ‘while in the passenger side of the vehicle, [the prostitute] places her right foot near the car door, her right hand near the door handle. And she keeps her left hand free, to punch him in the face.’

Precautions like these were irrelevant to the victims of Adam Leroy Lane. On a chilly summer night in Nashville, in 2007, he left his truck and went prowling through the streets.

Breaking into the house of Kevin and Jeannie McDonough, Lane found his way to the bedroom of their 15-year-old daughter, Shea.

Kevin was woken by her cry. He burst into the room and threw himself on Lane. Jeannie wrenched the 15-inch hunting knife from his hand. 

Miraculously, Shea survived – and Lane was sentenced to 25 years for the attack. He later also pleaded guilty to murdering two women and the attempted murder of a third.

In his truck, police found knives, wire garottes and a martial arts throwing star.

What no one knows for sure, not even the FBI’s Highway Serial Killings Initiative, is how many other truckers carry these weapons of torture – and how many women’s bodies have never been found.

Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers by Frank Figliuzzi is published by Harper Collins and out now.

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