At least 25 long-haul truckers are currently imprisoned for serial murders. In 2009, the FBI revealed their database, the Highway Serial Killings Initiative, which tracks information about hundreds of murders that have taken place along US highways and tries to link some together by details. In the first four years of its existence, the program helped authorities to identify and arrest 10 men, believed to be responsible for over 30 deaths. Here are 10 known killers who made the open roads of America their grisly hunting grounds.
10 Keith Hunter Jesperson
In 1990, the body of a murdered 23-year-old woman was discovered off the side of a highway by a bicyclist. Soon after, Laverne Pavlinac told police that she and her boyfriend, John Sosnovske, had committed the murder together. Annoyed that Pavlinac and Sosnovske were receiving media attention for the crime, the actual killer left confessions on public restroom walls across the country, signed with a smiley face. When that failed to garner attention, he began to send letters to the media with the same signature, leading the media to dub him the “Happy Face Killer.” Four years later, the killer confessed to murdering Taunja Bennett, the woman found by the bicyclist. He also led investigators to evidence that he’d scattered, and Pavlinac and Sosnovske were eventually released. It turned out that Pavlinac had made a false confession in an attempt to end her relationship with her abusive boyfriend—even if it meant serving time in prison herself.
From 1990–95, at least eight women, mostly prostitutes, from Oregon to Florida were found strangled. The strangler, Keith Hunter Jesperson, had a long history of abuse, neglect, mental health issues, and torturing animals as a child. By the time he was 17, he’d already attempted to kill two people. Taunja Bennett had been his first successful murder. Another victim, a hitchhiker who irritated Jesperson by nagging him to hurry up so she could get to Indiana and see her boyfriend, was strapped to the bottom of his truck face-down after she was raped and murdered, her body dragged hundreds of miles to eliminate identifying features. It was only Jesperson’s voluntary confession and divulging of her body’s location that led to the discovery of her murder.
Jesperson was caught after he strangled his fiancee, Julie Ann Winningham, because he’d decided that she was only after his money. Because of her ties to him, he was quickly apprehended and confessed to over 150 murders before recanting and admitting to eight. Recently, Jesperson, a prolific artist, assisted investigators with a composite sketch of his sixth victim, whom he killed over 20 years earlier in Florida, as authorities attempt to identify her. He is serving three life sentences in Oregon.
9 John Wayne Boyer
In 2003, 31-year-old Scarlett Wood attended a party at a motel in Wilmington, North Carolina. Soon after, her mother reported her missing. Because he’d been seen with Wood at the party, police questioned truck driver John Wayne Boyer, who stated that she’d left while he’d been sleeping. Over a year later, a battered body with stab wounds was discovered, and it was almost another two years before the body was confirmed to be that of the missing woman. Boyer was arrested in 2006, convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
After his arrest, Boyer was compelled to give a DNA sample, which linked him to the 2005 murder of 25-year-old Jennifer Smith, whose body was found alongside a highway in Tennessee. Like Wood, it took about two years for Smith’s identity to be established. Boyer was extradited to Tennessee in 2015 to face charges in her death. He further admitted to two other murders, which solved two missing persons cases, each over a decade old.
8 Scott William Cox
At the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991, two prostitutes were murdered in the area of Portland, Oregon. The first, Reena Ann Brunson, managed to make it to a public location and get help before succumbing to her injuries at a nearby hospital a short time later. The second, Victoria Rhone, was found beaten to death in a Portland rail yard.
That spring, a witness saw a woman thrown out of the cab of a truck. She had been brutally battered and assaulted, but she refused to press charges. Certain that they had a serial killer on their hands, authorities used information from the witness to track down a man named Seth Scott Cutter. They were unable to hold him since the victim had fled, but they issued a bulletin about him to alert other jurisdictions.
A Newberg police detective received the bulletin but recognized the man as Scott William Cox. After an investigation was launched, Cox eventually confessed to the murders and to beating several prostitutes around Oregon and Washington. He was only convicted of Brunson’s and Rhone’s murders, for which he was given 25 years in prison, but he is a suspect in roughly 20 more cases. He was released in 2013 and remains on lifetime parole with an ankle monitor.
7 Sean Patrick Goble
He stood 191 centimeters (6’3″), weighed over 140 kilograms (300 lb), and seemed convinced that women were attracted to his hefty physique. He once claimed that a girlfriend beat him up. A couple of his neighbors in North Carolina described him as “gentle” and “generous,” since he would often bring them gifts when he returned from the road.
Sean Patrick Goble was 28 years old when he was arrested and charged with the murder of a woman found alongside Interstate 40 in Virginia. The woman had been strangled and run over by a big rig, judging from the tire tracks. Her head rested on a shopping bag from which detectives were able to recover a fingerprint. While detectives awaited fingerprint analysis, two more women were discovered in North Carolina and Tennessee, both close to the Virginia border and near where the first victim had been found. The woman in Tennessee had also been run over.
After Goble’s arrest, he confessed to two other murders, and authorities began to look at him as a suspect in at least 10 additional deaths in states scattered around the country. An investigator who worked the case said that Goble didn’t appear to understand the gravity of his crimes. Goble once said, “I’m going to do my time in Tennessee and get this behind me so I can get on with my life.” Goble was found guilty of two counts of murder and given two consecutive life sentences. He probably will not get to put his gruesome crimes behind him.
6 Wayne Adam Ford
There probably wasn’t any other reaction than astonishment and horror when Wayne Adam Ford walked into a police station in Eureka, California, carrying a Bible and a severed breast. He confessed to murdering four women from 1997–98.
Ford’s wife had filed for divorce and refused to let him have visitation with his young son. His escalating anger at her, he said, drove him to murder prostitutes and hitchhikers he picked up along his truck routes. He claimed to have tried to revive each woman, to no avail. Two of the women were dismembered, and all were discarded in waterways around California. One victim remains anonymous; her body was too badly mutilated to be identified.
Despite the depraved way he killed his victims, Ford stands out among serial killers as one of the few to express remorse, having tearfully told police that he didn’t want to be responsible for any more deaths. At the time of his confession, Ford was not a suspect in any of the homicides. He received the death penalty.
5 John Robert Williams
Seven slayings in seven months will get some attention, especially if the police are able to link the killings together in spite of big geographical separations.
Mississippi long-haul trucker John Robert Williams’s aunt liked to watch true crime shows, and she happened to catch an episode detailing the murder of Casey Jo Pipestem, a 19-year-old woman whose body had been dumped off a bridge in Grapevine, Texas, about 50 kilometers (30 mi) northwest of Dallas. She phoned in a tip, saying the case sounded a lot like a murder that her nephew had boasted about recently. Meanwhile, Williams and his girlfriend were sitting in jail in Mississippi, accused of the murder of 20-year-old Nikki Hill, whom they’d met at a casino.
Using the FBI’s Highway Serial Killings Initiative database, analyst Terri Turner was able to link seven unsolved cases to Williams, and when detectives went to question the couple, they found a pair of rather loquacious people quite willing to admit to the murders they were suspected of, as well as several more. Williams is serving a life sentence plus 20 years in Mississippi for Hill’s murder. His girlfriend, Rachel Cumberland, is serving 20 years. They face additional charges as prosecutors around the country build their cases.
4 Dellmus Colvin
Dellmus Colvin, a long-haul trucker based in Ohio, came to the attention of authorities in 2004 after he viciously attacked a prostitute in the cab of his truck. Because she memorized details about him and the truck and went to some lengths to ensure that her DNA would be found in Colvin’s truck, police were able to link him to a number of rapes that had been committed around Toledo, as well as to the murder of 37-year-old Melissa Weber.
Colvin was initially charged with two murders, those of Weber and of Jackie Simpson, but confessed to three more as part of a plea deal that spared him the death penalty. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. He further implicated himself in at least one more murder—the intentional overdose death of 40-year-old Dorothea Wetzel. In 2010, he was indicted for the murder of a seventh victim, Donna Lee White from New Jersey, in 1987.
3 Bruce Mendenhall
After 25-year-old Sara Nicole Hulbert was found shot at a Nashville, Tennessee, truck stop, detective Pat Postiglione identified a truck driven by Illinois-based Bruce Mendenhall as matching one seen in surveillance footage at the crime scene. Inspection of the truck revealed blood and bloody clothing, illegal weapons, and the belongings of an Indianapolis woman who had gone missing only a day earlier. After Mendenhall was arrested, he implicated himself in the murders of at least five other women. Blood tests revealed the DNA of 10 different people in Mendenhall’s cab. Using the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (ViCAP), authorities were able to match Mendenhall’s MO to several other unsolved murders around the country.
He was first convicted for the solicitation of the murder of three witnesses in his trial and sentenced to 30 years. He was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder for Sara Hulbert’s death and received life in prison. Mendenhall is currently awaiting trial in the 2007 shooting death of another woman, 48-year-old Symantha Winters, whose body was found stuffed in a trash can in Tennessee. He will then go on trial in Indiana and Alabama while police continue to investigate his ties to other unsolved homicides around the country, as well as numerous cold cases stretching back decades in Tennessee alone.
2 Adam Leroy Lane
July 2007 was a frightening month for women in the Northeast. First, Darlene Ewalt was stabbed to death as she chatted on the phone in her own backyard while her family was inside the house. Four days later, Patricia Brooks was ambushed as she slept on a sofa in her home in rural Pennsylvania, her throat slashed before the assailant fled through the unlocked door by which he’d entered. Brooks survived her attack. A week and a half after that, long-haul trucker Adam Leroy Lane, who was based in North Carolina, walked to residences near a Route 78 truck stop in New Jersey, looking for an unlocked door. Monica Massaro was found dead later with multiple stab wounds to her head and upper body.
The next night in Massachusetts, 15-year-old Shea McDonough’s muffled sounds of struggle roused her parents, who walked into her bedroom to witness Lane standing over her bed, holding a knife to her throat. Shea’s father, Kevin, a slight but well-built man, tackled the burly, 110-kilogram (245 lb) Lane while her mother, Jeannie, grabbed the knife, cutting her hand in the process. Thus ended Lane’s serial-killing career.
Through blood evidence found on the knife he’d used, Lane was linked to the first three stabbings. For the attack against Shea, he was sentenced to 25–30 years. For Darlene Ewalt’s murder, he received life in prison, while Patricia Brooks’s attack got him another 10–20 years. For Monica Massaro’s murder, he was sentenced to 50 years. Diane Ewalt’s husband, who’d initially been charged with her murder, was cleared and released from jail.
1 Robert Rembert Jr.
At the time of this writing, Robert Rembert Jr. is only an accused serial killer. An over-the-road driver based out of Cleveland, Ohio, Rembert served six years in 1997 for voluntary manslaughter after shooting 24-year-old Dadren Lewis, but prosecutors say Rembert murdered at least one more person that same year and was responsible for three murders in 2015.
In September 2015, police arrested Rembert as he exited a truck stop shower. They believe that, only the day before, Rembert shot and killed his two housemates, Morgan Nietzel, age 26, and his own cousin, 52-year-old Jerry Rembert. Because he used Nietzel’s car as his getaway vehicle, police easily tracked him down. After Rembert’s DNA was sampled as part of the investigation, he was linked to the rape and strangulation murder of 31-year-old Kimberley Hall. DNA and her manner of death matched evidence in the case of 47-year-old Rena Mae Payne, who was killed in the first half of 1997.
Charged with 10 counts of aggravated murder, as well as 15 additional charges including rape, gross abuse of a corpse, and kidnapping, Rembert went on trial in mid-October 2015 while investigators looked into his possible ties to a number of unsolved murders. He could face the death penalty.
Anya Pham is a professional dilettante.