The Killer Loosed - Still Unsolved? Kansas City to LA and South to Texas and Florida A Trail of Mystery

The roads - Highway 66, Highway 81,  and later Interstates 40 and 10 - played prominent roles in a string of unsolved murders in the 1940-1960's. They spanned several states (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Florida....and California?)  and many jurisdictions before easy sharing of information or wanted status was available to most departments of law. Yet, they have some startling similarities....

-The killer had some familiarity or skill in butchering; Oklahoma medical authorities noted it, and they thought it appeared more related to animal butchering than to human dissection (i.e., a doctor). The multi-state task force examining the Texas and New Mexico crimes also noted skill in this area.

- The killer made little attempt to hide bodies; indeed some seem to be placed in places where they will be found quickly.  For example, The Black Dahlia was posed in a public area.  This is additionally demonstrated through graves less than a foot deep, ground barely covering remains, placed to be seen, sent down a water way regularly fished and into areas people often traveled.

- The killer frequently used newspapers to wrap body parts and provide dating clues. A copycat act, inspired, or drawn from the use of newspapers in the Cleveland murders?

- The killer sometimes marked the body ; in later cases in Pennsylvania attributed to the Cleveland killer, one of the torsos in the boxcar had “Nazi” carved into the flesh; in the 1941 case of  Leila Welsh the writing in blood of an initial or two. Initials were also found on The Black Dahlia and on other bodies. In 1952 with Stevens there was the carving of the word “RAT.”

- The killer often took away body parts ; in 1941 a hand sized hunk of flesh was cut out and then tossed over a fence as the killer left (was he nervous? Afraid of being caught?). It should be noted that if this is the same killer and he is connected in some manner with the packing industry, butchered meat is stamped as to grade.  In the Depew and Stevens case there was indication that parts were not present; in the 1959-1964 cases in Texas there was also missing body parts. (Although a family member alleged a deathbed confession of Depew's spouse to her death, this may be incorrect.)

- The killer often hid parts of the body so they were never found or found much later disassociated from the major crime; just like the Cleveland killer who hid many a torso or head to never be found, the Texas cases also saw parts that were not located.

- The killer sometimes used grocery and dairy style boxes; butcher wrapping paper; plastic bags.

- The killer used, at least once, a freezer or cooling unit. In the 1959 case, where the body parts were found in two states (Texas and New Mexico), there was evidence the body might had been refrigerated for as many as six days. Who would have access to a freezer or cooling unit of size and privacy enough to hold a body and its parts for a week? Who might be traveling roads allowing one to dump body parts in two states? Who would have the privacy to dismember a body in some isolation? A delivery truck with a refrigerated unit moving from one delivery site to another might have such things. Someone who picked up meat and delivered it to grocery stores and butcher shops might have such a resource.

- The killer often removed hands, feet and heads; although often assumed to be a means of hiding identity. Recall the removed thigh segments; this might all point to the signature or a ritual of a serial killer.

- The killer’s actions often accompanied news of a strike, or threat of a sympathetic strike, from unions and employees associated, interestingly enough, with packing house workers. Such was found in the 1941 Kansas City death of Welsh. Rumbles of strikes were often as important as actual walk-outs, slow-downs and strikes. Unions gained strength from workers collectively supporting the struggles of others. These might be events across the country but would impact local unions and employers. The first half of the decade saw a lot of press coverage of talks, threats, counter offers and strikes across the country. In the 1951 death of Depew there was both currents of Packing worker Union strike talk and a local bus strike. In the summer of the 1952 death of Stevens, papers were once more filled with the threat and reality of major walkouts. It was the same, for the period of the 1959-1964 matching the deaths in Texas, Georgia and Florida. Could a mob (or other organized criminal group) related killer have been loosed to quell union movement and to satisfy his own morbid hungers?

- Was the strike a trigger for this individual? Strikes were often very violent events; had something happened in one to push this killer off the edge? Did the fear of loss of wages, loss of jobs and the problems associated with a strike trigger his need to kill? Did he kill and dismember then as a means of asserting his control and mastery of his environment? Just as a butcher in a slaughterhouse masters the animals sent to him in his acts of violence was he taking apart his own personal problems?

- The killer may have, like many serial killers, have inserted himself into the investigations. In the 1962 case in Cleveland, Texas a truck driver identifies a “bushy haired man” as one seen tossing boxes over the bridge and into the water where later boxes of body parts will be found. The term became prominent a few years earlier when Dr. Sam Shepherd used it as his defense in the Marilyn Shepherd murder case near Cleveland, Ohio. In the use of a Borden Dairy box investigative suspicion is then directed to a man who works at the nearby Texas plant; was that the killer’s intention? Were there other instances, lost in the notes or investigation records of other cases, that reveal a similar mysterious or strangely helpful individual?

- The killer on several occasions made use of suitcases. In the 1959 case, just north of El Paso, a suitcase was used to carry part of the body. In some New York City and New England cases in the early 1960’s suitcases are once more prominent as carriers of human remains. This is significant because by the early 1960’s the killings appear to have stopped in Texas and the south. At that same time, however, strikingly similar cases crop up in the northeast. Suitcases may indicate travel and the killer may have picked up stakes and moved to greener pastures.

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