Bobby Joe Long showed no mercy in abducting, sexually assaulting, and killing at least 10 women. The actual number of Long’s victims could be as high as 50. With investigators closing in on him, Long could have continued raping and killing for at least some more time, had he not released a woman after sexually assaulting her for 26 hours, which helped the investigators get to Long sooner. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of one of America’s most gruesome serial killers.
Flying parachutes made of plastic bags in a wide, green, grassy field had always been a wonderful way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon for the two Tampa Florida boys until May 13, 1984, when, drawn by the peculiarly foul smell, they ended up making a discovery that would stay with them for the rest of their lives. The stench had led them to the nude body of a young woman lying concealed in the weeds by the roadside with her wrists tied behind her back. A rope had been tied around her neck and there were several bruises all over her body. Later, the medical examination of the body revealed that she had been brutally raped and had been dead for three days. The cause of death was strangulation.The strangest thing about the body was the way it had been positioned, which indicated that it was not a run of the mill murder. It looked like the body had been deliberately placed with the woman’s legs spread around 5 feet apart from heel to heel. From the evidence point of view, there was very little left for the investigators. A cloth tied in a knot found near the body, and the tyre tracks on the scene were the two things that the investigators took careful note of. A plastic cast was made to preserve the impression of the tyre marks in three dimensions so as to help find an exact match, if possible, by comparative analysis of the make and size of the tyres to ascertain the kind of car the offender might have been driving at the time of committing the crime.
The crime had been brutal and the offender had shown scant fear of the law, which made the investigators think that this might not be the first or the only crime committed by this unknown suspect. He or she had most likely killed before, and the killer was not about to stop. So, it was time for the investigators to move quickly before another body turned up somewhere. The local investigators immediately got in touch with the forensics laboratory of the FBI in Washington, D.C. for assistance and had the evidence hand-delivered to the laboratory to expedite the analysis.
The FBI’s forensics laboratory has experts on nearly all kinds of evidence, including fibre, fabric and knots. The knot experts analyzed the knot that secured the wrists of the victim behind her back. The knot had been taken off the victim’s wrists intact so that it could be analyzed. A specialized knot could reveal that the offender was a marine or had military background. But the knot in this case was a regular, functional knot that anybody could have tied.
The fibre expert at the laboratory analyzed the cloth found near the body for distinctive evidence from the traces that the killer might have left behind. The cloth was brushed to isolate the particles sticking to the cloth for analysis. The magnifier was used on the particles thus obtained, but the analyst had not hoped for much because given that the body had lain exposed for three days, much of the evidence had most probably been lost to the wind. However, contrary to the expectations, the analyst found a little speck of red nylon fibre, which was tri-lobular with a shiny coat on it. Its size, shape and type indicated that it was a carpet fibre perhaps from the car of the killer, which was good news. However, the investigators made sure that the discovery was kept under wraps because the disclosure of the discovery to the general public could make the killer change the incriminating carpet or take some other measures to ensure that the evidence did not tie him to the crime.
The analysis of the tyre marks revealed that the two tyres were of different brands and were well worn out.
The day after the body was found the victim had been identified by the fingerprints as Lana Long (20), formally Ngeun Thi Long, an exotic dancer from the red light district of Tampa, Florida. The questioning of the girls in the area did not bring back any workable information. Long had been identified by her boyfriend from a picture published in the newspaper, and the boyfriend got in touch with the police. However, after the initial investigation, he was the prime suspect in the case. But the investigators did not have sufficient evidence to connect him to the crime.
Two weeks after Lana Long’s body was discovered, on May 27, 1984, another body was found in eastern Hillsborough County. The victim was, once again, nude and was lying on her back with her wrists bound behind her back with a noose around her neck that had a leash-like extension to it, much like the one found around Long’s neck. But in this case the rope around her neck was tied in a hangman style noose. She had not been dead for long, for the body was still warm when the investigators got there. Since the crime scene was fresh, a lot of undisturbed evidence could be collected. A man’s olive green t-shirt was found with some hair on it. The hair did not belong to the victim. A few feet away, victim’s white pantyhose and her white jumpsuit were found hanging from a bush. Both were covered in blood. Tyre tracks were found on this crime scene as well and the investigators had the tyre impressions cast and sent to the FBI laboratory for examination. The body had several defensive wounds indicating that the victim had not gone down without a good fight. The victim had been beaten, raped and strangled, after which the perpetrator had slashed her throat from ear to ear. Three causes of death were identified by the medical examiner – asphyxiation, head injuries and a slashed throat. Because of the uncanny similarities between the two crime scenes, the detectives had every reason to believe that the two murders had been committed by the same person or persons.
However, the victim remained unidentified for quite some time because no identifying documents were found on the victim. So, her composite drawing was created and was handed over to the media for circulation for the purpose of identification. She was Michelle Denise Simms (22) from California. She was a former prostitute and had been seen talking to two white males close to Kennedy Boulevard at a place known to be frequented by working prostitutes. All evidence collected, including the fibre samples, by the investigators was hand-delivered to the FBI laboratory.
The tyres marks were easily identified as that from Goodyear Viva with the white wall facing inwards. However, the marks from the left rear tyre could not be readily matched because despite FBI’s very well-stocked library of tyre marks, these were not part of laboratory’s reference record, but this could be a blessing in disguise, as it was quite clear that this particular tyre was not all that common and together with the unusual way in which the other tyres were mounted on the vehicle, it could prove to be a valuable piece of evidence connecting the perpetrators to their wrongdoing.
A tyre expert in Akron proved helpful, and it was found that the marks came from a Vogue tyre, which was an expensive brand of tyres and tyres by that brand came only for the Cadillac cars. A Vogue tyre was begotten by the FBI and was elaborately photographed to obtain the details. The fibres collected from the crime scene carried the same kind of red, shiny trilobal nylon fibre as the ones found on Lana Long connecting the two murders. But this time another kind of fibre was also found. It was a red, trilobal fibre with no lustre suggesting that the suspect drove a vehicle with two different kind of carpets, or a carpet made of two different kinds of fibre.
The traces of semen collected from the clothing of Michelle Simms was also sent for analysis and was found to carry the “B” and “H” blood group substances. The information could come in handy to identify the culprit later much like the hair found on Simms clothing, which did not belong to her and almost certainly belonged to her killer. The information regarding the evidence collected and the results of the forensic analyses were shared across the law enforcement agencies involved in investigating the crimes, but no information pertaining to the match of the carpet fibres was passed on so as to not alert the killer and make him change the incriminating carpet or do away with the vehicle itself.
However, Lana Long’s boyfriend, who had been a suspect for the murder of his girlfriend so far, could not be associated with the second murder, which was the handiwork of the same killer. Therefore, for the time being, he was off the suspect list.
From the analysis of the evidence collected at the second crime scene, the investigators had a rough idea of what the culprit was like. The size of the olive green t-shirt suggested that the person was of medium build and chest size, and the head hair found were brown from a male Caucasian. So, the suspect, in all likelihood, was a white man of medium build with brown hair driving a mid-size vehicle with the tyres mounted in reverse, one of which was a Vogue made for the Cadillacs. The depths of the wounds inflicted indicated that the killer had a knife with a three-inch blade.
On June 24, 1984, another body was discovered in an orange grove in south-eastern Hillsborough County, but due to the marked difference in the way the body had been found, the homicide detectives did not think in the beginning that it was the work of the same killer. The body was fully clothed and was in the advanced stage of decomposition with no ligatures anywhere, unlike the previous two victims whose wrists had been bound. However, the detectives still thought it best to send the clothing to the FBI laboratory so as to be doubly sure that this was not the third discovered victim of the same killer or killers. The highly decomposed state of the body made identification impossible and it was only through dental match that the victim’s identity could be known. However, even after she had been identified as Elizabeth B. Loudenback (22), it was difficult to think of her as the victim of the same killer because she did not fit the profile of the killer’s victims. She was not a prostitute and had never been in that trade. She was an assembly line worker. She had been last seen at around 7:00 p.m. on June 8, 1984.
…to be continued