The dog days of summer arrived hot and humid in South Louisiana—the air thick and sticky, encouraging residents to relax, to take life a little more slowly. But the summer of 2002 was different. This summer, there was an added tension palpable in the air. A nervousness. Husbands feared for their wives, mothers for their daughters. And for themselves. The killer could be watching.
Reports filtered out about an exorbitant amount of unsolved cases involving missing and murdered women in the Baton Rouge area during the last ten years. That number would be touted as in the thirties, but later the public would discover that since 1985, more than sixty cases of missing and murdered women remained unsolved. Rumors began flying.
The killer was a white male in a white Chevy pickup truck.
The killer liked dark hair.
The killer attended LSU.
The killer was a professor at LSU.
The killer had sought out all of the victims at The Caterie, a college bar at the intersection of Stanford Avenue and Acadian Thruway.
The killer was a police officer.
The killer played a tape recording of a baby crying outside of his victims’ doors. That’s how he got in.
The killer worked at the local BMW dealership.
Everyone knew someone who had seen a man peeping into their windows.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office began hosting classes for women, teaching them how to defend themselves against attacks. Sales of pepper spray skyrocketed; storeowners couldn’t keep it on their shelves.
The Advocate, Baton Rouge’s newspaper, began dividing its headlines between reports on the victims and the investigation and reports on the West Nile Virus, which had begun taking numerous lives in the area. Bumper stickers appeared on the backs of vehicles—Baton Rouge Women, Packing Heat and Wearing Deet.
Men in white trucks no longer smiled at pretty girls while stopped at red lights. Women loaded their guns and learned how to use them. There were no more late night shopping trips to Wal-Mart, no more leaving doors unlocked, no more sitting on porches after dark.
One man had taken control of a city.
Historically, serial killers have always been difficult to catch. Some are caught by a fluke, like in the case of the cannibalistic Jeffrey Dahmer, who was caught when Tracy Edwards escaped his clutches and ran to local police, handcuffs still attached to one wrist. Ted Bundy was pulled over for erratic driving and charged with suspicion of burglary before police realized they had the man who may have been responsible for as many as 100 deaths in custody. Bundy later escaped and killed three more women and attacked two others. Some serial killers simply tire of their game and turn themselves in. Edmund Kemper, who had made friends with officers in the Santa Cruz area, called police to confess, but they wouldn’t believe him. After several attempts to convince them that he was indeed the man they were looking for, Kemper was finally arrested.
Although the United States consists of less than five percent of the world’s population, since 1980, approximately eighty-four percent of all known serial killers have roamed about from sea to shining sea killing for their own perverted pleasure. Nor is serial killing a recent phenomenon. In the 1500s, Erzsebet Bathory hired peasants to work in her castle, then tortured, sexually assaulted, and killed them for the pure pleasure of it. She was the sister of Poland’s king, and because of her status, royals simply looked the other way until peasants became scarce and she turned to the daughters of lesser nobility for her sadistic pleasure. She is known to have bathed in their blood in an effort to retain her youthful beauty. It is thought that she may have killed as many as 650 women, making Bathory one of the most prolific serial killers in history.
With Derrick Todd Lee, the task force in Baton Rouge had its work cut out for it from the start. Todd did not fit much of the profile the FBI created nor did his characteristics, history, or patterns resemble the majority of other serial killers. Only about sixteen percent of all known serial killers are black. Wayne Williams, of the Atlanta Child Murders, stands out as the most notorious. A black schoolteacher, Williams terrorized Atlanta during the late seventies and early eighties, killing at least twenty-three children. John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, the D. C. snipers who lived in Baton Rouge and began their killing spree in their home town, brought notoriety to the city through shooting innocent motorists. The public was shocked to discover that the men were black. Coral Eugene Watts was another black killer who confessed to thirteen murders that had occurred throughout the seventies. But typically, black men do not go on killing rampages. Aware of this fact, the Multi-Agency Homicide Task Force focused only on white men.
The FBI categorizes serial killers as either organized or disorganized. Todd had characteristics of both, which falls into the “mixed” category, a category that was later added when the FBI discovered that serial killers could not be classified so precisely. Todd resembled the organized killer in that he stalked his victims, he planned his attacks, he kept trophies of his conquests. Todd lived with a wife and a girlfriend. He could perform sex in a normal manner. He was mobile and followed the investigation in the newspaper. But most organized serial killers are considered to have average or above average intelligence, they do not leave DNA evidence, and are usually the oldest or an only child. Todd’s IQ was not far above the standard measure of retardation. He did not understand that police could obtain his DNA from his victims. He was the second child. He did not clean up his crime scene, although he did take items that he had touched. And at times he did act on opportunity, such as in the Azalea Rest Cemetery when he attacked the teenagers.
Disorganized serial killers are impulsive. They kill on a whim. These killers usually possess low to average intelligence and are sometimes mentally retarded. They do not handle themselves well in social situations. These killers usually live alone and do not function well sexually. Victims are rarely tied up or tortured, and the disorganized killer does not try to hide the bodies. They cannot keep employment and go through job after job. Stress does not play a role in their attacks.
Todd displayed characteristics of the disorganized killer in that his intelligence level was low, he did not tie up his victims, or take an inordinate amount of time to enjoy the kill like the organized killer would do. He tried to hide Pam Kinamore and Connie Warner’s bodies and has successfully hidden Randi Mebruer’s body to this day. Other possible victims like Eugenie Bonsfontaine, Christine Moore, and Melissa Montz were found weeks or months later. But Geralyn DeSoto, Gina Wilson Greene, and Charlotte Murray Pace were left to be discovered in their homes. The organized killer is cold and calculating, which Todd was, but he was disorganized in his overkill tactics in that when he followed through on his fantasy, he sometimes lost control. Like the disorganized killer, Todd moved from job to job regularly.
Todd did not have distinctive patterns like many serial killers either, although he was territorial, returning over and over to familiar neighborhoods to stalk and kill his victims. His territory, however, spread over more than a hundred miles. He also used a variety of methods to murder the women he chose—sometimes by strangulation, sometimes by stabbing, sometimes using blunt force. He raped some, but not others. His weapons of choice were knives, screwdrivers, phone cords, or his bare hands. His patterns were too undefined to provide police with valuable information about him that could have helped them to connect some of the murders like Geralyn DeSoto and Randi Mebruer sooner.
Another interesting detail is that Todd crossed racial barriers, killing both white and black women, although each resembled the other through having dark hair, light skin, and high cheekbones. The women he chose were educated, what he considered to be high society, and each was motivated to make the most of themselves—the women who would not be attracted to him.