By M.P. Pellicer | Eerie.News
Over 45 years ago, South Florida authorities were realizing they might have a serial killer dumping the bodies of young women along desolate roads and canals at the edge of the Everglades.
When the first body was found in February 1975, police could not imagine what was to follow in the months to come.
Her name was Judith Oesterling, 19. She was originally from Indiana, and went missing on February 1, 1975, after leaving her job at a massage parlor. Two days later, her fully clothed body was found in a South Broward canal, near Andytown located on US-27 and SR-84. She had been severely beaten before being thrown into the water where she drowned. Since she was known to hitchhike, police believed she was killed by someone who offered her a ride.
Andytown was located at a lonely intersection ruled by one traffic light. It started out as a roadside shack in 1947, that only served coffee. By the 1970s, it had evolved into a gasoline station, motel, bar and restaurant that served mostly truckers and fishermen.
It would become an area favored by a stealthy killer who used it as a dumping field, where the weeds, humidity and animals could make his victims disappear or become unrecognizable.
Then Barbara Davis Stephens disappeared on February 12. Her father was the president of the Anchor Electric Co. She'd been estranged from her husband for two months, and moved back to her parent's home. She said she was going to visit a friend in Coral Gables. Her 1973 Chevy Camaro was found in the parking lot of the Gold Triangle store at Dadeland Mall. The keys were still inside the unlocked vehicle. There were traces of blood on the steering wheel.
Stephens' body was discovered on February 20, in a wooded lot behind a grocery store at SW 87th Avenue and Sunset Drive, Miami. She was clothed, except her slacks were pulled down. She was stabbed various times in the abdomen. Police found traces of grass, dust and blood inside her vehicle which indicated her car was used to transport her body before it was abandoned.
Unlike Oesterling, Stephens had been killed in Dade County, which was south of Broward County. However it was a drive that would take less than one hour to complete.
On April 9, 1975, was the last time Arietta Marie "Renie" Tinker was seen alive. She was seventeen and married on October 12, 1973 when she was 16 years old. Her husband dropped her off at 1 p.m. at the Hippopotamus Lounge on Hollywood Beach. She told her husband she would get a ride later, and she was last seen at the Lum's restaurant near Young Circle, barely a mile from her home. Three days later, her body was found in the Snake Creek Canal, close to where Oesterling's body was dumped two months before. She supposedly drowned, and her body did not display any signs of foul play, but it could not be explained how she ended up so far from where she was last seen without a car.
Next was Nancy Lee Fox, 19, who came to South Florida from New York in 1973. She worked as a night waitress at a taco restaurant. She was last seen walking home alone on June 13. It was reported she was hitchhiking. Nancy's body was found in the same canal as Oesterling, which ran parallel to US Highway 27. She'd been hit with a blunt object at the back of her head, then she was choked before being thrown into the water. She was nude and had been sexually assaulted.
Barely a week later, on June 19, friends Barbara Schrieber and Belinda Zetterower, both 14 were found on the banks of a Broward County canal, only a few miles north of Andytown. Their bodies were discovered by a family fishing at the waterway. The girls were supposed to spend the night at a friend's house, but they never made it there. The last person who saw them was a teenager who gave them a ride on his motorbike. This was at Route 441 and Hollywood Blvd.
Both had been shot with a .45 caliber firearm, and due to the blood evidence at the scene, it was believed they were killed there.
The girls were classmates at Attucks Middle School, and later police found out they would lie about going to sleep over at a friend's house, in order to go out without their parent's knowledge.
Soon the police were looking for a young couple who rented an automobile who they believed were connected to the murder.
A 1974 beige Chevrolet Vega was left abandoned at the Airway Rent-a-Car. The cleaning crew found a spent .45-caliber bullet on the floor. The police determined the girls had been shot with a similar weapon.
The auto agency said the car had been rented for only one day by a young woman from out-of-state. A well-dressed young man accompanied her. The car was not returned when it was supposed to, which would have been Thursday, instead it was left abandoned at the lot on Saturday in the pre-dawn hours.
Police found grass and weeds caught in the undercarriage of the auto, which matched the growth where the bodies were left. The car had also been driven 600 miles. Inside noisemakers and a straw hat from the Wreck Bar, a popular bar at the Castaways were found.
Wherever this lead went, it did not produce the killers of the school girls.
Before the month was out Robin Losch, 14, was found in the same watery grave as Belinda and Barbara. On July 10, one of her arms was spotted sticking out from the weedy, canal waters. She'd been seen at a grocery store, and her parents reported her missing when she didn't return from classes at Stranahan High School.
The autopsy indicated she had drowned, but without a vehicle it would have been difficult for her to reach this spot. Marijuana was found in her jean pocket.
Schrieber, Zetterower and Losch were left about 200 yard from were Fox and Oesterling were discovered.
It appeared this waterway located on the western edge of Broward county close to the Everglades, had become the dumping ground for a predator who hunted further east, among the businesses and suburbs.
Ronnie Gorlin, 27, lived in Hallandale Florida. On July 22, 1975. she was supposed to be visiting her mother at Parkway Hospital, however she never arrived. She had gone shopping at the 163rd Street Shopping Center in North Miami Beach. Her nude body was discovered the next day in the Graham Canal at NW 138th St. and 105th Avenue. The cause of death was drowning, but the coroner found she'd been sexually mutilated. There were bite marks on her breasts.
Her rental car was found in the shopping center parking lot with slashed tires.
Elyse J. Rapp, 21, also lived in Hallandale. She was holding down a summer job, and planned to return to her home in Flushing, New York in September. She went shopping on July 30. Like Ronnie Gorlin her rental car, a yellow Vega, was found with a flat tire.
Her landlady called the police when she failed to return to her apartment. She also called Elyse's parents to tell them of her disappearance. A road worker found her body in the same canal as Ronnie Gorlin, by the Capeletti rock pit on NW 138th St. She drowned but she had also been struck in the head and sexually abused. Due to decomposition it was difficult to determine if her genitals had been mutilated like Rapp.
Police believed the killer would offer to help the women after deflating the tires.
The cause of death for both women was listed as drowning, but a knife had been used on both of them.
The women discovered in Broward County had been either shot or bludgeoned in the head. Most had been stripped of clothing and had been sexually molested.
Even though the locations where these women were last seen was in two counties, there was only a distance of approximately 7 miles from the 163rd Street Shopping Center (Dade County) and Young's Circle in Hollywood (Broward County).
It wasn't until the murders of Rapp and Gorlin, that police identified a methodology the killer was using to lure his victims with, and they widened their investigation to include the other murders as possibly the handiwork of the same individual.
Both of the women had been stripped of all clothing except for a single item. The rest of their clothing was never found, and it was theorized the killer could have kept them as a fetish.
The Dade County medical examiner described where the perpetrator was probably in his 20s, white, attractive, well dressed and would be seen as "an all American type". There was even a possibility he was married. However all these traits hid that he was a sexual psychopath.
Detectives however speculated he was a loner, a drifter and a sexual deviant. They even looked at four similar killing in 1974, where the women were victims of the same person.
Women who frequented the 163rd St. Shopping Center were warned about accepting help from strangers posing as Good Samaritans, especially if they found one of their car tires was deflated.
On August 17, 1975, Esmeralda Chaviano Gordon, 24, a schoolteacher was discovered dead on a dirt road close to a canal on SW 56 St and 135 Avenue in Miami. She was shot in the forehead. She was fully clothed and had not been sexually assaulted.
Her husband was Seth Gordon, the administrative aid to then Senator Kenneth Myers. The morning of her death the couple had gone to a garage sale, and in the afternoon Esmeralda decided to go shopping on her own.
Her car was not discovered until a few days later. It was abandoned at the same garage that served the 163rd Street Shopping Center in North Miami where Rapp and Gorlin's autos were found.
The vehicle had been parked there only two hours before it was reported to police. An amateur sleuth, who had heard of the murder, including those of Rapp and Gorlin, decided to see if the vehicle would be found at the parking garage. He was right.
There was dried blood in the front passenger seat and door, enough to lead police to believe she had been shot inside the auto. They could find no other fingerprints that did not belong to her or her husband.
Could the publicity about the murders have forced the killer to change his M.O.?
Later on police believed she was not targeted by the same killer, and at one point looked at her husband Seth Gordon as a prime suspect, but no arrests were ever made concerning her murder.
On October 10, 1975, a skeleton was found in the Everglades covered by muck and grass. The police unfortunately were familiar with this stretch of land. During the past summer, the corpses of four women were discovered only a few miles from the spot. This was the 10th murder. An autopsy found she'd been shot in the head. She was killed 30 to 90 days before the discovery of the remains. She had long brown hair, stood 5' 7" and the medical examiner estimated her age at 15 to 25. Her wisdom teeth hadn't come through so it was believed she was a teenager. Molars in the upper and lower jaw had been extracted. She had no cavities. The police believed she'd been killed elsewhere, stripped of her clothing and then buried in the shallow grave.
Marlene Kingree Annabelli arrived in South Florida on October 17, 1975, for a week-long getaway. She disappeared October 22. Three days later, in a desolate field off SW 163rd Ave and Griffin Road, the smell of death announced where Marlene's body lay hidden by pieces of wood. A motorcyclist saw part of her body among the tall weeds before he ran off to notify police.
The petite young woman was strangled to death by a rope, and had been pummeled savagely in the abdomen. She was fully clothed and there was no sign of sexual assault.
She had no known enemies or led a risky lifestyle. She was a secretary who lived in Pennsylvania. The police had no leads as to who killed her.
Her estranged husband came from Pennsylvania to identify her body but couldn't do so because of the state of decomposition, however dental records and fingerprints confirmed her identity.
All ten murders were unsolved, and only two were definitely connected, Gorlin and Rapp, who were found in the same canal south of the Dade-Broward county line, and whose cars were abandoned in the same garage with flat tires
Mary Coppola, 15, a sophomore at South Dade High School in Homestead, Florida disappeared September, 1975. She lived with her parents and six siblings.
She didn't come from a broken home, was an average student, and this would have been her first year in high school, which many teenagers mark as an important event in their lives. Mary was an introvert, however based on interviews with some of her friends she was leading a double life. She had run away in August, and found at a nearby Burger King by her mother. Her parents had sought counseling for her, but perhaps they didn't know the extent of Mary's insistence of putting herself at risk.
While she attended Redland Middle School, she was seen with a man in his late twenties, who often picked her up from the school bus stop, and dropped her off at school. Not only was the difference in age a problem, but it was reported he was a drug pusher at the school as well.
Her skeletal remains were found on January 1, 1976, by hunters in an area close to the Everglades at the county line between Monroe and Dade. Her bones were dispersed, and she lay about 20 feet from a canal with a road that ran next to it. There was no sign of trauma to her remains. It was estimated she died shortly after her disappearance. There was no way to run a toxicology test to verify if she had died from an overdose.
It seemed the holiday season had rung in with the discovery of human remains, which further complicated the efforts to detect if all these crimes were the handiwork of the same person.
Only a week before Mary's body was found, the hacked remains of two men were discovered. The first was a white male, in his 20s. Two boys fishing in the cooling canals adjacent to a Florida Power and Light substation, found a pair of glasses and a watch in a pool of blood. The body was mutilated. The hands were cut off at the wrist, and according to the Broward County Medical Examiner there were several deep gashes on the head, perhaps in an attempt to decapitate him.
Then in Dade County, close to where Mary Coppola's body would be found a few days later, a man's headless body was discovered in a canal on Card Sound Road.
In December 1975, the decomposed body of a younger woman was discovered in an area of Broward County known as Sunshine Ranches. The medical examiner estimated she was killed in October. She was white, had brown hair, stood 5'5" and weighed approximately 120 pounds. Because of the extent of decomposition the examiner couldn't determine how she was killed, and whether she was raped. She was fully clothed but her pants were ripped. Like others she was left about 35 feet from a gravel road, and like the Jane Doe found in the Everglades in October, the police did not link these murders to the others.
Seven months later, the man found by Florida Power and Light substation was identified as Jeffrey Warner, a former student at the University of Miami. He had disappeared in September 1975, two days before he was set to face narcotics charges in New York. He was shot three to four times before his body was found, indicating he'd been hiding out for three months. Police believed he was in over his head with members of a drug ring. He case remained unsolved though.
The 12th and final victim according to authorities was Michelle Andrea Winters. She was 17, and had dropped out of high school. She worked as a waitress for three weeks before she was fired.
Michelle had moved out from her parent's house, and in with an older sister Joanne, then left there once her sister went back to her college in northern Florida.
Her parents wintered in Fort Lauderdale and then went to Toronto during the summer.
Shortly before her disappearance on December 30, Michelle was described by her few friend as depressed, and said she wanted to join the Navy.
Two men gathering firewood found her body in Snake Creek Canal on January 11, 1976. This was a wooded area off Pembroke Pines in western Broward County close to the notorious US 27. She was wearing a shirt, jeans, but her shoes were missing. The Broward County Medical Examiner determined she'd been strangled with the strap of her handbag. A scarf was tied around her throat as well. She'd been in water 2 or 3 days. There was no evidence of sexual assault. She was still wearing her ring, bracelet and gold chain which were identified by her father.
Michelle unfortunately was known to hitchhike around town, and her mother had frequently warned her against doing this. No doubt she went willingly with her killer.
At some point during the investigation, authorities looked to find a pattern from other states.
Police found that up to 33 murders in California, Washington and Utah were very similar to the Dade-Broward murders.
The women were all white, under 30 years of age, had long hair and pierced ears. A single item, jewelry or clothing was left on each body. All victims were dumped near or in bodies of water.
Twelve California murders that fit the same pattern ended in December 1973. Then nine murders were committed through mid-1974 in Washington.
The next state to experience a rash of murders was Utah, then Colorado which ended in March of 1975.
Could this be the same perpetrator that made his way across the country?
Only the murder of Judith Oesterling was solved.
In October 1975, Sue Jane "Tiger Sue" Walter, 22, confessed to murdering Oesterling on January 25. She operated the massage parlor where the victim worked.
She said her boyfriend Clarence "Deacon" Carnivale, 28, took Oesterling to the C-9 canal. She described where he beat her with a rock and fists, then he bound her hands and feet and threw her in the canal after raping her. The motive was because Oesterling had resisted Carnivale's sexual advances. She said fear of her boyfriend had made her keep quiet about the murder.
In a strange twist, Carnivale was shot to death on June 13, in the back yard of his home in Miami. He had been arrested several times on felony charges, including a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. His record stretched all the way back to 1964. His murder was never solved.
Sue Jane Walter was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of second degree murder. She had helped Carnivale, rape and murder Oesterling.
Despite the resolution of the Oesterling murder, questions still persisted if there was more than one person murdering women in South Florida.
Was this the same perpetrator who was responsible for the death of Joanne Weiss, 14, who was found dead in 1973? Her final resting place was a watery grave in a canal by the Miami International Airport. Police believed she was picked up, raped and murdered as she walked along 79th street, well known as a stretch were prostitutes cruised along Biscayne Blvd.
The Dade county Medical Examiner believed there was enough links between the cases to indicate the same perpetrator. Mental health professionals described a profile of a man who had a severely dysfunctional relationship with his mother, lover or wife. He was possibly schizophrenic, and would increase in violence as time passed.
Or perhaps this was a sane psychopath, who knew when to quit town, and move on to other states, where the police had to start from scratch. He knew already how much time this could buy him before authorities suspected they were searching for the same devil, but by different names such as The Flat Tire Killer, The Canal Killer, The Tooth Fairy Killer, and the South Dade Serial Killer. Did he indeed have the last laugh?
Sources - The Orlando Sentinel, The Miami News, The Tampa Tribune, The Fox Lubbock Avalanche Journal, Playground Daily News, Ft Lauderdale News
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