The Creation of a Killer
The healthy man does not torture others—generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers. —Carl Jung
Ralph Jeffries had been a monster from a very young age.
Born to an alcoholic mother and raised with a sexually abusive stepfather, he soon found personal ways to alleviate his demons. At an early age he stole the neighborhood cats and then tortured and killed them. His methods of mayhem became quite inventive. He used fire to burn them and knives to cut them.
Eventually he was bored with cats, and other animals became the object of his deranged mind. Dogs, cows, and horses throughout the small county in South Georgia where he lived were subject to his terror. He cut horses' throats in pastures at night and watched them bleed to death. He beat cows in the head with sledgehammers and watched them die. He dissected dogs while they still breathed.
And when he grew tired of animals he moved on to children. In the first eight years of his adult life, he had abducted, raped, tortured, and killed children from North Florida, South Georgia, and East Alabama. The number was unknown, as he never admitted to any. The simple fact was that during his time in those regions, thirteen kids disappeared. Of the thirteen missing children, eight, or portions of eight, were found while he was in prison.
Eventually convicted of child abduction and assault on a police officer, he was sentenced to fifteen years in Georgia State Prison. He had finally been caught, not by the great detectives and scientists of law enforcment but by a rookie patrolman, who had read his briefings in roll call and simply made note that the intelligence unit of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had noted some information in several child abductions. A dark blue Chevrolet had been seen. There was no further description, just a dark blue Chevrolet.
The rookie cop wasn't yet jaded, and he lived and breathed to catch criminals. It would take years for the young policeman to finally realize that catching them was one thing; keeping them in prison was quite another.
Jeremy Strickland, a twenty-two-year-old Georgia state trooper fresh from the academy, had served six months with his field training officer, learning the ways of the street. After successfully completing his training he was on his own.
For the first time he left roll call a stand-alone officer. To say he was excited was an understatement. He was ready to take on the world of bad guys and put them where they belonged. He was born for it. He felt the way every new officer felt the first time they were on their own. It was a proud moment, and one no officer ever forgets. Trooper Strickland could not wait to "hit the streets" and begin his new career.
Assigned to a section of the southernmost portion of Georgia, he covered four counties that hugged the Florida State line. He was just proud to be a Georgian state trooper. After two years in community college, six months in the academy, and another six in field training, he had earned his badge. He wore it, and his uniform with pride.
The Florida-Georgia border was hot and steamy in August. The moss hung low out from the big oak trees, and the crickets were so loud a man could hardly hear himself think.
At night the air was so still anyone'd pray for a breeze to cool the sweat from just standing outside. On just such an August night Trooper Jeremy Strickland met his first monster.
The August evening so far had been pretty boring. Trooper Strickland had backed his cruiser underneath a large oak across the road from a small convenience store on State Road 111, the old Florida-Georgia highway that ran north to south from Hinson, Florida, to Calvary, Georgia. The young officer began to catch up on paperwork.
It was late; almost three in the morning, when he decided to walk across the road and buy a cup of coffee. The parking lot was empty, as was the store, except for the one clerk, who was obviously happy to see the trooper walk in.
This store sat at a small intersection; there was nothing around it for miles. Over the years it had been the target of several armed robberies, and the night clerks who worked there were always worried about the possibility of another. When the young trooper walked in, the clerk started talking as though his long-lost brother had just come through the door.
"Boy, am I glad to see you! said the man behind the counter. "Only people in here tonight have been drunks and wackos. Sometimes this place scares the hell out of me. What can I get you?"
"Got any fresh coffee?" Jeremy asked, quickly scanning the store. He had been trained to make sure he did not walk into a robbery in progress. Many a cop had been killed doing that. It was not on his top-ten list of ways to die. He watched the clerk's face intermittently as he listened intently. If his eyes didn't reveal they weren't alone, his voice certainly would. Once the trooper was satisfied they were alone, he relaxed a bit and engaged the clerk in conversation.
"Anything in particular scare you tonight?" asked Jeremy, always curious to know what was going on. "Or just the usual?" He began to pour the steaming hot coffee into a large to-go cup.
"Aint nothin' 'usual' in this place. The later it gets the worse it gets. Everything scares me in this place-the location, the customers, and the dark. If I could find another job I'd be gone. But until that happens, I'm here. Got no choice, what with a wife and three kids at home. What are you gonna do? I'd carry a gun in here if I could, but the company won't allow it."
His voice trailed off as he seemed to analyze his own situation. He scratched the stubble of his beard and looked out the window into the night, his thoughts turned to his family. "Won't be much good to them dead if some crazy comes in here and kills me for fifty buck, will I?
The clerk turned and looked back at the young trooper, as if waiting for an answer. Jeremy put three sugars in his coffee, added some cream, and stirred.
"No one's going to kill you, sir, not while I'm around. I go by here all the time. I'll keep an eye on you. Don't worry about it. In fact, I'm parked right across the road, back there under that big tree, and I'll be around while I finish my reports.
With that the trooper took his coffee and exited the store to walk back to his cruiser. The road was dark in all directions, and his car was scarcely visible. The evening had finally cooled a bit, and Trooper Strickland rolled down his windows to listen to the sounds of the night. He settled into his seat to get more comfortable. He sipped his coffee in the darkness of the long Georgia night, and his thoughts returned to the dark blue Chevrolet and the monster that drove it. How he'd like to find that ----, he thought. And kill him.
He kept those thoughts to himself though. It wouldn't be good for the department to know he'd openly like to kill someone. But he would, and most of the other officers would too, he suspected.
Cops were careful about talking about killing, in case they ever had to. That way, an overheard conversation couldn't be thrown back in their faces by some ambulance-chasing defense attorney when they were on the witness stand defending themselves for having eliminated from society what the judicial system wouldn't. But they were all capable of killing. As years went by, they not only became more capable of it, some became comfortable with it.
That's what the job did to all of them. It made them cold. Jeremy had seen it in the older officers, the calloused ones. He hoped he didn't get that way, he thought. Then his thoughts about that came to an abrupt halt.
Trooper Strickland sat straight up in his cruiser. His pulse quickened, and his blood pressure began to rise. Adrenaline started to pump into his bloodstream. His chest tightened. His eyes focused directly across the street as he watched a car pull in. It was a dark blue Chevrolet.
"Georgia 29 to Command," Trooper Strickland whispered into the microphone of the police radio, trying to calm himself.
"Go ahead, 29" responded the man at Command in a slow Southern drawl. "What ya got?"
The man at headquarters was calm, waiting for the young trooper to tell him and all the other troopers listening what he was up to. It had been a real slow night, and boredom had set in a long time ago at headquarters.
As the young trooper began to speak, everyone listening noticed the excitement in his voice. The excitment got others' attention. Cops picked up real quickly on any changes in the tones of their fellow officers' voices. It could tell you a lot of things about what was going on at the other end of the radio.
"Georgia 29-I've got a dark blue, older model Chevrolet. Just pulled into the Stop and Shop on Highway 111, just south of Calvary. It matches the description given at roll call and on our intelligence bulletins as being involved in the kidnappings. I'm parked across the street, unseen as of yet. Please advise."
The young trooper's training and discipline were taking over. Another officer might have sped across the street and confronted the situation, but not Jeremy. He had listened intently as the detectives from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Crime Lab had explained how important it was to use every precaution, both legal and scientific, when and if they ever found the dark blue Chevrolet that had been seen in at least three of the missing children cases.
The car was all they had, and they couldn't lose it to an illegal search or a bad arrest. If this car was in fact involved in the cases, then they had to get it right. No mistakes.
"Hold back and observe. Call for help": that's what the chief of detectives had said. And that's what he would do.
"Command to 29, stand by. All nearby cars proceed to 29's location. Keep us advised of everything you see, 29. Detective Bureau and legal being contacted."
"Ten-four," responded the trooper as he peered through the darkness at the car across the street.
A senior officer, heading toward Jeremy's location, came on the air. "Georgia 10, on the way, approximately eight miles out. Who's closer? he said to all cars.
Several responses came on the air, but it soon became obvious that any help Jeremy might need was at least eight miles away.
The door of the dark blue Chevrolet slowly opened.
He watched the left boot touch the pavement. The man who proceeded to get out pushed the door open with his left hand. Jeremy watched him do something that jolted him. The man turned and looked into the back seat of the car and then yelled. He reached back with his right hand and hit something.
Does he have a dog back there? Jeremy thought. He processed what he saw as fast as his young, inexperienced mind could. He continued quietly speaking into the police radio. His voice was now louder; he spoke faster and faster. He watched the man close the car door and walk into the store. "Keep calm, 29, cars on the way," said Command.
"Georgia 10, five miles out," the senior trooper reported. Trooper Strickland grabbed his binoculars from the front seat and steadied them on his steering wheel as he peered insided the store. He could see the man, a young, white male, unshaven, who looked like he needed a bath, walking around the aisles, the clerk inside nervously watching hi every movement.
He turned the binoculars to the car and struggled to read the tag number for Command to run, but there was just not enough light. He couldn't see andy part of it, let alone get a number.
And he heard a sound. The man didn't have a dog in the car. Dogs didn't cry softly. They whimpered, and this wasn't a whimper. It sounded like a little girl crying.
He quickly turned his binoculars back to the man in the store. He was at the counter making his purchase What was he buying? Jeremy squinted intently through his binoculars, struggling to make out what the man was buying. And then he saw it. A knife! "Who the --- buys a knife at four in the morning?" Jeremy said out loud. Trooper Strickland put his car in gear and quickly began to cross the street.
"Is that all sir? the clerk, visibly rattled by the purschase of the long, sharp fishing knife, asked the customer. He wondered if the cop was still across the street. He also wondered if the knife was for him.
"That's all," said Ralph Jeffries. He never used the same knife for another kill. He always bought a new one in some out of the way place and always discarded it the same way.
Jeffries handed the clerk a ten dollar bill and waited for his change. The register rang, the drawer opened, and the shopkeeper counted out his change. As he did, he looked Jeffries right in the eyes. Please don't kill me, he thought. Please just take the money and go.
Jeffries picked up the knife from the counter. "Thanks," he said, and he turned toward the door. The trooper's patrol car was coming across the street when Ralph Jeffries first saw it. It had no lights on, and he couldn't see who or how many were in it.
His heart started accelerating as he left the store and walked quickly to his dark blue Chevrolet. He wanted to run, but that would be obvious. He panicked, afraid he was losing control.
Trooper Strickland's backup unit was over three miles away. He knew that he could not let this man leave in the dark blue Chevrolet, but what right did he have to stop him?
He thought he heard a little girl's voice, but had he? Everything was going so fast, he had no time to think or to plan. Maybe this is just a coincidence. Maybe I should wait for the senior trooper. The thoughts running through his head whirled. He finally told himself, Stop!
He calmed down and began to think like he had been trained to do. He observed and assessed. And then he did what he'd wanted to do all his life.
He did what real cops did. He put himself in harm's way to ensure the safety of another. Trooper Strickland stopped his patrol car directly behind Jeffries's dark blue Chevrolet, essentially blocking him in. As Jeffries walked toward him, Trooper Strickland saw in the man's eyes that nothing about this was going to be routine.
Then he heard it again. This time there was no question. It was the voice of a little girl. "Please, mister, I want to see my mommy." The voice was muffled, but there was no mistaking it. It came from the back of the dark blue Chevrolet.
"Georgia 29, subject leaving the store. Sounds like a child's voice inside the car. Will make contact momentarily. Request expedited backup." The young trooper's voice was calm. He released the microphone button. His eyes focused on Jeffries.
Every police car within twenty miles had now flicked the switch that would rotate their emergency lights and the one that would start sirens wailing.
They all knew what he had heard. A dark blue Chevrolet, a lone man-he could be anyone, but a child's voice? As the trooper stepped out of his car, Jeffries leapt at him. A brand new fishing knife extending from his right hand, pointing at Strickland. There was no time to pull his gun.
In a moment everything changed. The police radio barked. "Command to 29, Command to 29!" The dispatcher's voice was urgent. He was an old trooper who had patrolled the Georgia highways for over thirty years, until a bullet from a wanted man late at night had cut his spine in half.
No one knew better how quickly things could go bad when an officer was alone lat at night. He was a living example.
"All cars assist Georgia 29!" the old dispatcher demanded. More than thirty police cars were racing toward the store. The radio waves traveled a long way, and a cop in trouble meant there was only one rule to use to help him-there was no rule.
Sirens wailed from as far south as Hinson, Florida, and as far north as Calvary, Georgia, and from every point east and west. Florida state troopers had already crossed into Georgia to help the young officer. Car engines roared as cruisers were pushed to their limits to get to thekid before something happened.
But something bad had already happened. Trooper Jeremy Strickland had met the monster, and the monster's name was Ralph Jeffries.
Trooper Strickland tasted blood before he felt the pain. It was his own blood, and it was filling his mouth. He gripped Jeffrie's shirt at the chest with his right hand, trying to keep him off him but it happened too quickly. In a moment Jeffries had sprung upon him, knocking him backward onto the concrete parking lot.
The back of his head hit hard, and it stunned him. He saw the knife blade, but it was too late. As he thrust his left hand forward to defend himself, the five inch blade was thrust into the left side of his head, entering his upper jaw, slicing open his gums and the upper palette of his mouth.
Strickland was dazed from the pain in the back of his head and the presence of so much blood. Then it seemed that time just slowed down. He looked at Jeffries, trying to hold him off and defend himself. But he couldn't. He just wasn't thinking properly. He was confused.
The back of his head was bleeding profusely where the skull had smashed into the concrete, and he was literally choking on his own blood from the damaging knife cuts to his face and mouth.
He watched Jeffrie's left hand, knife clutched tightly, reared back in preparation for a second deadly blow. Strickland was amazed at how calm he was. without fear.
Jeffrie's left hand was cocked all the way back, illuminated from above by the parking lot light. And then Strickland smelled beer. And Jeffries was gone.
The first backup car was Georgia 10. As he rolled into the parking lot, he saw Strickland on the ground, blood coming out of his mouth.
"Georgia 10, arrival-officer down! Need medics!" His car had barely come to a stop before the trooper exited with gun in hand. Another flashing, wailing police car was directly behind him.
Within minutes, a dozen more arrived. Next to Trooper Strickland was the body of another man, obviously unconscious. The Shop and Go store clerk, in his red uniform shirt with the name Steve sewn into it, stood above him. In his hand was the neck of what had once been a quart of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
The second cruiser screeched to a halt in the parking lot; the wail of the others came closer. Strickland pulled himself up and leaned on his left elbow, in a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. He looked up at the first trooper.
"I think there's a girl in the car." The trooper knelt at his side and eased his head down gently. "Take it easy son, help's on the way. We'll find her." The second trooper was already handcuffing the unconscious Jeffries, as the store clerk rattled out what had happened.
Strickland could hear him as he drifted away. "Just jumped on him, man! I couldn't believe it, just jumped on him with that knife! Never said a word! What's the matter with him? All I could do was grab this quart of beer.
Trooper Strickland looked up at the clerk and mouthed the words, "Thank you." And then they all heard what he heard-the little girl's voice. "Can someone please help me?" The senior trooper yelled to the arriving officers, "See who's in that car!"
Trooper Jeremy Strickland would survive his physical wounds. No one would every really know how damaging his psychological ones were. They would perhaps show up later, in his drinking, or in his nightmares, or in his depression. But they would always be there. It was the dark friend he always had with him.
The little girl, abducted from an open window of her parent's home on a hot Georgia night, would grow up and have a family of her own.