Multiple serial killers are still stalking our highways, expert warns (2024)

AMERICA'S long-haul trucking industry is home to multiple active serial killers who are stalking roads and capitalizing on blind spots to kill women and evade detection, a retired FBI agent warns in a new book.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director of the FBI for 25 years, told The U.S. Sun he was floored to learn there have been at least 850 murders along America’s highways over the past few decades.

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Of those cases, more than 200 are unsolved and the bureau currently has a list of roughly 450 different suspects.

According to Figliuzzi, almost all of the victims are sex-trafficked women who are often picked up at truck stops in one jurisdiction, raped and murdered in another, and then dumped at the side of a highway in a third.

"These serial killer truckers are exploiting the seams in law enforcement jurisdictions," said Figliuzzi.

"Essentially, their trucks are 18-wheel, mobile, crime scenes.

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"Further, there is often no ID left on the victims, and it can take decades before police can attach a name to a body.

"There's also the issue of family members not even realizing their loved one is missing, let alone murdered. As a natural survival mechanism, some families have to distance themselves from a loved one who has repeatedly been arrested for prostitution, overdosed on drugs, and generated so much trauma.

"That sometimes means there is no one demanding updates from the police, or even searching for the missing trafficking victim.

"I'm certain there are missing and murdered trafficking victims who are yet to be discovered."

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The crisis of serial killer truck drivers is so pervasive that the FBI opened a special unit, the Highway Serial Killings Initiative, to track these murders and investigate any potential links between them.

There are currently 25 long-haul truck drivers behind bars for serial murder –but investigators believe there are multiple others still out there, yet to be snared, Figliuzzi says.

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"Despite the fact that 25 long haul truckers are already in prison for murders, this still hasn't cleared all the unsolved cases, nor stopped the ongoing crimes.

"Serial killers don't simply stop killing - it would be unusual for that to happen.

"So, if there are 200 unsolved murders and 450 suspects, it's safe to say that we have multiple serial killer truckers amongst us. [But] It would be speculation to guess how many are out there."

A SHOCKING INVESTIGATION

In his new book, Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers, Figliuzzi explores the ominous underworld of killer truck drivers and what drives them to murder.

To get a real sense of the long-haul lifestyle, Figliuzzi rode along with a flatbed trucker, identified only as "Mike," for over 2,000 miles, for days on end.

The experience exposed Figliuzzi to the extraordinary mental and physical challenges faced by truckers, with drivers isolated and sedentary for long periods, which makes maintaining a healthy lifestyle particularly difficult.

There is no simple answer to explain why long-haul truck driving is the number one job for serial killers, but Figliuzzi believes the hermitic and nomadic trucker lifestyle can be a contributing factor.

"I do ask the 'nature or nurture' question in Long Haul," said Figliuzzi.

"Clearly, the making of a serial killer is a complex process, often involving a blend of genetic, mental, and environmental conditions.

"In some of the trucker-killer's backgrounds, there is also horrific abuse at the hands of one or more parents or family members, though not always.

"Some serial killers share an anti-social personality, even misanthropic mindsight, so they seek out a career that affords them isolation and less human engagement.

"Then, once they're on the job, they realize they can get away with almost anything. This is when their deep-seated issues, particularly violent tendencies toward women, rise to the surface.

"It's no surprise that long-haul trucking is the number one profession of serial killers. No other job even comes close."

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While researching for his book, Figliuzzi spoke with several trafficked victims who survived violent encounters with truckers.

The women told him that their most violent encounters occurred with truckers who abused alcohol and drugs, including meth and cocaine.

"They also noted the inability to maintain a relationship with a woman as something they felt was an indication of possible issues with women that could manifest as violence," Figliuzzi said.

"A history of violence against women is a red flag. Yet, it's important to note that there are exceptions to any theories we might want to cling to.

"Independent owner-operators, as opposed to drivers for the big-name trucking corporations, tend to be less tracked through technology - if at all, and therefore feel greater freedom to kill."

IN THE SHADOWS

The FBI launched the FBI Highway Serial Killings Initiative in 2004 after an Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation analyst noticed a trend of dead bodies being dumped along the Interstate 40 corridor spanning four states.

The HSK database subsequently mapped the locations where hundreds of bodies were found, with the trail of killings spanning across the United States.

According to Figliuzzi, the FBI has documented data on these murdered women back to at least the 1980s, however, a large number of those victims have still not been identified.

And truck driver killings are still happening at a frightening rate today, albeit slower than in the 1990s and 2000s.

Five of the most notorious trucker-killers

Robert Ben Rhoades: Rhoades prowled the highways of Texas and Illinois, picking up hitchhikers and murdering them in his long-haul truck in a murderous spree lasting 15 years, between 1975 and 1990.

Rhoades turned the cab of his truck into a torture chamber, with handcuffs hanging from the ceiling, where he chained up and tortured his victims before killing them.

He was arrested in 1990 and is suspected of having killed more than 50 people.

Edward Surratt: Between 1977 and 1978, over two dozen individuals were randomly murdered along the highways of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

While driving across the states, Surratt would break into homes inhabited by couples, killing the male instantly, and then kidnapping, raping, and murdering the female.

He was snared in 1978 after raping a mother and daughter in front of the woman's husband, who was bound.

Investigators believe he may have been responsible for 18 murders.

In 2007, he confessed to six unsolved killings in Ohio.

The Happy Face Killer: Keith Jesperson was a Canadian-born truck driver whoraped and killedprostitutes across the highways of the United States and Canada between 1990 and 1995.

After his crimes failed to receive much media attention, Jesperson started writing taunting letters to the police and press, signing them with a smiley face.

He was arrested in 1995 after killing his girlfriend. He was convicted of eight murders but claims to be responsible for over 160.

The Redhead Killer: Between 1978 and 1992, numerous women with red hair were murdered along major highways in Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

The exact victim count isn't known, but the number of dead is believed to range from six to 14.

Earlier this year a group of students at a Tennessee high school found a pattern in six of the 12 to 14 murders attributed to the spate of killings and even helped identify one of the victims, Tina McKenney-Farmer.

McKenney-Farmer was found dead on January 1, 1985. Her strangled and bound body was discovered along Interstate 75.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation linked DNA found at the crime scene to Jerry Johns, who died in prison in 2015, where he was serving time for the attempted murder of he picked up, strangled, and then dumpedalong Interstate 40 in 1987.

Joe Metheny: In the mid-1990s, Joe Metheny, killed two prostitutes, dismembered their remains, and stored their body parts in his freezer.

After his arrest, he claimed to have mixed human flesh with hamburger meat and sold it to customers at his hamburger stand.

Metheny claimed to be a cannibal. His killing spree began around the time his wife left him, taking full custody of their son.

One of the high-profile cases explored by Figliuzzi in his book is the crimes of Robert Benjamin Rhoades, otherwise known by the moniker the Truck Stop Killer.

Rhoades is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of two teenagers but is suspected of having tortured, raped, and killed more than 50 others between 1975 and 1990.

One of his victims was 14-year-old Regina Walters, whom he kidnapped as she was hitchhiking along a road in Texas.

Rhoades raped and brutalized Walters over a series of weeks before murdering her in an abandoned barn.

It was the brutal killing of Walters that stood out to Figliuzzi as one of the most shocking parts of his investigation.

"The sheer evil and cruelty of these killers is shocking," he said.

"During my FBI career, I saw a lot of horrific crime scenes but these trucker-killers are particularly gruesome in the way they carry out their evil against their victims.

"[Rhoades] hung Regina from fish hooks inside his rig, and even called her father to tell him, "I've made some changes. I cut her hair".

"Rhoades took a photo of Regina before he killed her. That photo, with Regina pleading for her life, is ghastly."

Figliuzzi said Rhoades' crimes are the perfect example to show how killer truck drivers take advantage of passing through different jurisdictions to make it harder to find their victims and harder for law enforcement to investigate.

Also profiled in Long Haul are the infamous Redhead Murders, which remain unsolved but are believed to have been carried out by a trucker named Jerry Johns.

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Another featured case is that of Timothy Vafeades, the so-called Vampire Trucker, who kept six women as sex slaves in his semi-trailer, where he raped, abused, tormented, and beat them while he drove across the country.

Figliuzzi said with trucker killings there isn't always necessarily a sexual component to the crimes.

He shared, "There are two types of serial killers. The first type is all about controlling the outcome; they like power and control.

"That means they take their time to prolong the abduction, raping, and torture of a victim before they kill her. Sometimes, the sad*stic torture and rape of one victim can go on for several weeks before they are murdered.

"The second type is all about ending a life. Those people kill quickly and get their thrills from snuffing out a life. Seldom does that type of killer engage in sex with a victim."

TIME FOR CHANGE

Figliuzzi stressed that the vast majority of long-haul truck drivers are decent, hard-working people who are simply trying to put food on the table for their families.

The trucking industry is also the lifeblood of the American economy, raking in $850bn in gross freight revenue last year alone.

"Grocery stores would run out of food in three days if truckers stopped trucking. So, thankfully, we're only talking about a fraction of truckers who kill," Figliuzzi said.

"I came away from my journey on the road very impressed with modern trucking and today's truckers. In fact, I partially dedicated my book to the stalwart American trucker."

As for the conversations that he hopes his book will spark, Figliuzzi wants trafficked victims to be treated more sympathetically and for more safeguards to be put in place to stop bad actors from infiltrating the trucking industry.

"The days of arresting a trafficked victim and treating them as a criminal should be over," he shared.

"The strong partnerships are the ones where the police tell a victim - 'We're not arresting you tonight. We are partnered with a social agency that wants to know what you need right now to walk away from the trap of trafficking.' Those partnerships work.

"Arresting a victim simply gets her right back to her pimp who becomes the hero when he bails her out of jail."

Figliuzzi continued, "As for trucking, I would advocate mandatory GPS trackers on all long haul trucks - even the independent owner-operators or medium-sized companies.

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"We need better vetting of trucker applicants as well. We should treat long haulers like the essential workers they are, with better pay, and health and wellness programs and incentives."

Long Haul: Hunting the Highway Serial Killers is now available for purchase in the US and the UK.

If you or someone you know is affected by any of the issues raised in this story, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Multiple serial killers are still stalking our highways, expert warns (2024)

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