Kentucky Arrest Warrants – Case Study: Murder?one Jurisdiction at a Time: the Case of Robert Ben Rhoades

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Case Study: Murder?one Jurisdiction at a Time: the Case of Robert Ben Rhoades

The case of Robert Ben Rhoades serves as an excellent example of the type and nature of case to which VICAP’s services would provide critical assistance and support. Rhoades is considered one of the most dangerous and notorious serial sex offenders and killers in the United States. Some investigators believe that he is responsible for at least 50, but possibly hundreds, of deaths. However, he has only been convicted of one homicide, for which he is serving a life sentence.

Rhoades was a professional long-haul truck driver, and his case dramatically demonstrates the sophistication of a criminal predator who can effectively defy law enforcement by taking advantage of fragmented law enforcement efforts, disconnected and detached data resources, and inconsistent investigative approaches.

On April 1, 1990, Trooper Mike Miller, an Arizona highway patrolman, observed a semi-tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of I-10. As Miller approached the vehicle to offer assistance, he looked inside the 18-wheeler and observed a bound, nude, white female in the sleeper berth of the cab. A horse-type bit and bridle was in the mouth of the terrified victim, who was chained to the interior of the truck. Also in the sleeper berth was Robert Ben Rhoades, who, when surprised by the trooper’s advance, immediately exited the truck and tried to convince Miller that nothing was wrong. Rhoades stated that the events being discovered were consensual and a private matter.

While Miller tried to sort through the situation, he placed Rhoades under arrest, at which time he discovered Rhoades was in possession of a loaded .25 Caliber automatic pistol (Brandel, 1966). Rhoades was placed in the trooper’s vehicle and secured with a seat belt. By the time Miller had checked on the victim and returned to the squad car, Rhoades had managed to get the seat belt off and slip his handcuffed hands in front of him. Miller asked Rhoades if he had a handcuff key, to which Rhoades affirmatively replied. Miller took the key, re-cuffed Rhoades behind his back and through his belt, and stayed with him until backup officers arrived at the scene to assist.

After the terrified victim (later identified as Lisa Pennal) was released, she recounted her story of abduction and torture. She stated that she had accepted a ride with Rhoades at a coffee shop in Buckeye, Arizona. Although Pennal was difficult to interview and spoke in fractured sentences, the investigators learned of her transient lifestyle and current drug abuse. The investigator noted that though she was dressed in a skirt and shirt, on her feet she wore only slippers designed like a cartoon tiger.

The victim indicated that she had fallen asleep in the sleeper berth, only to awake as Rhoades was placing handcuffs on her wrists and ankles. She stated that Rhoades beat her with a whip, attached a chain around her neck, and attached spring-type clips to her nipples and vagina. It was unclear how long Rhoades had kept Lisa Pennal in this torture chamber, but the physical injuries on her body indicated that several events of whipping and torture occurred. During this ordeal, Rhoades told Pennal that he had been doing this to girls and women for 15 years.

Even though Rhoades was handcuffed and in custody, he remained calm. He made light of the mental capacity of the victim and tried to get the investigator to sympathize with him as he described her as the aggressor in the event, referring to her as a “lot lizard.” Alva Busch quotes Rhoades in the book Roadside Prey: “‘I can tell you, this girl is not playing with a full deck,’ laughed Rhoades, as if someone had told a joke . . ‘She ain’t wrapped too tight,’ chuckled Rhoades, ‘you don’t screw around with the women on the road. Not unless you want your dick to drop off, okay? . . . She wanted to go to bed. . . . I was dragging anchor. She was going back to bed.’ I said, ‘Go ahead.’ She started taking off her clothes, and I said, ‘What the $%^& and I let her’” (1996, pp. 58–62).

The victim, who was hysterical at times, showed evidence of sustained physical and sexual abuse, corroborating her story of captivation. Rhoades’ explanation began to fall apart as investigators discovered large amounts of bondage-type pornography and sexual assault materials in his truck. Rhoades’ account was not supported by the clues.

During the subsequent investigation, search warrants were executed on the cab of the semi-tractor truck and on Robert Ben Rhoades’ residence in Houston, Texas. The results of the searches revealed a briefcase containing whips, handcuffs, spring-type clips, a dildo, various items of women’s clothing, miscellaneous paperwork, and several photographs of a young white female in various poses, both nude and partially dressed.

There were Polaroid photographs of several women inside “open-roofed” vehicles, apparently taken from inside the trucker’s cab as the women passed him on the highway. These photographs were seized from Rhoades’ Houston apartment. There were also photographs of one particular victim (a teenage girl) in the sleeper berth of the trucker’s cab, in the outdoors, and in an abandoned barn-type structure. In this particular set of photographs, the victim was handcuffed, chained, and posing with a dildo and had the spring-type clips attached to her nipples.

The teenager in the photographs remained unidentified as far as the Robert Ben Rhoades case was concerned. Then, on September 29, 1990, the decomposed body of a young female was found in an abandoned barn near Greenville, Illinois. The cause of death was determined to be ligature strangulation. The victim was later identified as 14-year-old Regina Walters. Walters was reported as a runaway from Pasadena, Texas, nearly 8 months before her remains were discovered. At the time of the initial missing persons report, Walters had been in the company of an 18-year-old white male named Ricky Lee Jones. The two were reportedly hitchhiking to New Mexico. Ricky Lee Jones has not been located as of this writing.

Interestingly, the investigators working on the Rhoades case and the investigators working the Walters case in Texas and Illinois were each working independently of one another. Finally, through teletype and national databases, they started working together.

Tragically, Robert Ben Rhoades would remain a “single episode” until September 28, 1991, when he would be tied to the death of Regina Kay Walters. There were no photos of Ricky Lee Jones in Rhoades’ collection, but there was a journal entry in a small notebook found in Rhoades’ possession at the time of his arrest that states, “Ricky is a dead man” (Evidence, 1990). Police also recovered several items of clothing that belonged to Walters in the possession of Robert Ben Rhoades (1990).

Reflecting on the comment Rhoades had made that he had been “doing this for 15 years,” investigators looked more closely into his trucking records. They discovered that the murderous trucker had traveled extensively from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the East Coast of New Jersey. He specifically traveled through Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida (Evidence, 1990).

Suddenly, the many missing persons, unidentified bodies, and unsolved homicide cases in each of those states took on new meaning. Law enforcement agencies began to share information about similar crimes and victims more generously than at any time before the incident. Since the Rhoades case broke, there have been many missing persons and unsolved homicide cases that have been attributed to Rhoades, but he has only been prosecuted for the death of Regina Walters.

This “single episode,” while not forgotten, joined the huge caseload of Detective Susan Trammell, receiving less investigative attention as leads cooled and time passed. During this same period of time, Rhoades continued to travel from one state to another. As the Rhoades saga progressed, information was discovered about another victim named Shana Holts, from January of 1990, who came into contact with Rhoades at a truck stop in San Bernardino, California.

Shana Holts escaped Rhoades’ torture and reported the terrifying incident, mirroring the events that Trooper Miller uncovered. Holts was so terrified of Rhoades that when she was faced with the prospect of identifying him after fleeing his vehicle, and then of having to testify against him, she declined to cooperate any further and the case was dismissed.

Other similar situations were discovered as time went on. Law enforcement agencies in many different parts of the United States had criminal abductions and possible homicide charges against Rhoades based on comparisons and travel routes. In each of those incidents, the individual agencies initially believed they were dealing with a single event, pertaining only to their jurisdiction. It was not until the final chapter of the Rhoades saga was written that each agency came to realize that its “single event” was the work of a sadistic serial rapist and murderer.

The Rhoades case has helped law enforcement agencies across the United States to see, in graphic detail, the value of cooperating, communicating, and coordinating their efforts in solving difficult criminal cases. If better information sharing and coordination had occurred, it might have dramatically reduced the number of victims who fell prey to Robert Ben Rhoades (Cooper & King, 2001).

This case is reviewed in more dramatic detail in the recently published book Predators: Who They Are and How to Stop Them (Cooper, King, & McHoes, 2007). Additionally, it is cited as a case methodology reference in the second edition of Analyzing Criminal Behavior II (Cooper & King, 2001). Another thorough review of the case is presented in the true crime novel Roadside Prey (Busch, 1996).

References

Cooper, G. M, King, M. R., & McHoes, T. (2007). Predators: Who they are and how to stop them. Amherst, NY: Prometheus.

Cooper, G. M. & King, M. R. (2001). Analyzing criminal behavior and victimology: Predators. Odgen, UT: IQ Design: Institute of Investigative Science.

Busch, A. (1996). Roadside prey. New York: Pinnacle Books.

The People of the State of Illinois v. Robert Ben Rhoades, No. 5-98-0821, (5th District Appellate Court of Illinois. July 13, 2001). n

THE FORENSIC EXAMINER Winter 2007 www.acfei.com

In the last issue, Greg Cooper wrote about the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP), explaining its purpose and mission. In this issue, he presents a case study exemplifying how VICAP can help solve crimes.

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s Mugshot of Robert Ben Rhoades

(800) 423-9737 Winter 2007 THE FORENSIC EXAMINER

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States in which Rhoades was a suspect in killings

Arizona: The only state in which Rhoades was convicted

The Rhoades case has

helped law enforcement

agencies across the

United States to see, in

graphic detail, the value of

cooperating, communicating,

and coordinating their

efforts in solving

difficult criminal cases.”

In March of 1991, the Illinois State Police received this letter from Regina Walters’ mother:

Dear Sir:

In September 1990, the police in Illinois found the remains of Regina Kay Walters. She disappeared February 3, 1990, from Pasadena, Texas. She was only fourteen years old at the time, and my only daughter. At this time the police have not yet brought to justice the person who has done this to my child. Even though we did not live in Illinois, this case should still be kept open. No child’s death should be given up. It could happen again.

At that time, the police in Illinois asked us to keep this out of the media. We have done that and more. Just because you haven’t heard from us doesn’t mean we don’t care. We were trying to give you time to find Regina’s killer. Please don’t give up. What if it was one of your children? You couldn’t rest, knowing there is someone out there who took someone you loved, and don’t ever think we didn’t love Regina, because she was very much loved. So please don’t quit looking for the killer of Regina Kay Walters.

Sincerely,

Carolyn S. Walters

(Busch, 1996, pp. 137–138)

About the Author

ISBN 978-1-59102-506-1

THE FORENSIC EXAMINER Winter 2007 www.acfei.com

Greg Cooper, MPA, FBI (retired), Chief of Police (retired), started his criminal profiling career in 1986 with the FBI, Seattle Division. Just a couple of years later, he was promoted to field coordinator for the Criminal Profiling Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, and then in Los Angeles, CA. In 1990 he was promoted to profiler with the Quantico unit, where he taught several classes at the FBI’s prestigious National Academy and supervised VICAP. In 1995, Cooper became the chief of police in Provo. Currently, he enjoys instructing courses and serving as an expert witness.

(800) 423-9737 Winter 2007 THE FORENSIC EXAMINER – published by Robert L. O’Block

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