Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The mobile torture chamber of serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades

Nailed, and New Murders


Robert Ben Rhoades. Police photo.

While the pictures were the first serious connection between Rhoades and Regina, Rhoades’ driving logs were also damning. He’d been in the same areas where the mysterious phone calls had been placed to the parents. Though authorities had suspected that he’d indeed been “doing this for 15 years” as he’d so chillingly told Lisa Pennal, they weren’t able to yet to pin the series of skeletal remains along the various interstates on Rhoades.

But when Rhoades, who was in prison in Arizona doing time for the kidnapping was shown the list of evidence that would be presented in court for Regina Walters’ trial, he agreed to a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. Special Agent Mark Young told the Tucson Weekly: “We’re positive he’s killed before. Killers like Rhoades often pick on vulnerable, anonymous people who won’t be reported missing immediately. The skeletal bodies are found and nobody knows what really happened.” Young told the paper that he believed that Rhoades was kidnapping and/or murdering as many as three women a month in the early 1990s — having accelerated his pace.

With no incentive to tell the police about the rest of his crimes, Rhoades been enjoying life in prison in Texas until recently, when he was charged with the murders of two more people: Patricia Candace Walsh and her husband Scott Zyskowski. According to ABC News,  the duo were from the Seattle, Washington area and were newlyweds when they embarked on an ill-advised cross country road trip as religious missionaries in November 1989 (mere months before the kidnapping and torture of his previously known victims, Regina Walters, Shana Holts, and Lisa Pennal). The husband’s body was found first in 1990 — in Ozona, Tex., but wasn’t identified for two years. His wife’s body was found several months later, an indication that she had been tortured longer than her husband.

Again faced with the overwhelming evidence, Rhoades, now 65, chose to avoid a jury trial and pled guilty to the crimes in March, 2012. He got two more life sentences added to the one he is already serving. Though it is believed that he was very prolific, it’s possible we’ll never know the true number of people he killed and tortured.

“That was the problem with him,” Steve Smith, first assistant for the 112th District Attorney’s office in Texas, told ABC News, “He was on the interstate everywhere.”




Sadistic Killers, by Carole Anne Davis, 2007

Roadside Prey, by Alva Busch, 1996.

“Dead End,” Tucson Weekly, 1996.

The Evil That Men Do: FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood’s Journey into the Mind of Sexual Predators, 1998.

“Robert Ben Rhoades,” paper by Sarah Stallard, Kelsey Lawson, Erin Laird, and Jackie Wood. Department of Psychology Radford University Radford, VA 24142-6946


Originally published May 22, 2012

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