Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The mobile torture chamber of serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades

Robert Rhoades. Prison photo.

From the outside, the big rig truck looked like any other. But inside the rig was a torture chamber. Some serial killers go to great lengths to find victims and bring them back to the kill sites that they’ve carefully constructed.  Robert Ben Rhoades didn’t have the luxury of ensnaring women in his own town. He was a long-haul trucker, who traveled from the eastern edges of the country along the stretches of highway that threaded throughout the South. On the road for weeks or months at a time, he did the sensible thing: he brought his one-man horror show with him.

It is ingenious, really, the trucker-as-serial-killer. Every day, there’s a new crop of lost souls looking for a ride or a temporary companion. At truck stops around the country, “lot lizards” troll the lanes of trucks, looking for a trucker who might be game for a ride.

Rhoades was one of the truckers who opened his cab door to the lot lizards. He needed them, and preyed on them. Young girls hitchhiking were the easiest targets. They were reassured by Rhoades, who was charming and disarming; an ex-military man, he had a sense of authority to him. To some, he seemed almost fatherly, protective. Others found his confidence attractive and fell victim to him.

Inside his truck was a traveling torture chamber. A stained mattress where they would sleep, hooks in the wall where they’d be chained and spread-eagled. In the truck, was a suitcase that Rhoades carried with him at all times—his murder kit.

Many truckers knew him as “Dusty.” His other handle was more apt: “Whips and Chains.”

Among his tools of the trade: an 18-inch double-sided dildo which he used to rape women both anally and orally, a horse bridle he’d shove into his victims’ mouths, handcuffs, a bullwhip, leashes, and an assortment of pins and needles.

Detective Rick Barnhart told the Tucson Weekly in 1996, “He took good care of the contents of that briefcase. There were alligator clips, leashes, handcuffs, whips, pins, and dildos. It was just very well cared for and everything was placed neatly. I knew I had a serial rapist because of all that, and I suspected he might also have killed someone.”

Barnhart was right.

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