Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Natural Born Killers

The Murder of Bill Savage

Hernando, Mississippi is the seat of government for DeSoto County which lies immediately to the south of Memphis. It is a quiet town of less than 7,000 people with a traditional downtown surrounding the courthouse square. To the west are the popular gambling casinos of Tunica County.

Map of Hernando, Mississippi
Map of Hernando, Mississippi

Hernando was the next stop for Sarah and Ben. It was apparently chosen at random, lying just off I-55, as the couple headed south toward New Orleans. According to Sarah's later confession, Ben test-fired the gun in a remote locale after they exited the interstate and was satisfied that it worked. Their next task was to find a victim.

Again, according to Sarah's confession, Ben talked about finding an isolated farmhouse and killing people while she claimed to be opposed to this. She reportedly accused him of fantasizing about the movie but she did nothing to dissuade him from what was apparently his mission. He professed a hatred for farmers and told Sarah this was the place where he would kill.

But it wasn't a remote farmhouse from which the victim would come. It was a cotton mill about two miles south of Hernando that was managed by William "Bill" Savage. A 30-year employee of the plant, Savage had an influential friend, bestselling author John Grisham, who was once an attorney in DeSoto County and was elected to the Mississippi State Legislature. Grisham described Savage as "active in local affairs, a devout Christian, and solid citizen who believed in public service and was always ready to volunteer."

It was around 5:00 on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 7. Bill Savage was alone in his office next to the cotton mill. Sarah and Ben pulled up in the parking lot near the office and entered. Ben had told Sarah to "act angelic" so that whoever was there wouldn't be suspicious of them. Ben asked Savage for directions to I-55 and, according to Sarah, Savage appeared to know they were up to something. As he gave the directions, he came around his desk toward Ben, and Ben whipped out the .38 and shot Savage in the head.

"He (Savage) threw up his hands and made a horrible sound," Sarah later stated in a confession, and for a brief moment, he and Ben grappled. Ben shot him a second time and Ben rummaged through Savage's pockets and took his wallet.

As Savage lay on the floor dying, the couple took off. Ben went through Savage's wallet and removed two one-hundred dollar bills and the credit cards. He threw Savage's driver's license out the window and, according to Sarah, he appeared to be pleased with himself and what he had done. "Ben mocked the noise the man made when Ben shot him. Ben was laughing about what happened and said the feeling of killing was powerful."

Savage's body was found by an insurance salesman making a routine call. His murder stumped local investigators and stunned the community. He had no enemies that anyone knew about and, indeed, was well-loved by all who knew him. The only motive the investigators could deduce was that he was the victim of an armed robbery. Probably gamblers trying to obtain money to play the casinos in Tunica. Other than the bullets found in the body, there were no other clues left at the crime scene.


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