Angel Maturino Resendiz: The Railroad Killer
Terror Near the Tracks
One of the more romantic elements of American folklore has been the crisscrossing rail system of this country — steel rails carrying Americans to new territories across desert and mountain, through wheat fields and over great rivers. Carl Sandburg has flavored the mighty steam engine in elegant prose and Arlo Guthrie has made the roundhouse a sturdy emblem of America's commerce.
But, even the most colorful dreams have their dark sides.
For nearly two years, a killer literally followed Wheatfield America's railroad tracks to slay unsuspecting victims before disappearing back into the pre-lit dawn. His modus operandi was always the same — he struck near the rail lines he illegally rode, then stowed away on the next freight train to come his way. Always ahead of the law.
Angel Maturino Resendiz, 39 years old, was apprehended early this month (July, 1999) after eluding state police for two years and slipping through a two-month FBI net until, after nine alleged murders, he was finally traced and captured by a determined Texas Ranger.
Known, for apparent reasons, as "The Railroad Killer," Angel Resendiz (who was known throughout much of the manhunt by the alias Rafael Resendez-Ramirez) has been called "a man with a grudge," "confused," hostile" and "angry" by the police, the news media and psychiatrists. He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who crossed the international border at will. Most of his crimes took place in central Texas, but he is suspected of having killed as far north as Kentucky and Illinois.
While he fits the mold of serial killers such as David Berkowitz and the Boston Strangler, Resendiz killed more meditatively for something he needed: alcohol, drugs, a place to hide out, though usually money. He raped, but "sex seemed almost secondary," according to former FBI profiler John Douglas. Douglas calls Resendiz "just a bungling crook ...very disorganized," but one whose own disorganization worked well for him. Because his trail was haphazard, because he himself didn't know where he was heading next, this directionless, drifting form of operation kept Resendiz inadvertently ever-the-more elusive. FBI special agent Don K. Clark says that the manhunt was complicated by the fact that Resendiz had "no permanent address" while continuing to travel unchecked "throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada."
While his travels might best be described as spontaneous, and his slayings as combustive, that is not to say that the Railroad Killer didn't have his own particular signature. He pretty much followed a routine. For one, the murders all occurred "in close proximity to train track locations," to quote Clark.
Late last month, in the heat of the intensive manhunt for the murderer, John Douglas described what appeared to be the killer's simple but deadly agenda:
"When he hitches a ride on the freight train, he doesn't necessarily know where the train is going. But when he gets off, having background as a burglar, he's able to scope out the area, do a little surveillance, make sure he breaks into the right house where there won't be anyone to give him a run for his money. He can enter a home complete with cutting glass and reaching in and undoing the locks.
"He'll look through the windows and see who's occupying it. The guy's only 5 foot-7, very small. In fact...the early weapons were primarily blunt-force trauma weapons, weapons of opportunity found at the scenes. He has to case them out, make sure he can put himself in a win-win situation."
Where he came from, what spurred his crime spree, what kind of man was Resendiz —these will be examined in the succeeding chapters. For now, let's pause to examine his list of victims.
Following is a list of the nine serial murders attributed to Resendiz:
- Victim 1: August 29, 1997/Lexington. Ky.: Christopher Maier, 21, a University of Kentucky student, and his girlfriend are attacked while walking along the tracks near the college. Maier is bludgeoned to death and she is raped and beaten, almost to the point of death. She miraculously survives.
- Victim 2: October 4, 1998/Hughes Spring, Texas: On this cool Fall evening, 87-year-old Leafie Mason is hammered to death by a tire iron by someone who enters her home through a window. Her front door faces the Kansas City-Southern Rail Line tracks only 50 yards away.
- Victim 3: December 17, 1998/Houston, Texas: An invader breaks into the home of Dr. Claudia Benton, 39, of the Baylor College of Medicine, when she arrives home, the intruder rapes, stabs and bludgeons her repeatedly with a blunt instrument. Her home is near the rail lines that run through suburban West University Place. When the police recover her stolen Jeep Cherokee in San Antonio. TX, they find fingerprints on the steering column that match those of drifter Resendiz, a known illegal alien. Three weeks later, a county judge signs a warrant for Resendiz' arrest for burglary — but, strangely enough, not for murder. There is not enough evidence, says he!
- Victims 4 & 5: May 2, 1999 Weimar, Texas: Late at night, the Reverend Norman J. "Skip" Sirnic, 46, and wife Karen, 47, are struck to death by a sledgehammer in the parsonage of the United Church of Christ — located adjacent to the town's railroad. The couple's red Mazda is found in San Antonio three weeks later. Forensic evidence matches the killing of Dr. Benton in Houston
- Victim 6: June 4, 1999: Houston, Texas: Schoolteacher Noemi Dominguez, 26, is clubbed to death in her apartment, located near rail tracks. Seven days later, troopers find Dominguez' 1993 white Honda Civic abandoned at the international bridge at Del Rio, Texas.
- Victim 7: June 4, 1999/Fayette County, Texas: Seventy-three-year-old Josephine Konvicka is killed in bed by a blow of a pointed garden tool to the head. She lived in a frame farmhouse not far from Weimar, where a month prior Rev. and Mrs. Simic were killed, and within shadows of a rail yard. Her car has been tampered with, but the killer is unable to find the keys.
- Victims 8 & 9: June 15, 1999/Gorham, Ill.: An intruder breaks into a mobile home to kill its two occupants, After shooting George Morber, Sr.,80, in the head with a shotgun, he then clubs to death Morber's daughter, Carolyn Frederick, 52. Their house sits only 100 yards from the a railroad track. The next day, a passerby spots Fredericks' red pickup truck in Cairo, IL, sixty miles south of Gorham, being driven by a man matching Resendiz' description.
Most of Resendiz' victims were found covered with a blanket; none were of a tall or burly stature, for the killer himself is of a diminutive size and stature. But, he might well have been a giant for the terror he struck in the hearts of otherwise-relaxed communities. Citizens' emotions ran high in the towns where he killed; in the smaller ones, especially, people who had never locked their doors and windows at night were now bolting them. Children were ushered off the dusky streets by nervous parents, shops closed early, and moonlit strolls ended.
Sentiments throughout pretty much echoed the words of Mayor Bernie Kosler of Weimar, the little Texas burgh where the Simics and Mrs. Konvicka were slain. "The stores around here," he said, "have sold out of pistols."