Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Team Killers, Part Three

Snipers

D.C. snipers John Muhammad & John Lee Malvo (AP)
D.C. snipers John Muhammad & John Lee
Malvo (AP)

While John Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, have stirred up much discussion with their multiple-state spree picking off strangers with a high-powered gun, it's not true, as some crime professionals said, that the like has never been seen before. We have certainly had snipers, we've seen black snipers, and even pairs who worked together to terrorize peopleeven another pair of black males. We've also seen children team up to become murdering snipers.

Mitchell Johnson (AP/Wide World)
Mitchell Johnson
(AP/Wide World)

In his book Killer Kids, crime writer Michael Newton describes Jonesboro, Arkansas, boys Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, as "gun buddies." On March 24, 1998, in the middle of the day, they dressed in camouflage fatigues, set off a fire alarm in Westside Middle School and as teachers and children streamed out of the building, they lay on the ground with their rifles and took aim. They pumped out 23 shots, wounding 15 people and killing five. All but one was female. One of the surviving wounded was a girl who had rejected Andrew's advances.

The boys then ran to a van that they had stocked with more guns and ammunition, but the police apprehended them before they could do any more harm. It turned out that they had stolen three rifles and 10 pistols from relatives, and had stacked up quite a large quantity of ammunition. They also stole the van (neither had a driver's license). The whole thing was carefully planned and one of the boys had even waited in the woods all morning while the other bided his time until just after noon before pulling the alarm.

Earlier, Johnson had telegraphed his intent by telling classmates that he "had a lot of killing to do." Yet neither boy could give a reason why he had fired on these innocent people. They had been given guns at an early age and taught how to use them properly, and both boys liked violent videogames and paramilitary fantasies. Together, they proved to be a deadly combination.

* * * * *

Gary & Thaddeus Lewingdon
Gary & Thaddeus Lewingdon

In February 1978, three people were shot in their home in Columbus, Ohio, with a .22 rifle. The victims were shot multiple times. The same gun was implicated through ballistics tests in four more shootings (including victims' pets), and then the police matched it to a bullet found in two female murder victims in Newark, Ohio, the year before. They were shot while leaving work and were left to freeze in a snow bank. One more man was shot before Gary Lewingdon was arrested for credit card fraud. He had items that belonged to the last victim. Under interrogation, he admitted his part in the killings, but claimed that his brother Thaddeus was in on them, too, and was the one who led the duo.

Thaddeus was arrested and he made a full confession, although he indicated that it was Gary who wanted to continue. Both were convicted of multiple counts of first-degree murder and given multiple life sentences, and Gary eventually became psychotic. While Thaddeus died in prison from cancer, Gary attempted to escape from the forensic hospital where he was held, but he was recaptured. Denied parole in 1998, he remains incarcerated.

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In the early 1970s, two black men, Erskine Burrows and Larry Tacklyn, used a .22 revolver to kill several high-ranking officials On September 9, 1972, they shot police commissioner George Duckett after luring him to the back door of his own home. They also wounded his daughter, who ran to help him.

Scotland Yard came in to investigate but was unable to identify the killer.

The next incident was a double murder of even greater proportions. On March 10, 1973, the island's governor, Sir Richard Sharples, and his captain, Hugh Sayers, were shot while they were on the terrace of Government House. Sir Richard's dog was also shot and killed. Two black men were seen running from the area.

Again, Scotland Yard's investigator got nowhere.

Another double murder occurred on April 6, but this time the victims were shopkeepers. Mark Doe and Victor Rego were bound in their supermarket and shot with a .32 revolver, although some .22 bullets found at the scene linked them with the previous shootings. Two black men were seen leaving this scene, and a witness knew one of them: Larry Tacklyn.

Police arrested him but failed to apprehend his partner, who went on to rob the Bank of Bermuda of $28,000. Shortly thereafter, Erskine Burrows, identified as the bank robber, was arrested, and now officials had this killing team in custody. It was thought that Burrows had acted alone in the first killing, but that Tacklyn had been part of the other four. At trial, Burrows was found guilty on all charges, but Tacklyn was only convicted of the shopkeeper murders. Both received the death sentence and both were hanged.

* * * * *

As for Muhammad and Malvo, the extent of their crimes is still being determined. Their spree came to national attention on October 2, 2002, around Rockville, Maryland, and from there it spread to Washington, DC, Fredericksburg, VA, and other places in the general tri-state area. Thirteen people were shot at random with a Bushmaster .223 caliber semi-automatic rifle, and 10 of them died. One was a boy critically wounded in a school yard, another an analyst for the FBI, who died.

The twosome terrorized the area for three weeks and demanded $10 million before being found sleeping in their car along I-95 on the night of October 24. They had left notes and made phone calls that eventually were traced to them via associations in Washington state. Ballistics linked them to all 13 shootings, but it didn't stop there. The men were also tied to six other shootings, three of them fatal, in other states, and two more shootings are still under investigation at this writing.

Impounded car in D.C. sniper case (AP)
Impounded car in D.C. sniper case (AP)

After a seven-hour interrogation, Malvo admitted to being the triggerman in some of the shootings, making him eligible to be tried as an adult on capital murder charges. He said the shootings were organized and planned, with one of them serving as a lookout and the other the shooter. They used two-way radios to communicate, making sure that conditions were acceptable before moving forward with the plan. They watched news coverage carefully and moved around to create fear and confusion. Their 1990 Chevy Caprice was also rigged to be able to shoot from inside.

The case has already stretched out farther than investigators originally imagined, so many leads are still being followed up. To this date, Muhammad has offered no information as to his motives, but his stint in the military, along with the behavior reported by his acquaintances, indicates that he is an angry man with plenty of issues, not the least of which is an affinity with terrorist groups who hate the U.S.

While serial killers are found more often in America than elsewhere, other countries do spawn them, so let's look at a couple of European team killers who appeared to act out of displaced hatred.

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