Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor

The Deadly Delay

Detroit March 2000

Law enforcement agencies make a distinction among the different kinds of repeat killers. Mass murderers are sociopaths like Columbines Harris and Klebold who do all of their killing at one time. They are the kind of killers who often plot and plan their attacks over a period of time, with the intent of making a big statement in a single incident. They are like a supernova: they explode upon the scene in a bright fury of death and are immediately gone, leaving destruction in their wake.

Then there are spree killers, who are rarer. They are the type who flame out over a short period of time, usually a few days. Killers like Charles Starkweather are spree killers. They are the meteorites of the psychopath universe, burning out brilliantly over a short period of time.

Serial killers are different. They are rarely in a hurry. They are methodical in their carnage. Serial killers are the comets. They blaze through the night and disappear into the blackness only to return again and again to kill.

Organized serial killers, according to models developed by the FBI and other experts, target strangers and tend to travel some distance from home to kill.

And prostitutes tend to be among the most likely victims in terms of serial killers, said Deborah Laufersweiler-Dwyer, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas.

Nobody's going to necessarily note someone picking up a prostitute and they tend to go with anyone easily, she said.

Research shows, she said, that organized serial killers are typically sociopaths who have a problem with authority.

They don't like rules, they think they can make up the rules as they go along, she said.

The Dearborn Heights police had no reason to suspect that they were dealing with a serial killer, so they had no reason to rush their investigation of Wendy Jordans murder. The poor woman was dead, screwing up the probe so that a killer could walk would do no one any good. Nevertheless, investigators felt they had their man. When the tests came back indicating that the fibers on Wendys body matched those in Armstrongs Jeep, the police went to the prosecutors office in the hope of getting a warrant.

But they were turned away.

The Wayne County prosecutors office has a policy not to issue an arrest warrant for a homicide until the State Police lab has issued its final report, and the Dearborn Heights police only had preliminary results linking Armstrong to Jordan.

Armstrong would remain on the street.

About the time Dearborn Heights police were waiting for more than just an oral report that the DNA had matched up, Wilhelmenia Drane was waiting for a bus along Michigan Avenue when she accepted a ride from a man in a black Jeep.

She would later tell police that the man stopped on a side street and told her he needed to get something from his coat.

The man, who she identified as Eric Armstrong, went for her throat instead.

His hand reached out and grabbed my neck, she said. I was lucky I was wearing a scarf. He got my scarf and had a hold of me real tight.

Drane fought back and managed to knock Armstrongs glasses from his face.

His fingers were around my windpipe, she said. Near unconsciousness and in a state of panic, Drane managed to reach into her coat and grab a can of pepper spray.

I sprayed him in the face with it, she recalled. And then I jumped out of the car.

Even though the police were closing in on him and one victim had managed to escape, Armstrongs demons still hounded him, demanding that he kill.

He continued to return to the Michigan Avenue area and over the next few weeks he had sex with and assaulted several more prostitutes in his Jeep. Authorities said Armstrong also killed Kelly Hood, Rose Marie Felt, 32, of Detroit and Nicole Young, an 18-year-old Chicago woman who was brought to Detroit by her boyfriend, forced into prostitution and abandoned.

 

 

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