John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor
The Trap is Set
Detroit April 2000
The neighborhood where Military and Southern streets intersect in southwest Detroit is a relatively safe one. Contrary to popular opinion, the crime level in Detroit is no better or worse than any other large city and the Motor City no longer must wear the unfortunate mantle of Murder Capital of the United States.
The Military/Southern area is lined with the homes of hardworking, decent law-abiding citizens and residents are not used to hearing gunfire or the sharp report of a weapon. They are accustomed, however, to the loud sounds of Conrail freight trains, carrying supplies to the Detroit industrial plants or taking newly built cars to destinations unknown.
One of those trains, no one knows if it was incoming or outgoing, was plodding through the neighborhood on the morning of April 10, 2000 when someone aboard noticed a grisly sight. Beside the tracks lay the bodies of three women in varying stages of decomposition.
The Detroit police responding to the call from the train arrived to find the bodies of Hood, Felt and Young. Based on their condition, it was clear to investigators that the women had not been killed at the same time.
More than 80 police officers, along with crime lab personnel and canine units converged on the scene and immediately cordoned off the area. The bodies of the three women were not removed until early evening.
Interestingly, police located a fourth body near the site, but believed that corpse was from an unrelated murder.
Technicians determined that Hood had been dumped three weeks prior, sometime in mid-March. Felts body had been there about a month. Nicole Young had apparently been murdered sometime within 12 hours of the discovery of the bodies.
Almost immediately, the authorities let it be known that they were tracking a serial killer.
"When you kill three people on three separate occasions, and leave them in the same location, then yes," you have a serial killer, Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon told the Detroit Free Press. "It's very serious and we're taking it very seriously as a department."
By the end of the day, a multi-jurisdictional force comprised of the Detroit Police Sex Crimes Unit, the Violent Crimes Task Force, the FBI, the Michigan State Police, Conrail Railroad Police and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office was formed to investigate the slayings.
Napoleon recalled the last serial killer in Detroit: During a nine-month period in 1991 and 1992, a serial killer raped and strangled 11 women, many of whom had histories of prostitution and drug abuse. Several of the victims were found in abandoned motels and other derelict buildings near Woodward Avenue in Detroit and Highland Park.
Benjamin (Tony) Atkins, 29, was convicted of the murders. He died in September 1997, just four years into the 11 life terms he was serving for the slayings. Atkins said he was driven by a hatred of prostitution.
In contrast to the Dearborn Heights investigation, which was moving along at a slow, careful pace, the Detroit police force sprung into action. Investigators linked three reported assaults of prostitutes with the murders of Hood, Felt and Young. Using descriptions provided by the women (and one transvestite) who had escaped the killer, they began round-the-clock patrols of the high-traffic areas where Detroits prostitutes converged.
They focused on the Michigan Avenue and Livernois corridor after consulting with the FBI agents who created a profile of the killer. It was likely that whoever was targeting the prostitutes would return there for another victim.
They didnt have long to wait.
Armstrong was arrested at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday April 12, 2000 in his Jeep Wrangler. Police brought him in for questioning.