Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor

Update

In a two-week trial in March 2001, John Eric Armstrong, 27, was convicted of first- degree murder for the death of Detroit prostitute Wendy Jordan.

Armstrong, the former Navy sailor who admitted killing prostitutes all over the world as he served on the USS Nimitz, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. He still faces four more murder trials in Detroit while FBI officials investigate his yet-unsubstantiated claim that he is one of the most well traveled serial killers in history.

In the end, Armstrongs insanity defense was undermined by forensic evidence. His semen was found in Jordans body, and fibers from her clothes were found in his Jeep. Prosecutor Elizabeth Walker alleged in her opening statements that Armstrong solicited Jordan for sex, strangled her in his vehicle and then dumped her body from a bridge over the Rouge River in Dearborn Heights, a Detroit suburb.

She presented forensic evidence tying him to the crime, as well as a tearful, rambling taped confession Armstrong gave police during his initial questioning. Armstrong reported Jordans body floating in the river and asked passers-by to call police. He came under scrutiny almost immediately, when aspects of his story to police sounded strange. Armstrong said he had stopped on the bridge to vomit because he was nauseous, but observers said his attempts to purge himself looked fake.

While the Dearborn Heights police focused their investigation on the sailor, he killed four more times in the Detroit area, prosecutors allege.

In his defense, Armstrongs attorney presented testimony from Armstrongs wife, who said her husband was only gone for a few moments the night of Jordans murder. Attorney Robert Mitchell also questioned whether Armstrongs confession was coerced. He is heard on tape repeatedly asking to leave, and to be with his wife and son.

Mitchell said Armstrongs rural upbringing made him easy for Detroit police to manipulate.

Had he been from Detroit, he would not have weakened to their intimidation, Mitchell said in his opening statement. He would have been police-savvy and street-savvy.

Armstrong was sexually abused by his father growing up, the defense claimed. Because of that trauma, a defense expert witness said, Armstrong suffers from nightmares, hallucinations with images of his father, chronic depression, alcoholism, personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. The psychiatrist also said Armstrong may also be suffering from brief reactive psychosis.

The prosecution rebutted the defense witness with a psychiatrist of their own who said Armstrong suffered from no mental disorders and faked his emotional problems.

Dr. Jennifer Balay said Armstrong told her he saw his fathers face on Jordans body during his sexual encounter with her and then blacked out. Armstrong also failed several psychiatric tests designed to trick interviewees who might be faking.

After his conviction, Armstrong was transported to a state maximum-security prison to serve his sentence. No trial dates have been set for the four remaining cases to which he has confessed, and authorities have not considered whether Armstrong would be extradited to face charges elsewhere.

 

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