Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

The Break

Ralph Calise, Victim
Ralph Calise, Victim

Near midnight on August 30, 1983, 28-year-old Ralph Calise left the apartment he shared with a girlfriend in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, near Uptown. Calise liked to party and often disappeared overnight, but he never returned from this excursion. A tree-trimming crew found his mutilated corpse on August 31, in Lake Forest, near the sites were Gustavo Herrera and Ervin Gibson were murdered in April 1983.

Calise's slaying seemed to fit the Highway Killer's pattern. Found naked to the waist, his pants pulled down, the victim had been stabbed seventeen times with a long-bladed knife, virtually disemboweled. Marks on his wrists suggested he was handcuffed prior to death. Tire tracks and footprints at the scene offered police their first real traces of the killer who had claimed at least a dozen lives.

Background investigation on Calise revealed a troubled life. He had dropped out of college in his first semester, compiling a record of arrests for drug possession, arson, and episodes of violence. Police recommended psychiatric treatment, but Calise had no money for counseling and a stint with the Salvation Army failed to turn his life around. Known to friends and family as a heavy drinker and drug user, Calise was living on welfare when he met his killer in August.

A review of the Illinois cases to date told police that four Highway Killer victims-- Crockett, Johnson, Herrera and Calise--had lived in or near the Uptown neighborhood before they were murdered and dumped in outlying districts. More to the point, Herrera and Calise had once lived only two doors apart, on North Kenmore Street. Around the time these revelations broke--on September 3, 1983--Illinois detectives also learned for the first time of Indiana's ongoing investigation into four similar cases.

The interstate connection grew more plausible when Chicago officers heard about Craig Townsend, taken from the Uptown neighborhood on October 12, 1982, by a man who drove across the state line, drugged and beat him, then dumped him semi-conscious near Lowell, Indiana. Transported to Crown Point for treatment, Townsend fled the hospital without describing his attacker to police. He was missing in September 1983, but authorities had his mug shot on file, taken after an arrest for drug possession.

On September 8, 1983, investigators from Waukegan and Indianapolis converged on Crown Point, Indiana, for a conference on the Highway Murders. FBI agents were invited to attend the gathering, providing a psychological profile of the slayer from the bureau's Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, Virginia. That profile described the killer as a "macho man" who affected military garb and patronized "redneck" bars in a bid to deny his own sexuality. Murder after sex was the ultimate denial, certain corpses covered with leaves or loose dirt to negate the final act.

Indiana detectives agreed that the profile seemed to fit Larry Eyler in all respects, from his Marine Corps caps and T-shirts to his drinking and high-speed night drives in his pickup. Informed of Eyler's frequent visits to Chicago, Illinois police gave their Indiana counterparts photographs of tire tracks and footprints from the Calise murder scene, for future comparison against Eyler's pickup and boots. They also agreed to keep watch on Eyler if he surfaced in Chicago.

Before the month was over, Indiana state police would have their chance to stop the Highway Killer--but the opportunity would find them grossly unprepared.

 

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