Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

Caged

On September 30, 1983, Chicago police spotted Larry Eyler cruising for dates in a district favored by male prostitutes. Rolling surveillance was established, officers watching from their cars as Eyler picked up one young man, then dropped him off a few blocks later. Detectives swarmed to question him about the meeting, their witness explaining that he had rejected Eyler's offer of money for sex because he simply "wanted to party."

Surveillance continued as Eyler drove around Uptown, finally stopping for Arkansas transplant Darl Hayward. In the pickup, Eyler offered Hayward $100 for sex, specifying bondage as his preference. Hayward resisted briefly, then agreed. Still unaware of the detectives tailing him, Eyler lost them by driving south on Interstate 90, leaving Chicago behind and crossing into Lake County, Indiana. Despite their suspicions of a possible murder in progress, no one from the surveillance team alerted Indiana officers that Eyler was headed their way with a potential victim.

East of Lowell, Eyler parked along the highway and persuaded Hayward to remove his shirt. That done, Eyler convinced his date to leave the truck and hike across a nearby field, to have sex in an abandoned barn. They were returning to the pickup when State Trooper Kenneth Buehrle passed by, a few minutes before 7:00 A.M., and saw the truck parked illegally, two men emerging from the woods. He stopped to question them, intending--so he later said--to issue a citation for parking illegally beside an interstate highway.

All that changed in a heartbeat, when Buehrle took Eyler's driver's license and radioed his dispatcher to check for outstanding warrants. Task force members working on the graveyard shift heard Eyler's name on the air and rushed to the scene. They questioned both men, then handcuffed Eyler and drove him to the state police barracks at Lowell, his truck was towed along behind.

At the Lowell barracks, Hayward finally admitted that Eyler had offered him money for sex. No cash had changed hands by the time Trooper Buehrle arrived, though, and Eyler still had the C-note in his pocket. It was 1:30 P.M. before detectives questioned Eyler, considering a new charge of soliciting prostitution. Examination of his boots revealed nicks on the soles that resembled plaster casts from the Calise crime scene, and Eyler surrendered the boots without protest. He also consented to a search of his truck, believing that police "would do it anyway," whether he agreed or not. A bloodstained knife was removed from the pickup and Illinois detectives were summoned to Lowell, but they had not arrived when Eyler was released--without his boots, a phone call, or advisement of his legal rights--at 7:00 P.M.

Next morning, shortly after 4:00 A.M., Lt. Jerry Campbell led a squad of officers to Robert Little's home in Terre Haute. This time they had a search warrant. Among the items seized were handcuffs and credit card receipts from Eyler's room, plus telephone records found in the kitchen. Eyler was not arrested and his pickup was not impounded, as police withdrew to study their haul of potential evidence.

The phone records surprised them, revealing a pattern of long-distance calls to Little's home number, placed from various locations, often in the dead of night. Three calls from Illinois especially intrigued authorities. One had been made from Cook County Hospital on April 8, 1983, a few hours before Gustavo Herrera's body was found. A second was traced to the home of John Dobrovolskis, on Chicago's Mid-North Side. The third call was made from a number later disconnected, leaving officers to speculate in vain on its source.

Inspired by the Dobrovolskis lead, Lake County police visited his home on October 3 and found Eyler there, his pickup parked outside. On impulse, they seized the truck and took Eyler in for questioning, assuring him that he was not under arrest and would not need a lawyer. By the time Eyler finally requested an attorney, at 4:00 A.M. on October 4, he had already confessed to having a long-term affair with John Dobrovolskis--himself a married man with children--and admitted he preferred to bind his partners prior to sex. Released at 4:40 A.M. without his truck, Eyler took the morning train back to Chicago and the Dobrovolskis home.

Shortly after his release, two mushroom hunters found a man's dismembered torso in a plastic trash bag, discarded near Highway 31 at Petrified Springs Park, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. An autopsy revealed that the head, arms and legs had been severed with a fine-toothed saw, and that the torso had been drained of blood. Although the severed parts were never found, X-rays identified the victim as 18-year-old Eric Hansen, a street hustler from St. Francis, Wisconsin, last seen alive in Milwaukee on September 27.

John Bartlett, Victim
John Bartlett, Victim

And the grim discoveries continued. On October 15, a farmer's plow turned up skeletal remains of a "John Doe" victim in Jasper County, Indiana, southwest of Rensseler. The bones were notched by knife wounds, indicating death by stabbing. Four days later, mushroom hunters stumbled on the Highway Killer's private graveyard. At a long-abandoned farm outside Lake Village, Indiana, four more victims were discovered in varying states of decomposition. Three were white males, planted close together, while a black victim had been "segregated" from the others, on the far side of a tree. Inside a nearby barn, detectives found a pentagram and an inverted cross--considered signs of Satanism--painted on a sagging rafter. Two of the victims would remain forever nameless; the others were identified as 22-year-old Michael Bauer and 19-year-old John Bartlett.

News of the discovery brought two surviving victims forward. Ed Healy wrote police from West Virginia, recalling the night of June 1, 1980, when Larry Eyler handcuffed him for sex, then beat him for an hour and threatened him with a shotgun. Jim Griffin, from Chicago, identified Eyler as the man he'd taken home for sex on November 30, 1981. At Griffin's home, Eyler had turned violent, beating Griffin with his fists, threatening him with two knives and an ice pick. Police also located Craig Townsend on October 26, 1983, recording his account of an attack by Eyler twelve months earlier.

At the same time, a noose of scientific evidence was tightening around Larry Eyler. FBI lab technicians found human blood, type A-positive, on the knife removed from Eyler's truck, and distinctive nicks on the soles of his boots were matched to plaster casts of footprints from the Calise murder scene. When they cut the boots open on October 26, technicians found more blood--again A-positive, Calise's type--inside, soaked through the inner lining. Handcuffs seized from Robert Little's home were found "consistent" with the marks left on Calise's wrists. The tires on Eyler's truck, likewise, matched casts of tracks from the Calise crime scene.

A preliminary hearing was convened in Waukegan, before U.S. District Judge Paul Plunkett, on October 28, 1983. Various witnesses described the evidence connecting Eyler to Calise's murder and he was held over for trial, jailed in lieu of $500,000 bond. Investigators from four states heaved a collective sigh of relief.

But they were premature.

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