Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

Guilty

At 6:00 A.M. on August 21, 1984, the janitor of an apartment house on West Sherman Street, in Chicago, set out to prepare his building's garbage dumpster for the morning pickup. He found it overflowing with gray plastic trash bags and began to remove them. In the process, one bag slipped from his grasp and fell to the pavement, disgorging a severed human leg.

Police were summoned and found that the other trash bags held dismembered remains of a young white male, his body cut into eight pieces. Witnesses recalled watching a tenant of the house next-door deposit the bags around 3:30 P.M. on August 20. One identified the man as Larry Eyler, a tenant at 1618 West Sherman. Eyler had seemed strange the day before, with a "glassy" look to his eyes. Asked why he was dumping trash in a neighbor's bin, he replied, "I'm getting rid of some shit."

Police raided Eyler's apartment at 7:00 A.M. and caught him in bed with John Dobrovolskis. He was jailed for questioning, while the dumpster remains were sent to the Chicago Police Department's crime lab, there identified as 16-year-old Danny Bridges. Fingerprints lifted from the trash bags matched Eyler's, and he was formally charged with first-degree murder at 8:00 P.M. Evidence found in his apartment included numerous bloodstains, a box of trash bags matching those from the alley, a hacksaw, and a T-shirt owned by Danny Bridges.

Prosecutors announced their intent to seek the death penalty, state's attorneys Mark Rakoczy and Rick Stock assigned to handle the case. Eyler's hopes for acquittal rested with public defenders Claire Hilliard and Tom Allen. David Schippers declined to represent Eyler at trial, but agreed to serve Hilliard and Allen in an advisory capacity.

Eyler pled not guilty to the murder charge on September 13, and legal maneuvers delayed his trial for nearly two years. Finally, the proceedings opened in Cook County Criminal Court on July 1, 1986, before Judge Joseph Urso. Jurors convicted Eyler of all counts on July 9, but his fate would be decided in the trial's penalty phase, beginning on September 30--three years to the day since he was stopped by Trooper Kenneth Buehrle in Lake County, Indiana. On October 3, 1986, Judge Urso sentenced Eyler to die for killing Bridges; Eyler was also sentenced to fifteen years in prison for aggravated kidnapping and five years for attempting to conceal his victim's death.

There were still appeals to be filed, but all in vain. Three years after he was condemned--on October 25, 1989--the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed Eyler's conviction and capital sentence, fixing his tentative execution date for March 14, 1990.

 

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