Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Larry Eyler, the Highway Murderer

The Suspect

Six days after McNeive's corpse was discovered--on May 15, 1983--members of several Indiana law enforcement agencies gathered to discuss the Highway Murders. Meeting in Indianapolis, they organized a task force, formally christened the Central Indiana Multi-Agency Investigative Team. Lieutenant Jerry Campbell, from the Indianapolis Police Department, was assigned to lead the team, assisted by Sergeant Frank Love from the state police. A month later, on June 14, fifty officers from eight jurisdictions gathered to review a score of unsolved murders, all involving young men or teenage boys who were stabbed or strangled to death, their bodies dumped along highways throughout the state.

Larry Eyler, Sept'83 (POLICE)
Larry Eyler, Sept'83 (POLICE)

By the time of that second meeting, the task force already had a prime suspect on tap. June 6 brought a phone call from Indianapolis, naming 31-year-old Larry Eyler as the Highway Killer. The caller had no direct evidence of murder, but alluded to an incident from August 1978, when Eyler had attacked hitchhiker Mark Henry at Terre Haute. Eyler had given Henry a ride on August 3, then drew a butcher knife when Henry rejected his sexual overtures, swerving onto a dark side street where he forced Henry into the bed of his pickup truck, stripped and handcuffed his victim, then bound Henry's ankles and began stroking his body with the knife. Terrified, Henry broke free and hobbled from the truck, Eyler pursuing him and stabbing Henry once, with force enough to puncture a lung. Henry played dead, whereupon Eyler sped from the scene. Left alone, Henry had staggered to a nearby trailer court and roused a tenant there who drove him to the hospital.

Larry Eyler, released on bail
Larry Eyler, released on bail

Eyler, meanwhile, had also stopped nearby, choosing a house at random to confess his crime and surrender a handcuff key. Police found him waiting in his pickup and arrested him, confiscating a sword, three knives, a whip, and a canister of tear gas. Bond was initially set at $50,000, reduced to $10,000 on August 4 by a sympathetic judge, whereupon one of Eyler's friends posted $1,000 as surety for his release. Charged with attempted murder, Eyler beat the rap on August 23, after his lawyer gave Henry a check for $2,500 and Henry declined to press charges. Judge Harold Bitzegaio had dismissed the case on November 13, 1978, after charging Eyler another $43 in court costs.

The Henry stabbing was not Eyler's only contact with police. Three years after that incident, in 1981, he was arrested for drugging a 14-year-old boy and dumping him unconscious in the woods near Greencastle, Indiana. That victim had also survived, his parents dropping charges when he left the hospital with no lasting damage.

Shirley DeKoff, Eyler's Mother
Shirley DeKoff, Eyler's Mother

Larry Eyler seemed to lead a charmed life, but he came from humble beginnings. The youngest of four children, born at Crawfordsville, Indiana in December 1952, he saw his parents divorce when he was still a toddler. Dropping out of high school in his senior year, Eyler later earned his GED and dabbled at college, attending sporadically from 1974 through 1978, finally quitting without a degree. He favored military T-shirts and fatigues, but never served in uniform. Of late, he lived in Terre Haute with Robert David Little, a professor of library science at Indiana State University. Eyler worked part-time at a Greencastle liquor store and frequently drove to Chicago on business unknown.

Larry Eyler, (POLICE)
Larry Eyler, (POLICE)

By July 1983, task force members were focused on Eyler as their only suspect in the Highway Murders case. FBI profilers were less certain, noting evidence of separate killers in at least two of the homicides. Indiana officers concentrated on Eyler, since they had no other prospects. He was shadowed daily, photographed as he traveled to and from work, followed to various bars after dark. No murders were committed while Eyler remained under surveillance, but skeletal remains of an eleventh victim--this one unidentified--were found in Ford County, Illinois on July 2, 1983. Investigators dutifully added the corpse to their list.

On August 27 police trailed Eyler to an Indianapolis gay bar, watching as he left a short time late, with another man. Eyler drove his one-night stand to a Greencastle motel, where they rented a room. The move broke Eyler's pattern, which favored open-air sex in the bed of his pickup--complete with a plastic-wrapped mattress--and officers feared they might miss a homicide in progress while they idled outside the motel. Finally, one of them crept up to the room and peered through the window, jogging back to report no evidence of any violent crime.

Manhunters didn't know it yet, but they had mounted their last stakeout on the man whom they believed to be the Highway Killer.

 

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