Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Louis Wallace

With Intent to Kill

Subject experts such as FBI Profiler Roy Hazelwood and Robert Ressler, the FBI agent who coined the term serial killer, agree that the man whom the Charlotte Observer began to call "The Charlotte Strangler" did not fit the niche of the defined "serial killer" image. In fact, it was Ressler who told the court at the killer's eventual trial, that if he had wanted to become another Ted Bundy, for instance, "he was going about it in the wrong way." The killer's modus operandi did not follow a set pattern.

Case in point: the murder of victim number four, Valencia Jumper.

Valencia Jumper (Charlotte Observer)
Valencia Jumper
(Charlotte Observer)

Jumper was an ambitious 19-year-old college student, recently relocated from Columbia, South Carolina, who worked at Food Lion Groceries as well as at a clothing shop to help pay tuition. In August 1993, the same man who had already killed Hawk, Love and Spain snuffed her life. But, her murder was set up as so inordinately different that even the most practical of detectives would have missed the link.

On the night of August 9, a visiting boyfriend, Zachary Douglas, smelled something burning as he neared Jumper's apartment doorway; he then saw wisps of black smoke issuing from the threshold. Finding his friend's door bolted, he summoned a fellow tenant who called the fire department. A unit was there in no time to axe Jumper's door. Inside, firefighter Dennis Arney saw that the blaze, which had spread throughout the small apartment, had begun on the kitchen stove where a pot of something had been left over a lit gas burner. The flames had reached a connecting bedroom where, it appeared, Jumper had fallen asleep on her bed. She was severely burned.

The next day, the coroner examined the charred remains to conclude that the girl had died of (as he wrote in his report) "thermal burns".

It would not be until the Charlotte Strangler was apprehended and confessed to her murder that Jumper's remains would be reassessed. After the latter examination, the coroner amended his earlier, hasty diagnosis, changing her cause of death to strangulation.

Michelle Stinson (Charlotte Observer)
Michelle Stinson
(Charlotte Observer)

The next victim, Michelle Stinson, met her death on September 15 five weeks after Jumper's death in a manner not matching Jumper and with a major variation from the other murdered females. While strangled, she was also stabbed. The murder weapon (an ordinary kitchen knife) had been shoved through her back. Her body was found in the kitchen by her two young sons, one three and one a year old, who had neither seen nor heard her assailant. When the older child ran for a friend, James Mayes, to tell him that his mother was "sleeping on the floor," Mayes hurried over to discover Stinson lying cold in a pool of blood. Her telephone had been ripped from the wall.

An autopsy revealed that the blade had penetrated the upper left side of her back, below the shoulder blade, and had caused mortal wounds to the heart and lungs. Stinson had been raped, and then strangled with a ligature. This time, the strangling occurred after she had died from the knife wounds or while she lay dying and comatose.

As the police continued to question relatives and friends, neighbors and cohorts of the murdered women, they were drawing big-time blanks. Although the killings were starting to appear as maybe the handiwork of one man who got a kick out of strangling and raping women, and even though they all took place within a five-mile radius of East Charlotte, their diversity made it impossible to pinpoint any identifying traits beyond the garroting of the neck.

But, the black population in whose area the homicides were occurring began to rankle; the citizens interpreted the police department's no-show results as something else, something one-sided. While the local newspapers had been low-key in fact, most of the earlier deaths had gone unreported communication in the targeted area intensified. Under fire was a perceived lackadaisical attitude by local politicians and law enforcers who, claimed some, ignored problems occurring among Charlotte's 31- percent total black population.

East Charlotte was and is a busy urban area of hard-working people mostly black, but with a checkerboard of other races chiefly middle class. It is wrought with modest housing, modest living, and modest temperaments. It keeps on the move with strip malls, and shopping centers, and storefront businesses, and fast-food chains, and movie houses and small whatever-shops along its major avenues. It is the kind of neighborhood where people like to walk where kids stroll to schools and women window browse. And where the populace doesnt like to think that maybe a strangler is watching their kids on their way to school or eyeing their wives and girlfriends doing a little light shopping.

Many in the neighborhood refused to understand why the police could not match fingerprints found at the crime scenes against any prints on file, nor could they fathom how an obviously male strangler and rapist could slip past supposed dragnets time after time after time.

"In defense, City Hall vowed they were doing the best they could; that the city's patrolmen were working night and day to solve the rash of murders and that patrol cars were stopping any and all suspicious characters," reports Charisse Coston of the state university.

At an emergency press conference, the department committed to results and assured the people that investigations would continue.

Homicide Detective Sergeant Gary McFadden, who had been appointed lead investigator by Assistant Chief Boger only hours before the press conference, suddenly found himself in the thick of battle. Although he had not previously been assigned to the Strangler case, his excellent record had earned him a tough and thankless position. Faced suddenly with the task of being the spokesperson and mediator between the police and the public, it was now up to him to explain why the murderer had not been caught.

A black man himself, McFadden found no understanding ear from his own people.

"The community hated me," he confesses, "and in a way I felt like a scapegoat. It was total conflict."

But, McFadden, being a professional, did his duty. Well. "I spoke with each of the affected families personally," he relates, "and they calmed down. I expressed my sympathy as well as my determination to bring their loved one's murderer to justice."

Throughout the fall of 1993, the situation quieted. After Stinson's murder in mid-September, the remainder of the year into and past the Christmas holidays passed without another event. Because of the pressure put on them, the police had increased their patrols in the community and, now that things grew to a calm, wondered if they had scared off the killer or killers. (The police department at this point was still unsure if it was dealing with unrelated criminals or with an individual strangler.)

Incident-free nevertheless, both McFadden and the people he served felt an uneasy pause in the holiday air. Their apprehension proved not to be unwarranted.

Vanessa Mack (Charlotte Observer)
Vanessa Mack
(Charlotte Observer)

On Sunday, February 20, 1994, Vanessa Mack's mother, Barbara, came to pick up her grandchild as she did every Sunday so Vanessa could go to her job at the Carolinas Medical Center. She arrived a little earlier than usual, as it wasn't quite the appointed 6 a.m. Barbara was surprised to find the door ajar. Assuming that her daughter and granddaughter were just inside, she called out, expecting to hear a familiar, "Come in, Mom!" No one answered her. Stepping into the foyer, Barbara knew something was wrong. Vanessa's four-month-old child was asleep on the sofa, still in her play clothes from the day before, but Vanessa was nowhere to be seen. Not in the kitchen, not in the bathroom, not in her bedroom. But when Barbara did a double take at the bed she realized that that gray bundle of covers was not a bundle at all, but her daughter thrown partially dressed in a misshapen position across the mattress. Something was wrapped around her throat; it looked like a pillowcase. Her skin tone matched the dull fatigue of the morning sky outside her window, and, by the touch, her skin had become as cold as the pane of glass that faced the winter chill. Scooping the tot from the sofa, Barbara raced into the hallway where she pounded on a tenant's door for use of his phone.

Jeff Baumgarner was the first patrolman to arrive on the scene. One glance at the corpse and he knew, from hearing the stories his fellow police officers told after finding some of the other strangling victims, that the same killer or someone like him had struck again.

*****

Six-foot tall, 200 pounds, and with a very pleasant face, 29-year-old Henry Louis Wallace was, outwardly, a very affable fellow. He was chatty, bright, a go-getter and smiled, constantly except at certain times, like the night after Vanessa Mack's murder, when he sat down before his TV set to affix himself to the dinnertime news report. But, he smiled again when the program ended and there had not been even the slightest reference to the latest strangling or to the manhunt that the police claimed was in full vigor.

He decided to stay indoors that night, for the same reason he kept out of sight after all the other murders just in case someone had seen his face and the cops were on the streets with a composite drawing of his puss in their hands.

He felt remorse at what he'd done to Vanessa Mack damn it, he always felt remorse! but he figured it would wear away. It did all those other times, after he had killed Hawk, Love, Stinson all of them.

Time heals, said the cliché. It was true.

 

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