Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Henry Louis Wallace

An Arrest is Made

During the second week of March, 1994, things began to break open. There would be three more murders in three days, between March 9 and 11, culminating in the identification and arrest of the Charlotte Strangler. As a glut had overtaken Henry Louis Wallace, he went berserk and grew careless. The precautions he had previously taken to hide himself spacing out the murders, wiping off fingerprints, even bathing some of his victims were abandoned as he went on a joyride of killing.

"Early in 1994, Charlotte-Mecklenburg detectives sought the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an effort to define the type of murderer or murderers they were looking for," explains North Carolina University Professor of Criminal Justice Charisse Coston, whose classes have studied the complexities of the Strangler case. "The elemental nature of each murder was repetitive in some respects, but diverse in others."

The FBI failed to slot the strangulations as those of a serial killer, a call that would prove erroneous. Although the Bureau missed its mark in this instance, it cannot be judged harshly. According to a 1994 Associated Press article, the black man who was finally arrested for the crimes did not fit the niche at all. "(The killer) is a black man who knew his victims," the article asserts. "Most serial killers are white men who kill strangers."

That the Strangler did indeed know each and every one of his victims would prove to be his undoing.

In the meantime, Sergeant McFadden was making attempts to tie together loose ends. His men interrogated possible area suspects those with violent pasts who could move easily and unobserved among the black community where the crimes were being perpetrated. Detectives also reopened contact with families and friends of all the dead girls, hoping to find a continuous thread running throughout the case histories of the victims. Perhaps they hung out at a particular place where they might have come in contact with the killer. Perhaps they at one time worked together. Or attended the same school. Maybe they had all befriended the same man, one particular individual with a criminal record. Nothing, McFadden knew, was beyond possibility.

As the investigation steam-rolled forward, however, the killer struck twice in two successive nights.

Betty Baucom (Charlotte Observer)
Betty Baucom
(Charlotte Observer)

On March 9, Betty Baucom did not report to work at Bojangles Restaurant where she served as assistant manager. Because it was the same eatery on Central Avenue where Caroline Love had worked before she disappeared from the face of the earth, Manager Jeffery Ellis became cautious. Phoning her at her home, there was no answer. Throughout the night he figured Baucom might appear with a reasonable explanation. She never showed up.

The next day, she was again scheduled to work. When she proved truant a second time, Ellis called the police. Baucom was wholly reliable and acts of absenteeism, especially two in a row, were contrary to her efficient nature. Police officer Gregory Norwood responded to the call.

Obtaining access into her flat through the maintenance man, Norwood discovered Baucom fully clothed, face down on her mattress, choked to death by a towel twisted into a noose around her neck. She was stone cold, having been dead more than 24 hours.

This time, for the first time, the police believed the murderer had left them something to go on. Whereas the past victims' places of residence reflected only minor, if any, physical signs of disturbance, Baucom's apartment had been noticeably plundered. A bare entertainment center and cable wires leading nowhere told them that a TV and a VCR were missing. As well, Baucom's aqua-colored Pulsar was gone from the building's parking lot.

Squad cars were alerted to look out for the Pulsar cruising Charlotte's streets. Simultaneously, investigators checked local pawnshops to see if someone had tried to exchange the stolen goods for cash. But, while this was happening, a headquarters dispatcher summoned a patrol to the apartment of Brandi Henderson, whose boyfriend had just found her dead. When the police arrived, they realized it was the same apartment complex where Betty Baucom had just been found.

More than that, this latest scene was pure chaos, the worst aftermath of the Strangler's attacks to date. This time he had assaulted a baby as well!

The boyfriend who called the police, Verness Lamar Woods, lived with Henderson. He had just come home from his job's night shift to find a ravaged apartment, his girlfriend dead in bed with towels encircling her neck, and their 10-month-old toddler, T.W., in his room, barely alive and also garroted.

A court summary of the incident reads, "Woods immediately ran to T.W. to remove (a pair of) shorts, which were tied tightly around (his) neck." When Woods found Henderson, strangled and stiff, her face was a bluish tone. "He moved Henderson's body from the bed to the floor and began administering CPR pursuant to instructions from the 911 operator. When police officers arrived, it was clear Henderson was dead."

An ambulance rushed little T.W. to the Carolinas Medical Center where at first doctors feared the asphyxiation he suffered might have caused brain damage. Luckily, the child revived and tests indicated that he would recover without permanent injury. Dr. Thomas Brewer wrote, however, that the child had endured great pain and mental distress because of the applied ligature.

Detectives could feel their blood boiling at this point; their commander Gary McFadden drew his squad together for a meeting early the next morning to compare the notes they had made during their interviews with the deceased women's acquaintances. The results of the reports were enlightening. They indicated that the girls did not seem to know each other although some had crossed paths or had never worked or schooled together. The clubs where they socialized differed. But...when asked to list names of people with whom each victim associated, all of the interviewees mentioned in their list the same name: Henry Louis Wallace.

Of the slain women, both Shawna Hawk and Audrey Spain had at one time worked at Taco Bell for the same manager, Henry Wallace.

Valencia Jumper was a good friend of Wallace's sister, Yvonne.

Michelle Stinson would often eat at Taco Bell and chat with Wallace.

Vanessa Mack was the sister of one of Wallace's ex-girlfriends.

Betty Baucom was a friend of Wallace's current girlfriend, Sadie McKnight.

Brandi Henderson was the girlfriend of one of Wallace's pals, Verness Lamar Woods, who found Brandi. In fact, Woods had told the police that Wallace was prone to visit with Brandi while he was at work.

Reaching back into the open case of "missing person" Caroline Love, detectives now realized that Love had also known Wallace well; she had been the roommate of Sadie McKnight, his girlfriend, whom Wallace visited regularly.

The puzzle pieces slid into place perfectly now. When pulling a rap sheet on the sudden suspect, Sergeant McFadden was surprised to find that, as he recalls, "An outstanding warrant was already out for Henry Louis Wallace for having failed to come to court on a recent larceny charge."

"When the police approached Sadie McKnight, she was very taken aback, very surprised that her boyfriend Henry was suspected of being the Charlotte Strangler," adds Charisse Coston. "But, the more she thought about it, the more sense it made. All along, Henry had been giving her presents bracelets, rings and necklaces that sometimes seemed to be very familiar. In retrospect, she now realized that she had been wearing dead girlfriends' jewelry!"

But, still Gary McFadden wondered: Is it all just coincidence? So he knew the women...would he have an alibi?...Could it be proven he had been with the victims on the nights they were killed?

And then it came, the evidence McFadden dreamed about. Betty Baucom's Pulsar was located, abandoned across town. Swipes of fingerprints found on the trunk lid matched Henry Wallace's file prints.

Police staked out Wallace's residence at the Glen Hollow Apartments on North Sharon Amity Road throughout the evening of March 11 and the following day. Officers Gil Allred and Sid Wright tracked him down at a friend's house, however, where he was cuffed at approximately 5 p.m. on March 12. According to the Report of Arrest, the suspect was sober, "very calm and collected," surrendered without a fight, and seemed "a little wrinkled". Following their supervisor's orders, the patrolmen delivered their catch not to the customary Intake Center, but to the Law Enforcement Center, or LEC, where a small brigade of plainclothesmen anxiously awaited his company. They had a few questions.

Debra Slaughter (Charlotte Observer)
Debra Slaughter
(Charlotte Observer)

Wallace's arrest, with all its promise, had not come auspiciously. While the detectives gathered at the LEC to greet the alleged Strangler, another body had been found in Charlotte. Pretty Debra Slaughter had been discovered that afternoon raped, beaten, stabbed and choked, a white linen shoved down her windpipe.

She had earned the inglorious title of Luckless, Final Victim.

And, yes, she too had been an intimate friend of Henry Louis Wallace.

 

 

 

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