Monday, August 31, 2009

UNSOLVED SERIAL MURDERS -- The Arcadia Street Graveyard by Robert A. Waters

Reconstruction of Victim B. Based on the remains, experts think this white male was about 20-30 years old, was very tall, was very active and had bone fractures in the right calf.

In fiction, there’s Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter--in real-life, Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer. There are novels, true crime books, comic books, trading cards, television series, and movies chronicling the lives of serial killers. We fear monsters we can’t see, and these deranged humans lurking in the shadows fit that bill. Over the next few months, I plan to examine some recent and past cases of serial murders that have gone unsolved.

Thirty feet into the undergrowth of a dense melaleuca forest, a surveyor stopped in his tracks. The fast-growing trees had been brought from Australia to Florida years before, and they formed a canopy over the ten acre forest. The surveyor had spotted something: the skull of a deer or wild boar, so he thought. Looking closer, he realized it was human. The area, just three miles from downtown Fort Myers, was off a remote dirt road known as Arcadia Street.

By late afternoon, on March 23, 2007, a swarm of police investigators had sealed off the whole thicket. Before darkness fell, detectives, with the aid of cadaver dogs, had uncovered eight skeletal bodies. The experienced detectives could tell that the remains had been there for years. Time and animals had stripped all the flesh from the bones.

John Douglas, former FBI profiler and author, later said: “To find eight bodies in one place--that’s really bizarre. If you’re in the killing business, that’s a great disposal area. You’ve got the remoteness, the elements, the insects, animal predation. You put a body out there and probably within a week or so, there’s not going to be much left.”

Who were the victims? How did they get there? How did they die? Who killed them? These questions would haunt investigators as they attempted to piece together the lives of eight lost souls.

Except for the skeletons, there were few clues. The killer had removed the clothes and personal effects of each victim. The elements had long since eliminated any trace of the murderer. A forensic anthropologist was called in. Heather Walsh-Haney and her team used archaeological methods to remove the bodies and preserve the bones.

Dental impressions and DNA were taken from each victim. They were all males, between 18 and 49, and had been dumped there between 1980 and 2000. The television show “America’s Most Wanted” arranged for a forensic artist, Sharon Long, to reconstruct the faces of each victim.

Police had a possible suspect. Daniel Conahan, the so-called “Hog Trail Killer,” was currently sitting on Florida’s death row. He’d been convicted of murdering a drifter named Richard Montgomery. According to court documents, Conahan picked up homeless men at Port Charlotte shelters. He would take each man to a remote, wooded area where he would rape and strangle his victim. Although he was convicted of only one murder, Conahan was suspected of at least five more. Several of the murders involved castration and mutilation.

Even though Conahan lived in Chicago from the late 1970s until 1993, many local investigators continue to view him as a suspect in the Ft. Myers murders.

Three of the bodies have been identified. John Blevins, 38, and Erik Kohler, 21, lived in the area before they disappeared. According to family members, they both lived transient lifestyles and had minor police records.

Jonathan Tihay, 24, was recently identified. His life seemed to mirror those found at the Arcadia Street graveyard. Originally from Illinois, he developed a drug addiction and had several scrapes with the law. He spent six months in jail for burglary and served a brief sentence in the Joliet Correctional Center for destroying property. After he got out, Tihay wandered the country, finally landing in Ft. Myers to be near his mother. In 1995, he disappeared.

Serial murderers often choose the most vulnerable: the homeless, drug addicts, prostitutes, and others living on the fringes of society. The lives of the Arcadia Street victims seem to fit that pattern.

A killer has lived among us for years. Was he bold enough to go back to the shadows beneath the melaleuca trees and relive his sick crimes? Did he keep souvenirs such as clothing or watches or shoes? Does he still follow the case in the news, secure in the knowledge that he will never be caught, that he’s smarter than the cops?

The website of “America’s Most Wanted” has the facial profiles of each of the five remaining unidentified victims. Check it out. If you have information about this case, contact the Fort Myers Police Department at 239-321-7700.


MaryWithrow said...

I dont know how old your page is but wanted to tell you that I though it was very interesting.

sblake said...

Very well written. Informative and concise.

sblake said...

Informative, well written and concise.

Retired Bluebird said...

Found this article while looking for information on Erik Kohler. Excellent article. Thanks

Unknown said...

Jonathan Tihay was my nephew. Please, please keep this case in front of the public and solve these unspeakable crimes