Saturday, January 27, 2018

Murder on Spook Hollow Road

The Forgotten Girl 
by Robert A. Waters 

It was two o'clock in the morning when motorist Richard Wallace noticed the body of a woman lying beside a brand-new sedan on Spook Hollow Road.  He aimed his headlights at the body, then stopped and got out to investigate.  In 1940, the lonely backwoods highway in rural Pennsylvania imparted a ghostly glow from his car's high-beams as Wallace studied the scene.    

The woman's head was bashed in, her clothes ripped to shreds, and her brassiere stuffed in her mouth.  Blood-smears inside and outside the car showed signs of a terrific fightAlthough he couldn't recognize the dead girl's face, Wallace knew the sedan belonged to his girlfriend's sister, twenty-six-year-old Faye Gates.  The frightened young man wasted no time driving to the nearest phone to call for help. 

When investigators arrived, they determined that the car had skidded to a halt with three of its tires off the road and the other on the edge of the asphalt.  The girl's leg had been run over, and was wedged between the tire and the road.  Thirty feet away, deputies found a bloody rock, and assumed it was the murder weapon. 

By next morning, sensational newspaper headlines had begun inflaming the local populace: "Police Seeking Mad Maniac"; "Citizens Demand G-Men Assist in Search for Sex Maniac"; "Flat Rock Used to Kill Faye Gates"; and "Sex Slayer Hunted."  The local Rotary Club dunned citizens for reward money, and there was a run on gun stores as many residents armed themselves. 

Col. Lynn G. Adams of the Pennsylvania State Motor Police took charge of the investigation.  State troopers and local cops began interviewing acquaintances of the victim.  Two girlfriends told detectives that they spent the evening with Faye in Bellefonte, a small town about ten miles from the Spook Hollow community.  The friends started home around midnight, and noticed a brown car following them.  As Faye stopped to let them off at their home, the car sped around Faye and loudly blew its horn.  The friends thought that was suspicious. 

The girlfriends described Faye as a responsible person who worked at a match factory in Bellefonte.  She was proud of her new car, and kept it sparkly clean.  Her friends said she always kept her car doors locked, and they had seen her lock the passenger door when she pulled away. 

Another witness, Richard Millinder, 22, who was married to Faye's cousin, said he was walking home from a game of cards with relatives and had seen no cars pass by. 

Investigators had few clues, but they got lucky when they discovered an "electric eye" alongside the road.  The device was a primitive predecessor of surveillance videos that now dot many highways.  Popular Science magazine published an article in 1940 that described the electric eye: "Vehicles passing a given point are automatically counted by a new traffic-recording device just introduced.  Two infrared lamps, housed a short distance apart and mounted on one side of the road, cast invisible beams across the highway to a photo-electric receiving unit on the other side.  Interruption of the two beams by an auto actuates an electrical counting device, which can be set to total the number of passing vehicles by the hour, day, week or month.  Pedestrians are not counted, since the apparatus is so constructed that it registers only when both beams are blocked at the same instant." 

Col. Adams checked the number of cars that drove on Spook Hollow Road between the hours of 12:00 and 2:00.  There were exactly ten.  It took several days, but eventually all the cars were tracked down and the drivers accounted for.  Each had legitimate reasons for being on the road at that time.  The driver of the brown sedan was a traveling salesman returning home from a long road-trip.  He said he blew his horn so the girls wouldn't cross the road while he was speeding by.  His story held, as he had brought home gifts for his family from his trip and they opened the presents at about the time Faye was murdered. 

Investigators continued to unravel the puzzleCops believed she must have given a ride to someone she knew who then killed her.  If Faye kept her doors locked, as they believed, that meant she would not have let a stranger inside her car.  Being safety-minded, she would have picked up only someone she knew well. 

The circumstances pointed to one killer.  Richard Millinder was brought in for questioning a second time.  Caught off-guard, he quickly confessed.   

Millinder stated that since Faye knew him, and lived just two doors from his home, she stopped to pick him up.  He had long fantasized about having sex with his wife's pretty cousin, and decided to act on his evil impulses.  But when he made a pass at her, Faye rejected him.  Millinder, in a flash of anger and lust, began to rip off Faye's clothes.  While fighting him, her car skidded off the road, and she jumped out and ran. 

Millinder said he quickly caught her, picked up a rock, and smashed her in the head four times.  To keep her from screaming, Millinder stuffed Faye's brassiere in her mouth.  He then got in her car, and turned it around.  While doing so, he ran over her ankle and the tire stopped on her leg.  Finally, he walked to his house, which was less than two miles away. 

The arrest of Millinder stunned the local community.  Many didn't believe he could have done it.  Others still believed a stranger, a "sex pervert," had committed the crime.  Even with a written confession, many held doubts. 

In September, Richard Millinder was tried for the murder of Faye Gates.  His confession, detailed and graphic, convinced most, including the jury, that he'd committed the gruesome murder.  The jury convicted Millinder and sentenced him to life in prison.   

During an era in which life meant just a few years, the killer served only 17 years before being released. 

The life of Faye Gates, an innocent victim, seemed to mean little to a system more interested in "rehabilitating" criminals than justice.  Except for family and friends, she was soon forgotten.

NOTE: Thanks to Evan Williams for allowing me to use his photo. Check out Evan's blog at SWPA Rural Exploration.