Monday, 17 March 2014

The Freeway Phantom

This unsolved serial murder case dates back to the early 1970`s, in which six young girls and women lost their lives to a predator.  Suspects did emerge but nothing ever panned out.  It remains open as a cold case but one detective who took over the case in the late 80`s believes his suspect is the killer, but that person died a number of years ago, so he will never get to know if he was right.  This murder series started in Washington DC on 25th April 1971, when 13 year old Carol Spinks went to a store just over half a mile away from her home, just over the border into Maryland.  She never returned home.  Six days later, her body was found on a grass embankment by the Northbound section of Interstate 295, 500 yards from Suitland Parkway.  She had been strangled.  The next victim was Darlenia Johnson, 16, was en route to a job at a recreational centre.  11 days later, her body was found dumped in virtually the exact same spot as Carol Spinks.  She too, had been strangled.

    July 8th showed that this maniac drew no distinction on how young his victims were.  Her name was Brenda Crockett, aged just 10.  This was different to the other two, in that Brenda phoned home, where the call was answered by her 7 year old sister.  She said she thought she was in Virginia, and she had been taken by a white man.  She added she would be on he way home in a cab, then hung up.  Shortly afterwards, she rang again, this time it was answered by her mother`s boyfriend.  Brenda repeated what she had earlier said to her sister, and then said she was alone in a house with a white man.  The boyfriend demanded that she put this man on the phone.  He heard heavy footsteps then it rang off.  Some hours later, a hitchhiker came across her body by Route 50, again near to I-295, just inside Prince George County in Maryland.  She had been raped and strangled.  A scarf was wound tightly around her neck.  Police believed that she was forced to say the things she did, in order to buy him time to do whatever he wanted.  Later, a witness came forward, saying that they had seen Darlenia Johnson, on the day she disappeared, in an old black car, driven by a black man.

    The killer struck again on 1st October `71, when 12 year old Nenomoshia Yates went to buy some provisions from a Safeway store in Northeast Washington DC.  She too never made it home, being raped and strangled.  Her body was left close to Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George County.  By now, the media had dubbed the killer "The Freeway Phantom".  Over a month later, on 15th November, he claimed his next victim, 18 year old Brenda Woodward.  She was on her way by bus to her Maryland Avenue home.  Six hours later, a cop on patrol discovered her body on a grass area near to an access ramp to Route 202.  She was covered with a coat.  She had been stabbed and strangled.  A note was discovered in the pocket of the coat, from the killer.  It read "This is tantamount to my insensititivity(!) to people especially women. I will admit the others when you catch me if you can"  It was believed that he forced Brenda to write it.

    His last known victim was Diane Williams, 17, who was off to visit her boyfriend on September 5th 1972.  Diane, a pupil at Ballou High School, was dumped by I-295.  During the long investigations, a suspect emerged; a member of a gang known as the "Green Vega Gang" who were abducting and raping young girls and women.  Some of them were in jail, when one hoped to cut a deal and implicate another member of the gang as the actual killer.  He gave details that Police had not released, so they thought that they were finally on to the killer.  Then an election loomed, and one of the candidates openly spoke about a suspect in jail, being offered up by another inmate.  The talker immediately clammed up and denied ever saying anything.  This lead has apparently been discarded since, although it is possible he heard details that were being spoken about on the streets.  Another suspect emerged, Robert Elwood Askins, a man with a record of murder stretching back to 1938.  Askins has since died, but one cop believes he is the killer, but cannot prove it.  The case is still open, but many files have been lost or destroyed, leaving a cop who took over the case in 2004, digging up files wherever he could find some.  A good number of cops have felt bad they could not locate the killer, as victims families lashed out saying that because they were black, the cops did not try enough.  That can be true with some, but certainly not, with all.  IF it was Askins, he has gotten away with a series of murders, but the question will always be why?