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John Eric ARMSTRONG

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 5 - 18
Date of murders: 1992 - 1999
Date of arrest: April 12, 2000
Date of birth: November 23, 1973
Victims profile: Women (prostitutes)
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Michigan/Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment in Michigan, USA, on April 3, 2001
 
 
 
 
 
 

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John E. Armstrong

Former USS Nimitz sailor John Eric Armstrong, of Dearborn Heights, Mich., a husband and father of two, has told Detroit police he strangled five Detroit-area prostitutes and earlier killed 11 other prostitutes while an active duty sailor aboard the aircraft carrier. The carrier was based in Bremerton, 10 miles west of Seattle across Puget Sound, during several years of his service.

Armstrong worked as a ship’s serviceman on the USS Nimitz from 1993 through 1999, where he received two good conduct medals, each medal represents three to four years of honorable service. His last job on the ship was as the barber shop supervisor.

Only the five slayings in the Detroit area have been confirmed and police in other jurisdictions have yet to attach the story to any bodies. Academics say it is not unusual for serial killers to exaggerate their body count to extend their feelings of superiority and domination. “A lot of these guys are very eager to become the Heisman Trophy winner of serial killing,” says Jack Levin, the director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Boston.

Investigators are trying to connect him to unsolved murders in the cities in which the USS Nimitz docked from 1993 until he was discharged in 1999.

The Nimitz was in Hawaii only twice during those years -- 1996 and 1993, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman said. The 1996 visit was four days; the '93 visit was one day.

Honolulu police have looked into the unsolved murders for both those years. But none match the profile of Armstrong's victims.

The only local case with a similar victim profile was that a stripper who was found dead in her Waikiki apartment in November 1994, police said.

Lisa Fracassi, 36, was found dead in her Nahua Street apartment with injuries to her neck. She was a dancer at what was then Exotic Paradise on Keeaumoku Street.

But there is no evidence linking Armstrong to Hawaii in 1994, Homicide Lt. William Kato said.

Some investigators warned that Armstrong may be exaggerating in his confession.

Eric W. Hickey, a professor of criminology at California State University, Fresno, who has extensively studied serial killers, says the suspect may have decided that since he was already going to jail, he may as well go with more glory. “They have him for five, he might as well go for 15 or 20 and get a big name,” Hickey said. “They have low self-esteem and they want some recognition.”

It's also possible that Armstrong could think that he killed women who, in reality, he actually left unconscious but not dead.

Armstrong, who said he was abused by his father, told police his anger stemmed from a high school girlfriend who spurned him after another suitor plied her with gifts. He said he viewed the gift-giving situation as prostitution.

Clinical psychologist Jennifer Balay said, that Armstrong told her he saw his birth father's face superimposed on the faces of prostitutes.

Family members remember Armstrong as a loving son who only got counseling for a brief time after his young brother Mikey died.

At age 5, Armstrong rode his bike into speeding traffic. "He said he wanted to be with his baby brother," his mother said.

Four months after his brother Michael (Mikey) died, his father left the family in New Bern, N.C., to be with another woman in Georgia. The father departed before he raised the cash for his family to buy a simple grave marker. There were indications that his father was neglectful. Armstrong broke his leg when he fell out of a window when he was 2 while his father was supposed to be watching him.

As a child, he fished and played Nintendo and baseball and won a small trophy for a school debate. The unassuming kid was a B and C student who talked of becoming a police officer.

Assistant Principal Terry Fuhrman of New Bern High School, where Armstrong graduated in 1992 in a class of about 350, said he was relatively unmemorable and not a discipline problem.

From his early years, he never wanted to be known as John. It was the name of his abusive, unsupportive father. Armstrong stopped using his first name to distance himself from that man. He was known as Eric to family and friends. When he was arrested, he was wearing a tan shirt with Eric written across it.

After high school, he worked for several months at a grocery store, then enlisted in the Navy in 1992 and left the next year.

On the Nimitz, he took required safety education classes, including one that warned against soliciting prostitutes. Aboard the Nimitz, he met Katie Rednoskea a former swimmer and graduate of Dearborn High School who in 1998 became Armstrong's wife.

Armstrong was charged with five counts of first-degree murder and four counts of assault with intent to murder in connection with alleged Detroit-area crimes. Later one charge was dismissed after Wilhemina Drane, a self-described prostitute who spoke extensively to the media after she said she was attacked, refused to testify because of the presence of cameras in the courtroom.

Investigators in Seattle and worldwide are trying to match Armstrong's accounts of other killings with unsolved homicides in their areas.

He was arrested around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday April 12, 2000, officers stopped Armstrong on Michigan Avenue, near Lonyo, on Detroit's southwest side, an area of Detroit frequented by prostitutes, whom he seemed to target in particular, investigators said.

"Basically, he told us he either killed, or tried to kill, every prostitute he'd ever had sex with," Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler said, "He expressed remorse several times and was crying like a baby."

Armstrong is cooperating with the Police investigation and is answering questions without a lawyer present.

The investigation began when police found the bodies of three strangled prostitutes (Rose Marie Felt (32), Kelly Hood (34), Robbin Brown (20), in a Detroit railroad yard, April 10, 2000. They had been placed there over the past month.

The first slaying that police think is linked to Armstrong occurred in 1992 in North Carolina..

In a two-week trial in March 2001, John Eric Armstrong, was convicted of first- degree murder for the death of Detroit prostitute Wendy Jordan. He told police he found 39 year old Wendy Jordan's body half naked in the Rouge River in January 2000. The Detroit prostitute was strangled. He was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Armstrong showed no emotion and sat still as the verdict was read.

His family left the courtroom quickly without commenting. Armstrong's attorney Robert Mitchell says he plans to file a motion to set aside the jury's decision.

Katie Armstrong says her husband couldn't have killed Wendy Jordan because he left their home only briefly that day, to buy cold medication. But police and prosecutors say Armstrong had sex with Jordan, killed her and dumped her in a river. Police say Armstrong confessed.

At the time of his arrest Armstrong was working as a refueler at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Prior to that job he had been a security Guard at the DMC Health Care Centers in Novi a suburb north of Detroit and a clerk at Target in Dearborn Heights.

Many of Armstrong's fellow sailors declined to talk about the case or said they didn't know him or hadn't had their hair cut by him in the ship's barber shop. "Everyone on the ship's talking about it," acknowledged Petty Officer Stephen Olson, who arrived after Armstrong was discharged. "For God's sake, he was a barber."

 
 

John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor

by Mark Gribben

Wendy Jordan

Detroit, Michigan - Present day

Bonnie Jordan insists over and over to anyone who will listen that her sister Wendy, 39, was not a prostitute. Bonnie is convinced that Wendy had put that part of her life behind her in the two years she had been off drugs. Wendy was working a good job as a manager of a gas station in the working class Detroit suburb of Royal Oak and didn't need to sell her body on the cold streets of Detroit, Michigan.

"She may have been that in the past when she was doing drugs," Bonnie admitted. "But not when she died."

"Wendy had been clean for two years," she added.

The new millennium started on a tragic note for the Jordan family. They had last seen Wendy at about 9 p.m. on New Year's Day when she left them at home and said she was "going out." Wendy never returned and the family learned two days later that the former addict's body had turned up in the dirty water of the Rouge River in Dearborn Heights, an industrial area of Detroit known more for its automobile plants than anything else.

Clearly, Wendy Jordan had met with foul play. She had been strangled and her lifeless body had been thrown from a bridge into the water.

In a strange twist, police would learn too late that they had been closer than they ever would have thought to Jordan's killer - and if the red tape of bureaucracy had not slowed their investigation, authorities might have been able to apprehend a murderer before he had the chance to kill again.

As it stands now, however, a cautious Wayne County Prosecutor's office allowed the killer to remain on the loose and enabled him to slay three more women, authorities said. Detroit area police are convinced that the man they now have in custody is responsible for those four killings, plus the murder of another reputed prostitute in December 1999.

But John Eric Armstrong's list of killings could spread far beyond the city limits of Detroit, or even the continental United States, for when authorities finally collared Armstrong after a number of prostitutes reported that a man fitting his description had been attacking them for weeks, the 26-year-old former Navy seaman admitted to as many as 30 murders in countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Israel, and Hong Kong.

Detroit police believe Armstrong's spree may have begun eight years ago, when he joined the Navy in Raleigh, North Carolina. Detroit police and the FBI are trying to match a list of Nimitz port visits between 1992 and April 1999, when Armstrong was discharged from the military, with a list of unsolved killings in cities across the world. Detroit police believe they can link Armstrong to the Detroit slayings and to three in Seattle, two in Hawaii, two in Hong Kong, and one each in North Carolina, Thailand, Singapore and Virginia. Other slayings may include prostitute strangulations in Japan, Korea and Israel, police said.

If these killings turn out to be true - and there is some evidence that Armstrong's list of victims is not nearly as long as he says, -- then the strawberry blond-haired, baby-faced 300-pound aircraft refueler could be one of the most well-traveled serial killers in history.

Kelly Hood

Detroit, Michigan -- March 2000

The prostitutes who work the streets on Detroit's hardscrabble southwest side were scared. Since the late spring, there had been a john on the prowl who liked to play rough. A couple of hookers had been picked up by the guy in the dark late model SUV and barely escaped with their lives. The man looked innocent enough, but he had issues with women who sold it for money. He had tried to choke them, and had talked about his hatred of prostitutes while trying to strangle two of them.

Prostitutes make easy targets for killers and sexual sadists, psychologists say. James Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston told the Detroit Free Press that such women are commonly attacked.

"They are the most common target," Fox said. "They are women who get into cars and find themselves at the mercy of strange men. For the killer, it is psychologically easier to kill them because he already views them as worthless sex machines who exist only to give pleasure."

The working girls were scared, but that didn't stop Kelly Hood from continuing to sell herself on the streets. She no longer had a choice. The drugs crack and heroin were her masters now and she only knew one way to make enough money to satisfy her need.

Hood had come down to Detroit from Muskegon, a northern Michigan town that, despite its smaller size, seemed to have a lot of the same problems that plague the larger urban centers. Beneath its attractive appearance Muskegon has more than its share of poverty and like a lot of Michigan cities that survive on the generosity of the tourists, the city on Lake Michigan changes in fits and starts depending on the economic cycles.

Kelly didn't come to Detroit to be a prostitute and a drug addict. She moved to the big city after meeting her future husband who worked on the line at the Chrysler auto plant. They lived in a nice house in a working class neighborhood in Detroit and settled down to raise their family. The three children came quickly in succession; this year they turned 7, 8 and 9.

But five years ago, something changed in Kelly and along with a friend she became a user of crack cocaine and heroin: "chasing the dragon," in street parlance. Soon, Kelly and her friend Linda were addicts and about a year ago, she left her husband and children for a life on the streets as a "buffer," or woman who engaged in prostitution to support her habit.

It was cold that night but it wasn't too cold for a crack addict to be out on the streets and it wasn't too cold for the man in the black Jeep to be out trying to satisfy his own demon. Like Hood, the man was not a native to the Motor City, but unlike her, he had only recently arrived in town after a nondescript Navy career. In the waning hours of the night, he prowled the dark city streets.

Driving down Michigan Avenue, the man spotted Kelly Hood standing beneath the street lamp, her fake-rabbit fur jacket pulled up high around her ears in contrast to the short skirt she wore. The man's demon spoke to him and he pulled the Jeep to the side. She was the one.

There was still one rational part of his mind left and the man argued with himself about whether to stop or not. This was different than the other times...He was soiling his own nest here, this wasn't any three-day furlough: he lived here and that meant he could get caught. The demon inside his head laughed. Hadn't he gotten away with it before? Hadn't the police tried to trap him into admitting he killed that other woman, and hadn't he managed to throw them off?

"Howzitgoin," Hood said to the man snapping him back to reality. "Wanna party?" She asked.

He said nothing as he leaned over and opened the door. The dome light flicked on and in the dim light Kelly Hood got a good look at the last face she would ever see.

The man was young, but his hairline was already receding. He wore glasses and he sported a three-day growth of blond beard. He was a big man, nearly 300 pounds, but built like a power forward. The two of them haggled for a moment about the particulars of their transaction and, satisfied that the man wasn't a cop, Hood got in the Jeep.

The inside of the Jeep was warm and inviting and Hood directed the man to drive about a block away and turn down an alley. Without comment he did so. He pulled the Jeep far into the alleyway and took it out of gear.

Turning to Kelly Hood, he muttered something under his breath.

"Huh?" she asked, her mind on the rocks of crack this trick would bring her.

The man's hands seemed huge to Kelly as they lunged forward and closed around her neck.

"I said, I hate whores," the man growled as he choked the life out of her.

Cat and Mouse

Dearborn Heights -- January 2000

The way Wendy Jordan's body had been discovered was puzzling to the police.

"Let me get this straight," the investigating detective was saying to the big man. "You were out for a walk and you were gonna puke so you went over to the side of the bridge and while you were heaving, you saw the body?"

The man was adamant.

"That's pretty much the way it happened," Eric Armstrong replied. "How many times do you want me to tell it. I'm not the bad guy, here. I called you guys, remember?"

That didn't mean much, the cop thought to himself. It wouldn't be the first time that a killer had caused his own arrest for the sake of notoriety or excitement.

****

"You are dealing with a sadist," state prison psychologist Richard Walter told the Free Press. A serial killer likes to "play cat-and-mouse with the police; catch me if you can and you terrorize the community at large. Generally, it's their arrogance that gets them done in."

Armstrong had called Dearborn Heights police just a few days before, right around the first of the year to report a woman's body in the Rouge River. It was Wendy Jordan, a former drug addict and prostitute, whose family had filed a missing persons report on New Year's Day.

Armstrong had been taking a walk, he said, when he began to feel ill. He was atop a bridge spanning the icy water of the Rouge River and as he leaned over the side, he saw something on the riverbank twenty feet below. Looking closer, he told the police, he recognized that it was a body. That was when he dialed 911 and summoned the authorities.

Wendy Jordan had been strangled, a preliminary examination revealed, and there was some evidence of a struggle. She had recently had sexual intercourse and a semen sample was taken. That would go a long way toward helping authorities confirm the identity of her killer.

Not only were police a little skeptical about Armstrong's account of how he found the body, they would later find additional witnesses who said they saw Armstrong on the bridge before he claimed he happened upon the scene.

 "He was an oddball," Royal Oak Police Sgt. James Serwatowski told the press. Armstrong vehemently denied having anything to do with Jordan's death, but sometimes when investigators were going over his story and pointing out where it diverged from known facts, Armstrong would hang his head and close his eyes, Serwatowski said.

"He'd never admit to anything, but he wouldn't argue either," he said.

Other officers on the case had already begun to investigate Armstrong. He hadn't been in town that long, having just been discharged from the U.S. Navy. He had been working as a refueler at Detroit's Metro Airport, putting the skills he had learned in the navy to work. Prior to taking that job, Armstrong had been a security guard in Novi, a well-to-do suburb north of Detroit, and a clerk at a Target store.

Police talked to Armstrong's neighbors who could shed little light on the newcomer. The only suspicious activity anyone could report was the day Armstrong left about 5 a.m. and returned an hour later.

What day was that, the neighbor was asked.

It turned out to be New Year's Day, the date Wendy Jordan was killed.

The authorities decided to put a little pressure on Armstrong, to see how he would fare. They tipped their hand a little.

"We're going to be watching him," they told one neighbor. "If he leaves with a lot of luggage, please give us a call."

Police continued to watch Armstrong, and he complained to neighbors that they were harassing him.

Police Close In

Dearborn Heights -- February 2000

There was some physical evidence available to investigators working on the Jordan homicide. They had what was presumably the killer's DNA and the medical examiner's office had found tiny fibers on Jordan's clothes that probably came from a vehicle she had been in shortly before she was dumped in the river. Tests were in the works to try and identify which type of vehicle, but without something to match them to, identifying a suspect would be difficult.

On the theoretical side, investigators' instincts continued to point them in Armstrong's direction. He didn't look like a killer, sure, but that didn't mean anything. There were just a number of things in his past that looked suspicious.

"Take that last run-in with the police," one detective said as he and his partner were revisiting the Rouge River crime scene one more time.

The Dearborn Heights police had run a computer check on Armstrong and found out that he had been investigated for filing a false police report in Novi.

Novi police told them Armstrong had placed a 911 call from his job as a security guard in early November to report that he had been attacked while breaking up a robbery. Investigating officers found Armstrong bleeding from superficial wounds to the face and arms. The officers immediately suspected something was amiss, and it didn't take Armstrong long to admit he had cut himself with a scalpel and fabricated the whole story.

"Apparently he just wanted to attract attention to himself; something sensational, which seems to be part of his make-up," said Novi Police Chief Doug Shaefer.

The fake report cost Armstrong his job.

Investigators paid a visit to Armstrong at home and he consented to allow them to gather fibers from his car and to give them a blood sample.

The officers quickly shipped the samples off to the State Police crime labs in Lansing, Michigan and waited for the results. Armstrong wasn't going anywhere, they theorized and at that time, authorities had no reason to believe he was involved in anything other than Jordan's murder. What they didn't know was that Monica Johnson of Detroit, the 31-year-old prostitute whom police found unconscious and barely alive near Interstate 94, had also been intimate with Armstrong. Johnson, a mother of four, would die at Ford Hospital in Detroit before talking to authorities.

And what they could never predict was that their diligence in seeking more evidence, their quest to build a strong case, would give Armstrong time to kill again.

Armstrong's neighbors, who had known him as a quiet, unassuming man for almost a year, had no reason to suspect anything was amiss.

The police had been to the small two-story bungalow that Armstrong, his wife and son shared with some in-laws, but the neighbors just assumed that was because Eric had been unfortunate enough to stumble across Jordan's body.

"He told me he felt the police were harassing him," one neighbor told the Detroit News. "But none of us suspected anything."

The Deadly Delay

Detroit -- March 2000

Law enforcement agencies make a distinction among the different kinds of repeat killers. Mass murderers are sociopaths like Columbine's Harris and Klebold who do all of their killing at one time. They are the kind of killers who often plot and plan their attacks over a period of time, with the intent of making a big statement in a single incident. They are like a supernova: they explode upon the scene in a bright fury of death and are immediately gone, leaving destruction in their wake.

Then there are spree killers, who are rarer. They are the type who flame out over a short period of time, usually a few days. Killers like Charles Starkweather are spree killers. They are the meteorites of the psychopath universe, burning out brilliantly over a short period of time.

Serial killers are different. They are rarely in a hurry. They are methodical in their carnage. Serial killers are the comets. They blaze through the night and disappear into the blackness only to return again and again to kill.

Organized serial killers, according to models developed by the FBI and other experts, target strangers and tend to travel some distance from home to kill.

And prostitutes tend to be among the most likely victims in terms of serial killers, said Deborah Laufersweiler-Dwyer, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Arkansas.

"Nobody's going to necessarily note someone picking up a prostitute and they tend to go with anyone easily," she said.

Research shows, she said, that organized serial killers are typically sociopaths who have a problem with authority.

"They don't like rules, they think they can make up the rules as they go along," she said.

The Dearborn Heights police had no reason to suspect that they were dealing with a serial killer, so they had no reason to rush their investigation of Wendy Jordan's murder. The poor woman was dead, screwing up the probe so that a killer could walk would do no one any good. Nevertheless, investigators felt they had their man. When the tests came back indicating that the fibers on Wendy's body matched those in Armstrong's Jeep, the police went to the prosecutor's office in the hope of getting a warrant.

But they were turned away.

The Wayne County prosecutor's office has a policy not to issue an arrest warrant for a homicide until the State Police lab has issued its final report, and the Dearborn Heights police only had preliminary results linking Armstrong to Jordan.

Armstrong would remain on the street.

About the time Dearborn Heights police were waiting for more than just an oral report that the DNA had matched up, Wilhelmenia Drane was waiting for a bus along Michigan Avenue when she accepted a ride from a man in a black Jeep.

She would later tell police that the man stopped on a side street and told her he needed to get something from his coat.

The man, who she identified as Eric Armstrong, went for her throat instead.

"His hand reached out and grabbed my neck," she said. "I was lucky I was wearing a scarf. He got my scarf and had a hold of me real tight."

Drane fought back and managed to knock Armstrong's glasses from his face.

"His fingers were around my windpipe," she said. Near unconsciousness and in a state of panic, Drane managed to reach into her coat and grab a can of pepper spray.

"I sprayed him in the face with it," she recalled. "And then I jumped out of the car."

Even though the police were closing in on him and one victim had managed to escape, Armstrong's demons still hounded him, demanding that he kill.

He continued to return to the Michigan Avenue area and over the next few weeks he had sex with and assaulted several more prostitutes in his Jeep. Authorities said Armstrong also killed Kelly Hood, Rose Marie Felt, 32, of Detroit and Nicole Young, an 18-year-old Chicago woman who was brought to Detroit by her boyfriend, forced into prostitution and abandoned.

The Trap is Set

Detroit - April 2000

The neighborhood where Military and Southern streets intersect in southwest Detroit is a relatively safe one. Contrary to popular opinion, the crime level in Detroit is no better or worse than any other large city and the Motor City no longer must wear the unfortunate mantle of Murder Capital of the United States.

The Military/Southern area is lined with the homes of hardworking, decent law-abiding citizens and residents are not used to hearing gunfire or the sharp report of a weapon. They are accustomed, however, to the loud sounds of Conrail freight trains, carrying supplies to the Detroit industrial plants or taking newly built cars to destinations unknown.

One of those trains, no one knows if it was incoming or outgoing, was plodding through the neighborhood on the morning of April 10, 2000 when someone aboard noticed a grisly sight. Beside the tracks lay the bodies of three women in varying stages of decomposition.

The Detroit police responding to the call from the train arrived to find the bodies of Hood, Felt and Young. Based on their condition, it was clear to investigators that the women had not been killed at the same time.

More than 80 police officers, along with crime lab personnel and canine units converged on the scene and immediately cordoned off the area. The bodies of the three women were not removed until early evening.

Interestingly, police located a fourth body near the site, but believe that corpse is from an unrelated murder.

Technicians determined that Hood had been dumped three weeks prior, sometime in mid-March. Felt's body had been there about a month. Nicole Young had apparently been murdered sometime within 12 hours of the discovery of the bodies.

Almost immediately, the authorities let it be known that they were tracking a serial killer.

"When you kill three people on three separate occasions, and leave them in the same location, then yes," you have a serial killer, Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon told the Detroit Free Press. "It's very serious and we're taking it very seriously as a department."

By the end of the day, a multi-jurisdictional force comprised of the Detroit Police Sex Crimes Unit, the Violent Crimes Task Force, the FBI, the Michigan State Police, Conrail Railroad Police and the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office was formed to investigate the slayings.

Napoleon recalled the last serial killer in Detroit: During a nine-month period in 1991 and 1992, a serial killer raped and strangled 11 women, many of whom had histories of prostitution and drug abuse. Several of the victims were found in abandoned motels and other derelict buildings near Woodward Avenue in Detroit and Highland Park.

Benjamin (Tony) Atkins, 29, was convicted of the murders. He died in September 1997, just four years into the 11 life terms he was serving for the slayings. Atkins said he was driven by a hatred of prostitution.

In contrast to the Dearborn Heights investigation, which was moving along at a slow, careful pace, the Detroit police force sprung into action. Investigators linked three reported assaults of prostitutes with the murders of Hood, Felt and Young. Using descriptions provided by the women (and one transvestite) who had escaped the killer, they began round-the-clock patrols of the high-traffic areas where Detroit's prostitutes converged.

They focused on the Michigan Avenue and Livernois corridor after consulting with the FBI agents who created a profile of the killer. It was likely that whoever was targeting the prostitutes would return there for another victim.

They didn't have long to wait.

Armstrong was arrested at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday April 12, 2000 in his Jeep Wrangler. Police brought him in for questioning.

Confession

The brazen young man who stood up to the Dearborn Police was gone. The Detroit authorities confronted Armstrong with an overwhelming pile of evidence and he quickly broke down.

All the years of torment finally broke free and Armstrong's mental state began to collapse, police said.

"He expressed remorse several times and was crying like a baby," said Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler. "Basically, he told us he either killed or tried to kill every prostitute he'd ever had sex with."

Even though the Detroit police had linked Armstrong to the three bodies found in the railroad yard, they had no idea at the time that they might have had the farthest-roaming serial killer in history in custody.

Armstrong was in a cathartic state, authorities said. His confession, which began shortly after he was arrested, was like a litany of horror. Dates, details, events, killings, assaults all came spewing out in a torrent. Armstrong told police about killings in Washington State, in Hong Kong, Thailand, in Hawaii and the Middle East.

In Seattle, he said, he killed a man after an argument. He killed two prostitutes there, as well, according to initial police reports. Another prostitute was murdered in Spokane, he told them. All in all, Armstrong, between his arrest Wednesday and arraignment Friday, shared details about as many as 30 killings.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Armstrong's confessions have revitalized at least one stalled murder investigation.

The body of a 34-year-old woman was found in Norfolk on March 5, 1998, four days after the Nimitz docked in its homeport, Newport News, 12 miles away. Linette Hillig, who had a string of prostitution arrests, was discovered behind a bingo parlor. She may have been sexually assaulted, authorities said. Armstrong reportedly told investigators that he had strangled the woman in Virginia and driven over her body with his Jeep.

"Once he began to talk, he was freely giving very intimate details about the case," said Detective James Hines of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. "His demeanor was shifting quite often from being calm to irritable to sometimes sad."

Hines also told the Detroit Free Press that Armstrong described in great detail each of the killings, giving details only the killer would know.

"His mood would fluctuate from calm to an appearance of anger. But the anger didn't appear to be sincere," Hines said.

The Model Sailor

When the story broke that Detroit police had arrested a man who may have used the aircraft carrier Nimitz, the largest sailing vessel in the world and one of the most powerful weapons of war ever conceived, as his means to travel the world to kill, the Detroit police department was inundated with contacts from around the globe.

"There's a bunch of people I've never seen before in our office," said Detroit Police Sgt. Arlie Lovier, who had been interrogating Armstrong.

The FBI, the office of the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and police officials from Washington State all joined in on the investigation. Authorities from the Far East have reopened cases in hopes of finally solving some of their unfinished investigations. Agents in 38 FBI foreign offices began probes into unsolved killings.

Almost as quickly as they began to promote the idea of a globetrotting serial killer, authorities began to back away.

"There are gaps in his timeline we are concerned about," said one Detroit police commander. "Nothing outside of Michigan has been confirmed yet."

Investigators are looking at Armstrong's life, trying to find a clue to what might have set him off. Predictably, the reports that are coming in paint a picture of seeming normality on the surface of Armstrong's life.

"He was a very smart boy," said a schoolmate of Armstrong's. "You would never have thought he would do the things he is accused of doing."

Said another acquaintance: "He was a basic high school student. He tried to fit in with everyone else."

The district attorney in Armstrong's hometown of New Bern, North Carolina, was hard pressed to identify Eric Armstrong.

"Some folks grow up and leave a footprint," said David McFadyen. "He was just somebody that didn't leave a footprint."

Shipmates recalled a quiet man known as "Opie" who was the kind of man "moms want their kids to meet."

While there are conflicting reports as to what Armstrong's job was on the Nimitz  -- he has been described in various reports as a mechanic and a barber - his tour of duty aboard the ship was unremarkable; in fact, he seemed to excel as a sailor.

"I just can't believe this guy would do something like that," said Jhun Esteves of Bremerton, who was Armstrong's chief petty officer aboard USS Nimitz from 1994 to 1997.

"He was my sailor of the month at one time," he said. "This guy had an unblemished record aboard the ship when he was working for me."

Armstrong's wife, pregnant with their second child, doesn't believe her husband could be responsible for these killings, authorities said.

"She's in extreme denial," Hines said. "Apparently she didn't want to hear what I had to say." Hines had to hang up on Katie Armstrong after a minute-long conversation when she wouldn't stop yelling.

"She was a very loud and rambunctious woman," he said.

Epilogue

In the Wayne County Jail, Armstrong is being held in the psychiatric observation unit, where he is under closer than normal scrutiny. In his sole appearance in court, a clearly distraught Armstrong was quiet and contrite. His only comment to the media was a mumbled, "sorry."

Meanwhile, authorities around the world are tracking down leads, trying to determine if Armstrong's story is true.

They are hampered in many places by poor record keeping or unsophisticated investigations. For his part, Armstrong's attorney doubts that his client has left a string of bodies across the globe.

He is a "very distraught and very disturbed young man who has emotional problems that emanated many, many years ago," said the lawyer.

"You will see that some of it arises out of his compassion," said attorney Robert Mitchell. "It's quite a story. Quite a story."

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Walker looks at compassion differently.

"I have enough people I have real compassion about -- five are dead and three got away," she said.

For the friends and family of the victims, there is little solace in knowing that the man accused of these killings is in custody.

"Think about all the other sisters and wives, said Kelly Hood's younger sister. "Not everyone has a perfect life, but they all had families somewhere."

"I'm still numb about it," she went on. "My sister had a good husband and a good family. She always had a heart of gold."

Bibliography

  • Altman, Joseph. April 15, 2000. "Former sailor linked to 16 slayings, including 1 in Newport News." The  Norfolk (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.

  • Associated Press. April 17, 2000. "Suspected serial killer product of tough past, relatives say."

  • Bremerton (Wash.) Sun. April 17, 2000. "Mother: The son we raised was not a killer."

  • Clarkson, Wensley. 1999. The Railroad Killer: Tracking Down one of the Most Brutal Serial Killers in History. St. Martin's Press, Inc.

  • Clayton, Cindy. April 13, 2000. "Man in custody in Detroit linked to local slaying" The  Norfolk] (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.

  • Clayton, Cindy. John-Henry Doucette And Jack Dorsey. April 14, 2000 "Ex-Sailor implicated in 20 deaths. The Norfolk (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.

  • Douglas, John E. and Mark Olshaker, 1996. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit.

  • Hackney, Suzette and Dennis Niemiec. April 15, 2000. "Accused's tears bring scorn from prosecutor." The Detroit Free Press.

  • Horn, Richard. April 15, 2000. "Multiple slaying suspect arrested." The Bremerton (Wash.) Sun.

  • Hunter, George. April 13, 2000. "Three killed after suspect released." The Detroit News.

CrimeLibrary.com

 
 

John Eric Armstrong

The Detroit Police charged ex-sailor John Eric Armstrong with the murder of five local prostitutes and three attempted murders. Investigators are confident he killed the Detroit-area women, but beyond that they wonder whether Armstrong -- a man who has the vanity plate "Baby Doll" on the front of his Jeep Wrangler -- is pulling a Henry Lee Lucas. "There are gaps in his time line that we are concerned about," said Detroit Police Cmdr. Dennis Richardson, head of the major crimes division. "However, nothing outside of Michigan has been confirmed yet. Our investigation is continuing very aggressively and very meticulously."

He told police his wife is pregnant with their second child and that they were having marital problems. After he listened to Armstrong confess to various murders, Hines said he called Armstrong's wife to let her know he was in police custody and was facing criminal charges. The detective said he hung up on Katie Armstrong after a minute-long conversation. He said he had warned her that he wouldn't continue the conversation if she kept yelling at him. Katie Armstrong accused police of harassing her husband, Hines said. "She's in extreme denial," said Hines. "Apparently she didn't want to hear what I had to say. She was a very loud and rambunctious woman."

The serial killing former Navy fueler arrested in Detroit has been identified as John Eric Armstrong. He is now considered a suspect in the murder of five Detroit prostitutes. Detroit police believe Armstrong's alleged killing spree may have begun eight years ago in North Carolina, when he joined the Navy in Raleigh.

Detroit police and the FBI are trying to match a list of Nimitz port visits between 1992 and April 1999, when Armstrong was discharged from the military, with a list of unsolved killings in cities across the world. "There may be as many as 18 to 20" deaths worldwide, Detroit Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler told the Associated Press. "As the investigation keeps going on, bodies keep popping up. The numbers keep increasing," Officer Octaveious Miles told the AP. "There is a similar pattern that ties them all together that creates a trail."

Police said Armstrong was questioned following the January death of a prostitute in Dearborn Heights after he told police he found her body in a stream. But investigators said they did not have enough evidence to arrest him at the time. "This is not going to be solved, this won't be completed, in the next week. Literally we will be months dealing with other governments and police officers around the world," said FBI Special Agent John Bell.

Navy officials said that Armstrong was not the model sailor, but he was not a discipline problem either. During his eight years in the service, Armstrong received the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal; two good conduct medals; the Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon; the Meritorious Unit Commendation ribbon; the National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; and two Sea Service Deployment ribbons.

A former U.S.S. Nimitz fueler was arrested in Detroit for the slayings of three prostitutes. According to Police Chief Benny Napoleon the 26-year-old suspect could also be linked to killings in three other states and several foreign ports where the Nimitz docked. "He's a serial killer. He's a sick person," the chief said. "We have the killer. There's no doubt."

The suspect, whose name has not yet been released, was arrested in an area frequented by prostitutes. También es sospechosos de haber cometido tres asesinatos en Seattle, dos en Hong Kong, dos en Hawai, y cuatro más en Virginia, Carolina del Norte, Tailandia y Singapur. Investigators are looking at possible links with similar prostitute strangulations en Japón, Corea e Israel, ports where the Nimitz docked. The suspect recently moved to the Dearborn Heights area of Detroit with his wife and infant child. For the last month he had been working as a refueler at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

The suspect first came to the attention of authorities after a prostitute called Detroit police to report she had been assaulted and gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle. Two days later a Conrail worker spotted a body near the tracks. Investigators then found two other women's bodies nearby. All three women were prostitutes killed at different times, then dumped in same area.

Investigators examining the confession John Eric Armstrong are begining to wonder whether his decade-long, worldwide crime spree is a figment of his imagination. The 300-pound former sailor has claimed to have killed 18 women. Only five murders in Detroit have been confirmed. One other killing, that of Linette Hillig, 34-year-old woman was found in Norfolk on March 5, 1998, concurs with Amstrong's confession. However, Norfolk police have not identified Armstrong as a suspect. In other cities, police say they have doubts about the former sailor's credibility. From Singapore to Hawaii to Washington, investigators have said they either have no unsolved murder or no case that fits what Detroit police attributed to Armstrong.

 
 

Ex-Sailor Linked to 16 Slayings Around World

Arraigned for Murder of Detroit Prostitutes

April 14, 2000

DETROIT (AP) -- The list of victims linked to a former sailor suspected of killing at least 15 women and one man in the United States and Asia keeps growing, authorities say.

"As the investigation keeps going on, bodies keep popping up. The numbers keep increasing," Detroit police Officer Octaveious Miles said Thursday. "There is a similar pattern that ties them all together that creates a trail."

Police say the trail leads to John Eric Armstrong, a 26-year-old husband and father from Dearborn Heights. He was to be arraigned today on five charges of murder and three attempted murders of Detroit-area prostitutes. Conviction of murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Armstrong is suspected in at least 11 other slayings since 1992: three in the Seattle area, including the lone male victim; two in Hawaii; two in Hong Kong; and one each in North Carolina, Virginia, Thailand and Singapore.

Bodies found in railroad yard

He was arrested early Wednesday in an area of Detroit frequented by prostitutes, whom he seemed to target in particular, investigators said.

"Basically, he told us he either killed, or tried to kill, every prostitute he'd ever had sex with," Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler told The Detroit News. "He expressed remorse several times and was crying like a baby."

Police said Armstrong spent eight years as a crewman aboard the USS Nimitz, going from port to port strangling women. He may also be linked to the deaths of several prostitutes in Japan, Korea and Israel.

The investigation began when police found the bodies of three strangled prostitutes in a Detroit railroad yard Monday. They had been placed there over the past month.

"You know when you find three bodies at different states of being decomposed ... you know it is the same person. The scene kind of talks to you," Winkler said.

Questioned without a lawyer

The Navy began investigating after receiving a call from the FBI, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Larry Thomas said. The Navy was trying to confirm the suspect's identity and whether he had been enlisted.

Armstrong moved eight months ago to Dearborn Heights and has worked for the past month at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as an aircraft refueler.

Police said he asked for help and was cooperating with their investigation. Police also said he was answering questions without a lawyer present.

He appeared lucid, although a psychological exam likely will follow arraignment, Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Robert Agacinski said.

'Unusual circumstances'

In a twist, investigators realized Armstrong had called in the report of a body found in the Rouge River on Jan. 2, Dearborn Heights police Lt. Gary Tomkiewicz said.

Armstrong told police he spotted the body of 39-year-old Wendy Jordan while he was leaning over a bridge to vomit, Tomkiewicz said.

"It was unusual circumstances," he said.

Winkler said the first slaying that police think is linked to Armstrong occurred in 1992 in North Carolina. Police in Armstrong's hometown of New Bern, N.C., said he has no criminal record there.

 
 

Ex-Sailor Suspect in Five Detroit Killings

Cops Say He Left Bodies in Ports Around World

April 13, 2000

DETROIT (AP) -- A former sailor suspected of killing five Detroit-area prostitutes has been linked to at least six other slayings, and police say they are investigating whether he went from port to port killing women while serving in the Navy.

John E. Armstrong, 26, was arrested Wednesday, but he has not been formally charged with a crime. Police say they are still gathering evidence.

But police said he has admitted killing women in Michigan, Norfolk, Va., Washington state and Thailand, both The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press reported today. So far, he has been linked to at least 11 slayings and has been cooperating with police, police Chief Benny Napoleon said today.

"We're continuing to discover murders that he has been involved in," Napoleon told Detroit radio station WWJ. "We're trying to track his career in the Navy to determine just how many bodies he has left in his wake.

"We really don't like to talk about the existence of a confession until such time as we have an actual warrant in our hand, but suffice it to say, he is cooperating with us," Napoleon told WWJ.

Aboard USS Nimitz

The suspect sailed aboard the USS Nimitz as a fueler. He may also be linked to prostitute strangulations in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Korea and Israel -- all ports of call for the Nimitz, Napoleon said.

"This guy has created terror around the world," Napoleon said. "He is no longer in a position to kill."

The Navy began investigating the case after receiving a call from the FBI on Wednesday, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Larry Thomas said today. He said they are still trying to confirm the suspect's identity and whether he was actually enlisted.

Armstrong is from New Bern, N.C., married and has at least one child, police said. He moved eight months ago to suburban Dearborn Heights and has worked for the past month at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Napoleon said.

Airport spokesman Mike Conway said the suspect worked for Signature Flight Support as a refueler. Calls to that company were not returned.

'Unusual circumstances'

Last week, a prostitute told police she had been assaulted and gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle. On Monday, investigators found three bodies in an isolated area of Detroit -- all of them prostitutes who had been strangled.

The first body had been placed in the area four weeks ago, the second three weeks ago and the third on Monday, Napoleon said.

The man is also suspected of killing Wendy Jordan, 39, of Dearborn Heights. Her body was found Jan. 2 in the Rouge River, Napoleon said. The body of a fifth prostitute was found several months ago, the police chief said today.

Dearborn Heights police Lt. Gary Tomkiewicz said the suspect himself called in the report of the body found in the river.

Armstrong told police he spotted the body while he was leaning over a bridge getting sick, Tomkiewicz said, adding, "It was unusual circumstances."

DNA samples taken from car

Police suspected him in Jordan's death and had taken DNA samples from his car. They were awaiting final test results when the bodies were discovered Monday, Tomkiewicz said.

Special Agent John Bell of the FBI said the investigation would take months to complete as U.S. authorities deal with their counterparts in other countries.

 
 

Timeline

1974: The year Armstrong was born.
1976: Armstrong broke his leg when he fell out of a window while his father was supposed to be watching him.
Jan. 1979: His 2-month-old brother Michael dies from sudden infant death syndrome.
1979: Armstrong rode his bike into speeding traffic. "He said he wanted to be with his baby brother,"
1992: Armstrong graduated from the New Bern High School.
1992: Armstrong joins the navy in Raleigh, North Carolina.
1993: He starts working as a ship’s serviceman on the USS Nimitz.
1995: He was designated a third-class petty officer a rank he had at his discharge.
Sept. 25, 1998: Armstrong and Katie Rednoske were married at a church in Redford Township.
April, 1999: Armstrong honorably discharged from the navy
Dec. 3, 1999: Monica Johnson was found unconscious she died the same day at Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Jan. 2, 2000: Wendy Jordan's was found in the icy Rouge River in Dearborn Heights.
April 10, 2000: Investigators found the strangled bodies of Rose Marie Felt, Kelly Hood and Robbin Brown, in a railroad yard in southwest Detroit.
April 12, 2000: Armstrong got arrested around 12:30 a.m.
April, 2000: Armstrong allegedly admitted to investigators in that he killed five Detroit-area prostitutes and 11 other women worldwide. He also confesed of killing a transvestite in 1993, in Seatle, after an argument. He told police that he would sometimes return to the dead bodies to have sex with them.
April, 2000: Armstrong contemplates suicide as he sits in a maximum security psychiatric ward of the Wayne County Jaill.
April 28, 2000: Armstrong was arraigned in 36th District Court in Detroit in the deaths of four women and the attempted murders of three others.
Aug, 15, 2000: Armstrong was ordered to stand trial in Wayne Circuit Court for the murder of Kelly Hood and for the attack on another prostitute, Cynthia Smith.
Aug 21, 2000: Armstrong's examination in the other deaths.
Sept 1, 2000: Armstrong faces circuit court arraignment.
Feb 27, 2001: Armstrong faces his first trial in Wayne County Circuit Court for the murder of Wendy Jordan.
March 8, 2001: Armstrong is convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Wendy Jordan.
April 3, 2001: Sentencing hearing: He was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.
June 5, 2001: Jury selection started for Armstrong's second trial.
June 18, 2001: Armstrong pleaded guilty to killing three prostitutes last year while keeping the slim hope that an appeals court could overturn all five of his murder convictions.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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