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
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
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
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
Michigan - Present day
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Michigan -- March 2000
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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?
Hood said to the man snapping him back to reality. "Wanna party?" She
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
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.
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
-- 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
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,
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
"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."
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.
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.
admit to anything, but he wouldn't argue either," he said.
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.
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."
to watch Armstrong, and he complained to neighbors that they were
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.
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.
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.
just wanted to attract attention to himself; something sensational,
which seems to be part of his make-up," said Novi Police Chief Doug
The fake report
cost Armstrong his job.
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.
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
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
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
"He told me he
felt the police were harassing him," one neighbor told the Detroit News.
"But none of us suspected anything."
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
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.
killers, according to models developed by the FBI and other experts,
target strangers and tend to travel some distance from home to kill.
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.
to necessarily note someone picking up a prostitute and they tend to go
with anyone easily," she said.
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
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
But they were
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
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
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.
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."
back and managed to knock Armstrong's glasses from his face.
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
"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
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
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.
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.
police located a fourth body near the site, but believe that corpse is
from an unrelated murder.
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
immediately, the authorities let it be known that they were tracking a
"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.
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.
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.
have long to wait.
arrested at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday April 12, 2000 in his Jeep Wrangler.
Police brought him in for questioning.
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.
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.
Virginia, Armstrong's confessions have revitalized at least one stalled
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
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.
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.
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."
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."
acquaintance: "He was a basic high school student. He tried to fit in
with everyone else."
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."
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."
wife, pregnant with their second child, doesn't believe her husband
could be responsible for these killings, authorities said.
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.
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."
authorities around the world are tracking down leads, trying to
determine if Armstrong's story is true.
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."
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."
April 15, 2000. "Former sailor linked to 16 slayings, including 1 in
Newport News." The Norfolk (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.
Press. April 17, 2000. "Suspected serial killer product of tough past,
(Wash.) Sun. April 17, 2000. "Mother: The son we raised was not a
Wensley. 1999. The Railroad Killer: Tracking Down one of the Most Brutal
Serial Killers in History. St. Martin's Press, Inc.
April 13, 2000. "Man in custody in Detroit linked to local slaying" The
Norfolk] (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.
John-Henry Doucette And Jack Dorsey. April 14, 2000 "Ex-Sailor
implicated in 20 deaths. The Norfolk (Va.) Virginian-Pilot.
E. and Mark Olshaker, 1996. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial
Suzette and Dennis Niemiec. April 15, 2000. "Accused's tears bring scorn
from prosecutor." The Detroit Free Press.
April 15, 2000. "Multiple slaying suspect arrested." The Bremerton (Wash.)
Hunter, George. April 13, 2000. "Three killed after
suspect released." The Detroit News.
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
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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
Armstrong was born.
broke his leg when he fell out of a window while his father was
supposed to be watching him.
brother Michael dies from sudden infant death syndrome.
rode his bike into speeding traffic. "He said he wanted to be
with his baby brother,"
graduated from the New Bern High School.
joins the navy in Raleigh, North Carolina.
working as a ship’s serviceman on the USS Nimitz.
designated a third-class petty officer a rank he had at his
Sept. 25, 1998:
Katie Rednoske were married at a church in Redford Township.
honorably discharged from the navy
Dec. 3, 1999:
Johnson was found unconscious she died the same day at Ford
Hospital in Detroit.
Jan. 2, 2000:
Jordan's was found in the icy Rouge River in Dearborn Heights.
April 10, 2000:
found the strangled bodies of Rose Marie Felt, Kelly Hood and
Robbin Brown, in a railroad yard in southwest Detroit.
April 12, 2000:
arrested around 12:30 a.m.
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.
contemplates suicide as he sits in a maximum security
psychiatric ward of the Wayne County Jaill.
April 28, 2000:
arraigned in 36th District Court in Detroit in the deaths of
four women and the attempted murders of three others.
Aug, 15, 2000:
ordered to stand trial in Wayne Circuit Court for the murder of
Kelly Hood and for the attack on another prostitute, Cynthia
Aug 21, 2000:
examination in the other deaths.
Sept 1, 2000:
faces circuit court arraignment.
Feb 27, 2001:
faces his first trial in Wayne County Circuit Court for the
murder of Wendy Jordan.
March 8, 2001:
convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Wendy Jordan.
April 3, 2001:
hearing: He was ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison
without possibility of parole.
June 5, 2001:
selection started for Armstrong's second trial.
June 18, 2001:
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.