admits to murder of Toledo woman
inmate knew details only killer could know
Saturday, August 11, 2007
sweltering Mississippi prison earlier this week, a long-haul trucker
admitted that he killed a former Toledo woman and more than 30 others,
Then John Robert Williams
confirmed what any homicide detective knows all too well: Truck stop
prostitutes are easy to kill.
On Wednesday, Capt. Clarke Fine
and Lt. Roger Call, of Indiana’s Hendricks County Sheriff’s Office,
interviewed Williams, who is being held in a “supermax” unit of the
Parchman, Miss., prison.
They were investigating the
death of Buffie Rae Brawley, a 27-year-old Toledo woman whose partially
clothed body was found March 24, 2004, in a desolate parking lot about
10 miles outside Indianapolis.
Her murder was particularly
Duct tape was pressed over her
face and her killer bashed in her head and strangled her.
Why? Investigators asked
The answer was simple: “He said,
‘She tapped on the cab of the truck,’” Lieutenant Call said.
The interview was triggered by
a meeting last month in Reno, where federal and local law enforcement
gathered to exchange information on unsolved crimes, especially victims
of suspected serial killers.
An investigator from Grapevine,
Texas, told Captain Fine that Williams confessed to him that he was
responsible for killing a woman and throwing her off a bridge in Texas,
Captain Fine said.
That woman, Casey Jo Pipestem,
19, also was last seen alive at a truck stop — that one in Oklahoma City.
Williams and his girlfriend,
Rachel Cumberland, have admitted to killing a 20-year-old woman they met
at a casino in 2004 and Williams is serving a life sentence, plus 20
years, for the crime.
Cumberland is serving a 20-year
On Wednesday, both of the
Indiana investigators were suspicious that Williams might be confessing
to crimes he didn’t commit.
But, the captain added, the 31-year-old
man knew details that only the killer might know, like when Miss Brawley
He remembered something else
without being asked — Miss Brawley’s rose tattoo with the name “Ebony”
over it. It is the name of her daughter.
“You worry about a guy just
saying, ‘Yeah, I did it,’ … but I think he’s telling the complete truth,”
Captain Fine said.
Ms. Brawley’s is a story that
spans, like so many hookers’ lives, cross-country.
In Portland, Ore., the news
yesterday was particularly painful for members of her family.
The one-year anniversary of the
death of Miss Brawley’s mother, Nadine Fechtner, who had cancer, is
Ms. Fechtner raised her
granddaughter, Ebony, after her own daughter was murdered.
And she spent much of the year
following her daughter’s death fighting with her son-in-law, convicted
Toledo pimp Derek Maes, to have her daughter’s body returned to her.
Eventually, Maes relented.
He is now in a Pennsylvania
prison awaiting sentencing on unrelated pimping convictions.
A uniformed police crew
appeared at 6:30 a.m. yesterday at Miss Brawley’s niece’s house in
Portland, asking for Ms. Fechtner. Linda Lyons said her aunt had died,
and an officer handed her Captain Fine’s phone number, Mrs. Lyons said.
“As soon as we saw the area
code, [my husband] said, ‘Hon, it’s about Buffie,’” Ms. Lyons said.
Whether Williams will be
charged with Miss Brawley’s death is not clear.
Williams already faces life
imprisonment in Mississippi, and now is lodged in “Unit 32,” a super-maximum
security facility on the Parchman prison campus.
It’s a unit that the American
Civil Liberties Union has called filthy, unsafe, and one of the least
humane in the country.
“He spends 23 hours a day [in a
small cell] with no TV, no radio, no air conditioning, and nothing to
read but religious tracts,” Captain Fine said.
Moreover, Williams faces
charges in Texas, where prosecutors might seek the death penalty.
At the Oklahoma State Bureau of
Investigation in Oklahoma City, senior intelligence analyst Terri Turner
has built a database of murder victims, many of them prostitutes.
She knew the Brawley case well.
she said she could not comment on the specifics of the investigation,
nor say how many other victims might be linked to Williams and
Cumberland. But, she added, “it’s still an ongoing investigation.”
Serial killer confesses to murdering
Toledo woman in Indiana in 2004
Friday, August 10,
long-haul truck driver and serial killer has confessed to the murder of
a Toledo prostitute outside Indianapolis in 2004 — a slaying that
authorities said most likely would never be solved.
John Robert Williams, 31, who
is in prison for another death and is a suspect in a string of others,
confessed to killing Buffie Rae Brawley, 27, whose body was found March
24, 2004 in a desolate parking lot, said Capt. Clarke Fine, of Indiana’s
Hendricks County Sheriff’s office.
The captain said he visited
Williams on Wednesday in his Parchman, Miss., prison.
Williams not only confessed to
the murder, but knew of details that only her killer would know. He knew,
for example, how Miss Brawley’s body had been left and when she died,
the captain said. Williams also remembered one of Ms. Brawley’s tattoos:
a rose with her daughter’s name, Ebony, on it.
"You worry about a guy just
saying ‘Yeah, I did it,’ … but I think he’s telling the complete truth,"
the captain said.
John Robert Williams and
defendant Rachel Cumberland were arrested in 2005 in Mississippi after a
year-long investigation by federal and local authorities investigating a
string of cross-country murders.
Whether Williams is charged in
Miss Brawley’s death is not clear. Captain Fine said Williams already
faces life imprisonment in Mississippi and is facing charges in Texas,
where investigators most likely would seek the death penalty.
Still, he said his discussion
Wednesday with Williams was a relief. Captain Fine, like other
investigators, said investigating the murders of prostitutes is
especially difficult because of the transient nature of their business
and of truckers who kill them.
He didn’t hold out a lot of
hope for solving Miss Brawley’s death, he said: "I have to be quite
honest, I didn’t."
The conclusion is still a
painful one for family members. Miss Brawley’s mother, Nadine Fechtner,
died of cancer Aug. 20, 2006. Ms. Fechtner had been raising her
granddaughter, Ebony, since her own daughter had been murdered.
She had fought with her son-in-law,
convicted pimp Derek Maes, to have the body buried near the family so
that Ebony could visit the grave. Eventually, Maes relented.
He is now in a Pennsylvania
prison waiting sentencing on unrelated pimping charges.
Local authorities appeared at
6:30 a.m. today at Miss Brawley’s niece’s house in Portland, asking for
Ms. Fechtner. Linda Lyons said her aunt had died, and an officer handed
her a phone number.
"As soon as we saw
the area code, [my husband] said ‘Hon it’s about Buffie’" Ms. Lyons said.
Tip led to serial killing suspects
August 23, 2005
As law enforcement officials from seven states searched for a serial
killer last summer, John Robert Williams and Rachel Cumberland sat
in the Neshoba County Detention Center in Philadelphia, Miss.,
accused of killing a woman they had met at a casino.
No one had linked them to the torture, rape and murder of several
other women who had been kidnapped from truck stops across the
country and then dumped, including one off a Grapevine bridge.
An officer or two had scanned their files in connection with the
truck stop slayings of women believed to be prostitutes. But there
seemed little similarity between those and the death of a casino
Luck and a relative who liked watching real-crime TV shows changed
all that. Williams' relative watched the June 4 episode of America's
Most Wanted detailing the death of Casey Jo Pipestem, whose body was
found in Grapevine. The relative called the program's 800 phone
number and said the killing sounded like one that her relative
bragged about when she had talked to him.
"As much work as all the investigators had done on these cases, I
just knew that one day we would get a break," said Grapevine
Detective Larry Hallmark, assigned to a multi-state task force
investigating the truck stop killings. "That tip was it."
Now law enforcement officials from throughout the country believe
the couple -- who recently were convicted in the casino patron's
death -- are responsible for the truck stop killings.
Williams was a long-distance hauler who had worked for several
companies during the past three years; Cumberland rode with him.
They were arrested and charged in August 2004 with the fatal
shooting of Nikki Hill of Shuqualak, Miss. The couple met her at a
Hill's body was found July 18, 2004, off a Neshoba County road near
Philadelphia, Miss. She had been shot once in the back of the head
and once in the back with a shotgun.
One of the two suspects called Mississippi authorities to report
that they found the body, police said.
Williams pleaded guilty July 5 to kidnapping and murder in the Hill
slaying. He was sentenced to life in prison. That same day,
Cumberland pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case and received
20 years in prison.
"He claimed he shot her by accident and decided, 'Well now I've got
to go ahead and kill her,' which makes no sense," said Mark Duncan,
the Neshoba County District Attorney in Mississippi. "Exactly what
their motivation, nobody knows."
News of their arrests reached Grapevine last summer, but the pattern
of the slaying didn't seem to fit the truck stop killings, Hallmark
said. Investigators continued to look for clues.
Their break came with the telephone tip last month. With the new
information, Hallmark and Grapevine police Sgt. Bob Murphy went to
Mississippi in late June to talk to the couple. The Grapevine
officers took along six photos of women who had been kidnapped from
truck stops and later killed.
Murphy and Hallmark spent 11 hours interviewing the couple -- eight
hours with Williams and three hours with Cumberland.
"They were very talkative," Hallmark said, enough to persuade
officials that he was involved in Pipestem's death.
Williams also discussed other cases in his interview with Grapevine
police, some involving slayings that police were not aware of,
leading to new investigations.
"You have to be careful because when you get someone that talkative
you discover that 30 percent is the truth and 70 percent is not,"
Mississippi authorities have declined to make additional comments
about the couple, although they have filed charges in a second
murder case, said Warren Strain, a spokesman with the Mississippi
Department of Public Safety.
The couple have been moved from the Neshoba County jail to the
Lafayette County Jail in Oxford, Miss.
The other cases in which the couple are suspects:
* The slaying of Jennifer Hyman of Oklahoma City. A railroad
engineer found her nude body Aug. 20, 2003, below a Tallahatchie
River railroad bridge near Oxford, Miss.
* The killing of Samantha Patrick. Charges are expected to be filed
against the couple in Patrick's slaying in Yukon, Okla., about 12
miles west of Oklahoma City.
* The death of Pipestem. Pipestem's nude body was found Jan. 31,
2004, in Big Bear Creek. Her body had been dropped from a Texas 360
bridge. She had last been seen three days earlier at an Oklahoma
City truck stop.
Duncan, the Neshoba County district attorney, said he's not
surprised that the couple are accused serial killers.
"Anybody that cold-hearted, I suppose it wouldn't bother them to do
it again," Duncan said.
Mississippi Department of Public Safety
Capital Murder Suspect Sought in Jackson
Agents from the Mississippi Bureau of
Investigation believe a capital murder suspect from Neshoba County
may be living and working in the Jackson area. Agents say 28-year-old
John Robert Williams, originally from Carthage, is armed and
considered dangerous. Last week, 35-year-old Rachel B. Cumberland of
Carthage was arrested. "Our investigation led us to Ms. Cumberland
who was subsequently charged with capital murder and kidnapping. As
we progressed with the investigation, a warrant for John Robert
Williams was issued," said Director of the Mississippi Bureau of
Investigation, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Berthay.
The two are wanted in connection with the
discovery of the body of 28-year-old Nikki Hill of Shuqualak. The
victim's body was found July 18th at approximately 11:00 a.m. off
Neshoba County Road 2606 near MS 16 West in Philadelphia. "She was
fully clothed and appeared to have been shot several times," said
Neshoba County Sheriff Larry Myers. "This cooperative effort between
our office, the Leake County Sheriff's Office and MBI shows what can
be accomplished when we work together with a comprehensive approach
to an investigation," Myers said.