Some time ago I wrote about a pretty nondescript town in the Midwest of the United States rapidly gaining notoriety because, in all likelihood, it was being stalked by a serial killer.
The town I was talking about is called Chillicothe. Located in an area that’s been dubbed the Rust Belt. It is a very unflattering term given to a region in America, which has experienced devastating economic decline, population loss and urban decay due to the collapse of its once powerful industrial sector. It is by no means an exception that Chillicothe would be afflicted by the usual problems of drugs, poverty and unemployment. A lot of towns in this part of the world carry that stigma. But Chillicothe could be said to have fallen a long way further than the rest. Two hundred years ago it was Ohio’s first capital. It’s a boast the locals still include on the city sign. This is a place rarely mentioned in a headline of any kind unless some Presidential or Congressional candidate blows in promising to do this, that and the other to make life better for the town’s 21 thousand citizens, only to completely forget once election day came and went.
But lately Chillicothe was in the news for an entirely different reason. It is dark, sinister and extremely evil. It seems Chillicothe is also home to a serial killer who keeps murdering young women. In just over a year, at least six women have disappeared from the town. Four of their bodies were later discovered dumped in creeks or streams that flow out of the city. In every way it is a tragically, familiar story. Most of these women addicted to drugs or moonlighting as prostitutes to feed and fund their habit so local police say. Some of the missing women even knew each other. Understandably, the similarities between all of the victims, and the crime scenes, had the residents of Chillicothe terrified. It is a murder mystery that local police, several county sheriff’s offices and State investigators were doing their best to try to solve. Even the FBI’s crime profilers are helping with the investigation trying to build a picture of who might be responsible.
But, I am pleased to say, there could well have been a major development in this story thanks to a courageous and articulate young women with very pink hair who might have encountered the Chillicothe serial killer and lived to tell the tale. This is how the story unfolded. It is a remarkable story of survival. The woman, who has not been identified and wants to remain anonymous, was working as an escort in Charleston West Virginia and placed an advertisement on a website called Backpage.com. This is a website that enables men to make contact with prostitutes. And a man named Neal Falls,aged 45, turned up at her door. When she opened it he held a gun to her stomach and said just three words: Live or die. Then he began strangling her, However, I will let the woman concerned take up the story. “ I knew he was there to kill me,” she said. “I could tell that he had already done something because he said that he was going to prison for a long time. And that’s when I knew he was gonna kill me. “When he strangled me he just wouldn’t let me get any air,” she said. ” I grabbed my rake and when he laid the gun down to get the rake out of my hands, I shot him. I just grabbed the gun and shot behind me.”
After the shooting, the woman stood in an alley while a neighbor called police. In a recording of that phone call played by local television station KPTV, the woman’s panicked voice is heard in the background. “There’s a lady in the alley here saying that some guy tried to rape her and she had to defend herself and she shot him and he’s in the kitchen,” the neighbor tells the dispatcher. “He pulled a gun on her, she’s got cuts and stuff all over her.” Do you know who the guy is?” the dispatcher asked. “No. I opened the door and he said, ‘Live or die,’ ” the woman tells the dispatcher, crying all the time. When police attended and searched the dead man’s car they found items that would make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The items included a machete, a shovel, axes, knives, a bulletproof vest, numerous sets of handcuffs, trash bags, sledgehammers and a large bottle of bleach that police assume was to be used or has been used to destroy evidence.. But most importantly they found a list of names of future potential victims, all of them sex workers who advertised on Backpage dot com.
Investigators are now concentrating their efforts on discovering if there is a link between Falls and a string of murders targeting sex workers in Ohio and Nevada. According to Steve Cooper of the Charleston Police Department “ the stuff (police found) is so alarming that we want law enforcement across the country to be aware of it.”
Falls apparently worked as a security guard in Oregon. He did not have a criminal record apart from some minor traffic infringements. Detective Cooper said DNA will now be the key to linking him to other crimes. “We are entering his DNA profile into CODIS, which is a national crime DNA database, to see if it matches any previous submissions from anywhere in the United States,” he said. “If his DNA has been located in any other crimes and his profile was entered into CODIS, there will be a match.”
Whether Falls is ultimately found to be a serial killer his intentions were very clear on this occasion in West Virginia.
“He made a deal with the victim to exchange money for her services as an escort,” Detective Cooper said. “He brought no money with him. What he brought with him was a firearm, four sets of handcuffs, and all of the items we found in the trunk of his car. So … clearly his intentions were dark.”
The good news is that this extraordinarily brave woman who shot dead her attacker will not face any charges. It has been ruled as a justifiable homicide.
In fact justifiable is a very good word. Many, many young women may very well owe her a debt of gratitude that can’t be quantified: their lives.