Human Monsters Volume 3

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John Muhammad & Lee Malvo

John Muhammad was born John Allen Williams on December 31, 1960 in New Orleans, Louisiana. At the age of 18, he joined the Louisiana National Guard, serving seven years before signing up for active duty with the US Army in 1985. He trained as a truck mechanic, although he also earned the Expert Rifleman's Badge, the highest marksmanship level with the M-16 rifle. Muhammad later served in Iraq during the Gulf War before his eventual discharge in 1994, at the rank of sergeant.

By then, he was deeply indoctrinated into the more extreme tenets of Islam. He had become a member of the Nation of Islam in 1987. He would later serve as security during Louis Farrakhan’s “Million Man March” in 1995, and express his admiration for Osama bin Laden and his approval of the September 11 attacks.

In 1999, Muhammad left the United States and moved to Antigua, so that he could be closer to his children. It was during his stay on the island that he befriended a young boy named Lee Boyd Malvo, and took him under his wing. Malvo would later become his partner in the Washington sniper attacks.

By October 2001, John Williams was back in the United States, his name legally changed to John Allen Muhammad. In December of that year Lee Malvo ran away from home and hooked up with Muhammad in Tacoma, Washington. All of the pieces were in place. Soon the pair would embark on one of the bloodiest shooting sprees in US history.

Muhammad and Malvo committed their first murder on February 16, 2002, choosing a victim at random. Keenya Cook was standing in front of her house in Tacoma when the 17-year-old Malvo walked up to her and shot her in the face at point-blank range, killing her instantly. Cook’s baby was sleeping just feet away when the murder occurred.

A month later, the deadly duo was in Tucson, Arizona when 60-year-old Jerry Ray Taylor was killed. Golf enthusiast Taylor was playing a round at the Fred Enke Course when a bullet from a high-powered rifle tore through his back. His body was discovered later that afternoon, partially hidden in some bushes.

Muhammad and Malvo next showed up in Clinton, Maryland. On the evening of September 5, 2002, restaurateur Paul J. LaRuffa closed his business and walked to his car carrying a laptop computer and $3500 in cash and credit card receipts. As he sat behind the steering wheel, a figure appeared at the window and fired six shots. LaRuffa was severely injured, but survived. An eyewitness told police that the shooter was a “kid” who had run from the scene carrying LaRuffa’s computer and briefcase.

By now Malvo had been well and truly indoctrinated into John Muhammad’s warped worldview. Muhammad had told him that they were involved in a Jihad and that the money they stole would be used to buy a property in Canada, where they’d begin a new nation of “pure” black people. They’d also begin training soldiers to carry out attacks on the US. Bizarre though these ideas were, Malvo appears to have bought into them.

On September 15, 2002, Muhammad Rashid was locking the front door of the Three Roads Liquor Store when he heard a gunshot. Turning, he saw Malvo charging across the parking lot towards him, firing as he ran. Rashid was hit in the stomach, but survived the attack.

Almost a week later, on September 21, 2002, Claudine Parker and Kellie Adams were closing the ABC Liquor Store in Montgomery, Alabama when they were attacked. Parker, a Sunday school teacher and civil rights activist, died at the scene. Adams was shot through the neck, the bullet severing her vocal chords before exiting through her chin, shattering her face and teeth. Miraculously, she survived and was able to describe the young man who rifled through her purse as she lay bleeding on the ground.

Police officers, who arrived on the scene almost immediately after the shooting, also saw the youth, but unfortunately he ran off and was able to evade them. Ballistics reports later determined that the victims had been shot with a high-powered Bushmaster rifle, the civilian version of the M-16.

Just two days passed before the shooters struck again. On September 23, 2002, Hong Im Ballenger, manager of a Baton Rouge, Louisiana beauty salon, was shot in the back of the head while closing the store. Witnesses saw a young man matching Lee Malvo’s description running from the scene with the victim’s purse. Ballistics would link the attack to the Alabama shootings.

Five attacks had by now claimed the lives of four victims, but the shooters were only just getting started. On October 3, 2002, they carried out a spate of shootings, claiming four victims in a single day.

The carnage began just after 8 a.m. in Aspen Hill, Maryland, where Premkumar Walekar was shot and killed while fueling his taxicab at a gas station. Thirty minutes later, the killers were in Silver Springs, Maryland, where they spotted 34-year-old Sarah Ramos sitting on a bench at the Leisure World Shopping Center. Ramos was struck in the face by a bullet. A Chevrolet Caprice, similar to the one owned by John Muhammad, was seen driving away at high speed.

The murderous pair drove next to Kensington, Maryland where they shot 25-year-old Lori Lewis-Rivera as she stood vacuuming her car at a Shell service station.

At approximately 7 o’clock that evening, a Washington D.C. police officer stopped a Caprice after it had run a couple of stop signs. The driver, John Muhammad, was polite and apologetic and the officer released him with a warning. Just two hours later and a mere 30 blocks away, Muhammad gunned down 72-year-old Pascal Charlot. The bullet that penetrated Charlot’s chest would later be matched to those from the other shootings.

The following day, October 4, Caroline Seawell was putting bags in her minivan outside a Michael’s craft store in Fredericksburg, Virginia, when she was shot in the back. The bullet exited through her right breast, chewing through her liver on its path, but she survived, as did the next victim, 13-year-old Iran Brown.

Iran was walking to Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Maryland on October 6, when he was shot in the chest, suffering damage to his lungs, spleen, liver and pancreas. Officers searching the nearby woods later found a hunter’s hide that the shot had been fired from. The tarot card for death was left at the scene. On the back someone had written, “For you, Mr. Police. Code: Call me God. Do not release to the Press.”

Three days later, on October 9, 2002, Dean Meyers was fueling his car at a Sunoco station in Manassas, Virginia, when he was killed by a single shot to the head. In the aftermath of that shooting, the police actually interviewed Muhammad in a parking lot directly across the street from the gas station. However, they had no reason to detain him.

On October 11, 2002, Muhammad carried out another gas station attack, this time killing 53-year-old Kenneth Bridges with a bullet to the chest while he stood filling his car at an Exxon in Massaponax, Virginia. A Caprice was noted close to the scene that morning.

Washington D.C. and its surrounds were by now in a state of panic, with the media blasting out hourly updates on the killers now dubbed the “Beltway Snipers.” Yet even with the public on high alert and an FBI task force on their trail, the killers carried out a fourteenth attack. On October 14, 2002, Linda Franklin and her husband were loading their car outside the Home Depot store in Falls Church, Virginia when she was shot in the head and killed instantly. The bullet was later matched by ballistics to the same Bushmaster rifle used in the other killings.

The next day, October 15, a police dispatcher in Rockville, Maryland, received a strange telephone call. “Don’t say anything, just listen,” the caller said. “We are the people who are causing the killings in your area. We’ve called you three times before trying to set up negotiations. We’ve gotten no response. People have died.”

The caller hung up before the dispatcher could transfer the call to the Beltway Sniper Task Force.

A similar call was made to a deputy in Montgomery County, Maryland on October 18, and to a priest in Ashland, Virginia that same day. On each occasion, the caller verified his credentials with the phrase, “I am God.” He then went on to blame the killings on the police and their refusal to negotiate.

On October 19, 2002, Jeffery Hopper was leaving a restaurant in Ashland, Virginia, when he was cut down by a shot to his abdomen. Hopper survived, but required five surgeries to repair the damage to his pancreas, stomach, kidneys, liver, diaphragm, and intestines.

In the woods nearby, the police discovered another blind, similar to the one at the Iran Brown crime scene. A note left by the killers demanded that ten million dollars be placed in a Bank of America account. If the demand wasn’t met, they said, the police were “going to need more body bags.”

The day after the Hopper shooting, the Beltway Sniper Tip Line received a call from a man claiming to be the sniper. He again reiterated his demands, adding ominously, “Your children are not safe.”

At around 6:00 a.m. on October 21, Montgomery County bus driver Conrad Johnson was shot in the chest as he got on board his bus in Aspen Hill, Maryland. Johnson died later in hospital. A hunter’s blind, discovered close to the scene, gave up a black duffle bag. DNA lifted from hair on the bag would later be matched to John Muhammad. For now though, the snipers remained at large, and there didn’t seem much prospect of stopping them.

Then, on October 24, 2002, the task force eventually got the break they were waiting for when a trucker spotted the suspects sitting in a Chevy Caprice at a rest area in Frederick County, Maryland. Agents descended on the scene and found Muhammad and Malvo asleep in the vehicle. They surrendered without a fight.

The nightmare was over. Now it was up to prosecutors to bring the Beltway Snipers to justice.

Fortunately, Muhammad and Malvo were hardly the smartest of criminals. In addition to the ballistics and forensics already gathered, their vehicle gave up a wealth of evidence, including a loaded Bushmaster rifle, the laptop stolen during the LaRuffa attack, and a computer document containing the Snipers’ demands. In addition, there was a map with the location of each attack marked by a skull-and-crossbones symbol. It all added up to an extremely strong prosecution case.

Muhammad had been captured in Maryland, where most of the murders had taken place. However, it was decided that Virginia would have the first crack at prosecuting him. Accordingly, Muhammad went on trial at the Prince William County Circuit Court on November 17, 2003, charged with the capital murder of Dean Meyers.

Found guilty on November 24, 2003, he was sentenced to death, with subsequent trials in Maryland adding six consecutive life terms to the sentence.

Lee Malvo, meanwhile, had offered up a full confession, adding the details of seven more murders, in California, Arizona, and Texas, thus bringing the death toll to 17. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On May 6, 2008, John Muhammad instructed his attorneys to end all legal appeals on his behalf, so that the state of Virginia could “murder this innocent black man.” He was put to death by lethal injection on November 9, 2009.

Human Monsters Volume Three features another 29 shocking serial killer cases from around the world.