Blood Brothers Volume 1

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Henry Louis Wallace

The Charlotte Strangler


“There's only one Henry, a bad Henry.” – Henry Louis Wallace.

For almost two years, from 1992 to 1994, the women of East Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina lived in a state of perpetual fear. During that time nine young black women were raped and strangled to death by a killer whose ferocity seemed to increase with each crime. His identity, when it was revealed, would shock friends and baffle investigators because the Charlotte Strangler operated differently to almost every serial killer they’d ever heard about.

The first killing occurred on June 15, 1992 and went undetected until two days later. On that date, the manager of Bojangles Restaurant phoned Katy Love to tell her that her sister, Caroline, had not reported for work the last two days. Disturbed by this piece of information, Katy rushed to Caroline’s apartment. Caroline didn’t seem to be at home, but there was no evidence of anything amiss so Katy left a note and went on her way. However, Caroline’s sudden disappearance perturbed her, so she contacted Caroline’s roommate Sadie McKnight. Sadie confirmed that she hadn’t seen Caroline either and the pair decided to report the matter to the police.

Detective Anthony Rice was sent to investigate, and became immediately suspicious when he entered Caroline’s apartment. Some of the furniture stood askew, as though shoved aside during a scuffle. In addition, the sheet had been removed from Caroline’s bed, and appeared to be missing from the apartment.

However, there were no other clues to indicate what might have happened to Caroline, and despite the best efforts of Charlotte PD, they were unable to find her. She would remain missing for nigh on two years.

On February 19, 1993, eight months after the disappearance of Caroline Love, Sylvia Sumpter came home to the house she shared with her daughter, Shawna Hawk. Shawna wasn’t in the house when Mrs. Sumpter arrived and that troubled her, especially as Shawna’s coat lay over a chair, her purse beside it. She doubted her daughter would have gone out in such cold weather without her coat. Her concern growing, she placed two calls, one to Darryl Kirkpatrick, Shawna’s boyfriend, the other to the local Taco Bell, where Shawna worked part-time. Neither Darryl, nor Shawna’s co-workers at the restaurant, had seen her.

As Mrs. Sumpter continued to fret, Darryl Kirkpatrick arrived and conducted a search of the house, hoping to find some clue as to where Shawna might have gone. As he reached the downstairs bathroom, he noticed that the carpet was wet and that the shower curtain stood askew. Drawing the curtain aside he let out an involuntary scream. Shawna lay naked in the bathtub, her head submerged, her eyes staring lifelessly at the ceiling. An autopsy would later reveal that she’d been raped and strangled to death.

Then, in June 1993, another victim showed up. Twenty-four-year-old Audrey Spain had been a colleague of Shawna Hawk at the Taco Bell. When she didn’t arrive at work on June 23 and 24, her manager at the restaurant first phoned and then called on her apartment. Getting no reply to his knocks, he left a note. When he still hadn’t heard from Audrey the following day, he asked the superintendent of her building to go into the apartment and make sure that she was okay. The man found Audrey lying naked on the bed, items of clothing knotted around her neck. Like Shawna Hawk, she’d been raped and strangled.

Two strangulation murders and the disappearance of another young woman had now occurred in the space of just a few months. In retrospect, it seems impossible to imagine that police didn’t see a pattern. But without evidence linking the cases together, without eyewitnesses reporting anyone suspicious near any of the crime scenes, the connection wasn’t clear yet. And the killer was about to vary his M.O., making it even more difficult for investigators to detect a series.

On the night of August 9, Zachary Douglas was approaching the apartment of his girlfriend, Valencia Jumper, when he smelled something burning. As he got closer he was dismayed to see black smoke pouring from under Valencia’s door. He tried to enter the apartment but found the door locked. He then roused a neighbor and got him to call the fire department. A unit was dispatched to the scene, where firefighters found Valencia’s severely burned body lying on the bed.

Her death was ruled accidental, the cause recorded as “thermal burns.” It would remain so until the Charlotte Strangler confessed to the crime.

With the next murder, on September 15, the strangler again varied his M.O. As well as strangling Michelle Stinson, he also stabbed her. Michelle’s body was discovered by her two young sons, one three, the other just a year old. The older child went to the apartment of a neighbor, James Mayes, and told him that his mom was “sleeping on the floor.” When Mayes arrived he found Michelle lying in a pool of her own blood. A knife had been driven into her back and an autopsy would later show that it had ruptured her heart. In addition, she’d been raped and strangled.

Five women had now died violently within a five-mile radius in a little over a year, and yet police were still not sure whether the murders were the work of a single perpetrator. However, the residents of East Charlotte were in no doubt that a serial killer was among them. The mood on the street was angry. Citizens felt that local politicians and law enforcement officials were indifferent to their plight. Even the local newspapers had been low-key in their reportage of the crimes. Charlotte’s 31% black community felt abandoned by officialdom and the media.

Something had to be done, so the Charlotte Police Department convened a press conference at which they pledged to solve the East Charlotte murders. Detective Sergeant Gary McFadden, an African-American officer with an excellent arrest record, was appointed to lead the investigation. McFadden got to work immediately, meeting with the families of the victims and committing himself to bringing the killer of their loved ones to justice. Still, the community hated him, McFadden would later recall. “They treated me like a scapegoat. It was total conflict.”

No sooner had McFadden taken up his new post, than the killer dropped out of sight. There were no further murders through the fall of 1993, into the holiday season and beyond. Perhaps the killer had been scared off by the increased police presence on the streets? Perhaps, he’d moved on? If that was the belief, it would be shattered on Sunday, February 20, 1994.

Vanessa Mack worked at the Carolinas Medical Center and her mother, Barbara, routinely looked after Vanessa’s four-month-old child while Vanessa was at her job. On this Sunday, Barbara arrived just before 6 a.m. to pick up her grandchild. She was surprised to find the door ajar but she let herself into the foyer. The apartment was quiet and when she saw the baby asleep on the sofa and no sign of Vanessa, she sensed something was wrong. She walked quickly through the apartment, searching the kitchen and bathroom before entering her daughter’s bedroom. Vanessa’s semi-naked body lay across the bed, a ligature of some sort knotted around her neck.

Thus far, the killer had been careful, killing at will, disappearing without a trace, leaving not the sniff of a clue for police to work with. But in the second week of March 1994, something seemed to unhinge him. Between March 9 and March 11, he went on a murder spree, claiming three victims in as many days.

Betty Baucom was the assistant manager at Bojangles, the same restaurant where the strangler’s first victim, Caroline Love, had worked. On March 9, Baucom failed to report for work. Her boss, Jeffery Ellis, placed a call to her home and got no reply. He figured she was probably running late and would show up soon. But Baucom didn’t show that night. When she was still absent the following evening, Ellis called the police.

Police officer Gregory Norwood picked up the call and went to Baucom’s apartment where the building superintendent let him in. He found Betty Baucom lying face down on her bed. She was fully clothed, a towel knotted into a tight noose around her neck.

Once again, there were variances to the killer’s M.O. Baucom’s TV and VCR had been taken and her car, a light-blue Pulsar, was also missing. An alert was immediately put out on the vehicle while officers were dispatched to check out local pawnshops, in case the killer had tried to sell the stolen items.

Then a call came in about another murdered woman and officers were astonished to discover that it was in the same building as Betty Baucom.

The dead woman was Brandi Henderson. Her boyfriend, Verness Lamar Woods, had arrived home from working the night shift to find her lying lifeless on the bed, a towel knotted around her neck. Worse yet, Brandi’s killer had also tried to throttle the couple’s 10-month-old toddler (the child fortunately would survive without permanent injury).

With the community seething over these new attacks, Det. Sgt. McFadden called his team together to revisit the evidence they’d gathered thus far. Early in the year, McFadden had requested the FBI’s help in drawing up a profile of the killer. The Bureau had responded that the murders did not look as though they’d been committed by the same perpetrator. After the latest attacks, McFadden was convinced that they were wrong. He asked his team to look specifically at links between the victims. Had they worked together? Attended the same school? Moved in the same social circle?

The police had followed this line of enquiry before and drawn a blank. Now though, something jumped out at investigators. They’d asked each victim’s family and friends for a list of people with whom they had associated. The lists all had one name in common: Henry Louis Wallace.

  • Wallace had been the manager of the Taco Bell where both Shawna Hawk and Audrey Spain had worked.
  • Michelle Stinson, who often ate at the Taco Bell, would sometimes get into conversation with Wallace.
  • Valencia Jumper was a friend of Wallace’s sister, Yvonne.
  • Vanessa Mack was the sister of one of Wallace’s ex-girlfriends.
  • Betty Baucom was a friend of Wallace’s current girlfriend, Sadie McKnight.
  • Brandi Henderson was the girlfriend of Wallace’s friend, Verness Lamar Woods.
  • There was also a link to the “missing person” case. Caroline Love had been the roommate of Wallace’s girlfriend Sadie McKnight.

The pieces seemed to fit perfectly, but McFadden was all too aware that it proved nothing. It could all just be a coincidence. McFadden decided to approach Wallace’s girlfriend. Sadie McKnight was at first shocked that police suspected her boyfriend of being the Charlotte Strangler, but as she thought about it she remembered Henry giving her rings and necklaces that had seemed vaguely familiar. She now realized that the jewelry had come from his victims, many of whom, she had known.

The final piece of evidence came when the police located Betty Baucom’s Pulsar. They lifted a clear set of prints from the trunk – Henry Louis Wallace’s prints.

Wallace was taken into custody the following day, surrendering without a fight. But even as the police were transferring him to the Law Enforcement Center for questioning, news came of another murder. Debra Slaughter was discovered raped and then beaten, stabbed, and choked to death. She was the last victim of the Charlotte Strangler. Like the others, she too, had been an acquaintance of Henry Louis Wallace.

At the Law Enforcement Center meanwhile, Wallace was confessing to nine murders; Caroline Love, Shawna Hawk, Audrey Spain, Valencia Jumper, Michelle Stinson, Vanessa Mack, Betty Baucom, Brandi Henderson and Debra Slaughter. He also admitted to the murder of an unnamed prostitute and gave police the location of Caroline Love’s body.

Over the next several hours he related in sickening detail how he had killed the women, recalling even their final words as he throttled them to death. Although he’d robbed all of his victims to feed his crack habit, he said that the motive for the crimes was sex. They fulfilled his fantasies of power and control.

Asked at one point if he thought he might be schizophrenic, Wallace replied. “No, there’s only one Henry, a bad Henry.”

Wallace went on trial for murder at the Mecklenburg County Superior Courthouse in September 1996. His trial lasted four months and concluded in a guilty verdict and death penalties on all nine counts.

He is currently incarcerated on death row at Central Prison in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Blood Brothers Vol 1 includes 24 more riveting stories of worst America-American serial killers