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Invisible People
October 28, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

He was methodical, he rode the highways, and he preyed on teenage girls. Girls who'd run away. Girls no one would miss. In the summer of 1985, the author was such a girl. One night on I-95, she hitched a ride from a stranger and endured the most terrifying moments of her life. Now, years later, she returns to the scenes of her fugitive youth looking for clues to that terror—and the girls who lost their lives to it - The Truck Stop Killer
posted by Artw (23 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chilling.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:55 AM on October 28, 2012


I mostly don't read serial killer stuff, because the whole trip of being really interested in these guys, of reading about them as sort of protagonists in this narrative about how deep and astonishing their evil is or whatever, strikes me as really fucked up. This piece seemed different, I think because it was written by someone who survived, and didn't fit the standard "isn't this asshole interesting" template.
It seems our profound fascination with serial killers is matched by an equally profound lack of interest in their victims.
Yeah. This was very much worth the read.
posted by brennen at 11:09 AM on October 28, 2012 [21 favorites]


Young pulled out one last picture and slid it across to me. The photo was of a beautiful young girl, possibly Native American. "She was on the end of the roll with Regina," he said. She's shown sitting in Rhoades's truck wearing a gray hoodie. Her eyes are partly closed, as if she's stoned or sleepy. Rhoades must have just picked her up, because he hasn't cut her hair yet. It is glossy black and long.

No one knows who she is.

This part of the article is so deeply upsetting to me. The whole article, actually, is profoundly upsetting. I think it's because, unlike most writing about serial killers, this one is more concerned with the victims than it is the man himself. He remains ultimately unknowable, but those poor girls, scarred, unloved, forgotten, shuffling their way to a horrible end, seem almost terribly human. They seem so lonely and fragile and desperate.

This article makes me so, so sad. I can't quite articulate it.
posted by Tiresias at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Chilling indeed. Not least the absence or destruction of records that renders these so-called "invisible people" non-existent. Until this writer makes considerable effort to tell something of their stories.
posted by emhutchinson at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2012


Invisible people. You know, they're not all invisible. Some of them you know, some you work with, or chat with at the diner, but they all think they're invisible.

I worked briefly with a rape counseling group. (Please note that I am not a counselor, social worker, medical professional, cop or lawyer or really anything other than a jack of all trades who can do almost any job, and that occasionally this skill set takes me to interesting places.) In my usual persona as big goofy friendly guy, I was put out front, to be the teddy bear on a leash, the guy who scared off the bad people while comforting the good people and answering the phone, making coffee and doing whatever normal office admins do.

I haven't lived a particularly sheltered life, and I came of age in the 80's and 90's so I thought I knew enough of "take back the night" and "no means no" to be able to deal with the goings on in a small southern college town with a largely professional population and progressive politics.

Nope.

This line: "My word versus his..." came up a disturbing amount. That ellipsis was always there and the implied "...who'd believe me..." was hanging in the air, just waiting to be spoken aloud. I didn't hear that pause just from street kids, I heard it from young business majors, young lawyers, young mothers, outwardly confident young women of all races, creeds, and lifestyles. They'd come in and sit in our very comfortable waiting room, eat some of the candy I'd have on my desk and reel off a story so hair-raising, I'm not ashamed to admit I occasionally had stop by the local bar to drink away the memories after work.

I saw some women find their feet and face their attacker in court. But it was rare. Mostly they cried and talked to counselors, or collapsed in tears in the elevator or on my big friendly couch, or most often, they just disappeared back into the city. Those are the ones I still think about. I wonder if anybody but me ever heard their story. I wonder what happened to their attacker. I wonder what I could do.

Nothing. Not a damn thing. I can't do it. You can't do it. I don't know how to fix it. Like I said, I was just the guy who made coffee and listened. I can't even tell you the stories... they're not mine to tell.

Like I said, I'm a gen-x child of the 80s and 90s and more prone to cynicism than my very trusting parents and grandparents. I'm more of the pics or it didn't happen generation. But that job washed a lot of that away. I now understand the ones who don't go to the authorities, the ones who don't get the nurse to do the intrusive procedure required for a rape kit, the ones who never tell anyone, not even the big goofy guy answering the telephone at the clinic. I've seen that fear, that hurt and that belief that their word isn't worth anything.

I don't have a happy ending here, I don't work there anymore. I don't drink as much, and I rarely lose sleep over my job. But I play with my friends' little kids, because little kids like big goofy friendly guys, and they like telling me silly long stories, and I still like listening, abut now I want to take them aside and tell them while they're still young enough to believe me: "Your word is as good as anyone else's."
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:32 AM on October 28, 2012 [129 favorites]


Wow. Yeah, chilling is a good word for that. Good article.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:33 AM on October 28, 2012


The story has consonance with the known facts about Tammy Zywicki, a case that I remember because I coincidentally lived in Evanston a few blocks from her family at the time. (Once I mentioned this on my blog, which prompted a very unsettling e-mail exchange with someone claiming to represent her family. I stopped mentioning it after that.) Obviously the Zywicki case got a lot of media attention, because she a) didn't fit the runaway/hitch-hiker/lot-lizard profile and b) missing pretty white woman syndrome. But once the victim is in the cab, I don't think much of that matters. Anyway, at the time, we were still just learning that there were serial killers whose victims would turn out to number in the dozens or scores. It now seems frighteningly common that there are more than handfuls of people out there capable of murder as a lifetime habit.

Likely they are drawn to professions that make this logistically easy.
posted by dhartung at 12:02 PM on October 28, 2012


oh god, Tammy Zywicki. I had just arrived at University of Iowa to start grad school when she disappeared, and her case was all over the news. But then in my memory it runs that they got the trucker who did it, and he was in prison... it's unsettling 20 years later to see that, in fact, the case is officially cold.
posted by scody at 12:38 PM on October 28, 2012


Not least the absence or destruction of records that renders these so-called "invisible people" non-existent. Until this writer makes considerable effort to tell something of their stories.

I don't normally find any reason to admire the FBI, but the agents behind the Highway Serial Killings Initiative (mentioned in the article) do seem to remember these "invisible people", and to be making a serious effort to find their killers:

So far, at least 10 suspects believed responsible for some 30 homicides have been placed in custody … including a trucker arrested in Tennessee charged with four murders and a trucker charged with one murder in Massachusetts and another in New Jersey.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:43 PM on October 28, 2012


Nothing. Not a damn thing. I can't do it. You can't do it. I don't know how to fix it. Like I said, I was just the guy who made coffee and listened.

You did what you could. You listened. Listening is not doing nothing. And it sounds like you believed them, which is even more than that - it's the first, best thing you can do for a rape victim. If more people listened to victims and believed them, I think it would go a long way towards fixing it. It would be a start anyway.
posted by caryatid at 12:49 PM on October 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


Haunting.
posted by amanda at 1:02 PM on October 28, 2012


I read this the other day. Powerful stuff. It makes me so sad that society doesn't seem to care about those on the fringes, the invisible ones are treated like as nuisance rather than as people who need our help. The quote that stuck with me was from the retired agent.

"I just want you to know," he said, looking me squarely in the eye, "that what Rhoades did to women, he did to women. You didn't do it."
posted by arcticseal at 1:12 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Given the number and size of the cracks that it's possible for people to fall through, it's a wonder any of us get through life relatively unscathed. Truly. That so many are invisible enough that no one remembers that they were murdered? I think of this and it's like an iron band is tightening around my heart.
posted by bardophile at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Beautifully written. I will now watch for this writer Vanessa Veselka (whom I had never heard of previously). Thank you.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2012


Her book sounds interesting.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on October 28, 2012


Here's a shocking map that the FBI put out in 2009 showing more than 500 murder victims found along interstate highways.
posted by gentian at 2:52 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The quote that stuck with me was from the retired agent.

"I just want you to know," he said, looking me squarely in the eye, "that what Rhoades did to women, he did to women. You didn't do it."


Yeah. That's why I wrote out my little off-topic rant. If I knew that...

Man.

If only I knew that...

The real pros, my hat is off and my heart is out. Compared to them, we're all just Mickey Mouse, but they're out there on the front lines. God's work, man. God's work.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:18 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Scody, that was my first year at UI too. I'd gone up to the
twin cities to see David Byrne that weekend (by myself, the way I do all my traveling) didn't get back to IC until the wee hours of Monday and decided to skip class. The instructor left a message the next day asking if I was ok.

That said, as far as I'm concerned, it's the right of all women to go wherever they please by themselves and be left alone.
posted by brujita at 4:22 PM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


b) missing pretty white woman syndrome.

Ever since I read about this white girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Bloomington,IN, who went missing and never got coverage because she shared a trailer w/her mom and had been a young pregnant high school dropout (unlike Lauren Spierer) , I've just thought of it as rich white girl syndrome.

Money and having media connections overlap.
posted by discopolo at 4:33 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Her book sounds interesting.

Thanks for that. It definitely is. I'm a little ways in and pretty well hooked by the writing - you can read the whole thing online, but I think I'll buy a copy.
posted by brennen at 6:15 PM on October 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm working to set up an electronic records management system for a county government office. My job never seemed particularly important to me. But after reading this article, I think it just became a whole lot more important.
posted by jenh526 at 8:24 PM on October 28, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm working to set up an electronic records management system for a county government office. My job never seemed particularly important to me. But after reading this article, I think it just became a whole lot more important.

I was reading the stuff about how records have just vanished and thinking about Jason Scott's talk at DEFCON 19, which, though the subject matter was (mostly) one helluva lot more lighthearted, was the last thing that got me really fired up about the desperate need for the archival impulse to be respected and supported in our culture. Your job does matter, a lot. Human memory alone is just too fragile (and too apt to turn away from painful subjects like this one) to bear all the weight of history.
posted by brennen at 9:55 PM on October 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


So many kids feel invisible and voiceless. It manifests in anger and self-harm. Being careless with their personal safety. And these are the kids that stay home.

Kids who run away, their folks may not even report them missing. Police don't have the resources to track them all down.

In each generation there are people who just trust one wrong person and then disappear.

People who are born, live a little life and then quit this earth and there's no record of them having been here at all.

Sobering.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:09 AM on October 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


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