FBI Links Long-Haul Truck Drivers to Serial Killings
QUANTICO, Va. - A specialized team of FBI analysts has created a database linking hundreds of murders, assaults and rapes along the nation's highways to 18-wheel truck drivers.
In an exclusive interview, FBI officials and homicide investigators say serial killers may be working in long-haul trucking as a way to mask their crimes.
The Highway Serial Killings Initiative unit, based near Quantico, has collected forensics data from local law enforcement agencies across the country investigating these killings for the past five years.
"Our business at VICAP is to look at the most heinous of crimes" says FBI Special Supervisory Agent Michael Harrigan who runs the team of analysts.
Those analysts then look for patterns. The database contains 500 victims and a chilling catalog of violent death that includes "firearms to manual strangulation, ligature strangulation, stabbing, to drowning," according to Harrigan.
The victims are mostly prostitutes that work the truck stops, Harrigan says, but indicates some victims were so decomposed that they've never been identified. Among the victims are also stranded motorists and even hitchhikers like 24-year-old Dusty Shuck.
The young mother's body was found near the Mt. Airy, Md., truck rest-stop on Interstate 70 in May 2006.
"She had multiple stab wounds, including some to the neck and blunt force trauma to her head," says Rick Bachtell, a homicide detective with the Maryland State Police who is investigating the case.
Investigators puzzled over how the woman, who didn't own a car and suffered from mental illness, could have wound up dead 2,000 miles from her New Mexico home in a space of 10 days.
"That's why we believe a truck driver was involved in this," says Bachtell. Who adds that Shuck, who suffered from schizophrenia, had hitchhiked to Canada numerous times because she thought she had a trust fund there. The detective notes "this time, she got in the wrong truck."
Harrigan says that truckers who drive cross country have a built-in opportunity to murder someone and quickly evade local authorities.
"A suspect may drive from South Carolina, pick up a victim in Oklahoma and dump the body in Wyoming."
Bachtell notes that trucks are mobile crime scenes usually parked in isolated locations with few witnesses.
"You have an almost soundproof location; you can't hear what's going on outside the truck's cab, and therefore, people can't hear what's going on inside."
In fact, the FBI says its database includes 200 truck drivers it suspects of highway killings and other assaults.
"One homicide, they put them in our database," says Harrigan, adding that other drivers are suspected of 10 or more killings.
That's why the FBI is pushing hard for local law enforcement officials like Bachtell to use the Highway Serial Killings Initiative database to connect the dots among so many crimes committed across multiple state lines.
"The fact that a serial killer has been identified in Florida, Texas or Tennessee, as they have, doesn't eliminate the possibility that they may be a suspect in my case," says Bachtell.
Harrigan indicates that so far, use of the database has helped law enforcement agencies solve almost a dozen murders. Because the HSKI is relatively new, the number of victims and suspects is under reported.
"We believe there may be more victims and more killers out there," he says.