The Killing Fields Hold The Darkest Secrets

Killing fields

Louisiana Bayou

Among barren stretches of road, in thick swamplands, and in desolate landscapes that go on for miles, lie the Killing Fields. Where the dead hide in the weeds, the water, or just beneath the soil, corpses decomposing into the landscape.

Hope doesn’t exist.

Screams coil through the darkness. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Serial killers reign in the killing fields. Their fantasies ignite into full-blown passion. Colors become vibrant. And their omnipotence reaches new heights.

The killing fields offer remoteness and atmospheric conditions that afford killers the perfect place to dump a body. One major element of a perfect killing field is hot and damp. “The weather plays a tremendous part, especially humidity, heat, and weather change,” said executive producer Joseph Schneier of the television series, The Killing Fields. “It makes a body deteriorate so much faster.”

You may be familiar with one or two killing fields, but there are many. They stretch across miles, across borders, across countries, and into living rooms world-wide. For a serial killer, it’s paradise. For us, they’re a terrifying place.

Texas Killing Fields

Texas killing fields

Railroad bridge I-45, Ferris, TX

Since 1971, the Highway of Hell claimed 30 young girls and women ranging in age from 10 – 25, with similar features. This 50-mile stretch of land, bordering Calder Oil Field, sits a mile from Interstate 45.

“It’s the kind of environment that’s sultry and sinister,” Texas Monthly reporter Skip Hollandsworth told CBS. “Easy to get to. You jump off of I-45. You drive down one of the dirt rutted roads. You dump the body. And you’re gone for good.”

Many lost their lives over the next two decades, but it was in 1997 when the Texas Killing Fields captured media attention. Laura Smither, a 14-year-old dancer, went out for a jog and never returned home. Several weeks later, a father and son discovered a body in the water, the harsh elements rendering it unrecognizable. When the father summoned the police, they insisted it was only an animal carcass…until the father pointed out, “Animals don’t wear socks.”

DNA later confirmed Laura’s identity.

To this day, her disappearance still haunts one 48 Hours reporter. Because of the climate and terrain police have not found Laura’s killer, nor have they solved many of the cases, and it’s likely they never will.

Canada Killing Fields

Canada's killing fields

The Highway of Tears

From 1969 to 2011 between 18 and 43 women, men, and at least one entire family have vanished from Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears. This lonely 837-mile stretch of asphalt winds past snow-capped mountains, rich with evergreens, through busy mill towns, and into a remote wilderness that’s so beautiful it’s hard to imagine the horrors that have occurred there. Most of the victims disappeared on a desolate stretch of road between Prince George and Prince Rupert, and many were from the Inuit community, where hitchhiking is a normal activity.

“Someone is preying on these women without anyone standing in the way,” said one frightened resident. “It has left everyone terrified to travel alone.”

The reign of terror began in 1969 when they found the battered body of 26-year-old Gloria Moody. She’d gone to a bar and never came home. Fifteen-year-old Monica Ignas vanished in 1974 while hitchhiking along Highway 16. Her body later turned up in a gravel pit.

In 1988, Alberta Williams, age 24, was also discovered in a gravel pit one month after her mysterious disappearance. 1994 brought a whole new horror when three 15-year-old Inuit girls—Ramona Wilson, Roxanne Thiara, and Alishia Germaine—went missing over a six-month period, their bodies dumped by the roadside. When 25-year-old Nicole Hoar was last seen hitchhiking in 2002, near a gas station in Prince George, no one ever heard from her again.

Four years later, in 2006, the RCMP launched a special investigation into the disappearances.

But the killings didn’t stop.

“All I can say at this point is that it is a historical unsolved homicide and we are looking for evidence, by which of course we mean remains, in this case,” said Annie Linteau from RCMP.

Through DNA, authorities have linked at least one of the murders to a deceased US convict, Bobby Jack Fowler, who is suspected in killing two others on the Highway of Tears.

The other cases remain unsolved.

New York Killing Fields

New York's killing field

Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Bay Park extends from the upper Bronx into Westchester County. In the early 1990s, Officer David Kozlow was on patrol when he saw two men emerge from the woods. When he stopped to question them, their blood-soaked hands drew his attention. This area was known for ritualistic animal sacrifices. Apparently, the NYPD kept a close eye on the rituals that went on there, but they didn’t feel it posed a danger to society. (Seriously?)

He asked, “Am I going to find dead animals in there?” Meaning the woods.

In unison the men stated, “No, no, no dead animals.” Satisfied with this answer, the officer sent them on their way.

The men weren’t lying.

When Officer Kozlow searched the woods he didn’t find any dead animals. He did, however, find a third man, tucked out of sight, shot 7 times in the head and stabbed 19 times in the chest.

Since the late 1980s, authorities have unearthed 65 bodies from the New York killing fields. Despite being 100 feet from a busy highway, Pelham Bay Park is remote with a quick and easy escape route. Steeped in history, the Lenape Indians once used the land for a burial ground. And since then, it’s attracted both satanic worshippers and killers.

Some of the homicides have been linked to mob activity, but the majority still remain unsolved.

Baltimore Killing Fields

Gwynn Falls Trail in Leakin Park Attrib: Onore Baka Sama - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27206114

Gwynn Falls Trail in Leakin Park
Attrib: Onore Baka Sama – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27206114

Leakin Park is an urban wilderness with inconspicuous dirt roads, winding in and out of the woods. So far, 71 bodies have been discovered there. Residents explained to Serial host Sarah Koenig. “If you (sic) digging in Leakin Park to bury your body, you’re going to find somebody else’s.”

The Baltimore killing fields have been turned into one massive graveyard. Even the police who comb through the area only search for bodies that match their victim’s description, or they could potentially get lost for days in the charnel of bodies.

In 1968, authorities unearthed the corpses of four young boys, which revealed the park for what it truly is…a dumping ground for killers. After that, the body count continued to rise. To this day, the wooded area attracts criminals, Black Panthers, and drug lords. One frightened resident even took it upon herself to create an archive of the bodies of Leakin Park.

Nevada Killing Fields

Nevada's killing fields

Mojave Desert

Nothing quite screams desolation like a never-ending desert in the middle of nowhere. The Nevada killing fields stretch 25,000 square miles, situated between Victorville and Las Vegas. To date, 148 bodies have been discovered in the Mojave Desert. For law enforcement, it’s a race against time to fight the elements before the decomposing bodies succumb to the sizzling, dry heat. On its hottest days, the temperatures can climb to 134 degrees Fahrenheit.

“If there were to be a cross everywhere someone dumped a body, the desert would look like Forest Lawn,” said Keith Bushey from the San Bernardino sheriff’s department to The Sun newspaper.

The Mojave Desert is believed to be a favorite dumping ground for the Mafia. Not long ago the Nevada killing fields drew media attention when the high-profile case of the McStay family came to a close with the bodies of Joseph McStay, his wife Summer, and their two children, Gianni and Joseph Jr., being discovered in shallow graves, years after they went missing from their home in 2010.

Later, Joseph’s business partner, Chase Merritt, was arrested for the homicides when authorities found his DNA in the McStay family’s stolen vehicle.

Most of the corpses in the Mojave Desert remain unsolved cases.

Cambodia Killing Fields

Cambodia killing fields

Please don’t walk through the mass graves!

In Cambodia more than one million people lost their lives and were buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War. The mass murders are widely regarded as part of a broad state-sponsored genocide, also known as the Cambodian genocide.

20,000 mass graves. Estimates of the total number of deaths range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of roughly an 8 million population, in 1975. Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term “killing fields” after his escape from the regime.

Louisiana Killing Fields

Louisiana killing fields

Louisiana bayou

The show The Killing Fields took viewers inside the investigation of a twenty-year-old cold case involving the murder of 34-year-old graduate student, Eugenie Boisfontaine. But she’s not the only victim of the Baton Rouge killing fields.

Between 1997 and 2003, more than 60 missing and murdered women never found justice, their bodies dumped like yesterday’s trash. During this time period, Baton Rouge had multiple serial killers roaming the streets, including Derrick Todd Lee (more on him in a later post).

Fear hung in the thick, swampy air. Homemade signs littered the trees with, “Killers on the loose.”

In the last decade alone there’s been at least 37 unsolved cases of murdered women in Louisiana’s Killing Fields. Many of whom bore a striking resemblance to one another. For the women of Baton Rouge, ordinary life changed into a dark and terrifying world.

Everyone looked suspicious. No place seemed safe, even their own homes.

A 41-year-old nurse, Gina Wilson Green, was strangled in her residence on September 24, 2001. Graduate student, Charlotte Murray Pace, age 22, was stabbed to death in her townhouse on May 31, 2002. And Pamela Kinamore, age 44, an antiques dealer and artist, had her throat slit under the Whiskey Bay Bridge in a neighboring parish on July 16 of that same year.

The bayous are serenely beautiful, but the humidity, wildlife, and swamps create an ideal dumping ground. These swamps are rife with petrified trees. The human body doesn’t stand a chance. Hence, one reason why they pose a problem for law enforcement. The sheer density of its marshy, wooded areas make it nearly impossible to conduct a proper investigation.

“It’s impossible,” says Detective Rodie Sanchez. “Sometimes we even have to get a helicopter to fly us over and land somewhere. It’s a challenge in every way, shape, or form to be a detective in Louisiana.”

No, these aren’t the kind of places you want to visit. Unless, of course, you’re hiding a body. In which case, you’re in the perfect spot. But watch out behind you. When the sun sets and darkness overshadows these sinister landscapes only the most menacing lurk in the killing fields.

 

About Sue Coletta

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is an award-winning, bestselling, multi-published author in numerous anthologies and her forensics articles have appeared in InSinC Quarterly. In addition to her popular crime resource blog, Sue co-hosts the radio show "Partners In Crime" on Writestream Radio Network every third Tuesday of the month from 1 - 3 p.m. EDT/EST (see sidebar for details). She's also the communications manager for the Serial Killer Project and Forensic Science, and founder of #ACrimeChat on Twitter. 2017 Award-winner of Feedspot's Top 50 Crime Blogs (Murder Blog sits at #6), contact Sue for speaking engagements, book signings, reading, and events.

35 Comments

  1. West Mesa Killing Fields Albuquerque NM

  2. Read & Re-Read & everytime surprise me that all that things happens every day & we continue to lived like we’re in “Dysneyland”@Reserved

    A truly master of Crime, I bow to you, Miss Coletta. Keep your compromise & humility.

    Can’t wait to check the 1st broadcast program?

  3. Jesus, there’s so many of them!! Excellent research, as always!

  4. Brendon Le Lure

    Another totally absorbing chilling article…I had no idea that so many killing fields existed; the evil of this world seem so often to choose the most beautiful of places to hide their tragic victims, so cold and treacherous, shivers down my spine at the very thought.
    I adore the way you write, you have such an easy style and yet your ease for for the enthralled reader hides endless of nuggets of utter dynamite, tis like top class strawberries filled with red hot chilies; you find yourself gorging on your fruits so easily, the inner red-hot afterburn unexpectedly ripping out your throat long after you have greedily swallowed the bait…totally, totally addictive…..terrifying educating…loved every morsel 🙂

  5. My new mystery novel takes place up in British Columbia and features the Highway of Tears. I would be interested to hear any information on it. Thank you!

    • As far as the murders within British Columbia, click the links I’ve included in the post for more information. I don’t normally save all the articles I read, but if I come across them, I’ll certainly let you know. Good luck with your story, Jeff.

  6. Hi Sue – You’ve definitely done your homework here. I’m familiar with some of the Highway Of Tears (HOT) cases, including one where Bobby Jack Fowler’s DNA matched. But there’s more than him that was (is) active. One HOT killer has an absolutely unique MO / calling card that, as far as I know, hasn’t been seen or thought of elsewhere. I’d like to share it with other crime writers – it’d make a great addition to any serial killer story – but the evidence is very sensitive as “hold-back” material, which is known only by the killer and the investigators. There’s also a known suspect DNA profile to some of the HOT cases that’s yet to be matched.

    There’s more to the HOT killing fields than what’s going on in British Columbia. That highway extends eastward into the province of Alberta and the Edmonton area where there are another suspected 30+ missing/found female homicide victims. Because of jurisdictional issues, they run the HOT project out of one place and the Project KARE out of another. Hopefully, the left & right hands are talking but I’ll bet that in most places where they have active serial killers, jurisdictional miscommunication and turf pride hampers the investigations. Always have – always will.

    • Well, now you have to tell me the MO, Garry. My interest is piqued. And since I’m working on the sequel to Marred — a twisted serial killer with unique MO — I’m even more curious. Email me. Pretty please, with a cherry on top!

      I saw a documentary a while back on the Highway of Tears, and the numbers were staggering, but because I only concentrated on Canada, I couldn’t include them or it would ruin the theme of the post. So I’m glad you mentioned them here. It’s frightening indeed.

  7. Love all your blogs and follow them with relish, but the share buttons on the side make reading difficult, leaving only a few lines clear at a time
    Ruth recently posted…A history of FrodshamMy Profile

    • Thank you for letting me know, Ruth. I had no idea there was a problem. I’ll move the buttons to the bottom of the post. Enjoy your weekend!

    • Okay. I found a toggle switch that should put the sharing bar at the bottom when you’re using a mobile device. Please let me know if this works better for you. Thanks again!

  8. Wow! Reading that gave me the chills, Sue. What a fascinating article, and topic actually. Definitely story inspiring. I’ve written a serial killer who uses an old cremation oven to get rid of the body, but a killing field could be like putting them on display like a trophy but still gone. Definitely creepy! Thanks doll. I love your posts. 🙂
    Amy Valentini recently posted…New Release – All Access: FINDING MY WAY BACK HOME by Tina MrazikMy Profile

    • Thanks, Amy. Your story sounds intriguing. Yes, “putting them on display” works perfect!!! I’m thrilled you love my posts. It makes it all worth while. 🙂

  9. This is the best post I’ve read in months. People don’t realize how big America is, and how many truly remote places there are. We had one in Northern Nevada too. Lot’s of stuff went on out there, and multiple bodies occurred over time. Part of this involves looking with a different eye. Two completely unrelated killers will find the same spot, because it offers what they need.

  10. I remember reading about the McStay family.

    It really surprises me that the NYPD officer left the two guys go with blood-soaked hands. Um…you think that would have set off all kinds of alarms!

    An excellent, and chilling article, Sue. I wouldn’t want to go near any of these places!

    • I know, right, Mae? Duh! The bloody hands are always a dead giveaway. I can’t imagine he was too popular with the rest of his department after he found the third man in the woods, shot and stabbed repeatedly.

      What I also found shocking was that the NYPD thought animal sacrifices didn’t pose a problem for society. Don’t they read the FBI’s stats that most serial killer start by mutilating animals? Crazy!

    • I don’t know about New York, but deer and elk season in Idaho produce guys with bloody hands around every bend in the road.
      Craig recently posted…Questions 3: Your Ghost in a ShellMy Profile

  11. Can you imagine the spirits that linger in such places if they have the power to do so. Eck…just gives me the heebie-jeebies thinking about it. I could see some fascinating stories growing out of the soil there.

  12. I own swampland in Florida and Mississippi. I inherited the land in Florida from a dead aunt and the Mississippi land from my dead father-in-law. Both parcels are filled with poisonous snakes and sharp-toothed gators and rotting corpses. Want to buy an acre or two? I’ll sell cheap, heh heh. But you must come with me and see it in person some night when there’s no moon.
    pauldaleanderson recently posted…Advice to New WritersMy Profile

  13. One might add Dachau, Auschwitz, and the hell of the Warsaw Ghetto when an entire people became serial murderers. Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

    Great post!

    • Thanks, Joe. You know, I thought about including that. But I was afraid I might dig up old wounds (no pun intended). Such a frightening time in history. Over the years I’ve met some survivors, and their “tattoos” broke my heart.

  14. Wow, interesting and haunting post Sue. It’s the perfect backdrop to any story. Thanks for posting 🙂
    Jennifer Chase recently posted…Emily Stone’s Weaponry: Knife or Gun?My Profile

    • Thanks, Jen. I think I’m going to use one of these killing fields in my short story for the dark fiction anthology. This post was so fun to research, even though I got lost for two full days.

  15. These really are eerie places, Sue! And they’re ideal locations for the writer who wants to create a ‘body dump’ scenario, whether the killer is a serial killer or not. And, as creepy as it may sound to ‘say’ this, there are several such places, So there’s lots of possibility, too, if you’re a crime writer. These are definitely not places I’d want to go alone…
    Margot Kinbergh recently posted…Lighten Up While You Still Can*My Profile

    • Aren’t they, Margot. It’s funny you mention using a killing field in a story, because I was thinking the same thing while researching. 🙂 The creepier the better!

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