Among baron 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Lee Todd (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 which 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 home on September 24, 2001. Graduate student, Charlotte Murray Pace, age 22, was stabbed to death in her town house 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. But that’s only 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.