CLARKSBURG, W.Va (WBOY) — Serial murder is defined by the FBI as, “the unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.”
“Separate events” is a key phrase in the definition. A perpetrator must commit several murders over a period of time which makes each murder its own case. A double or triple homicide is not a serial killing.
Serial killers do not have to have a “calling card” or even a distinct method of murder, even though some serial killers may kill many of their victims in the same way like with a gun or strangulation.
Not all serial killers are reclusive social misfits. Many of them hide in plain sight, have jobs, families, friends and hobbies, which can cause them to be initially overlooked by investigators.
Not all serial killings are motivated by sex, nor are all serial killers insane or evil geniuses as they are often portrayed in movies like “Silence of the Lambs.”
Three different serial killers have been born in West Virginia, and a fourth spent his life here, each of them murderers who are responsible for killings from the 1920s to as recently as 2018. Their actions and the stories of their victims are described below.
Reta Mays was a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg who murdered at least seven veterans staying at the hospital by injecting them with unnecessary insulin. She was born in Reynoldsville, West Virginia and was herself, a veteran.
Mays worked the overnight shift where her role was to monitor patients, take blood glucose readings and stay with patients one-on-one when needed. At no point was Mays authorized to administer medication, including insulin.
Over an 11-month period, several patients died from hypoglycemia (extremely low blood sugar) during Mays’ shifts, and many of them were not dependent on insulin. Following an internal investigation by the hospital, Mays was fired from her position in 2018 and was apprehended in 2020.
Mays pleaded guilty to seven counts of second-degree murder, and one count of assault with intent to commit murder in July 2020, and was sentenced to seven life sentences plus 20 years in May 2021.
During the hearing, Mays, in tears, gave a brief statement. “There’s no words I can say that can offer the families any comfort. I can only say I’m sorry for the pain I caused them and my family.”
Mays’ words came after several statements from family members of the victims:
- Robert Edge, Jr., the son of a victim Robert Edge, Sr.: “I do not forgive you. I would punish you with my own hands if it would do any good. I want you to experience what death feels like.”
- Becky Kozul, speaking for victim Robert Kozul: “Why should you ever be let out of prison?”
- Melanie Proctor, daughter of victim Felix McDermott: “You are a coward.”
- Norma Shaw, widow of victim George Shaw: “In my heart I know I need to forgive her for what she did, and someday I will, but not today. I know that judgment will come one day.”
- Amanda Edgell, daughter-in-law of victim Archie Edgell: “What gave you the right to decide to take him from his loved ones?”
Mays is currently held at FCI Aliceville, a low-security woman’s prison in Alabama.
Serial killer and arsonist James Childers was born in Copen, West Virginia and lived as a handyman in Clarksburg at the time of his death in 2009.
Childers confessed to five murders and four different arsons via a two-hour audio tape and a collection of notes that was mailed to the Clarksburg Police Department by Childers in 2009. The 21-page transcribed audiotape is mostly incoherent but contains details about his various crimes, like how he was allegedly stopped by an officer, then let go as he fled one of his fires with the matches still in his pocket.
Despite confessing to several murders, only two bodies were found: 26-year-old Carrie Lynn Baker of Clarksburg, who was found near Route 57 in Barbour county, and 40-year-old Carolyn Sauerwein of Philippi who was found at Childer’s family farm in Braxton County.
After a warrant was put out for his arrest, police tracked Childers to a motel where he then shot himself to avoid arrest.
A documentary detailing Childers and his murders was created, and its first episode can be watched on YouTube.
Harry Powers, “West Virginia Bluebeard”
Harry Powers is one of West Virginia’s most notorious killers, known for his use of “lonely hearts” style ads to lure his victims. Powers was born in the Netherlands under the name Herman Drenth but went under several different aliases such as Cornelius O. Pierson and A. R. Weaver. Powers married Luella Strother in 1927 and lived with her in Quiet Dell, West Virginia.
Using the alias of Cornelius O. Pierson, Powers took out many “lonely hearts” advertisements, professing to be a wealthy widower seeking love, and received as many as 10-20 responses a day according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Here is one of his postings:
WEALTHY WIDOWER WORTH $150,000 WITH INCOME FROM $400 TO $3000 PER MONTH,
CIVIL ENGINEER, AND A VERY FINE LOOKING MAN OF 38 WRITES:
“My business enterprises prevent me from making many social friends. I am therefore unable to make the acquaintance of the right kind of women. As my properties are located through the Middle West, I believe I will settle there when married. Am an Elk and a Mason. Own a beautiful 10-room house, completely furnished. My wife would have her own car and plenty of spending money. . . but she must be strictly a one-man woman. I would not tolerate infidelity. Am now living in West Virginia.”
CONTACT CORNELIUS O. PIERSON, P.O. BOX 277, CLARKSBURG W. VA.Published in the Charleston Gazzette-Mail
Powers claimed at least five lives by courting widows, convincing them into withdrawing money, and then joining him in West Virginia. Asta Eicher, from Park Ridge, Illinois, and her two daughters Greta and Annabel were strangled to death, while her son Harry was beaten to death with a hammer. Dorothy Lemke from Northborough, Massachusetts also died of strangulation and was found buried at Powers’ home in Quiet Dell.
When Park Ridge Police began investigating the disappearance of Eicher in August 1931, they found several letters addressed to Cornelius Pierson from Clarksburg. When they called the Clarksburg Police Department to detain Pierson for questioning, they found that there was no one living in the area under that name.
After a description of the man had been given, Clarksburg City Detective Carl Southern found that it closely matched the description of the resident living at 111 Quincy Street, the home address given to the Clarksburg post office by “Cornelius Pierson.” This Quincy Street resident was, of course, Harry Powers, who was arrested that morning.
Powers did not initially admit to the killings but relented after “falling down the stairs” during questioning. Later photos revealed two black eyes and heavy bruising after his interrogation. An angry mob of Clarksburg residents also attempted to free Powers so they could enact their own sentence, most likely death, on Powers, who was later moved to Moundsville Penitentiary out of concerns for his safety and the safety of city officials.
After a trial that lasted five days, Powers was sentenced to death in December 1931 and was hung at Moundsville State Penitentiary on March 18, 1932. He gave no final words.
Twenty-one years after the execution, Harry Powers and his murders would inspire author David Grubb to write the national best seller, “The Night of the Hunter,” a thriller novel that would receive a film adaptation only two years later in 1955.
Bobby Joe Long, “The Classified Ad Rapist”
Dubbed “The Classified Ad Rapist,” Robbert Joseph Long would use newspaper ads to find vulnerable women. If the women were alone when Long arrived, he would rape and rob the women in their homes.
Born in Kenova, West Virginia, Long brutally raped and murdered at least 10 women, though prosecutors believed him to be connected to as many as 50 other rapes across the Tampa, Florida area.
When long was in his early teens he began developing breasts as a result of being born with an extra X chromosome. Though the excess tissue was later removed in surgery, Long was teased and bullied about the condition by classmates. According to a timeline of Long’s life created by the Department of Psychology at Radford University, Long had a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and shared a bed with her while they lived in a crowded house with several other family members until he was 13. Long’s mother would also frequently bring men home with her, which Long resented.
Long also suffered several traumatic head injuries throughout his life. At 21 years old, Long experienced a bad motorcycle crash that left him hospitalized for several months. After the accident, Long’s wife Cindy Brown said that he began to hit her, tell her what to wear, what to eat, and choked her to unconsciousness on at least two occasions. Another time, Long smashed his wife’s face into a TV, and she then had to drive herself to the hospital to get stitches for the injury.
When Brown returned from the hospital she found her husband asleep. Brown loaded a shotgun the family kept and held it to Long’s head, but didn’t pull the trigger, something Brown said she regrets. Instead of killing her husband, she filed for divorce in 1980.
“For the longest time, I went through some really horrible stages myself, thinking ‘if you would have killed him, 10 women would still be alive,'” Brown said in an interview with True Crime Daily.
Using classified ads to target women, or simply finding sex workers in the area, Long committed a series of rapes but didn’t commit his first murder until March 1984. Artiss Wick, 20, is believed to be the first murder victim in a series of killings. Long’s victims were a combination of sex workers, exotic dancers, or women who were just walking home.
The first body discovered by the police were the remains of Nguen Thi Long, 19, who had recently quit her job as an exotic dancer and planned to go back to school. Long lured Nguen into his car by offering her a ride. He drove her to a back road where he raped her, then strangled her to death.
“The unique thing about the body to me was the fact that her legs were spread about five foot, five foot one inches apart from heel to heel,” said lead investigator of the case Col. Gary Terry in an interview with “The FBI Files”.
“A scene that I’ll never forget, and a scene that I’ve never seen before.”
Between March and November of 1984, Bobby Long raped and murdered at least 10 women.
- Artiss Ann Wick, 20
- Michelle Denise Simms, 22
- Elizabeth B. Loudenback, 22
- Chanel Devoun Williams, 18
- Karen Beth Dinsfriend, 28
- Kim Marie Swann, 21
- Virginia Lee Johnson, 18
- Kimberly Kyle Hopps, 22
- Vicky Marie Elliott, 21
- Ngeun Thi Long, 19
One of his rape victims, Lisa McVey, has come forward with her story and how she escaped Bobby Joe Long alive. On November 3, 1984, 17-year-old McVey planned to take her own life — the night before, she wrote her suicide note. At this point, McVey had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her grandmother’s boyfriend for three years, who molested her repeatedly, holding a gun to her head as he did it.
At 2 a.m. on November 3, McVey was biking home after working a double shift at Krispy Kreme when she was grabbed off of her bike, blindfolded, and thrown into the backseat of a 1978 Dodge Magnum. Her kidnapper was Bobby Joe Long. McVey said that while the blindfold was being tied around her, she clenched her jaw so that when relaxed, the blindfold would slip down enough for her to take in her surroundings.
Long took McVey to an apartment complex where she was raped and abused for the next 26 hours. At one point, McVey was permitted to use the bathroom, where she left more forensic evidence to tie her abductor to the kidnapping, leaving fingerprints in several different spots like in the shower, under the toilet and on the mirror.
“Whatever he was doing to me, I had to show him he had control and I respected him, no matter what. One slip and I would have been dead,” McVey said in an interview with True Crime Daily.
When Long asked her what he should do with her, she spun a story that she was the only one looking after her sick father and told Long she could be his girlfriend and they could come up with an elaborate story about how they met. Long said he could not keep her around, but was eventually convinced to let McVey live after hearing about her father. He put her back into his maroon Magnum, gave McVey a hug, and let her go.
McVey said the first thing she saw after taking off her blindfold was a beautiful oak tree.
“I knew right there and then, my life was going to change forever. To me it was a sign of [a] new branch of life,” McVey said.
After McVey reported the crime, neither the police nor McVey had initially thought to link her kidnapping to the Tampa serial killer, who at this point, had claimed eight lives.
“I didn’t even think about the serial killer. Why would a serial killer just let somebody go?” McVey said.
It wasn’t until McVey saw a forensic drawing of Long on TV that she recognized him as her kidnapper. McVey relayed this information to the officer handling her case, and Long was arrested 12 days later.
In 1999, Lisa McVey, now Lisa Noland, began working as a dispatcher for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. She was deputized in 2004 and has been working in the same department that captured her abductor for 18 years.
After a lengthy trial and multiple appeal attempts, Robbert Joseph Long was sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on May 23, 2019. He had no final words.