Grave Danger: A prolific serial rapist is sowing terror in the City of Brotherly Love. How long before he kills someone?
Little Detectives: The killer thought he’d gotten away with murder. He should have known that children see things; children hear things; children talk.
Old Habits Die Hard: Tony Ayers had killed before, serving 19 years for the crime. Now he’s back on the street, still angry, still dangerous.
Tragedy at Gander Lake: A day at the lake turns tragic when two little girls end up dead in the water. Was it an accident or was it murder?
An Act of War: After suffering years of abuse at the hands of his father, Eric decides to strike back…with a unique method of murder.
Killing is My Business: He saw himself as a big time gangster, on par with the Krays. The crime he committed was certainly worthy of that bloodthirsty pair.
A Bad Day on Good Lane: Kathryn Schoch has suffered a terrible tragedy, the loss of a beloved child. It’s a loss that she’s not willing to bear alone.
Perchance to Die: It was a silly argument, one that no one could recall the cause of anymore. It would cost a young woman her life.
Murder Most Vile Volume 41
Within seven minutes, two police officers had arrived and were knocking on Shannon Schieber’s door. Getting no response and with no sounds or evidence of movement from inside the apartment, they decided to leave. As they explained to the concerned neighbor, they did not have probable cause to enter. Had they done so, they would have found the body of the 23-year-old doctoral student. Shannon Schieber had been raped and strangled.
This brutal crime would be uncovered the following day when Shannon missed a lunch date with her brother and he became concerned and went looking for her. After hearing about the previous night’s events from her neighbor, Shaun Schieber needed to know that his sister was okay. He and Greeley shoulder barged the door open. It was Shaun who had the terrible misfortune of finding his sister’s corpse. Shannon was lying face down and naked on the bed. Bruising to the throat suggested the method of her demise. It was another 911 call by Greeley that brought the police racing to the apartment.
Shannon Schieber had been a singularly impressive young woman. A Presidential Award finalist, she’d graduated from Duke University in just three years, with a triple major in mathematics, economics, and philosophy. Thereafter, she’d been accepted into Wharton, one of the country’s most prestigious business schools, on a full scholarship. She had been about to complete the first year of her PhD and was due to write her final exam on the morning that she was killed. All of this by the age of 23.
But none of that mattered now. Now, Shannon Schieber was a corpse on a slab at the city morgue, where the coroner would confirm cause of death as manual strangulation. The young woman had also been raped and semen was retrieved from her body. This was sent to the lab for DNA extraction, a relatively slow process back in the 1990s. The police had also found blood spatter on the wall next to Shannon’s bed. Since she had no open wounds, this was believed to be from the killer. It, too, was sent for DNA processing.
Murder investigations typically follow a familiar path. The police start with those closest to the victim and work out from there. In this case, both Shannon’s brother and her neighbor were interrogated and subsequently cleared. Then investigators zeroed in on a more likely suspect. Shannon’s most recent boyfriend was said to be bitter about their breakup and had reportedly made threats against her. Brought in for questioning, the young man was subjected to a fierce interrogation, maintaining his innocence throughout. He would remain the prime suspect until the DNA results were in, proving beyond doubt that he was innocent. The DNA indicated that the killer of Shannon Schieber was African American.
Nine months passed, with little to no progress in the investigation. Then, in January 1999, the case blew up in spectacular fashion. A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter received a call from an anonymous informant who identified himself as a police officer. According to the tipster, Shannon Schieber was not the first victim of the killer rapist. He had sexually assaulted at least two other women, both living within a ten-block radius of Shannon’s apartment. Philadelphia PD was well aware of these crimes, the tipster said, but had failed to warn the public. This was because the authorities had a policy in place to underreport violent crimes. Its intention was to make the city appear safer than it was.
This was explosive stuff, provoking a backlash when DNA comparison proved that the informant was correct. A serial rapist was prowling the streets of central Philadelphia and the public had not even been warned of the grave danger in their midst. People were out on the streets protesting and several city officials lost their jobs as a result. In the aftermath, new momentum was injected into the Schieber investigation. A task force was formed to hunt down the predator the media was now calling the “Center City Rapist.” Investigators would soon link him to two more rapes, bringing his victim toll to five.
Questioning the victims of these crimes, the police learned that their suspect had a consistent M.O. He targeted women in their early-20s, living alone. He’d enter their apartments between the hours of midnight and 2:00 a.m., launching his attack while the victim slept. After subduing the woman with a hand on her throat, he’d pull a pillowcase over her head so she couldn’t see him. Then he’d rape her, all the while whispering in a voice that his victims described as soft but creepy. “Don’t fight me and I won’t hurt you,” he told them. Then, after having his way, he’d disappear into the night.
Usually, the Center City Rapist was efficient and practiced in executing his plan. But in one of the attacks, he slipped up. He allowed the pillowcase to fall from the victim’s face, giving her a quick glance at him. She described him as a light-skinned black man, early-20s, slim of build, and between 5’10” and 6’ tall. This finally allowed the police to compile an identikit of the suspect and disperse it via the media. They also put additional officers, both uniformed and plainclothes, on the street. Within the space of just a few weeks, these officers stopped and questioned over 100 suspects, all of them subsequently released. All they succeeded in doing was driving the rapist underground. In the 12 months following Shannon Schieber’s murder, there were no other linked attacks.
And then, on August 28, 1999, the Center City Rapist was back. A young woman was accosted in her apartment in the early hours of that Saturday. She was raped and then the intruder forced her to perform oral sex on him and to spit his semen out onto a pillowcase. This he left at the scene, as though to confirm his identity to the police. It was almost as though he were issuing a “catch me if you can” taunt.
But the Philadelphia police would not catch the Center City Rapist, at least not for the next three years. There were also no new attacks, leading them to conclude that the rapist might have left the area or been incarcerated on some other charge. With budgets and resources under pressure, the task force was gradually scaled down, until there were only a few officers still actively working the case. One of their daily tasks was to scan reports from other jurisdictions, hoping to find crimes that were similar to theirs. That was how they got to learn of an active investigation in Fort Collins, Colorado.
The perpetrator of these crimes had an M.O. that was almost identical to their suspect. Eight young women had thus far fallen prey to the intruder, most of them students at Colorado State University. He’d enter a victim’s apartment in the early morning hours, subdue her and blindfold her with a pillowcase. He’d then rape the woman, all the while talking to her, urging her to remain calm and not to resist him. His voice was described as soft and creepy. It was, in other words, a carbon copy of the Philadelphia attacks. What were the odds that it might be the same man?
Very good, as it turned out. The DNA from the two cases was run and returned a match. The Center City Rapist had taken his show west to Colorado. But how were the police going to find him in a city of over 150,000? The idea they came up with was quite novel. They started looking at credit card transactions in the two cities during the span of the crimes, isolating card numbers that had been used in both places.
The original list contained over 300 names. Then they whittled that down further, first eliminating all women and then all men who fell outside their age range. That left them with thirteen possible suspects and those would eventually be reduced to one. His name was Troy Graves and he was an enlisted man, serving at an Air Force base near Fort Collins. He was 29 years old and recently married. More importantly, he was a Philadelphia native and had been living in the city in May 1998, when Shannon Schieber was murdered.
Brought in for questioning, Graves denied raping anyone, whether in Philadelphia or Fort Collins or anywhere else for that matter. He seemed particularly affronted by the suggestion that he might have committed a murder. There was an easy way for him to clear his name, of course, but Graves refused to have his cheeks swabbed for a DNA sample. Investigators, though, had a workaround. They contacted the Air Force and asked for Graves’s blood type. It was A-positive, the same as the blood found on Shannon Schieber’s wall. That was all the police needed to arrest Graves on suspicion of murder. Now he was compelled to provide a DNA sample. Once those results were in, Graves could no longer plead innocence. Confronted with irrefutable evidence of his guilt, he eventually cracked and admitted to it all, 13 rapes across two states, and the murder of Shannon Schieber.
According to Graves, he had entered Shannon’s apartment that morning by scaling a tree outside her building and gaining access to her second-floor balcony. He’d then slipped in through an unlocked sliding door. Finding Shannon in the bathroom, about to take a bath, he’d grabbed her, dragging her to the bed. Unlike his earlier victims, though, Shannon had fought him. She’d started screaming and had bitten him on the hand, drawing blood. Then someone (Parmatha Greeley) started banging on the door and Graves panicked. He started throttling Shannon to keep her quiet. By the time he released his grip, she’d stopped breathing. Then the police started knocking on the door and Graves fled, exiting the same way that he’d come in.
Graves would share another piece of information with investigators, one that did not reflect well on the Philadelphia PD. He said that he’d been stopped by police at least ten times while wandering the city streets in the early morning hours. On each occasion, he’d talked them into letting him go. This despite the fact that he was a dead-ringer for the police identikit.
Troy Graves would have two trials, one in Fort Collins, the other in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania prosecutors were determined to seek the death penalty, but Graves found an unexpected ally in his quest to avoid the needle. Shannon’s parents were opposed to capital punishment on grounds of their Christian faith. Graves ended up with a life sentence instead, a sanction that excluded the possibility of parole. He is serving his time in Colorado.
Continue reading? Click here to download now from Amazon