«Angel Maturino Resendiz: The Railroad Killer BY Joseph Geringer ...»
Angel Maturino Resendiz: The Railroad
BY Joseph Geringer
Terror Near Tracks
One of the more romantic elements of American folklore has been the crisscrossing rail system
of this country — steel rails carrying Americans to new territories across desert and mountain,
through wheat fields and over great rivers. Carl Sandburg has flavored the mighty steam engine
in elegant prose and Arlo Guthrie has made the roundhouse a sturdy emblem of America's commerce.
But, even the most colorful dreams have their dark sides.
For nearly two years, a killer literally followed Wheatfield America's railroad tracks to slay unsuspecting victims before disappearing back into the pre-lit dawn. His modus operandi was always the same — he struck near the rail lines he illegally rode, then stowed away on the next freight train to come his way. Always ahead of the law.
Angel Maturino Resendiz, 39 years old, was apprehended early this month (July, 1999) after eluding state police for two years and slipping through a two-month FBI net until, after nine alleged murders, he was finally traced and captured by a determined Texas Ranger.
Known, for apparent reasons, as "The Railroad Killer," Angel Resendiz (who was known throughout much of the manhunt by the alias Rafael Resendez-Ramirez) has been called "a man with a grudge," "confused," hostile" and "angry" by the police, the news media and psychiatrists.
He is an illegal immigrant from Mexico who crossed the international border at will. Most of his crimes took place in central Texas, but he is suspected of having killed as far north as Kentucky and Illinois.
Mugshot of Angel Resendez While he fits the mold of serial killers such as David Berkowitz and the Boston Strangler, Resendiz killed more meditatively for something he needed: alcohol, drugs, a place to hide out, though usually money. He raped, but "sex seemed almost secondary," according to former FBI profiler John Douglas. Douglas calls Resendiz "just a bungling crook...very disorganized," but one whose own disorganization worked well for him. Because his trail was haphazard, because he himself didn't know where he was heading next, this directionless, drifting form of operation kept Resendiz inadvertently ever-the-more elusive. FBI special agent Don K. Clark says that the manhunt was complicated by the fact that Resendiz had "no permanent address" while continuing to travel unchecked "throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada."
While his travels might best be described as spontaneous, and his slayings as combustive, that is not to say that the Railroad Killer didn't have his own particular signature. He pretty much followed a routine. For one, the murders all occurred "in close proximity to train track locations," to quote Clark.
Late last month, in the heat of the intensive manhunt for the murderer, John Douglas described
what appeared to be the killer's simple but deadly agenda:
"When he hitches a ride on the freight train, he doesn't necessarily know where the train is going.
But when he gets off, having background as a burglar, he's able to scope out the area, do a little surveillance, make sure he breaks into the right house where there won't be anyone to give him a run for his money. He can enter a home complete with cutting glass and reaching in and undoing the locks.
"He'll look through the windows and see who's occupying it. The guy's only 5 foot-7, very small.
In fact...the early weapons were primarily blunt-force trauma weapons, weapons of opportunity found at the scenes. He has to case them out, make sure he can put himself in a win-win situation."
Where he came from, what spurred his crime spree, what kind of man was Resendiz —these will be examined in the succeeding chapters. For now, let's pause to examine his list of victims.
Following is a list of the nine serial murders attributed to Resendiz:
Christopher Maier Victim 1: August 29, 1997/Lexington. Ky.: Christopher Maier, 21, a University of • Kentucky student, and his girlfriend are attacked while walking along the tracks near the college. Maier is bludgeoned to death and she is raped and beaten, almost to the point of death. She miraculously survives.
Victim 2: October 4, 1998/Hughes Spring, Texas: On this cool Fall evening, 87-year-old • Leafie Mason is hammered to death by a tire iron by someone who enters her home through a window. Her front door faces the Kansas City-Southern Rail Line tracks only 50 yards away.
Dr. Claudia Benton Victim 3: December 17, 1998/Houston, Texas: An invader breaks into the home of Dr.
• Claudia Benton, 39, of the Baylor College of Medicine, when she arrives home, the intruder rapes, stabs and bludgeons her repeatedly with a blunt instrument. Her home is near the rail lines that run through suburban West University Place. When the police recover her stolen Jeep Cherokee in San Antonio. TX, they find fingerprints on the steering column that match those of drifter Resendiz, a known illegal alien. Three weeks later, a county judge signs a warrant for Resendiz' arrest for burglary — but, strangely enough, not for murder. There is not enough evidence, says he!
Rev. Norman Sirnic and wife Karen
Victims 4 & 5: May 2, 1999 Weimar, Texas: Late at night, the Reverend Norman J.
• "Skip" Sirnic, 46, and wife Karen, 47, are struck to death by a sledgehammer in the parsonage of the United Church of Christ — located adjacent to the town's railroad. The couple's red Mazda is found in San Antonio three weeks later. Forensic evidence matches the killing of Dr. Benton in Houston Noemi Dominguez Victim 6: June 4, 1999: Houston, Texas: Schoolteacher Noemi Dominguez, 26, is • clubbed to death in her apartment, located near rail tracks. Seven days later, troopers find Dominguez' 1993 white Honda Civic abandoned at the international bridge at Del Rio, Texas.
Josephine Konvicka Victim 7: June 4, 1999/Fayette County, Texas: Seventy-three-year-old Josephine • Konvicka is killed in bed by a blow of a pointed garden tool to the head. She lived in a frame farmhouse not far from Weimar, where a month prior Rev. and Mrs. Simic were killed, and within shadows of a rail yard. Her car has been tampered with, but the killer is unable to find the keys.
Victims 8 & 9: June 15, 1999/Gorham, Ill.: An intruder breaks into a mobile home to kill • its two occupants, After shooting George Morber, Sr.,80, in the head with a shotgun, he then clubs to death Morber's daughter, Carolyn Frederick, 52. Their house sits only 100 yards from the a railroad track. The next day, a passerby spots Fredericks' red pickup truck in Cairo, IL, sixty miles south of Gorham, being driven by a man matching Resendiz' description.
Most of Resendiz' victims were found covered with a blanket; none were of a tall or burly stature, for the killer himself is of a diminutive size and stature. But, he might well have been a giant for the terror he struck in the hearts of otherwise-relaxed communities. Citizens' emotions ran high in the towns where he killed; in the smaller ones, especially, people who had never locked their doors and windows at night were now bolting them. Children were ushered off the dusky streets by nervous parents, shops closed early, and moonlit strolls ended.
Sentiments throughout pretty much echoed the words of Mayor Bernie Kosler of Weimar, the little Texas burgh where the Simics and Mrs. Konvicka were slain. "The stores around here," he said, "have sold out of pistols."
Manhunt State and city law enforcement agencies did what little they could to find the will-o'-the-wisp maniac. Freight yard security was steeped up and hobos by the boxcar loads were hauled into local jails for positive identification and questioning. Sometimes freight trains were paused — to hell with time schedules! — and searched engine to caboose. Hispanics, even those who worked in the yards, complained to their bosses about the dirty looks they got from townspeople and what they felt was harassment from the police.
Hangouts for transients became targets for raids; policemen marched through homeless shelters, blood centers and soup kitchens where men earning money as migrant workers were known to frequent. Loiterers about town were hustled into police stations for questioning, but quickly released when it was proven they were not Angel Resendiz.
In June of 1999, the Federal Bureau of Investigation placed the Railroad Killer on its Top Ten Most Wanted list. The Bureau's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) compared the elements of the alleged Resendiz killings to come up with matches linking the same man to all of them. The FBI's initial reward of $50,000 for information leading to Resendiz' capture escalated within days to $125,000 as affected municipalities anted up.
Wanted posters described Resendiz as 5'7" tall, weighing 140-150 pounds; black hair, brown eyes and dark complexion; scars on right ring finger, left arm and forehead; a snake tattoo on his left forearm and a flower tattoo on his left wrist; has been known to employ any one of dozens of aliases, social security numbers and birth dates (although the certified date seemed to be August 1, 1960); has worked as a day laborer, migrant worker or auto mechanic.
In the meantime, Jackson County, IL officially charged Resendiz with the murder of the Gorham killings after his fingerprints are documented. Officials in Louisville, KY did likewise. Angry authorities in the latter city, where Christopher Maier became the first of the Railroad Killer's nine known victims, disseminated wallet-size photos of the murderer, urging citizens to notify the police immediately if they even think they have spotted him.
On July 1, authorities in Fayette County, TX, identified DNA from Noemi Dominguez in Josephine Konvicka's home, indicating that after Resendiz killed the younger woman, he drove her car to other woman's home for more bloodletting.
Don K. Clark, special agent in charge of the FBI's Houston office, coordinating the nationwide manhunt, called Resendiz "a very dangerous and violent person," explaining why the Mexican national and border jumper was placed on the infamous Top Ten list. "He's demonstrated he can use almost any kind of object to take a human life in a very violent manner and we've got to try to catch him." Two hundred agents, he said, were assigned round-the-clock assignments in locations where Resendiz was known to have struck and where he might strike next. Of course, areas of concentration included freight yards and rail depots. "We have the train tracks," Clark summarized.
Agents soon received more than 1,000 phone tips from people who claimed they had either seen the fugitive, who knew the victims, or thought they might have something new or novel to add to the strategy of the manhunt or psychology of the fugitive. Most of the leads were blind, but some of them proved solid, as was the call that came in from vacationing acquaintances of Resendiz who spotted him in Louisville. This occurred about the same time that John Matilda, director of the Wayside Christian Mission in that city, advised the police that he, too, had seen the runaway.
On July 7, the FBI felt they had made a good move in recruiting the help of Resendiz' commonlaw wife, Julietta Reyes, whom they brought into Houston from her hometown of Rodeo, Mexico, 250 miles below the border. "She would like to do everything she can to get (her husband) to turn himself in to the appropriate authorities," reported Clark.
Julietta Reyes & daughter
Surprisingly, Julietta turned over to the FBI 93 pieces of jewelry that she had been mailed to her from her husband abroad. She was sure they belonged to his victims. And she was on target.
Relatives of Noemi Dominguez quickly identified thirteen of the pieces. As well, George Benton, husband of the murdered Claudia Benton, claimed several other pieces as her property.
A Fatal Slip-Up
For all the spent efficiency, Angel Resendiz continued to elude the law at every turn. John Douglas, who had been with the FBI for 25 years, rued the fact that, "the manhunt for the accused killer (had) been hampered by the lack of a coordinated computer system that would allow law enforcement officials to compare notes instantly and determine patterns."
The lack of such a system proved to be more injurious to the manhunt than Douglas could have predicted at the time.
On June 2, the Border Patrol apprehended Angel Resendiz near El Paso as he was attempting to cross the border illegally. While he was in its custody, the United States Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) performed a computer search on him, checking his fingerprints and photo against a possible fugitives list. Because the system failed to identify him as a wanted man, the INS deported him to Mexico.
The slip-up proved to be much more than an embarrassment — it wound up to be a crucial blunder. After his release, Resendiz immediately found his way back into the States where, within 48 hours, he killed both Dominguez and Konvicka near Houston, then Morber and his daughter in Illinois. Four innocent people murdered over a computer glitch.
"Our computers told us that he was nothing of lookout material," explained C.G. Almengor, a supervisor at the border. His words were too anti-climactic. "We really wish he had been in the system so we could have caught him."
But, the error could not be totally blamed on modern technology. On July 1, a month after the mistake, a Justice Department representative admitted that the West University Place Police Department had notified the INS about Resendiz back in December right after the death of Dr.
Benton, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner announced an internal investigation into the matter.
Suspicious Angel The manhunt for Resendiz involved more than the physical knocking on locked doors and pacing through dusty freight yards. As with any manhunt the FBI conducts, a lot of time is spent getting to know the type of man or woman for whom it is searching. This includes studying the culprit's criminal background, social history and psychoses.