Saturday, August 20, 2022

List Series: The Final Victim

Many missing persons/murder cases involve perpetrators who have committed a similar crime before. Unfortunately, some offenders harm several victims before finally getting caught and/or put away for good. The below list contains cases of a violent criminal's final victim; the victim that finally put the criminal away for life. 

Brianna Denison

During the fall semester in 2007, students at the University of Nevada Reno were on high alert. While most college students are worried about passing their exams, female students at UNR were worried for their physical safety - as it appeared there was a serial rapist on the loose. Several sexual assaults had been reported in the area, and many of the victims were female UNR students. 

In September 2007, a female student was grabbed by a male as she walked towards her car in a campus parking lot. The male attacker shoved her to the ground and groped her. She fought him off and the attacker fled. In December 2007, another young female student was abducted from her apartment and sexually assaulted. The young woman said her attacker forced her into his car, he drove her to a secluded area, raped her and beat her, then drove her back to her apartment. 

On January 20th, 2008, another frightening situation occurred around the UNR campus: a girl vanished into thin air. 19-year-old Brianna Denison had been visiting her friend, who was a student at the university. Brianna slept on her friend's couch on the evening of January 19th. When her friend awoke the next morning, Brianna was gone. There was a bloodstain on the pillow she'd slept on. Police were called, and a search for Brianna was launched. 

Investigators conducted forensic testing on the pillow found with a bloodstain. DNA from both Brianna and an unidentified male who had been linked to the December 2007 assault were found on said pillow.  At that point, it was clear that whoever was responsible for the December 2007 assault was also responsible for Brianna’s disappearance. On February 15th, 2008, Brianna's body was found hidden under tree limbs in South Reno. An autopsy confirmed she had been raped and strangled.

In November 2008, an anonymous person told police that a man named James Biela had behaved in a way that matched the behavior of the reported suspect in Brianna’s case. Biela refused to give police a DNA sample, but his girlfriend provided police with a DNA sample from their son. After that, police were able to positively link Biela's DNA to the DNA they had on file. Biela was subsequently arrested and charged with raping and killing Brianna, kidnapping and sexually assaulting another student, and raping a third student. He was convicted in June 2010, and he currently sits on death row. 

Chelsea King
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Chelsea King was only 17 years-old when she was abducted and murdered in the San Diego area. On the afternoon of February 25th, 2010, Chelsea went for a run near Lake Hodges and never returned home. Police immediately searched the area where Chelsea was last seen and found a pair of her socks and her underwear. Those items were sent to forensic testing, where investigators found a DNA match to somebody who was already in CODIS: a registered sex offender named John Albert Gardner III. 

Police brought Gardner into custody as the search for Chelsea continued. Then, on March 2nd, 2010, police announced that Chelsea’s body was found in a shallow grave located just 10 feet from the lake’s shore. Gardner was then charged with rape and murder in Chelsea’s case. He was also charged with the attempted rape of another woman at Lake Hodges months before Chelsea’s disappearance. 

Gardner was clearly not a first-time offender. In 2000, he was convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl. Gardner served 5 years in prison before being released in 2005.
With that in mind, investigators began to wonder if he was responsible for the disappearance of another local young girl: Amber DuBois of Escondido. Amber vanished at the age of 14 while walking to school. Her disappearance occurred on February 13, 2009 - just under a year before Chelsea's disappearance. Amber was still missing when Gardner was charged with Chelsea's murder. Since police had Gardner in custody, they were able to question him about Amber. He initially denied involvement, but eventually he led investigators to Amber's remains in a remote area outside of San Diego. Gardner was subsequently charged with Amber's murder as well.

On April 16th, 2010, Gardner plead guilty to both Amber and Chelsea’s murders in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table. In court, Gardner admitting to kidnapping, raping, and stabbing Amber to death in February 2009. He also admitted to dragging Chelsea to a remote area around Lake Hodges, where he went on to rape, strangle, and bury her there in February 2010. Gardner was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today.

Tyler Thomas

Joshua Keadle (pictured right) had a reputation at Peru State College in Nebraska. In 2010, Keadle was 28 years old. This was much older than most of the other students, yet he still lived in a dorm on campus. Female students typically avoided him; he creeped them out and there were rumors about him being a sexual predator. 19-year-old Tyler Thomas (pictured left) was one of the several female students who tried to steer clear of Keadle. 

It appears that Tyler and Keadle were initially friendly with one another. Some reports say that Keadle had taken Tyler out on a date, but Tyler was not interested in him afterwards. Like many other girls, Tyler had begun to feel creeped out by Keadle. She told her friends that she wanted to avoid him. Around that same time, two other female students reported to the school that Keadle had sexually harassed them. He was allowed to remain on campus while the sexual harassment claims were investigated.

During the early morning hours of December 3rd, 2010, Tyler vanished while walking from an off-campus party back to her dorm. She sent a text shortly before 1:30 AM to say that she was lost - despite the fact that someone had spotted her just a few hundred feet away from her dorm building around the same time. Tyler never made it back into the building. Her friends were immediately concerned when she did not return - not only because she was intoxicated, but also because it was frigidly cold outside, and Tyler was not wearing a coat. She was reported missing by 3 AM.

It did not take long for Joshua Keadle to appear on the investigator's radar. He was questioned about Tyler's disappearance, but he denied having any interaction with her at the time she vanished. Police quickly learned this information was false, and Keadle was arrested and charged with providing false information to police. Once he was behind bars, other girls began reporting him to police. Another Peru State student told police that Joshua had sexually assaulted her three times on Halloween - which was roughly a month before Tyler disappeared. Joshua was then additionally charged with false imprisonment and felony rape. Then, yet another young girl came forward and said that Joshua had sexually assaulted her in 2008 - when she was just 15 years old. He was charged with rape for that case as well. 

After these charges were brought about, police were nearly certain Keadle was responsible for Tyler's disappearance. However, he continued to deny it. He admitted to picking Tyler up on the morning of her disappearance and driving to a boat dock in Peru. Keadle claimed that the two of them smoked marijuana together and then Tyler offered to perform a sexual act on in exchange for a ride to Omaha.  Joshua explained to investigators that, after the sexual act, Tyler accused him of rape and the two got into an argument that turned physical. He then claimed that he left Tyler at the dock around 2 AM before returning to his dorm to shower.

Police did not believe this story, but Tyler remained missing, and there was still not enough evidence to charge Keadle with anything related to her case. Keadle was eventually convicted for the sexual assault charges and was serving his sentence when he was finally charged with Tyler's murder in 2017. Police were finally able to charge him after a witness came forward and said Keadle had confessed to murdering Tyler.  

Joshua was convicted of second-degree murder in 2020. He is currently serving a 71-year sentence. 

Sheri Carter

Sheri Carter had a gut feeling about Jimmy Dac Ho the moment she met him. It was January 31st, 2011. Jimmy had come to Sheri's apartment in Boynton Beach, Florida after responding to an online escort ad that Sheri had posted online under the alias "Stephanie". Reports state that 29-year-old Sheri was escorting online in hopes of making money to go to law school. She was expecting Jimmy when he arrived at her residence, but she quickly changed her mind about sleeping with him. Sheri felt something was off with him - and he frightened her a bit. 

Unfortunately, Sheri's gut feelings about Jimmy were absolutely correct. He had a history of violent behavior towards women. Jimmy violently attacked his wife in 2004, causing him to get fired from his job as a police officer in Broward County. He was rejected from several different other police departments before finally getting hired as an officer for Florida Atlantic University in 2006. While there, Jimmy was reported several times for sexual harassment, excessive force, and intimidation. He had also gotten in trouble for making lewd comments to female students and employees. However, Jimmy did not get fired and was still employed at FAU when he went to Sheri's residence in January 2011. 

It is believed that Jimmy grew angry with Sheri after she told him she was not going to sleep with him. He then handcuffed her and shot her in the abdomen and in the neck. The shot to Sheri's neck shattered her spine and instantly paralyzed her. Jimmy fled the scene after shooting her, leaving her there for dead. Sheri's boyfriend later found her clinging to life. She was transported to the hospital, where she unfortunately succumbed to her injuries. 

After reviewing Sheri's phone records, police linked Jimmy to the crime scene. He was questioned, and he confessed to shooting Sheri, but he said he acted in self-defense. He said that it was actually him who had decided he was not going to have sex with Sheri, and that angered her because she was not going to get paid. Jimmy said he handcuffed Sheri to subdue her after she tried to attack him with a knife. He then said that his gun went off on accident. Police did not buy his story, and they subsequently charged Jimmy with kidnapping and murder.

Jimmy went to trial and was ultimately convicted in 2014. He is currently serving two life sentences. 

Samantha Koenig
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Israel Keyes (pictured right) had been committing horrendous crimes in various parts of the United States for over a decade before he was finally caught in 2012. His final victim was 18-year-old Samantha Koenig (left) of Anchorage, Alaska. Keyes abducted Samantha from her workplace; a coffee stand called Common Grounds. He had scoped out that coffee stand for quite some time before kidnapping the young woman. Keyes told Samantha he was kidnapping her for ransom, but it was a lie. He eventually brought Samantha to the home he shared with his girlfriend and 10-year-old daughter. Keyes bound and tied Samantha up in a shed next to the house. Then, he obtained Samantha's debit card and PIN number. Later, Keyes sexually assaulted and strangled Samantha. 

Investigators caught up to Keyes in Texas on March 13th, 2013. He was found after he used Samantha's debit card in several different states including Arizona, New Mexico, and then Texas. Officials were eventually able to track him down in the town of Shepherd. Keyes was arrested and charged with kidnapping. Eventually, he confessed to killing the young woman and he told investigators where to find her remains in a lake in Palmer, Alaska. 

Keyes recollection of Samantha's abduction and murder was shocking and horrifying enough - but what Keyes went on to tell investigators was even more horrific: Keyes had killed before. In fact, he considered himself to be a skilled serial killer. Keyes would purposely target victims in different states to avoid detection. He admitted to killing certain victims - including Bill and Lorraine Currier of Vermont - but was not forthcoming about other victims. As of today, Keyes in the prime suspect in 2 murders that occurred in Colville, Washington in the late 90s. He is also the prime suspect of a string of murders that occurred in Boca Raton, Florida during 2007. 

Keyes is a person of interest in several other unsolved murders too - but unfortunately, investigators were never able to learn about all of his victims. In December 2012, Keyes killed himself in his jail cell. The only victim that investigators were ever able to get the full story about was his final victim - Samantha Koenig. 

Michaela 'Mickey' Shunick
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Michaela 'Mickey' Shunick was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time during the early morning hours of May 19th, 2012. The 22-year-old had spent the evening at a concert with friends in Lafayette, Louisiana. Mickey then went to a friend's house on Ryan Street before eventually beginning to ride her bike back to her family's house. She had plans to go to her younger sister's high school graduation in the morning. Unfortunately, Mickey never made it home. She was reported missing by her parents around 5 PM the next day.

Throughout the investigation, detectives obtained surveillance footage from cameras of businesses along Mickey’s route home. Around 1:48 AM on the morning of May 19th, Mickey was captured riding her bike on St. Landry Street. A white truck was also spotted driving in the camera’s frame as well. Days later, Mickey's bike was found under Whiskey Bay Bridge. The bike had damage consistent with being hit by a vehicle. Investigators then worked to find both the truck in the surveillance footage AND the truck's driver. Eventually, it was determined that the truck belonged to a 33-year-old man named Brandon Scott Lavergne. 

At that point, investigators were sure that something awful had happened to Mickey, as Lavergne was already in their system as a sex offender. In 2000, he was convicted of aggravated oral sexual battery. Lavergne served 10 years in prison before being released in 2010. In July 2012, detectives learned he had failed to re-registered as a sex offender. As a result, Lavergne was arrested. Once in custody, Lavergne was also charged with kidnapping and murdering Mickey - even though her body had not yet been found. 

Lavergne initially did not cooperate following his arrest - but investigators were still able to identify him as the prime suspect in the 1999 murder of Lisa Pate. At his court appearance on July 18th, 2012, Lavergne was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder - for both Lisa and Mickey, respectively. A few weeks later, Mickey's body was found buried on a property off of Louisiana Highway 10 in Evangeline Parish.

Ten days after Mickey was found, Lavergne decided to plead guilty to both murder charges in exchange for the death penalty being taken off the table. At his sentencing, it was revealed that Lavergne purposely struck Mickey's bike with his truck in hopes that she would accept a ride home from him. Once inside the truck, Mickey realized she was in danger. When she reached for her cell phone to call for help, Lavergne threatened her with a knife. Mickey then sprayed Lavergne in the face with mace, but he was eventually able to wrestle it away from her. Mickey then grabbed Lavergne's knife and began to stab him. Lavergne was able to wrestle the knife away from Mickey. Once he had control of it, he stabbed Mickey four times, causing her to collapse. 

Thinking she was deceased, Lavergne started to drive to a secluded area approximately 40 miles away, where he planned to dump her body. However, during the drive, Mickey unexpectedly shot up and lunged at Lavergne with his knife, stabbing him in the chest. Then, Lavergne pulled out his semi-automatic handgun and shot Mickey in the head, killing her instantly. Injuries on both Mickey and Lavergne prove that Mickey fought hard for her life. The injuries she inflicted on Lavergne were labeled as life-threatening. Those injuries and scars also helped lead to Lavergne's conviction. He will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

Hannah Graham
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University of Virginia student Hannah Graham vanished during the early morning hours of September 13th, 2014. The 18-year-old had become separated from her friends while walking to a party. Hannah sent her last text to a friend around 1:20 AM, saying she was lost. She never returned to her dorm and was never seen or heard from again.

Hannah's disappearance immediately raised alarms with investigators, as they were still working to solve the disappearance and murder of another young girl in the Charlottesville area that occurred 5 years earlier. In 2009, 20-year-old Morgan Harrington vanished after attending a concert on the UVA campus. Much like Hannah, Morgan also got separated from her friends on the night of her disappearance. Morgan's body was found approximately 3 months later, on a remote property about 10 miles away from where she was last seen. An autopsy confirmed she had been murdered. 

By the time Hannah vanished, investigators already knew that there was a serial offender in Virginia - they just did not know the person's identity yet. In 2005, a young woman in Fairfax, Virginia was attacked and raped by a man while she was walking home from the grocery store. Her rapist fled, but investigators were still able to gather his DNA. When Morgan Harrington's remains were found in 2010, investigators were able to determine, through DNA analysis, that the Fairfax rapist and Morgan's killer were the same person. When Hannah went missing in 2014, investigators feared that this person had struck again. 

While investigating Hannah's disappearance, detectives found surveillance footage of her walking around the university's mall area shortly before she vanished. In the footage, Hannah is shown stumbling through the mall by herself when an older, unidentified man approaches her and puts his arm around her. That man was later identified as Jesse L. Matthew Jr. He was taken into custody on September 24th, 2014 and charged with kidnapping and intent to defile. With Matthew now in custody, investigators were able to compare his DNA to the DNA from the other unsolved cases. As suspected, the DNA samples were a match. At that point, investigators knew they had a serial predator on their hands. 

Hannah’s remains were found on October 18th, 2014, on an abandoned property in Albemarle County, Virginia. Matthew was subsequently charged with the kidnapping and rape for the 2005 case and with the murders of both Morgan and Hannah. He took an Alford plea and was ultimately convicted in 2016. Matthew was sentenced to life in prison.

Jessica Runions

Whenever a person goes missing, family members are going to worry. The disappearance of 21-year-old Jessica Runions was no exception. When she vanished during the early morning hours of September 9th, 2016, Jessica's family members were very concerned. They grew even more concerned when they learned that Jessica had last been seen by Kylr Yust, after the two of them left a party together in Grandview, Missouri. This was worrisome because Kylr Yust was already a person of interest in the disappearance of another young girl: Kara Kopetsky of Belton, Missouri.

Kara and Kylr were in a relationship as teenagers - ages 17 and 18, respectively. Their relationship was tumultuous, and it ended with Kara seeking a restraining order against Kylr. Days after the order was issued, Kara vanished. Kylr confessed to several people that he was responsible for Kara's disappearance, but he denied it to the authorities. Over the years, Kylr would go on to abuse new girlfriends and engage in other violent behaviors. He would go on to be charged with several different offenses, including animal abuse and domestic assault. 

At some point, Kylr developed a relationship with Jessica Runions. The two met through Jessica's boyfriend, Jaxxon Mallett. Jessica reportedly went through a pattern off-and-on relationships with both men. It is believed she was dating Jaxxon in September 2016, but she attended a party with Kylr just hours before she disappeared. Due to Kylr's violent past, many immediately suspected he was involved in Jessica's disappearance. Those suspicions were amplified when Jessica's car was found burning near 95th Street and Blue River Road. Police then went to speak to Kylr, who had burn marks all over his face. He was subsequently arrested and charged for knowingly burning a vehicle.

All the while, both Jessica and Kara remained missing. Kylr was not speaking to investigators about their disappearances. What finally brought Kylr to justice happened by pure luck just a few months later. On April 3rd, 2017 a mushroom hunter found a set of remains in a rural area of Cass County, Missouri. When authorities arrived and conducted a more thorough search of the area, they found a second set of remains. Those remains appeared to have been there for much longer than the first set of remains that were found. It only took a few days to confirm that the first set of remains belonged to Jessica. While everyone else already knew the second set belonged to Kara, that was not officially confirmed until August 17th, 2017. 

Kylr Yust was charged with killing both Kara and Jessica on October 6th, 2017. In 2021, a jury convicted Kylr of voluntary manslaughter for the death of Kara, and second-degree murder for the death of Jessica. He was later sentenced to life in prison plus 15 years. 

Reagan Tokes

Reagan Tokes was an Ohio State University student who fell victim to an opportunistic crime by a sick predator on February 8th, 2017. 21-year-old Reagan had finished a shift at Bodega Cafe in Columbus and was walking to her car when she was approached by Brian Golsby. Golsby abducted the young woman at gunpoint by forcing her into her own car. He forced Reagan to drive to various ATMs around town to withdraw money. 

Golsby eventually forced Reagan to drive to Scioto Park, where he sexually assaulted her. Then, he forced Reagan to get out of her vehicle and walk, naked, into the park. There, Golsby shot Reagan twice in the head, killing her. Reagan's body was found the following evening. 

It did not take investigators a long time to identify Golsby as a suspect. A cigarette butt was found in Reagan's car, containing Golsby's DNA. Golsby was already a registered sex offender, so his DNA was in the system. He had been committing violent crimes ever since his youth and racked up an extensive juvenile record. In 2010, after Golsby was an adult, he abducted a pregnant woman and her 2-year-old son at knifepoint. He threatened both the woman's and the child's life, then orally raped the woman in front of her child. Golsby forced the woman to bring him to her home, where he robbed her. 

Eventually, Golsby was arrested and charged with abduction, sexual assault, and robbery. However, the female victim was too frightened to testify in court. As a result, his charges were reduced to robbery. Golsby was sentenced to 6 years in prison and was eventually released in November 2016 - just months before Reagan's murder.  In the short time that Golsby had been out of jail, he violated parole several times. He was supposed to be wearing a GPS tracking device, but he was not actively monitored. From January 24th to February 7th, Golsby committed several robberies and physical assaults. Still, he was not being monitored by a parole officer or any other type of law enforcement. Due to this, he was able to abduct, rape, and murder Reagan Tokes. 

In March 2018, Brian Golsby was found guilty on all counts of kidnapping, rape, and murder. He is currently serving a life sentence. 

Erika Shultz

Erica Shultz was reported missing by her sister on December 6th, 2020. The young 26-year-old lived in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania at the time of her disappearance. Erica's sister was alerted after Erica failed to show up for work, which was uncharacteristic of her. Erica had autism and was also suffering from diabetes. This made her disappearance even more concerning, as she did not have any of her medication on her at the time she vanished. 

Through both phone records and information from Erica's friends, investigators learned that she had been seeing a man she knew as "Dave". Authorities soon learned that this man's true identity was Harold Haulman III. Erica and Haulman met on a dating app and had been seeing each other before her disappearance. By the end of December 2020, Haulman decided to cooperate with the investigation. He led investigators to Hobbie Road in Columbia County, where they found Erica's remains. Haulman was subsequently charged with murder.

Once in custody, Haulman also confessed that he was responsible for the disappearance of another young woman: 25-year-old Tianna Phillips of Berwick, Ohio. Tianna vanished in June 2018, after telling her friend that she was going to be picked up by a man she also knew as "Dave". Much like in Erica's case, this "Dave" ended up actually being Haulman. 

Tianna and Haulman had been having an affair that Haulman's wife reportedly knew about...but when he learned that Tianna's boyfriend also knew about it, Haulman grew angry. On the evening Tianna's disappearance, Haulman took her to the spot off Hobbie Road under the guise of starting a bonfire. Instead, Haulman reportedly struck Tianna with a hammer several times, stabbed her, and slashed her throat. Haulman later confessed to his wife that he had killed Tianna. Months later, Haulman and his wife returned to the murder site to gather Tianna's remains, which they later placed in a dumpster. Her remains have still not been found.

While facing charges for both the murders of Erica and Tianna, Haulman confessed that he was responsible for yet another disappearance that occurred years earlier. A young woman named Ashley Parlier vanished in Battle Creek, Michigan during 2005. As Haulman's court dates for both murders were approaching, he asked investigators if they could combine all three cases in court because he did not want to go to trial. However, up until that point, investigators were only aware of Haulman's involvement in Erica and Tianna's cases - Ashley had not yet been brought up. As such, Haulman later confessed to murdering Ashley as well. 

Haulman pleaded guilty to murdering both Erica and Tianna so he could avoid the death penalty. He was subsequently given two life sentences. He is still awaiting further court proceedings in Ashley's case. 

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