Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate (Discovering America (University of Texas Press))

26 Nov

Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate (Discovering America (University of Texas Press))

Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate (Discovering America (University of Texas Press))

Language: English

Pages: 264

ISBN: 0292757522

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Starting in the 1950s, Americans eagerly built the planet’s largest public work: the 42,795-mile National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Before the concrete was dry on the new roads, however, a specter began haunting them—the highway killer. He went by many names: the “Hitcher,” the “Freeway Killer,” the “Killer on the Road,” the “I-5 Strangler,” and the “Beltway Sniper.” Some of these criminals were imagined, but many were real. The nation’s murder rate shot up as its expressways were built. America became more violent and more mobile at the same time.

Killer on the Road tells the entwined stories of America’s highways and its highway killers. There’s the hot-rodding juvenile delinquent who led the National Guard on a multistate manhunt; the wannabe highway patrolman who murdered hitchhiking coeds; the record promoter who preyed on “ghetto kids” in a city reshaped by freeways; the nondescript married man who stalked the interstates seeking women with car trouble; and the trucker who delivered death with his cargo. Thudding away behind these grisly crime sprees is the story of the interstates—how they were sold, how they were built, how they reshaped the nation, and how we came to equate them with violence.

Through the stories of highway killers, we see how the “killer on the road,” like the train robber, the gangster, and the mobster, entered the cast of American outlaws, and how the freeway—conceived as a road to utopia—came to be feared as a highway to hell.












Charles was worse: a juvenile delinquent like the ones you read about in the papers. To make matters worse, Caril had been gaining weight, and the family began to worry she might be pregnant. Charles only deepened their suspicions when he began to talk of marrying her. When he got to the house on Belmont Street on January 21, Charles claimed, he got into a fight with the family. According 28 Strand Pages1.indd 28 2/6/12 1:44 PM “People started gettin’ in our way.” Charles and Caril,

slushy two-track, the Ford got stuck. They hiked the rest of the way up to Meyer’s house. When they got there, Meyer came out, and Charles asked to borrow some horses to pull out his car. Then—he later said in self-defense—he shot Meyer in the head. He dragged the old man’s body into a nearby washhouse and covered it with a blanket. He and Caril rifled through Meyer’s house for anything useful. They collected some socks, gloves, a sweatshirt, a hat, a pump rifle, some snacks, and less than a

looked at the papers and puzzled over how kids could go so wrong. What Lauer Ward 37 Strand Pages1.indd 37 2/6/12 1:44 PM =  KILLER ON THE ROAD = couldn’t know was that as he talked to his old friend, those very teens were already terrorizing his own home. ••••• A fter killing King and Jensen, Starkweather had taken Bob Jensen’s Ford and driven about a hundred miles west on Highway 6. But then, for some reason, he turned around. He later claimed Jensen’s car was running badly and he wanted

black neighborhoods—Mechanicsville, Vine City, Buttermilk Bottoms— were mowed down. About one-third of the city’s existing housing stock was demolished by the highway program and urban renewal; 67,000 residents were displaced, 95 percent of them black. Most were renters, and so went uncompensated. Many had a hard time finding new housing. Priced out of the freeway-accessible middle-class suburbs, they were forced into a smaller and smaller area in the center city. Thousands ended up in the

Clay’s committee. The number the committee wanted the federal government to spend on roads—$101 billion—boggled the mind. Clay’s report insisted the outlay was necessary: the nation was growing, its economy was growing, and its highways must match them in growth. “The relationship is, of course, reciprocal,” the report declared: “an adequate highway network will facilitate the expansion of the economy which, in turn, will facilitate the raising of revenues to finance the construction of highways.”

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