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FACING THE MONSTER

When he was finished, Luther allowed Bobby Jo to put her clothes back on. The monster had gone back into hiding; Luther was apologetic and said he'd take the battered woman to the hospital.

But back in the car Luther changed his mind. He told Bobby Jo he had decided to take her to his cabin instead. Afraid of what might happen there, Bobby Jo jumped from the car when Luther pulled up to a stop sign. She ran. Luther took off.

Bobby Jo was taken to the hospital with a broken jaw and a broken shoulder bone. Although she clearly had been raped, her attacker had apparently been unable to reach sexual climax.

That evening Luther called Deborah Snyder, who met him at a nearby campground. His car was loaded with his possessions. He was panicky.

"I'm heading out," he told her.
"Why?"
"Richardson's coming for me," he said. Then he almost told the truth. "I did it again. I beat someone up."

Luther drove to his sister's house, where he told his brother-in-law that he beat up a woman because a drug deal had gone wrong. He was afraid that he'd hurt the girl real bad.

"What is ailing me?" he said suddenly, echoing the statement he'd made to Deputy Morales more than twelve years earlier. "I don't know what causes this to happen."

On August 27, the police called Luther's cabin. Deborah Snyder answered. "He's not here," she said. He'd gone to Vermont but would be back in a few days. And he was back at the cabin on August 30 to take a call from Bobby Jo, unaware that he was being recorded by the West Virginia state police.

Bobby Jo played it cool, saying she had left her keys in his car and needed them. "I just don't know why you did it," she said.

Luther sighed. "Yeah I...you know I'm a fucking idiot when it comes to that..."

"Tom, why did you rape me?"
"I don't know," he answered. "This wasn't a fun thing, you know."
So what was it, Bobby Jo wanted to know. "A mistake?"

"It was more than a mistake...you can't believe how sorry I am," Luther said. He was arrested the next day.

On October 24, 1994, Corporal Les Freehling of the Pennsylvania State Patrol responded to a nationwide inquiry regarding missing or murdered women fitting the modus operandi of Thomas Luther. He had something that sounded like it might fit.

The previous December, the nude body of an unidentified white woman, about twenty years old, had been found on a hillside near the town of Newport, off I-81. The region was heavily wooded and isolated.

Freehling noted that the woman had been remarkably beautiful, five-foot-four, about 110 pounds, with shoulder-length hair. She had been raped and strangled. And he had no clue as to who she was or who might have killed her--until he saw the notice about Luther.

In early November, Detective Richardson and Byron Powers were again talking.
"Of course your case is on appeal--along with the cases of three-fourths of the inmate population," Richardson said. "Meanwhile, you're looking at 24 years mandatory without parole."

Byron could live on the "false hope, the one in a million chance" his appeal would work, the detective added. But he should remember that Cher Elder's murder was a death-penalty case and it looked like Luther was going to take a bunch of people down with him.

"You know Cher was killed that night...there's no doubt she was killed that night," Richardson said. "I need the body."

The detective couldn't get Cher's face out of his mind. Her mother had sent him a photograph of the girl when she was three years old, sitting on a chair with a big grin. A good kid. Richardson had children of his own. "Cherish your kids," he'd told one of the slimeballs he'd interviewed for this case. "You never know when you'll lose 'em."

Now he was losing his patience. "Jesus Christ," Richardson exploded at Byron. "She was your girlfriend, buddy. She didn't deserve to die."

He told Byron about the Summit County murders, Mary's rape. As for Cher, he said, "I guarantee ya, she was sexually assaulted, strangled, beat to death and buried. Then he goes to West Virginia, picks up another girl, strangles her, sexually assaults her--anally, vaginally, orally--the only reason she's alive is because she got away.

"That's the fuck that did Cher Elder."
Cher's disappearance had destroyed her family: Her parents had divorced, her father was a broken man who walked "like a beaten child," her mother looked like hell. "The whole family knows Cher was killed. They can't bury their daughter, period," Richardson said.

"When he was in prison, Luther bragged that the next girl wasn't gonna live and the cops weren't gonna find her. That's the kind of asshole that you're protecting."

Byron tried to summon his courage. "If I sit there and tell you what you need to know, it makes you look good...But I have to come back here. And my wife is still out there."

"Well, at least I know what Tom Luther is," Richardson said.
"So do I," Byron replied.
end of part 1

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