Longform

Shades of Black

Page 8 of 16

Neal sat Walters in the living room. She refused to put her head under the blanket -- she didn't want to muss her hair -- but Neal still managed to sneak up on her, striking her several times in the head with the ax side of the maul. He then urinated on her corpse, placed a plastic bag over her head, wrapped her in a blanket and put the body by the fireplace -- not far from where Holberton's body was wrapped in plastic bags.

Using money obtained with Walters's debit card, Neal took a girlfriend and her roommate, 21-year-old "Suzanne," out for a night on the town.

On July 5, Neal picked up Suzanne, who'd promised to do a job for him: accompany him to Las Vegas to sign some papers with his attorneys. But first, he said, he had "a surprise" to show her at the townhouse.

Once inside, Neal forced Suzanne onto a mattress on the floor, bound her, spread-eagled, with her wrists and ankles tied to four eyebolts he'd screwed into the floor, and cut her clothes off with a knife. To further terrorize her, he placed a piece of skull, bloody hair still attached, on Suzanne's naked stomach, showed her Walters's leg and kicked a plastic-wrapped mound to demonstrate that there was a body there as well. Then he covered Suzanne with a blanket and, warning her not to make a sound, or "others" would come into the room to rape and kill her, left the townhouse .

Next, Neal picked up Angela Fite, a 28-year-old mother of two who was trying to escape an abusive marriage when she met Neal. Her "rescuer" brought her back to the townhouse, which she believed was the "surprise" home he'd promised for her and her children. But now Neal duct-taped Fite to a chair facing the mattress on the ground. "Welcome to my mortuary," he said, showing her the bodies of Holberton and Walters.

Then Neal pulled back the blanket to reveal Suzanne. "We're not going to get out of here alive, are we?" Fite said, looking at the other woman. Still, Neal took his time, even giving Fite a cigarette before announcing that he had to go feed his cat. He came back with the maul and struck Fite repeatedly -- at least six times -- as Suzanne watched in horror.

Neal picked Fite's cigarette off the floor and finished it. Then he untied Suzanne and, holding a pistol to her head, forced her to perform oral sex. After that, he made her return to the mattress, where he raped her. The next morning, Neal took Suzanne to her apartment; he'd told her he'd let her live as his "witness" if she cooperated. And there, for several days, Neal held Suzanne, his girlfriend and a male friend of the women, who'd declined to leave once he saw that they were in trouble, at gunpoint. He made Suzanne tell the others about what she'd seen at his "mortuary" and recorded a rambling confession.

On Saturday, July 8, Neal called Steve Grund, a friend and television newscaster, and told him what he'd done. He then left the three hostages, giving them his pager number and explicit instructions regarding how they were to contact the police; if they didn't follow those instructions, he warned, he might return to kill them. One of the instructions was that after they called the police, they were to sit on the grass outside the apartment. But the women were so frightened that he might change his mind, that his leaving was a cruel trick, that they remained inside.

Even as Neal was making his arrangements, the bodies of the three murdered women were discovered. Holberton's co-workers had grown concerned when she didn't show up for work and had asked the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office to conduct a welfare check. A deputy went to the townhouse and, failing to get an answer at the front door, went around to the back, where a sliding glass door led into the dining room.

The deputy opened the door a crack and called out. Getting no answer, he opened the door a little further -- but stopped before entering. "I was overwhelmed by a sense of evil," the deputy later testified. "It was just one of those scenes where you know you just don't want to be there...A wave of evil hit me. It looked like a torture chamber where somebody had suffered." The deputy called for help.

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Steve Jackson