Highways can be notoriously fatal places, and not just because of automobile accidents. Since the 1950s, hundreds of bodies have been found off America’s highway system, including most of the victims of the Colonial Parkway murders. Here is a list of Seven of history’s infamous serial killers who plied their murderous trade on our nation’s highways and byways.
- Patrick Kearney
Kearney seemed like a slight, unassuming man to those who knew him. In his downtime, however, he was targeting and killing transient young men along California highways in the 1970s. He picked up hitchhikers or men in gay bars, and would then rape and murder, occasionally torturing his victims. Afterward, he would usually dismember the bodies (after sometimes committing necrophilia) and dispose of them in industrial trash bags along the highways, earning both of his nicknames –“the Freeway Killer” and “the Trash Bag Killer.”
- William Bonin
Bonin was another California highway serial killer dubbed “the Freeway Killer.” The former truck driver was arrested in Hollywood, California on June 11, 1980 while raping a teen runaway, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1996. Police on the scene found gear in Bonin’s van that he used for raping and murdering all his victims. He primarily strangled his victims, typically ranging in age between 12 and 19, and worked with a series of accomplices. He then disposed of their nude bodies along the highway. Bonin was found guilty of 10 murders in Los Angeles County in 1982 and another four in Orange County in 1983. He was executed in 1996, according to the Los Angeles Times.
- The Colonial Parkway Murders
From 1986 to 1989, four double homicides occurred on or near the Colonial Parkway, a 23-mile scenic stretch in Virginia. All of the victims were young, white, and were either a romantic couple or would have appeared so to a stranger. The first pair were found strangled to death with their throats slashed in their car. The second pair were shot to death, their car discovered not far from where their bodies washed up from the James River. The third pair vanished entirely, their vehicle abandoned. The fourth pair were found dead in the woods, their bodies too decomposed to reveal how they were killed.
While the timing, location, and type of victims were all similar enough to suggest a single serial killer, the different ways in which they were murdered, and their bodies were disposed of could suggest the cases are unrelated. The investigation is still active.
- The 1-70 Killer
In 1992, a serial murderer dubbed “The 1-70 Killer” left behind a string of bodies in three states: Kansas, Indiana, and Missouri. The killer gunned down six store clerks: five women and one man (although there’s debate the killer mistook the man for a woman thanks to his long hair), CBS affiliate station KMOV4 reported in 2020. All of the victims’ workplaces were off 1-70. The killer was never identified.
- The New Bedford Highway Killer
From 1988 to 1989, nine women, all sex workers from New Bedford, Massachusetts, were found dead along Route 140, I-195, and Route 88. Two more women went missing and were presumed victims of the mysterious serial killer. It’s been decades and still no one has been identified as the New Bedford Highway Killer.
- Randy Kraft
The third psychopath on our list to have been dubbed “the Freeway Killer” is Randy Kraft, who also was referred to as “The Scorecard Killer,” as he kept a coded list of his 61 murder victims. For example, one entry was “Iowa,” believed to be a U.S. Marine named Oral Alfred Stewart Jr., an Iowa-born man killed by blunt force trauma in Long Beach in 1974. Kraft’s killing grounds were also California’s highways, though unlike Bonin and Kearney, he usually went after older men, especially servicemen. He was arrested in 1983 and eventually convicted of killing 16 people. He was sentenced to die and remains on death row to this day in San Quentin State Prison.
- The 1-45 Killer
The 1-45 Killer, if indeed one person, would be one of the most prolific serial killers in US history. On a 50-mile stretch of 1-45 from Houston, Texas to Galveston, Texas, 42 bodies have been found. All of the victims were women, although they didn’t have much else in common. One League City oil field was dubbed the “Killing Fields” after four young women were found dead there between 1984 to 1991. Eventually, the whole stretch of the 1-45 where women have been found murdered became referred to as “the Killing Fields” by Texans. Authorities believe more than one person is behind the murders — potentially even multiple serial killers, but the case has yet to be solved.