John Jourbet: The Truth About a Loathsome Serial Killer

After last week’s Olympic Park bombing case, this week we look at Nebraska serial killer John Jourbet. Over fifteen months in 1982-1983, Jourbet killed a young boy in Portland, Maine and two in the Omaha, Nebraska area..

John Jourbet

John Jourbet clearly had a troubled childhood. He entered the world in Lawrence, Massachusetts on July 2, 1963. His parents divorced soon after his birth, and his mother did not allow Jourbet to see his father. In 1971, Jourbet and his mother moved out of the family home into a run-down apartment. Jourbet’s mother was very controlling, and by this time, he had begun to hate her as a result.

John Jourbet mugshot after his 1984 arrest.
John Jourbet mugshot after his 1984 arrest.

His schoolmates considered young John something of an outcast. He joined the Cub Scouts trying to find a way to “belong.” But it was also at this time when he began to have disturbing fantasies about murdering strangers on the street.

When Jourbet was 13, he stabbed a girl with a pencil and felt stimulated when she cried in pain. The next day, he sliced another girl with a razor blade as he biked past. In yet another incident, he beat and nearly strangled a boy. Unfortunately, he was never caught for any of these attacks.

John Jourbet Begins Killing

It was Sunday, August 22, 1982. Richard “Ricky” Stetson, 11, went jogging on the 3.5-mile Black Cove Trail near Portland, Maine. His parents notified police when Ricky had not returned home by dark. The next day, a motorist on I-295 discovered the boy’s body. Police arrested a suspect, but the forensic evidence did not match him. However, the suspected stayed in jail for nearly a year and a half before authorities released him.

Ricky Stetson, the first boy Jourbet killed
Ricky Stetson, the first boy Jourbet killed

Over a year later, on Sunday, September 18, 1983, 13-year-old Danny Joe Eberle went missing while on his newspaper route. Danny lived in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue, Nebraska and had a route for the Omaha World-Herald. He had only delivered 3 of the 70 papers on his route.

Danny Eberle
Danny Eberle

Danny’s brother also had a route for the World-Herald. He hadn’t seen Danny that Sunday but did remember a white man in a tan car following him on previous days.

Danny’s bicycle and undelivered papers turned up at the address of his fourth customer, but there was no sign of Danny. Sadly, his body was found three days later, about 4 miles from where he left his bicycle. His hands and feet were tied, and surgical tape covered his mouth. The rope used to tie Danny was quite unusual and didn’t match samples in the FBI’s database.

Another young boy disappeared from nearby Papillion, Nebraska three months later, on December 2. Christopher Walden was 12 years old. His body was found two days later, stabbed and nearly decapitated. Although there were similarities to Danny Eberle’s murder, there were differences as well.

Christopher Walden, the last Jourbet murder victim
Christopher Walden, the last Jourbet murder victim

Arrest and Trial

January 11, 1984 was a Wednesday. A preschool teacher noticed a young man driving around in the area of the murders. She thought he looked suspicious, so she wrote down is license number. When the driver saw her doing this, he stopped and threatened her before driving off. The car wasn’t tan, but it turned out to be a rental. The renter was John Jourbet, a radar technician from Offutt Air Force Base, which is in the Omaha area. His own car, a tan Chevrolet Nova, was in the shop.

When police and FBI agents searched Jourbet’s room, they discovered rope matching the rope used to bind Danny Eberle. It has been specially made for the U.S. military in South Korea.

Pioneering FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler worked up a profile for the case. The profile matched Jourbet in every respect. Ressler presented the case to a class at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia. There a policeman from Maine noted similarities to the case of the Stetson boy. Jourbet had been living with his mother in Portland at the time of that murder. Ressler and Maine authorities hypothesized that Jourbet joined the military to get away from the Stetson killing.

John Jourbet prison photo taken shortly before his execution in 1996
John Jourbet prison photo taken shortly before his execution in 1996

Jourbet confessed to the Nebraska murders on January 12, 1984. Charged with the murders, he initially pled not guilty but changed his plea to guilty. A three-judge panel sentenced him to death. He also received a life sentence in Maine for the Ricky Stetson murder (Maine doesn’t have the death penalty).

Epilogue

After exhausting his appeals, John Jourbet died in the Nebraska electric chair on July 17, 1996.

A book on the case by Mark Pettit and Marcelo Galvao, A Need to Kill, appeared in 2013.

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