Paul Reid: Daring Serial Killer Made Terror in Nashville

Nashville, Tennessee, for years known as “Music City, U.S.A.,” holds a certain mystique in the public psyche. Today, it’s an entertainment Mecca boasting professional sports teams, college athletics, music venues, and countless bars. Lower Broadway is the nexus of this phenomenon, boasting dozens, if not hundreds, of establishments. Nashville has also become a favorite destination for bachelorette parties, drawing brides- and bridesmaids-to-be from all over America. Beneath the glitter and glitz, though, evil sometimes lurks. That was the case in 1997 when Paul Reid, the “Fast Food Killer,” arrived in town.

Paul Reid

Paul Dennis Reid was a native of Texas, hailing from the Fort Worth suburb of Richland Hills. When he drifted into Nashville, he was on parole for the aggravated robbery of a Houston, Texas, steakhouse. Texas cut him loose after he’d served seven years of a twenty-year sentence.

Despite having neither talent nor musical ability, Reid thought he’d try his luck as a country music singer in Nashville. Before long, however, he came up with a new plan.

Paul Reid tied to promote music career despite having no talent or experience (Bizarrapedia via onlyinyourstate.com)
Paul Reid tied to promote music career despite having no talent or experience (Bizarrapedia via onlyinyourstate.com)

Paul Reid and the Captain D’s Murders

February 16, 1997, was a Sunday. At about 8:30 a.m., Steve Hampton, 25, arrived at the Captain D’s seafood restaurant in the Nashville suburb of Donelson. Hampton, a father of three, was the recently promoted store manager. Assisting him was sixteen-year-old Sara Jackson, a part-time employee and a full-time student at nearby McGavock High School.

Steve Hampton and Sarah Jackson (findagrave.com)
Steve Hampton and Sarah Jackson (findagrave.com)

Hampton phoned his regional manager when he arrived at the restaurant. However, a subsequent follow-up call to Hampton went unanswered. Concerned, the regional manager drove to the Donelson location to see what was up. He arrived at the same time as the assistant store manager. Both observed Hampton’s car in the parking lot, but the front door was locked, and there was no sign of activity inside.

Two Metro Nashville prowl cars responded to the regional manager’s 911 call. Inside the restaurant, they found the main cash drawer open and empty. In the restaurant’s walk-in cooler, they found the bodies of Hampton and Jackson. Both were dead, shot in the back of the head with a .32-caliber revolver. Investigators later determined that Reid had convinced Hampton to let him in the store by pretending to apply for a job.

Paul Reid and the McDonald’s Murders

Reid struck again on March 23, also a Sunday, at a McDonald’s in nearby Hermitage. He accosted four employees as they left the store after closing and forced them back inside. There, he herded all four employees into a storeroom. He shot three of them twice in the back of the head: Andrea Brown, 17, Ronald Santiago, 27, and Robert A. Sewell, 23.

Andrea Brown and Robert A. Sewell (findagrave.com)
Andrea Brown and Robert A. Sewell (findagrave.com)

When it came time to shoot José Antonio Ramirez Gonzalez, Reid either had trouble with his gun or was out of ammunition. Instead, he stabbed Gonzalez seventeen times and left him for dead, taking $3,000 from the cash registers on his way out. But Gonzalez was not dead, and after a long recovery, lived to testify against Reid at his trial.

Paul Reid and the Baskin-Robbins Murders

One month later, on April 23, Reid approached a Baskin-Robbins store in Clarksville, Tennessee, shortly after it closed. He convinced the two employees, Angela Holmes, 21, and Michelle Mace, 16, to open the door. Once inside, he kidnapped the two and took them to Dunbar Cave State Park, less than three miles away.

Nashville detective Pat Postiglione immediately connected the Baskin-Robbins case to the Captain D’s and McDonald’s murders in Metro Nashville. But the Clarksville police and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department disagreed and released the crime scene back to Baskin-Robbins.

Michelle Mace (findagrave.com)
Michelle Mace (findagrave.com)

The next day, searchers found the two missing women. Both still wore their Baskin-Robbins uniforms, and both had their throats slashed. Angela was face-down in artificial Swan Lake, about two hundred yards from Michelle. Police theorized Angela had tried to run away, causing Reid to kill Michelle and then chase her.

Paul Reid Captured and Convicted

Law enforcement caught up with Reid when he threatened a former manager at the latter’s home on June 1, 1997. The would-be victim scared Reid away and called the Cheatham County Sheriff’s Office. When Reid called the house to claim his threats were a “big misunderstanding,” a quick-thinking deputy lured him back to the house. He was promptly arrested.

Paul Dennis Reid (murderpedia.org)
Paul Dennis Reid (murderpedia.org)

The State of Tennessee tried Reid three times, once for each crime. Convicted at each trial, he received seven death sentences. However, due to legal wrangling, he never faced the needle. Instead, he died at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry on November 1, 2013. The cause of death was complications due to pneumonia, heart failure, and upper respiratory issues. Reid had been in the hospital for about two weeks.

Epilogue

For a time, police considered Reid a suspect in the 1993 Brown’s Chicken Massacre in Palatine, Illinois. The M.O. in the Brown’s Chicken case was similar to the Captain D’s and McDonald’s murders in Metro Nashville. However, the investigation revealed that Reid could not have committed the Palatine crime. Juan Luna and Degorski were later convicted in the Brown’s Chicken case.

Reid was also considered a suspect in the Houston-area killings of three people in a bowling alley, which echoed a similar crime in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the Houston case, Max Soffar was twice convicted before dying while still on death row in Texas.

Michael Arntfield’s book Monster City includes a section devoted to Paul Reid as the “Fast Food Killer.”

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Christopher Wilder: Secrets of a Down Under Serial Killer

In my last blog post, I presented the case of Scottsdale, Arizona, beautician Valerie Pape. In 2000, Pape murdered and dismembered her husband, leaving his torso in a dumpster. This week’s case is Christopher Wilder. Born in Australia, Wilder abducted and raped at least twelve women across the U.S., killing at least eight in 1984.

Christopher Wilder

Christopher Wilder was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1945 to an American father, a naval officer, and an Australian mother. In 1963, at seventeen, he raped a thirteen-year-old girl in the company of two other youths. Both of his companions denied any part in the assault. Wilder got off with probation. Later, he claimed he received electroshock therapy, which some speculated might have led to his sexual violence. However, journalist Duncan McNab reported that he found no evidence Wilder ever had electroshock therapy. McNabb also said Wilder made up a story of nearly drowning in a swimming pool when he was two years old.

A 1983 mugshot of Christopher Wilder (Palm Beach Police Department)
A 1983 mugshot of Christopher Wilder (Palm Beach Police Department)

Wilder married in 1968, but the union was short-lived. His wife left him after only a week because of his sexual abuse and the lingerie and nude photos she found in his car. In 1969, Wilder emigrated to the United States, settling in Boynton Beach, Florida. His success in real estate allowed him to vacation in exotic locations like Hawaii and the Bahamas. He also became interested in photography, converting a bedroom in his upscale home into a darkroom.

Sex Crimes of Christopher Wilder

Despite an appearance of normalcy, Wilder faced several charges related to sexual misconduct between 1971 and 1975. In one case, he raped a woman he lured into his truck by promising to photograph her for a modeling contract. This established a pattern he used in later crimes. Despite several convictions during this period, he never served any prison time.

Wanted poster after Wilder made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list (FBI)
Wanted poster after Wilder made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list (FBI)

In 1977, a psychologist determined Wilder was dangerous except in a structured environment. The report noted Wilder’s desire to dominate women and to turn them into sex slaves for his pleasure.

During a visit to his parents in Australia in 1982, he was charged with forcing two fifteen-year-old girls to pose nude. His parents posted bail, and the Australian authorities allowed him to return to Florida to await trial. By the time his case came up, however, Wilder was dead.

Christopher Wilder on a Rape and Murder Spree

Christopher Wilder began his murder spree in Florida on February 26, 1984, when twenty-year-old Rosario Teresa Gonzalez went missing. Gonzalez, a model handing out aspirin samples at the Miami Grand Prix, was last seen leaving with a Caucasian man in his thirties.

Less than a month later, Wilder’s former girlfriend, Elizabeth Ann “Beth” Kenyon, vanished. Kenyon was a Miss Florida finalist and had competed against Rosario Gonzalez in that pageant. Authorities have never located either woman’s remains.

Wome of Wilder's victims. Top row (L to R): Rosario Gonzalez (20), Elizabeth Kenyon (22), Terry Ferguson (21), Terry Walden (23). Bottom row (L to R): Suzanne Logan (21), Sheryl Bonaventura (18), Michelle Korfman (17), Dawnette Wilt (16, survived), Beth Dodge (33).
Some of Wilder’s victims. Top row (L to R): Rosario Gonzalez (20), Elizabeth Kenyon (22), Terry Ferguson (21), Terry Walden (23). Bottom row (L to R): Suzanne Logan (21), Sheryl Bonaventura (18), Michelle Korfman (17), Dawnette Wilt (16, survived), Beth Dodge (33).

Wilder’s orgy rape and murder continued. Theresa Anne “Terry” Wait Ferguson, 21, and Linda Grover, 19 (Grover ultimately escaped) abducted in Florida. Terry Diane Graham Walden, 23, kidnapped in Texas. Suzanne Wendy Duchan Logan, 21, taken in Oklahoma and murdered in Kansas. Sheryl Lynn Bonaventura, 18, murdered in Utah. Michelle Lynn Korfman, 17, killed in California. Dawnette Sue Wilt, 16, abducted in New York State (she survived). Beth Elaine Spofford Dodge, 33, murdered in New York State.

Survivor Linda Grover (Daily Telegraph)
Survivor Linda Grover (Daily Telegraph)

Wilder is a suspect in at least ten more murders in the United States and Australia.

Death of Christopher Wilder

On April 13, 1984, Wilder stopped at a Colebrook, New Hampshire, service station to ask directions to Canada. By now, he was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. Two New Hampshire state troopers, Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier, approached him. Wilder retreated to his car and retrieved a Cold Python .357 magnum. Jellison grabbed Wilder from behind, and the gun discharged twice as Wilder tried to die by suicide. The first shot hit Wilder and exited through his back into Jellison. The second bullet hit Wilder in the chest, killing him. Although seriously wounded, Jellison recovered and returned to full duty.

Christopher Wilder dead in his car after an encounter with New Hampshire state troopers Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier (Daily Telegraph)
Christopher Wilder dead in his car after an encounter with New Hampshire state troopers Leo Jellison and Wayne Fortier (Daily Telegraph)

Epilogue

Unlike most serial killers, Wilder had money, leaving an estate worth about $7 million (more than $20.5 million in 2023). In June 1986, a court-appointed arbitrator ruled that the after-tax balance was to be divided among the families of his victims.

Wilder’s body was cremated in Florida.

You can read more about Christopher Wilder and his trail of destruction in Duncan McNab’s The Snapshot Killer.

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Amy Archer-Gilligan: Hidden Evil and Deadly Secrets Come Out

My last blog featured Carl Roland, who tried to escape arrest by sitting on a construction crane for three days. This week’s case is that of Amy Archer-Gilligan. For a decade in the early twentieth century, she poisoned at least five people and possibly many more.

Amy Archer-Gilligan

Born Amy E. Dugan in 1873, Amy Archer-Gilligan married twice. She and her first husband ran Sister Amy’s Nursing Home for the Elderly in Newington, Connecticut, as employees of the home’s owners. In 1907, the owners decided to sell the house. Amy and her first husband, James Archer, moved to Windsor, Connecticut. There they bought a house and opened the Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm.

James Archer died in 1910 of kidney disease. Amy had taken out a life insurance policy on James a few weeks before his death. The proceeds from that policy allowed her to continue operating Archer Home.

Amy Archer-Gilligan
Amy Archer-Gilligan

Three years later, Amy married Michael W. Gilligan, a man of some wealth. Gilligan died only three months after he married Amy. During their short marriage, he had drawn up a new will leaving his entire estate to his new wife. (The document later turned out to be a forgery, written in Amy’s handwriting).

Amy Archer-Gilligan’s Murder Spree

Between the opening of Archer House in 1907 and 1917, 60 residents died there. While only 12 deaths occurred between 1907 and 1910, from 1910 to 1917, there were a staggering 48 deaths. One of those who died was Franklin R. Andrews. Andrews was apparently in good health, but he sickened and died after gardening at Archer Home on May 19, 1914. The coroner ruled his death was from a gastric ulcer.

The house in Windsor, Connecticut, where Amy Archer-Gilligan operated Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm (Windsor Historical Society)
The house in Windsor, Connecticut, where Amy Archer-Gilligan operated Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm (Windsor Historical Society)

Andrews had a sister, Nellie Pierce, who didn’t believe her brother died from natural causes. Andrews indicated to her that Amy had been pressuring him for money. It turned out that several other residents of Archer House died after they gave Amy Archer-Gilligan a large sum of money.

When the local district attorney failed to show much interest, Nellie Pierce wrote to the Hartford Courant. The first of a series of articles on the Murder Factory” appeared on May 9, 1916. It took a few more months, but the police finally began investigating the case.

The Hartford Courant edition of May 8, 1916 (Hartford Courant)
The Hartford Courant edition of May 8, 1916 (Hartford Courant)

Authorities exhumed the bodies of Michael Gilligan, Franklin Andrews, and three other boarders. All five died from either arsenic or strychnine poisoning.

Amy Archer-Gilligan Tried and Convicted Twice

Amy Archer-Gilligan initially faced five charges of murder. Her lawyers managed to a single count, the murder of Franklin Andrews. On June 18, 1917, the jury found her guilty, and the judge sentenced her to death.

Granted a new trial on appeal in 1919, Amy entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The insanity defense failed, as it usually does, and she saw a jury convict her of murder again. This time, though, her sentence was life imprisonment.

Epilogue

In 1924, Amy Archer-Gilligan was declared temporarily insane and transferred to the Connecticut Hospital for the Insane at Middletown. She remained there until she died on April 23, 1962, at age 88.

The Archer-Gilligan case is credited with inspiring the play Arsenic and Old Lace (the 1944 film version starred Cary Grant).

You can read about Amy Archer-Gilligan in The Devil’s Rooming House by M. William Phelps.

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Mad Butcher: Strange Killer Makes Panic for Cleveland

Last week’s concerned Arnold Rothstein, the gambler who supposedly “fixed” the 1919 World Series. This week, we tackle the story of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.

The Mad Butcher

During the 1930s, America reeled from the effects of the Great Depression. Industrial cities like Cleveland, Ohio, suffered the worst. Adding to the economic misery, a serial killer terrorized the city during this time. The newspapers dubbed him “The Torso Slayer,” “The Headhunter,” “The Phantom Killer,” or “The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.” Between 1934 and 1938, police believe he murdered, mutilated, and dismembered at least twelve people, possibly as many as twenty.

Cleveland police search for human remains in September 1931
Cleveland police search for human remains in September 1936

The first body appeared on September 5, 1934. A beachcomber walking along Lake Erie’s Euclid Beach found a rotting piece of human flesh. It was the lower half of a female torso. After this grisly find, people reported seeing other body parts floating in the water. The woman was never identified.

A year later, two boys playing catch found the headless bodies of two men. The older, never identified, had been killed at least five days before the other. Police were able to identify the younger man through his fingerprints. His name was Edward Andrassy, 29, a bisexual ex-convict. Retraction of the neck muscles on both victims indicated the decapitation occurred while they were still alive.

Edward Andrassy, the Mad Butcher's first know victim
Edward Andrassy, the Mad Butcher’s first know victim

Over the next four years, ten more mutilated bodies turned up around Cleveland. Most of the victims were poor and homeless men who lived on the streets or in shantytowns along Kingsbury Run—an area of downtown Cleveland. Not all of them were male; the victims included two women. Investigators identified two victims through fingerprints and made a tentative identification of a third through dental records. The rest remained unidentified.

Florence Genevieve Sawdy Polillia, another victim of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run
Florence Genevieve Sawdy Polillia, another victim of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run

Most of the victims had been decapitated or dismembered. This led to speculation that the murderer had some medical knowledge or experience in butchering animals. A few victims showed signs they’d been tortured before they died. This suggests that their killer may have had mental illness or sociopathic tendencies.

Who Was the Mad Butcher?

On July 5, 1939, police arrested Frank Dolezal, a Slovak immigrant, for the murder of the third victim, Florence Polillo. Dolezal, born in 1895, lived with Polillo at one time and had connections to the other two identified victims. He confessed to killing Polillo and Andrassy after a marathon interrogation. He soon recanted, however, accusing detectives of using third-degree tactics.

On August 24, Dolezal supposedly hanged himself in his cell. He had four broken ribs and numerous bruises on his body. Modern students of the Mad Butcher case do not regard Dolezal as a viable suspect.

Francis E. Sweeney came under suspicion. Sweeney was a World War I veteran, a doctor, and a severe alcoholic. In 1938, Eliot Ness, of “Untouchables” fame and by then Cleveland’s Safety Director, bundled him off to a downtown hotel. After Sweeney dried out, Ness subjected him to a week-long interrogation that left Ness convinced he had his man. Ness’s questioning was extra-legal, and if anyone kept records, they don’t survive today.

Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney. Eliot Ness believed he was the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run
Dr. Francis Edward Sweeney. Eliot Ness believed he was the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run

After his ordeal, Sweeney committed himself to a mental institution. He died in a Dayton, Ohio, veteran’s hospital on July 9, 1964.

Most of the Mad Butcher’s victims were of the lower classes, homeless, or down on their luck. Eliot Ness believed that he could solve the Mad Butcher problem, if not the case, by removing the pool of potential victims. Ness decided the way to do this was to eradicate the Hoovervilles along Kingsbury Run. On August 18, 1938, Eliot Ness took the drastic and bizarre step of burning the shacks in the Kingsbury Run vicinity. Newspapers blasted Ness for this, and it hurt when he ran for mayor of Cleveland in 1947.

Ness drew harsh condemnation after a midnight raid left dozens of shantytown dwellings in flames. (The Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University)
Ness drew harsh condemnation after a midnight raid left dozens of shantytown dwellings in flames. (The Cleveland Press Collection, Cleveland State University)

Epilogue

The Mad Butcher case is one of Cleveland’s most enduring mysteries. The last body turned up in August 1938, coinciding with Sweeney’s self-commitment. Does that mean he was the Mad Butcher? Maybe, but not necessarily. There is no evidence pointing to him as the killer. The true identity of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run remains unknown.

There are several books on the Cleveland torso murders. They include The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, Torso, In the Wake of the Butcher, and American Demon.

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