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St. Louis Metro Serial Killer or Killers?


In the spring of 2000, an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch highlights a frightening string of dead bodies dumped in East St. Louis, Illinois. The community of East St. Louis feared a serial killer was targeting African American women in their neighborhood. Police were not yet ready to say there was a serial killer, but there had been five victims found. Over the next two years, more bodies would be found. This is the story of the St. Louis Metro Serial Killer or Killers?

On February 2nd, 2000, the body of thirty-three-year-old Yvette House was found near 20th Street in East St. Louis. Yvette was three months pregnant with her twelfth child. Police also found a crack pipe near the body, indicating that the woman may have been a prostitute supporting her drug habit. The investigation began immediately and just fifty yards away, investigators found a garbage bag. Inside was another body. The second victim was Seriece Johnson, also thirty-three. Seriece was a mother of six children.

Autopsy reports on Seriece Johnson had no drugs in her system, contrary to what police suspected. Yvette House had cocaine in her system, but not enough to have contributed to her death. Yvette and Seriece both appeared to have been beaten before they were killed, with Yvette’s nose being broken. Police knew the women had been murdered but had very little other evidence to work with.

The case grew cold, garnering very little media attention. On May 18th, 2000, a resident in East St. Louis reported a dog walking around with what appeared to be a human leg bone. Upon investigation, the bodies of two more women were found near 20th Street, concealed in trash bags. The badly decomposed bodies were identified through dental records as Ramona Sidney, age thirty-one, and Tracy Williams, age thirty-eight. Still, no clues lead police to a viable suspect.

In August of 2000, a fifth body was found. This time, it was sixty-one-year-old Mary Shields. She was found mostly nude, with only ripped and blood-stained underwear concealing her body. She had been strangled. East St. Louis residents were familiar with Mary, who they described as “a drunk married to a junkie” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 2000). “She had friends. We cared about her, and she didn’t deserve to die like that”.

The previous four deaths in 2000 were all ruled homicides, but police insisted they could not conclude that this was the work of a serial killer just yet. Police reminded the public that East St. Louis has a high murder rate, with these five murders making up less than 50% of the homicides that had occurred in the first eight months of 2000.

“I don’t think there is any reason to be alarmed. Our detectives are on top of things. I am very confident in them” Mayor Debra Powell said (2000). She went on to say, “people need to realize crime is falling”. In the year 1999, East St. Louis had twenty-three homicide cases, which was indeed less than the average of sixty per year in 1990. Just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri, East St. Louis, Illinois, was named the most dangerous city in the United States according to The National Council for Home Safety and Security in 2018 (Held, 2018). Poverty is noted to be the primary contributing factor to the city’s high crime rates.

The bodies stopped surfacing briefly after Mary Shields was found in August of 2000. Police were not sure if their suspect or suspects had left the area, died, or were in prison. However, on April 1st, 2001, another body was found. This time, the body of thirty-four-year-old Alysia Greenwade was found in a ditch in Washington Park. Alysia was from St. Louis, where she was often found in the Baden neighborhood downtown working as a prostitute. She had ligature marks on her wrists and ankles. An autopsy revealed she had cocaine and alcohol in her system.

After Alysia’s body was found, bodies of slain African American women started being found rapidly. Next, the body of Teresa Wilson, age twenty-six, was found by a mowing crew along Highway 67 in West Alton, Missouri on May 15th. Betty James, age forty-six, was found in an ally in St. Louis on May 23rd. Betty had been bound with duct tape and severely beaten. She was also found to have drugs in her system and had worked as a prostitute. It appeared someone was targeting sex workers in the St. Louis and East St. Louis area.

Sixteen feet from where Teresa Wilson had been found in West Alton, police found another body on June 29th. The victim was Verona “Roni” Thompson, age thirty-six. She also had drugs in her system and was nude. She was last seen leaving a party in Washington Park six days earlier. On August 25th, another body was found in East St. Louis near St. Clair Avenue. Yvonne Crues, age fifty, was found with ligature marks on her wrists and scrapes on her knees. She had been strangled sometime in the last twenty-four hours, as her mother saw her just the day before. This victim also had drugs in her system.

Brenda Beasley, age thirty-three, was found dead in East St. Louis on October 8th, 2001. Her eyes and arms were taped, she had blunt force trauma injuries to her head, and had been suffocated. She was last seen leaving her home in the Baden neighborhood of St. Louis, were she lived with her four children.

An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in October of 2001 suggests that police believed that Greenwade, Wilson, James, Thompson, Crues, and Beasley may be victims of a serial killer. Police theorized that the first four bodies, House, Johnson, Sidney, and Wilson, were committed by another man. Johnson, Sidney, and Wilson were all found in garbage bags that were similar. Nearly twelve years earlier, forensics linked a trash bag with baby Heather Sims’ body in it to a roll of bags found in her parents’ home. Paula Sims was convicted based on this technology. Police hoped they could do it again.

Detectives theorized that the other six may be linked because they were all black prostitutes and crack addicts, were known to hang out in the same spot in the Baden neighborhood of St. Louis, and most were found nude. While several of the women were known prostitutes, detectives pointed out that prostitutes don’t typically get fully naked when performing their services.

In this article, police also referenced three other unsolved homicides that they believed were not connected to the others. The first, the death of twenty-eight-year-old Diana Kunkle. Diana’s badly decomposed body was found in an abandoned building in East St. Louis nearly four months after she disappeared in November of 1999. Kunkle was a known heavy drug user and possible prostitute. Her cause of death was unknown. What made her stand out from the others was her race, she was a white woman.

Mary Sheilds, the sixty-one-year-old found in East St. Louis in August of 2000, was not a known prostitute. Police believed that her case did not fit with the others. The third was that of Lolina Collins, age forty-one, who had been found in October 2001 inside two plastic bags in East St. Louis. Collins had been strangled by hand and was not a known prostitute either. She was, however, abusing cocaine.



In the October 200 article, police suggest they have a suspect in the “trash bag” murders in East St. Louis. They said their suspect, who they did not yet identify, was in prison for auto theft. He had been identified by a potential victim who had managed to escape. This man was Eugene Young. He was paroled in December of 2001, but was charged with the sexual assault and unlawful detention of the living victim. As he was awaiting trial, his DNA matched to an open rape case in Utah from 1996. He was in jail awaiting trial for now, but the killings didn’t stop.

On January 30th, 2002, an unidentified woman’s skeleton was found near Mascoutah, Illinois. Another unidentified female skeleton is found March 11th, 2002, near Highland, IL. A third was found near Columbia, Illinois on March 28th. The bodies were never identified. As the St. Louis and metro east communities lived in fear of when another dead woman would be found, St. Louis Post Dispatch writer Bill Smith published an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch highlighting the murders. The article focused on Teresa Wilson in particular, providing details of her life from those who loved her. Bill was able to humanize a victim that some saw as less than human because of her addictions. The article was published on May 19th, 2002.

A few days later, a letter postmarked on May 21st, 2002, was delivered to Bill Smith at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The return address was “I Thralldom” with a New York, NY address. Only, the postmark showed it was mailed from St. Louis. “I Thralldom” was a bondage website.



Shocked at receiving the letter, Bill turned the letter over to the police. Along with the letter was a map printed from a computer, with an X marking the spot where the writer said they would find his seventeenth victim. The map had the website address cut off, making it difficult to know where the map was printed from. Detectives did a search in the area marked on the map, where they found the remains of yet another unknown victim. Now they knew, this letter was from the killer.

The killer not only led detectives to the remains of his latest victim, but also inadvertently lead them back to the killer. Detectives from the FBI joined Illinois and Missouri detectives in the investigation. An investigator did an exhaustive search of every website that provides maps. He was finally able to link the map to Expedia.com. Upon reaching out to Expedia, they learned the map was provided by Microsoft and was exclusive to Expedia.com. The FBI asked Expedia to provide the number of downloads of this map between May 19th and May 21st, 2002. There was only one download.

Microsoft could not identify the person who downloaded the map by name but were able to identify the IP address of the individual who downloaded the map. An IP reversal process was used to identify the owner of the IP address. The map was downloaded at 7:36pm on May 20th, 2002, by someone using the screen name Maury Travis. The home was in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The home was owned by Maury Travis’s mother, but Maury was the primary resident.



On June 7th, 2002, the FBI knocked on Maury Travis’s front door around seven o’clock in the morning. Maury and his long-time girlfriend answered the door. Maury instantly complained about the early morning hours in which the police had arrived. He asked why they were there, to which the investigators said, “you know why we are here”. He responded, “yes, I know why you are here”. The computer in the home was proven to be the one who downloaded the map from Expedia.com and found several drafts of the letter sent to the newspaper on Travis’s computer.

Inside the home, police found a plethora of disturbing evidence including women’s wigs, shoes, a stun gun, and a collection of video tapes. The basement had blood on the walls, ceiling, carpet, furniture, and just about everywhere else in the basement. The blood was linked to at least six different women. Police also found a “murder kit” with ligatures, duct tape, straps, and other materials utilized to commit murders. Media articles on many of the murders were found. There were also plans found to transform the basement into a dungeon with cells for his victims.

In the driveway, police found two vehicles. One vehicle matched a tire print found on the body of Betty James. The other car had tires that matched tire impressions taken from the Alysia Greenwade crime scene. DNA found on two of the victims, Yvonne Crues and Brenda Beasley, were a match to Maury Travis. Under arrest for multiple counts of murder, detectives were eager to interview Maury Travis and determine what other murders he had committed and where the bodies were. However, Maury Travis was not interested in talking about his crimes or leading investigators to the bodies of his unknown victims. Instead, he wanted to know how he had been caught. He cursed when he realized his “damn computer” had been his downfall.

On the video tapes found in Travis’s home, police found disturbing footage of Maury Travis torturing and murdering several of his victims. In a video tape labeled “your wedding day”, Maury brags about killing his first victim, a woman he said was nineteen years old. He doesn’t name her, and instead says “Name: I don’t know. I don’t give a fuck”. He then says, “First kill was good”. The videotapes show he bound his victims to a pole in his basement where he tortured them. On tape, he is heard asking his victims if they are sorry for their actions, being a prostitute, and making them plead. He kills one victim on tape. The tape was so disturbing that detectives who saw the tapes were required to seek psychological care.

With Travis refusing to provide any more information, he was placed in a cell in the St. Louis County jail. U.S. Marshals requested Travis be put on suicide watch as he had made statements about not wanting to go back to prison. Travis was charged with two federal kidnapping charges, which carried the possibility of a death sentence. He had taken victims across state lines, making the case federal. More charges were likely to be filed against him in Missouri and Illinois.

On June 10th, 2002, just three days after his arrest, Maury Travis was found hanging in his cell in the St. Louis County jail. He was thirty-six years old. According to the officials at the St. Louis County jail, officers did not follow protocols and failed to perform the mandated 15-minute checks on Travis at 7:30 and 7:45 pm. Travis left a suicide note, apologizing only to his mother for any harm he caused and reassuring her she was a good mom. He did not offer any remorse for his victims or their families, nor did he reveal any information about his unknown victims.

Who was this man and why did he commit these crimes? Maury Troy Travis was born October 25th, 1965, in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1976, his family purchased a house at 1001 Ford Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri. This is the house in which Travis would later commit his crimes. Two years later, his parents divorced. Travis graduated from McCluer High School in 1985 and began attending Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia.

In March of 1988, Maury, known as “Toby”, was home from school when he chose to commit five armed robberies of shoe stores in St. Louis County. In 1989, he plead guilty to 5 counts of armed robbery and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Before he was sentenced, local politician William Lacy Clay wrote a letter to the court on Travis’s behalf, requesting leniency. While in prison at the Farmington Correctional Center in Missouri, Travis wrote letters to the judge complaining about the conditions in prison and begging to be released. In one letter, he wrote, “Daily and hourly also at any given moment I think of taking my life. The conditions here are excruciatingly tormenting to say the least. Staying in my cell and crying myself to sleep most every night will not help, but it’s so very hard to believe this happened to me” (2002). He was paroled in June of 1994.

Toby did not stay out of trouble, however. In February of 1998 he was arrested for drug possession, a violation of his parole, and was sent back to prison. He was paroled again in January of 1999. Eighteen months later, the body of sixty-one-year-old Mary Shields was found. Remember the brief pause in the murders in late 2000? Maury Travis was sent to prison again for violating his parole and possessing drugs. He was released in March of 2001. Less than a month after his release, the body of Alysia Greenwade was discovered.

When probing Maury Travis’s history looking for clues, detectives did not find the usual things found with serial killers. While Travis did target victims of his own race, which is usually the case in serial killers, he failed to possess other common factors. He had no history of arson or animal abuse. Neighbors described Maury as polite, considerate, and quiet. A high school teacher said Maury was “very quiet and withdrawn, incredibly quiet for a teenager” (2002). He had served two years in the Army Reserves as a medical and dental assistant. He had volunteered at a local nursing home.

After his arrest for armed burglary, Travis told the judge he was addicted to crack cocaine and his drug habit was costing him $300 per day. He had that in common with many of his victims. At his parole hearings, he said that he had completed drug rehabilitation and that was all behind him. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Travis worked at a restaurant at the Mayfair Hotel in downtown St. Louis. A former co-worker remembers him warning others of the dangers of getting addicted to drugs. He also remembered another conversation that now seemed frightening.

He said he told Maury Travis about his friend’s car that was stolen and set on fire in East St. Louis. “Maury told me that East St. Louis was a good place to dump things because there’s not many police around” the man said (2002). Maury had dumped at least four bodies in East St. Louis. He also said his girlfriend worked for a local news station in St. Louis, and once Travis asked her if the station had done a story on all the prostitutes getting killed. This was before police had linked the murders.

Four days after Maury Travis committed suicide, another arrest was made. Donald Eugene Younge, who was already facing charges for sexual assault and false imprisonment of an East St. Louis woman, was charged with the murders of Seriece Johnson, Ramona Sidney, and Tracy Williams. Police believed he committed the “trash bag” murders and just happened to be operating as a serial killer at the same time as Maury Travis. He is also suspected in the death of Yvette House but was not formally charged with the crime. In November of 2002, Illinois prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Younge.

In 2003, Illinois Governor George Ryan commuted all death sentences in Illinois to life in prison, but Younge still faced the death penalty if convicted of the serial murders. In March of 2004, however, Younge’s living victim in East St. Louis was murdered, leading to the case against him for sexual assault and kidnapping to be dropped. They also decided to no longer seek the death penalty. In March of 2009, DNA evidence linked Younge to the murder of Amy Quinton, age twenty-two, who was killed in Utah in 1999. Younge had lived there for a few years during the time period in which the murder occurred.

In 2009, Illinois dropped the murder charges, citing the loss of their live witness who would be key to the prosecution and a potentially dishonest state’s witness. Younge was extradited to Utah to be prosecuted for the August 1999 murder of twenty-two-year-old University of Utah student Amy Quinton. The prosecution allegedly failed to disclose that DNA evidence from the crime scene was a match to a male that was not Younge. Furthermore, evidence shows Younge returned home to East St. Louis months before the murder. In late December 2009, Younge was convicted of rape and sentenced to thirty-one years to life in the Utah Department of Corrections. He is still in prison in Utah as of August 2023.

In 2014, a woman began renting a home in Ferguson, Missouri. She sat down to watch a true crime television show, only to realize that the horrible crimes being discussed occurred at the very home she was renting. In fact, the landlord had given her a kitchen table that was visible in the home on police footage from the time of the murders. She was renting the home of Maury Travis, where more than a dozen women are suspected to have been murdered. The landlord did not disclose the history of the house, possibly because the landlord was Maury Travis’s mother. Missouri law does not require that violent crimes occurring on the property be disclosed, but the St. Louis Housing Authority stepped in and allowed the woman to break her lease without penalty.

Police suspect that Maury Travis was responsible for at least 12 and as many as 20 murders between 2000-2002. He has been positively linked through evidence to the murders of Mary Shields, Alysia Greenwade, Teresa Wilson, Betty James, Verona Thompson, Yvonne Crues, and Brenda Beasley. He is also suspected in the deaths of the unidentified women found in Mascoutah, Highland, and Columbia, Illinois. Could he also be responsible for the “trash bag” murders? Or was it possible that two serial killers were patrolling the metro St. Louis area at the same time?

What led Maury Travis to commit these terrible crimes? In his videos he is berating his victims, asking if they are sorry for living the way they were in order to support a drug habit. He called them bad mothers but stressed to his own mother in his suicide note that she had been a wonderful mother. Did he blame drug abuse for his own failures and imprisonment and launch a war against the drug culture? Were there dark secrets in his past that no one is aware of? Did he have anger against black women, black mothers, who abused drugs? Who were his other victims and where are their remains? Unfortunately, Maury Travis took all these answers with him when he took his own life.


References

Bryan, Bill (2002). Man is charged in killings of 3 women in E. St. Louis. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 24 Jun 2002

Forensic Files (2003) X marks the spot.

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