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The Highway Killer: The Victims of Larry Eyler


Between 1982 and 1984, young men throughout the Midwest were disappearing, to be found dead along the side of the highway. The number of victims multiplied rapidly, eventually making it inconceivable that the crimes were not connected. Men in the LGBTQ community were on high alert, fearing a serial killer was targeting their community. This is a twisted tale of murder and the road to justice. This is the story of The Highway Killer: The Victims of Larry Eyler.

Larry Eyler was born December 21st, 1952, in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Larry was the youngest of four children. His mother and father divorced when he was just a toddler. His father was an abusive alcoholic, as were his three future stepfathers. In fact, one of his stepfathers frequently disciplined Larry by holding his head under scalding hot water. His mother worked a variety of jobs to support her children, including as a waitress and as a factory. At times, Larry and his sister were placed in foster care, but were later reunited with their mother.

Larry Eyler had a rough upbringing and was bullied often. He acted out as a result, which eventually lead to him being placed in a boy’s home. Larry was devastated and begged his mother to bring him back home, which she eventually agreed to. He was of average intelligence but didn’t do well in school and ended up dropping out. Larry completed his GED, then he attended college periodically, but never got a degree. Larry struggled with his fear of abandonment and accepting his own sexuality. Being raised in a conservative and religious household, Larry felt great shame as a homosexual man.

On October 12th, 1982, a twenty-one-year-old man in Crown Point, Indiana, was lured into the car of Larry Eyler. He was drugged, beaten, and left for dead in a rural field. The young man was fortunate to survive. Eleven days later, the body of nineteen-year-old Steven Crockett (pictured right) was found in Kankakee County, Illinois, near the Indiana border. Steven had been stabbed more than twenty times. Drugs and alcohol were also found in his system on autopsy. Steven was born October 10th, 1963, in the Chicago area. He was known to be a male prostitute, and the media looked down on the victim.

One week later, twenty-six-year-old Edgar Underkofler disappeared from Rantoul, Illinois. His remains weren’t found until March of 1983, in a field in Illinois. Soon after, twenty-five-year-old John “JJ” Johnson (pictured left) disappeared from the Chicago area. He was found dead on Christmas Day, 1982. On November 20th, 1982, nineteen-year-old William Lewis was abducted near Vincennes, Indiana. His remains were found but remained unidentified until 2021 when forensic genealogy was used to finally bring peace to the Lewis family. All of the victims appeared to be young gay men and were found with their pants down and bound. William Lewis (pictured right)


Steven Agan, a twenty-three-year-old from Terre Haute, Indiana, was abducted in December of 1982. His body was found in a wooded area in Indiana on December 28th. Steven’s murder had been particularly brutal, as he was found disemboweled. In a nearby outbuilding, detectives found a grizzly scene of blood and human flesh. The doctor performing the autopsy believed that the level of rage indicated multiple killers.

Steven Agan (pictured below)

As the doctor was finishing up Steven Agan’s autopsy, another body was brought in for examination. This time, it was the body of twenty-one-year-old John Roach. John had been found close to Interstate 70 in Putnam County, Indiana. The doctor was able to link the murders due to similar wounds and both bodies being found near interstates. In fact, many young men had been found near highways. While police departments hadn’t made a conclusive link between the deaths of several young men, the gay community had and tried to protect themselves from harm.

On December 30th, 1982, the seventh victim in just a few months was abducted. Twenty-two-year-old David Block disappeared from Highland Park, Illinois. He told his family he was visiting a friend in Highwood. His body was found in a field near Illinois Route 173 on May 7th, 1984. Seven victims were just the start. 1983 brought many more.


David Block (pictured)

On January 24th, 1983, sixteen-year-old Ervin Gibson was abducted and murdered in Lake County, Illinois. His body was not discovered until April 15th. He was found alongside a dog that had also been stabbed to death. On May 9th, the body of twenty-one-year-old Daniel McNeive (pictured left) was found in a field in Indiana near State Road 39 in Hendricks County. Daniel had been bound, beaten, stabbed, and partially disemboweled. His pants were also found around his ankles, like several other victims. Nine days later, twenty-five-year-old Richard Bruce was murdered in Effingham, Illinois. His body was thrown into a creek where it was found December 5th, 1983.


(Richard Bruce: pictured above)

By this point, police had begun to connect the crimes and was monitoring gay bars and clubs. They were hoping to solve the murder spree before more victims were found. An Indiana newspaper for the gay community called The Works set up an anonymous telephone line for anyone who had information to share and even offered a reward. Finally, a task force was formed by law enforcement to hunt the killer or killers, which was called the Central Indiana Multi-Agency Investigation Team.

Once the task force was formed, detectives were able to connect more murders from other jurisdictions using computerized databases. This was relatively new at this time in law enforcement history. Soon, the murder of twenty-nine-year-old Jay Reynolds was connected. He was found in Lexington, Kentucky. Eighteen-year-old Jimmie Roberts was found near Chicago on May 9th, 1983. He had been stabbed thirty-five times.

On June 6th, 1983, a tip came in that seemed promising. The man said he believed the killer preying on gay men in Illinois and Indiana was Larry Eyler. He explained that Eyler had once been charged with stabbing a hitchhiker in 1978. He also explained that Larry Eyler was often violent, enjoyed bondage, and was a gay man who was ashamed of his sexuality. Larry lived in the Terre Haute area and worked at a liquor store near the interstate. The tipster also advised police that Eyler had drugged a fourteen-year-old boy and abandoned him naked in the woods in May of 1982.

On August 3rd, 1978, a young man named Craig Long was stabbed in the chest. Paramedics were able to save his life and Mr. Long shared that he had been propositioned by a man for sex. His attacker then got violent and stabbed Craig. Craig pretended to be dead and crawled to a nearby farmhouse for help after his attacker left. As he was being cared for by paramedics, Larry Eyler showed up at the scene. He admitted to stabbing Long, but claimed it happened by accident. Inside his car, they found a sword, tear gas, and handcuffs.

Larry Eyler should have been arrested and placed in prison in 1978, which would have prevented dozens of murders. However, his lawyers paid Craig Long $2,500 to refuse to testify against Eyler. Larry Eyler’s only punishment was a $43 fine. How could this happen? How was he allowed to pay of a witness to avoid prosecution?

The FBI developed a profile on the killer, who had not yet been identified. The FBI profile predicted the killer was a white male in his late twenties or early thirties who worked in a menial profession. The profile suggested that the killer would have a rough exterior but hated himself deep down because of his sexual attraction to other males. The FBI believed that the killer would present himself as a hater of homosexuals, although he was one. The profile also believed that an older and more intelligent male was likely an accomplice to at least some of the murders.

The FBI profile was similar to the task force’s prime suspect, Larry Eyler. It would take proof for an arrest, however. Authorities were tailing Larry Eyler, watching his every move as he cruised gay bars in the Chicago area. However, the murders did not stop.

On July 2nd, 1983, the body of Gustavo Herrera (pictured right) was found in rural Lake County, Illinois. The victim had been repeatedly stabbed in the abdomen. Eight weeks later, the body of twenty-eight-year-old Ralph Calise was found in a field close to a tollway near Illinois Route 60. Ralph had been stabbed seventeen times and was partially disemboweled. The serial killer, now known as “The Highway Killer”, was working at a rapid pace.


(Ralph Calise pictured above)

On September 30th, 1983, Larry Eyler was pulled over in Lowell, Indiana for a routine traffic stop. He was found with a young hitchhiker. He was detained for solicitation of a male prostitute. Larry’s vehicle was searched without his consent and the officers failed to notify him that he was under arrest. Inside his vehicle, police found rope and other suspicious items. At this time, they impounded his vehicle without a court order.

The task force came to question Eyler, who they already suspected was the serial killer they were hunting. Eyler declined to speak to them about his sexuality and denied committing any murders. He gave consent for detectives to search his vehicle and obtain his fingerprints at this time. He even volunteered for a polygraph test. Inside the truck, police found a knife, rope, hammer, handcuffs, bat, mallet, and surgical tape. Larry Eyler’s boots matched plaster casts of shoe imprints taken from the scene of Ralph Calise’s murder scene. They also found human blood on one of the knives.

Detectives could not officially place him under arrest yet, so Eyler was set free with his truck. However, the evidence was enough to secure a search warrant for Larry Eyler’s home that he shared with his roommate. Larry was living with a middle-aged man named Robert Little, who worked as a professor at Indiana State University. Inside the home, receipts were found that placed Eyler near several of the crime scenes. Phone records showed Eyler placed calls to Little from the Chicago area at all hours of the night and near establishments where some of the victims had disappeared.

One of these calls came on April 8th, from Cook County Hospital. This is the day Gustavo Herra is believed to have been murdered. Eyler was treated at Cook County Hospital for a deep laceration on his hand. Eyler said that he cut himself on a beer bottle. Receipts proved that Eyler purchased handcuffs and a knife the following day.

The task force learned that Larry Eyler shared his time between living with Robert Little in Terre Haute and a man named John Dobrovolski in Chicago. John was married with children, but his wife seemed to be understanding and tolerant of John and Larry’s relationship. There also seemed to be a pattern between arguments between Larry and John and the abductions of victims.

After being released from custody in early October 1983, Larry Eyler hired a lawyer from Chicago and filed a civil suit against the Lake County Sherrif’s office and Indiana State Police citing harassment and violation of his civil rights. He sought $250,000 in damages.

On October 4th, 1983, mushroom hunters discovered a human torso inside a plastic bag in rural Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The victim was identified as eighteen-year-old Eric Hansen (pictured right), who had disappeared just a week before. Eric’s skull and hands were never found. He was the first of the victims to be dismembered in this way. Two weeks later, the decomposing remains of four more victims were found in Lake Village, Indiana. These victims had been dead for several months and were partially buried. All four had been stabbed dozens of times and trousers were pulled down around their ankles.

On October 29th, 1983, Larry Eyler was formally charged with murder and bond was set at one million dollars. Another search of Robert Little’s home found no evidence linking Eyler or Little to the murders. In December of 1983, an evidentiary hearing determined that police detained Larry Eyler following the traffic stop and searched his vehicle without probable cause. The defense won their motions to suppress all evidence collected between September 30th and November 22nd.

On December 7th, 1983, a hunter discovered another body in Hendricks County near US Route 40. This victim was identified as seventeen-year-old Richard Wayne. He had disappeared in March of 1983 while traveling home to Montpelier, Indiana. An unidentified male victim was found nearby. Larry Eyler remained in jail, awaiting the outcome of the defense’s motions to suppress the rest of the evidence in the case under grounds that Larry’s constitutional rights were violated. He won this ruling and was freed on February 6th, 1984.

Four weeks after his release, Larry Eyler relocated permanently to Chicago. Police in both Indiana and Illinois knew that Larry Eyler was a dangerous serial killer freed on a technicality. Robert Little paid for Eyler’s Chicago apartment and furniture, as well as a new set of tires for his truck. At his lawyer’s insistence, Larry apparently cut ties with John, his married lover, but that didn’t last long.

On the morning of August 21st, 1984, a janitor discovered bags in the garbage dumpster that he believed had been illegally dumped. He removed a bag and opened it slightly, finding a severed human leg. The police were called and discovered several bags with severed body parts of a sixteen-year-old victim named Daniel Bridges. Daniel Bridges (pictured right) was the youngest of thirteen children and known as a juvenile delinquent. Daniel was friends with a previous victim, Ervin Gibson, and once told a news reporter that Larry Eyler was “a real freak”. Daniel worked as a male prostitute since the age of twelve.

Daniel Bridges had been abducted by Larry Eyler on August 19th, 1984. He was bound to a chair, beaten, tortured, and stabbed to death. Eyler then dismembered the boy in his bathroom and put his remains in the trash bags. Witnesses saw Larry Eyler dumping trash bags in the bin early that morning. A search of Eyler’s home discovered copious amounts of blood that was confirmed to belong to Daniel Bridges. His clothing was found in the apartment as well. Eyler’s fingerprints were also found on the trash bags.

On August 22nd, 1984, Larry Eyler was arrested for the murder of Daniel Bridges. Larry denied being involved in the murder and said his fingerprints must have been on the bags incidentally from dumping his own trash in the bin. The State of Illinois sought the death penalty against Larry Eyler, also charging him with aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and concealment of the body. John Dobrovolski was at Larry’s apartment at the time of his arrest and was also arrested but was released due to lack of evidence.

Larry Eyler’s trial began on July 1st, 1986, in Cook County, Illinois. Robert Little testified that he had been with Larry the day of the abduction but left for Terre Haute around 10:30 pm. He denied any knowledge or participation in the crime. John Dobrovolski testified for the prosecution, stating he telephoned Eyler three times the night of Bridge’s disappearance. He said that at 2:45 am, Larry told him he was still in the company of Robert Little. John said he told Larry he would come over, but Larry said no and came to his home instead. Larry showed up recently showered and not interested in sex, suggesting to John he had recently engaged in sexual activity.

The forensic evidence against Larry Eyler was insurmountable. The jury in the murder case deliberated for just three hours before returning a guilty verdict. Larry Eyler was convicted of aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and murder. He showed no emotion during the reading of the verdict.

In the penalty phase, Eyler’s mother, sister, stepfather, and a Catholic chaplain testified as character witnesses. They portrayed Larry as a good man who sustained abuse at the hands of his mother’s numerous husbands. The defense claimed that the circumstantial evidence was not sufficient to impose a death penalty. The jury disagreed, however, citing the brutality and heinous nature of the murder of Daniel Bridges. Larry Eyler was sentenced to death.

In 1988, Larry Eyler appealed his conviction. Eyler now claimed that while he disposed of Daniel Bridges, Robert Little was the murderer. The appeal was denied, and an execution date was set. Larry Eyler hired up and coming attorney Kathleen Zellner. Kathleen Zellner is now famous for representing several convicted felons who she helped prove innocent including Kevin Fox, whose three-year-old daughter was kidnapped, raped, and murdered. At this time, however, Kathleen had not yet become famous for overturning wrongful convictions.

While awaiting execution, Indiana sought to charge Larry Eyler in the murder of Steven Agan. Larry Eyler agreed to confess to the crime but insisted that Robert Little had been his accomplice in the murder of Steven Agan. Eyler provided a seventeen-page confession in December of 1990. He plead guilty to Steven Agan’s murder and was sentenced to sixty years in prison.

Robert Little, who was now fifty-three-years-old, was arrested in December of 1990 and charged with the murder of Steven Agan. Little plead not guilty. The state’s star witness was Larry Eyler, a convicted serial killer. With little else evidence against Little, he was found not guilty of murder. Robert Little was reinstated as a professor at Indiana State University following his acquittal.

Following the hearings for Steven Agan’s murder, Kathleen Zellner approached law enforcement with proposition. Larry Eyler agreed to confess to and close over twenty open murder cases. What did he want in exchange? He wanted his death sentence commuted to life in prison. Many jurisdictions were eager to take the confessions, but Cook County prosecutors refused to make a deal that would spare Larry Eyler’s life.

Larry Eyler died on March 6th, 1994, at Pontiac Correctional Center while on death row. His cause of death was determined to be complicated from AIDs. Following his death, Kathleen Zellner held a press conference. Her client had given his attorney permission to disclose his crimes following his death. Larry had confessed to over twenty murders. Some he knew by name, others only by details of the crimes. In Larry’s posthumous confessions, he still contended that Robert Little was involved in several of the murders.

Larry’s written confessions, which his attorney was legally bound to keep secret until his death, contained details that only the killer would have known. Law enforcement believe Larry Eyler murdered at least twenty-one young men between 1982 and 1984. Larry’s known victims include Steven Crockett, Edgar Underkofler, John Johnson, William Lewis, Steven Agan, John Roach, David Block, Ervin Gibson, John Bartlett, Michael Bauer, Richard Wayne, Jay Reynolds, Gustavo Herrera, Jimmie Roberts, Daniel McNieve, Richard Bruce, John Brandenburg, Keith Bibbs, Ralph Calise, Eric Hansen, and Daniel Bridges. His victims were mostly young white males who engaged in homosexual activity, but at least one was Hispanic and two black.

In 1994, Daniel Bridge’s parents sued Robert Little, who they believed was responsible for their son’s murder. The family hoped to win several million dollars for wrongful death. The Bridge’s family was represented by Kathleen Zellner. The case was later dismissed. Steven Agan’s family also sued the professor, despite Little being acquitted of the murder. The Agan family settled the lawsuit with Robert Little in 1995, with both parties agreeing to keep the details confidential.

(pictured left to right: Michael Bauer, John Brandenburg, John Bartlett)




Many of Larry Eyler’s victims were not identified for several years. Experts used forensic genealogy to identify unknown victims more than forty years after their murders. The final victim was identified as Keith Bibbs (pictured left), formerly known as Adam Doe, in September of 2023. Michael Bauer and John Bartlett were identified using the same technology. In April of 2021, John Brandenburg Jr was identified. Keith Bibbs was the final missing puzzle piece in this tragic case.

References

The Indianapolis Star (1983) 2 murders, attack in Illinois, Indiana linked? 04 Jan 1983

Palladium-Item (1994) Attorney says Eyler confessed to 21 killings. 09 Mar 1994

Palladium-Item (1995) Murder victim’s parents sue alleged accomplice. 26 Feb 1995

Crittenden, S. (1995) ISU professor, murder victim’s parents settle suit. The Indianapolis Star. 08 Dec. 1995

Tipton County Tribune (1995) Lawsuit against ISU professor dismissed. 26 May 1995

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