To authorities she spilled the shocking details of a night of horror. It was the lead they'd been desperate for in a multi-state manhunt for an elusive serial killer. Where the witness took them was to the last man anyone would have suspected.
Richard Marc Evonitz was beloved by friends and family. He was handsome, intelligent, and compassionate. Serving a spotless eight years in the U.S. Navy, he was a town hero who lived in harmony in an exclusive South Carolina neighborhood. The only ones who saw Evonitz's dark side were his victims. They were helpless teenage girls who, one by one, were subjected to his twisted sexual fantasies of kidnap, rape, and murder-until his double life came undone by the brave cunning of his last young victim. But as authorities and the media descended upon him, Evonitz had one more shocking surprise in store for everyone-a stunning final act of violence and reckoning that would turn a bright sunlit morning blood red.
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About the Author
DIANE FANNING is the author of the Edgar Award finalist Written in Blood: A True Story of Murder and a Deadly 16-Year-Old Secret That Tore a Family Apart, as well as several other true-crime books (available from St. Martin’s) and the Secret City mystery series. She lives in Bedford, Virginia.
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Into the Water
The Story of Serial Killer Richard Marc Evonitz
By Diane Fanning
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Diane Fanning
All rights reserved.
"If you want to understand the artist, you have to look at the painting."
John Douglas, former FBI profiler, from his book Mind Hunter
Richard Marc Evonitz's eyes popped open in alarm. Something was wrong. Loud noises at the front door had jerked him from his dreams, but the details did not register in his sleep-fogged brain. He was alone in his bed. Where was she?
He tossed the sheets and blankets, hoping to make a lie of the emptiness beside him. He dropped to the floor on his knees and peered under the bed. Jumping to his feet, he pulled open the closet, shoved aside his clothes. No one there. In the bathroom, he whisked back the shower curtain. No one. He covered the rest of his apartment in seconds.
There was no sign of the girl.
He raced from window to window but did not catch a glimpse of her fleeing form outside. The clock was ticking. He had to move fast. Before the red and blue lights descended in an urgent rush.
He opened a bag. Tossed in his clothes and toiletries with little thought. He focused on his escape — on possible obstacles, and how to overcome them. First, he needed to get out. He grabbed his cell phone, his handgun. It was time.
He edged open the door, scanning everywhere. Then, he froze, closed his eyes and listened for the distant approach of sirens. All clear. He sprinted to his '96 silver Ford Escort.
He threw his personal belongings in the back seat — except for the cell phone and the gun. He placed those on the passenger seat up front. He eased out of the parking lot, trying not to draw any attention. He stopped at a nearby Wal-Mart and, using his company credit card, picked up some supplies for the road. Then, he jack-rabbited to Interstate 26 and merged into the traffic headed toward Charleston.
When his mind strayed and panic rode shotgun, his foot got heavy on the accelerator. Then his awareness snapped back and he'd ease up — he could not risk being stopped for speeding. His eyes were wed to the rearview mirror — searching for pursuers. His ears tuned in to hear whispered wails of approaching doom.
When he hit Orangeburg, he called the Irmo home of the older of his sisters, Kristen Weyand, and begged for her help. She had made a lifetime habit of standing up for her siblings. She raced to his side now. She met him at a McDonald's and then booked a room for four nights in her name at Days Inn — paying cash and requesting lodging in the back, away from the highway.
She knew he was in trouble. The extent of it was far beyond her ability to imagine. She helped her brother unload his car and then returned to her own home. It was Tuesday evening, June 25, 2002.
All day Wednesday, Evonitz hibernated in his room — jumping at every passing footstep, cringing at every approaching car. He tried to reach his wife — he wanted her to join him so that they could leave the country together. He placed a call to his younger sister Jennifer in Bradenton, Florida. Maybe he should head that way. Get the state of Georgia in between him and the lawmen of South Carolina.
Jennifer would help him melt into the landscape. Now, he had a plan. He'd finalize it in the morning.
Shortly before 10 A.M. on Thursday, June 27, Evonitz startled awake. Was it just a jumpy attack of paranoia? Or did he hear the shrill shriek of a siren, and fear it was calling his name as its sound came closer and closer? Or did he answer the phone and get the word that the cops were on the way? Whatever drove him, he sensed he did not have a second to lose. He fled the room, abandoning his belongings. Police would not enter his hideout for three more hours.
He continued down Interstate 26 until it intersected with Interstate 95. He sped down that highway to the state line. Before leaving South Carolina, he stopped in Hardeeville to gas up. He withdrew $300 from his account at South Carolina Bank and Trust from an ATM on Highway 17 in Jasper County. Police were tracking his whereabouts through his banking transaction and his cell phone calls. They could not get a fix on his cell phone, though, because whenever he was not using it, he turned it off.
While traversing coastal Georgia, he called Kristen to explain his departure and confess his sins. He told her that he was ashamed of what had happened in Columbia. Much of his conversation was disjointed and naked of details.
He crossed the Georgia state line and entered Florida. Soon after, he cut over to I-75 via I-10. Then he called Jennifer again from near Jacksonville. She agreed to meet him at an IHOP not far from Bradenton. He knew he could count on her.
But he did not count on the power of her conscience. He thought his downfall would come through a telephone tap. Believing that the lines of his family members in Columbia were monitored by law enforcement, he took precautions. He assumed that Jennifer's phone — two states away from the scene of his crime — would be safe. Nonetheless, he did not take any chances. He weighed and coded every word. But a phone tap was not his problem — Jennifer's strong sense of right and wrong was.
As he and his sister made plans for a rendezvous at IHOP, the men who hunted him pinpointed his arrival in Florida. They drew the conclusion that he was headed to Bradenton. Their suspicions were confirmed when Jennifer reported the impending meeting to the Sarasota office of the FBI.
The information was passed along to the Manatee County Sheriff's Department, the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction in the area. Deputies Timothy Hartman and Bret Owen rolled their cars into the IHOP parking lot, but could find no sign of the wanted man.
Richard Marc Evonitz spotted them when he arrived. He did not know if they were there for him or if their presence was mere coincidence, but he was taking no chances. He pulled into the strip of stores across the street and parked behind the Outerlimits nightclub. He called Jennifer, now convinced his calls to her were being overheard, too. He left a veiled message on her answering machine: "I'm at the opposite location." He hoped she would understand and meet him across the street.
He tarried overlong awaiting his sister's arrival. The police fanned out and searched the area. While driving south behind a pawn shop, Deputy Owen spotted Evonitz's car. He turned into the parking lot of Ma Fudpuckers Bar and Grill and saw the Ford Escort parked on the side of the building. He came to a stop, trained his spotlight on the vehicle and took cover behind his car.
Evonitz jerked out of the parking lot and down Route 41. He floored his Escort toward Sarasota. Deputy Hartman was still behind the wheel. He flew off, taking first position for the chase. When Owen got back into his patrol car, he followed, assuming second position. The number of pursuing vehicles increased with every mile.
It was after 10 at night and Evonitz killed his headlights in an attempt to disappear. His darkened vehicle wove in and out of lanes at speeds exceeding ninety miles per hour. He shot across the median strip and headed straight into the oncoming rush. Horns blared as cars peeled off to each side like synchronized swimmers at high speed.
Hartman kept close contact with Sergeant Paul Fieber at headquarters, reporting driving conditions, speeds and the suspect's erratic driving patterns. When he reached Whitfield Avenue, Fieber called off the pursuit because of its danger to the public.
Evonitz thought that his ploy succeeded — his mission was accomplished. He believed that with his daring driving, he had lost his pursuers. He had a moment of thrilling jubilation.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Department issued a BOLO — a "Be on the lookout" request — warning other law enforcement entities in the area. Before the Sarasota Police Department could send the information out to the men on patrol, Officers Thomas Shanafelt and Thomas Quinlan in the 2900 block of North Tamiami Trail saw a vehicle speeding at 100 miles per hour heading south on the northbound side of the four-lane divided highway. Unaware of who they were chasing, the patrolmen hit their lights and picked up the pursuit.
One mile, two miles, then Evonitz spotted the flashing lights racing toward him — he knew they had him in their sights again. Joy transformed into panic and despair. He was clocked at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour.
At Route 41 and Tenth Street, he slowed at a red light as he approached three lanes of stopped traffic. Then, he blasted through the intersection — sliding between two cars stopped at the light. He missed them both by a whisper.
By now, Officers William Schwenk, Timothy Bain and Lieutenant Paul Sutton had joined Shanafelt and Quinlan in the chase.
Up ahead, Officers Derrick Gilbert, Todd Thurow and Rick Rivera each picked a spot and pulled stop strips of tire-ripping Teflon nails out of their trunks. The strips lay in wait in the inside lanes at the 600, 400 and 100 blocks of North Tamiami Trail. Evonitz flew across them, blowing out tires with a roar. Three of his tires were flat. He lost control of his car, striking the outside lane curb. He bounced back on the roadway. He kept going forward on his rims, ricocheting from one curb to the other. Rubber from his front left tire flew off in all directions hitting guardrails and patrol cars with a denting thud. The police no longer were hampered in their chase by his extinguished headlights — the metal rims of his Escort sprayed sparks, lighting his trail.
The chase was so frenzied and determined that the police did not have time to pull the stop strips from the road before five or six of their own vehicles flew across them and had their tires blown, too. Back at headquarters, Sergeant Curt Holmes monitored the pursuit and called in resources.
Evonitz turned off of North Tamiami Trail and onto Bayfront Drive. Now his disabled car had slowed to the point that some officers were pursuing him on foot. In the exclusive Sarasota Bayfront area, near the entrance to Marina Jack's restaurant and just yards from one-million-dollar condos, he tried to cross the median. His car conquered the curb, but knocked off all of the rubber remains on the passenger-side front tire in the process. The rim dug into the grass and dirt, and stopped him in his tracks.
Adrenaline pumped to the max, Evonitz was ready for fight or flight. Immediately, a swollen police force now including fourteen additional officers, Jim Kerul, Maria Llovio, Greg Kitsos, Pat Robinson, Charles Riffe, Danny Robbins, Doug Vollmer, Rex Troche, Michael Jackson, Kevin Schafer, Mike Jolly, Donzia Franklin, Ryan Stimpert and John Todd, surrounded Evonitz with a fifteen-foot perimeter.
He stuck one hand out the driver's-side window. In the other hand, he held a gun.CHAPTER 2
"More often than not, the typical psychopath will seem particularly agreeable and make a distinctly positive impression when he is first encountered. Alert and friendly in his attitude, he is easy to talk with and seems to have a good many genuine interests. There is nothing at all odd or queer about him, and in every respect he tends to embody the concept of a well-adjusted, happy person."
Hervey Cleckley, M.D., from The Mask of Sanity
Luxurious waterfront hotels and condos towered around Richard Marc Evonitz as he sat inside his car. Bright city lights illuminated his Ford Escort like a luxury model on the showroom floor. The fronds of towering palm trees formed a majestic canopy over his head. And yet, there he was, cornered like a common purse-snatcher pursued to the end of a dark, dirty, dead-end alley.
Who was this man? A social outcast shunned by family and scorned by acquaintances? A withdrawn individual living alone and lonely?
No. He was, to all outward appearances, a normal man. A man who was loved by his mother, cherished by his sisters and well-liked by his friends. Certainly he had his personal quirks — who didn't? — but these eccentricities only served to make him more interesting. He concealed his dark side from everyone except his wives and his victims.
To most he encountered, Richard Marc Evonitz was perfectly normal — simply human. He was never the object of suspicion or concern. He was a reasonably attractive man — always well-groomed and neatly dressed.
He was a bright child who conquered reading before many his age could form a complete sentence. He soaked up knowledge from every available source like a dry sponge in warm water.
Family members recalled his perennial acts of kindness, his warmth, his compassion. Friends remembered his willingness to help find solutions for home improvement projects. Neighborhood kids found him helpful when a bicycle chain slipped or a wheel fell off a skateboard.
He served eight years in the U.S. Navy, and left the service with an honorable discharge and multiple commendations. From there, he moved into an industrial career where he found success both in sales and with his innovative ideas. In his heart, he was an inventor — drawing out detailed plans and building prototypes.
Evonitz was an articulate communicator who was involved in his community and committed to his work. As president of the South Oaks Neighborhood Association, he led the fight to stop rezoning near his subdivision. His letter to the editor published in the local newspaper made a strong case in support of gays in the military. He went beyond the call of duty at work, too — co-authoring a technical piece that ran in a trade publication.
He was a gregarious man who presented a normal, human face to the world. He was the kind of guy who would share a beer and talk at length to his neighbors in their front yards until mosquitoes drove them all indoors. He invited them to cookouts in his backyard and attended parties at their homes. He was just another guy-next-door.
How then did he become the object of a multi-state manhunt? How did someone who seemed so ordinary end up surrounded by men with drawn guns in an exclusive neighborhood in the heart of the night?CHAPTER 3
"It appears that this type of violence is caused by a not well understood combination of nature and nurture. Some people seem to be genetically predisposed to violence and when those people are subjected to an abusive rearing environment, we are virtually guaranteed of creating a monster. On the other hand, there are serial killers who appear to have come from a normal family with no trauma in their background, so the development of these offenders is one of the not well understood phenomena that mental health professionals are looking at because of its obvious significance."
Greg McCrary, former FBI profiler, on FredTalk
Hester "Tess" Ragin and Joe Evonitz met while working in the same office at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Fort Jackson was born to fill the training needs of the World War I fighting force in June of 1917. It was constructed on 1,200 acres of land donated by the citizens of Columbia to the federal government. In two months' time, the Sixth National Cantonment — one of sixteen developed to support the war effort — had grown from a scrub pine and oak forest to Camp Jackson, a training facility for 10,000 troops complete with a trolley line and hundreds of buildings. In eight months, construction was complete, but after the Armistice was signed in 1918, the camp went idle. It was little used until the drums of war began their relentless beat in 1939.
When Tess and Joe worked there more than a decade after the war, Fort Jackson was a hodgepodge of mostly temporary buildings and old wooden barracks to house the troops. Tess was a local girl with a civil service job. Joe was in the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, on temporary assignment in South Carolina. His home was Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The attraction between Joe and Tess was instant and mutual. Romance bloomed in the ramshackle environs of a utilitarian Quonset hut office.
On December 6, 1961, they married in a Methodist church in Lexington, South Carolina. Joe returned to Fort Campbell for a few months soon after the ceremony. His stint in the Army ended in June of 1962. After his discharge, the newlywed couple moved into Joe's mother's apartment overlooking the New Jersey Turnpike just outside of Perth Amboy.
In the summer of 1963, Tess had a new civil service job in the finance and accounting department at Raritan Arsenal in Metuchen, New Jersey. She was pregnant with her first child and about to go on maternity leave. Joe, who was working for a bus company, lost his job, plunging the expectant couple into dire financial straits. Joe insisted that Tess call her parents and ask them to send money for their living expenses — he felt entitled to their support. Tess, humiliated and reluctant, placed the call begging her family for help.
Instead of sending money, her parents drove up to New Jersey, picked up their daughter and took her home. Joe made his way south and to his wife's side a few days before she went into labor. Their first child, Richard Marc Edward Evonitz was born on July 29, 1963, at Providence Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. Since Joe's brother was also named Richard, the family called the new baby Marc from the start.
Excerpted from Into the Water by Diane Fanning. Copyright © 2004 Diane Fanning. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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