By Diana Penner,Indianapolis Star
In April 1992, a young woman working alone in a low-cost shoe store on the Indianapolis Far Eastside was found shot to death. The store, which no longer exists, was easily accessible from Interstate 70.
Over the next four weeks, five more people in three states were slain in stores and communities along the highway.
After a St. Charles, Mo., detective suspected a pattern, bullets from two of the shootings were confirmed to have come from the same gun.
Within weeks, bullets linked all six victims to the same .22 caliber weapon, and with the help of FBI profilers, a task force of investigators developed a pattern and a psychological sketch of the suspect.
All of the victims worked alone, except for two who were together at a bridal shop. All of the shops were specialty stores and other businesses not likely to have a large amount of cash on hand. A few hundred dollars were taken from most of the locations, but robbery was discounted as a primary motive.
The shooter appeared to prefer petite, dark-haired women as targets. One man was killed in the initial series, but he wore his hair in a ponytail and might have appeared to be a woman from the back.
Three shootings in Texas shootings followed the same general pattern, although along a different highway I-35. Midwest investigators think these shootings were the work of the same man, but Texas officers never fully bought into the idea and were not part of the task force. If it were the same shooter, he switched guns or somehow lost the first one, but stuck with a .22.
Robin Fuldauer, 26. April 8, 1992. Fuldauer was the manager of the Payless Shoe Source in the 7300 block of Pendleton Pike. She was working alone between 1:30 and 2 p.m. when someone entered the store and shot her.
Patricia Magers, 33, and Patricia Smith, 23. April 11, 1992; Wichita, Kan. The two women were found slain in a tuxedo and bridal shop. Investigators think the killer first saw only one of the women because the other was in a back room.
Michael McCown, 40. April 27, 1992, Terre Haute. McCown was found shot to death in his mother's ceramics store, Sylvia's Ceramics, not far from I-70. He was the only man killed in the series, but police think the shooter might have mistaken McCown for a woman because of his ponytail and because the name of the store made it seem likely a woman might be inside.
Nancy Kitzmiller, 24. May 3, 1992, St. Charles, Mo. Kitzmiller was shot as she worked alone in the western-footwear store she managed.
Sarah Blessing, 37. May 7, 1992, in Raytown, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo. Blessing was shot to death in the store she opened with several friends. Called The Store of Many Colors, it offered crystals, vitamins and natural foods.
After that series of slayings, there was a pause. In 1993, a second series of shootings began that bore a marked similarity to the I-70 series. The Texas shootings also involved a .22 caliber weapon, but not the same gun used in the I-70 shootings.
Mary Ann Glasscock, 51. Sept. 25, 1993, Fort Worth, Texas. Glasscock was shot as she worked alone in a small antiques store.
Amy Vess, 21, Nov. 1, 1993, Arlington, Texas, just east of Fort Worth. Vess was found shot to death in a dance wear shop.
Vicki Webb, 35. Jan. 15, 1994, Houston, Texas. Webb was working alone in her gift shop when a man came in, chatted with her, browsed, then shot her in the head. She survived the initial shot because a quirk in her anatomy - unusually large vertebrae - prevented the bullet from penetrating into her head. She pretended to be dead. The shooter put his weapon to her head again and pulled the trigger - the gun misfired. He laughed, stepped over her and left.
Based on descriptions from people who saw a man near some of the crime locations, investigators came up with a sketch of a thin white man in his 30s with sandy or reddish hair.
Over the years, investigators have focused on several men initially thought to be good suspects, but none of the leads panned out.
At one point, a multi-state task force had database of about 67,000 names of potential witnesses - or suspects: people who had stayed at hotels and motels near the crime scenes, people who had driven through toll booths , people who had been stopped for speeding or other traffic infractions in the crime areas around the time of the crimes.
The local detective:
Cumberland Police Chief Michael Crooke was a homicide detective with the then-Indianapolis Police Department when the first homicide occurred. Although he retired from IPD in 2004 and the multi-state task force has been dissolved, Crooke continues to work the case as much as is possible.
That means he hears about once a month from someone - via a telephone inquiry or other local law enforcement officers - about the status of the case. The case has been featured on just about all of the true-crime television series and whenever one airs, or is re-run, he's likely to get a call.
Occasionally, one of the FBI expert profilers he worked with calls about another case somewhere else in the country that might be worth checking out. Crooke follows up, but so far, no other cases have been linked to his series of mystery shootings.
A few big questions:
What happened to the first .22 caliber weapon used in the I-70 slayings? The shooter could have discarded it, but it might also have been confiscated by a local police agency in the course of a traffic stop or minor crime investigation. The gun could be sitting in a police vault somewhere, Crooke said.
What happened in the interlude between the I-70 slayings and the Texas shootings?
Maybe the shooter was in jail on some small infraction, Crooke wonders. Maybe that stretch of inactivity makes sense to someone who knows the shooter.
Maybe someone knows something, but they don't realize it's important. And maybe a little nudge will cause them to remember something.