The Serial Killer the Cops Ignored: The Henry Louis Wallace Murders

Oct 14, 2009 - by Jason Lapeyre - 0 Comments

Henry Louis Wallace

Henry Louis Wallace

Serial killers are among the most reckless of murderers. Their need to keep killing far outweighs their need to be cunning or discreet. What allows many serial killers to keep killing is that their carelessness is dwarfed by police and investigative incompetence. The great majority of serial killers, like John Wayne Gacy, are well known to the police as violent sexual offenders long before their murders finally catch up with them. Such is the case of Henry Louis Wallace, a black serial killer who killed young black women the police just didn't seem to care about.

by Jason Lapeyre

When he was arrested on Feb. 4, 1994, in Charlotte, N.C., Henry Louis Wallace had already raped and strangled to death five young black women. Each of his victims worked in the fast-food industry, and more significantly, each knew Wallace and was a friend of his girlfriend. Wallace's name appeared in the address books of several of the deceased. At the time of his arrest, Wallace had a burglary record, a prior charge of raping a woman at gunpoint, and connection to all five murder victims. Unfortunately for Wallace's next four murder victims, all this meant nothing to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and the prosecutor's office, which released Wallace from custody that same day.

Wallace had not, after all, been arrested for murder. He had been arrested for allegedly shoplifting at a mall.

At the time of Wallace's arrest on the shoplifting charge, the police did not consider the string of murders of the young black women related. They did not have significant leads on any of them. Wallace would kill again 16 days later.

Twenty-nine years earlier, Wallace was born to an impoverished, unwed mother in Barnwell, S.C. He never knew his father. His childhood home had no indoor plumbing or electricity. Carmeta Albarus, Wallace's state-appointed psychiatrist during his trial, told jurors of a mother who would sometimes force her son and daughter to beat each other with a switch. His mother and sister would dress him as a little girl and parade him around the neighborhood. He witnessed a gang rape at the age of 7.

Wallace bounced from high school - where he was the only male cheerleader on the squad - to a stint in a couple of colleges, to a temporary gig as a disk jockey at a local radio station. He called himself "The Night Rider." He was caught stealing records, and fired after a short time. His options dwindling, he chose a career aggressively aimed at poor, young black men in America: the military. Joining the Navy, he spent eight years as a sailor, earning laudatory reports, traveling around the world and marrying a high school sweetheart in 1985. Again, burglary proved his undoing: He was dismissed from the Navy after breaking and entering near a naval base, although his Navy record allowed him an honorable discharge. Soon after his dismissal in 1992, his wife left him. He moved back in with his mother and sister, now relocated to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area of South Carolina.

Wallace's life in Charlotte was unstable. He was fired from several different restaurants, eventually ending up as a manager at a local Taco Bell. He began smoking crack cocaine. He impregnated one of his girlfriends in December of 1992. It was during this time that Wallace crossed the line from burglary and drug-use to serial murder.

On June 19, 1992, Wallace let himself into his girlfriend's apartment using a key he had taken from her. His girlfriend, Sadie McKnight, shared the apartment with Caroline Love, her co-worker at a local restaurant named Bojangles. Neither was home when Wallace let himself in. When Love did return, Wallace gave her a kiss on the cheek. Love told Wallace that if he promised not to do that again, she wouldn't tell his girlfriend about it. Wallace responded by putting her in a choke hold he later described to police as "the Boston choke" until she was barely conscious. He then dragged her to the bedroom, removed her clothes, and raped her while continuing to apply the chokehold. When Love began to struggle during the rape, Wallace reached for the nearest object, a curling iron, and choked her to death with its cord.

Now he was faced with the most troubling logistical problem of any murderer: what to do with the body. Wallace wrapped Love's corpse in her bed sheets, stuffed her into a large orange garbage bag and dragged her out to his car, unnoticed. Returning to the apartment, he grabbed a roll of quarters and locked the door. He then drove the vehicle to Charlotte's city limits and dumped the body in a ditch.

Sadie McKnight returned to her apartment that night and was contacted by Kathy Love, Caroline's sister. Kathy wanted to know if Sadie knew where Caroline was - Caroline's supervisor at Bojangles had been looking for her because she had missed a shift. McKnight did not, and realized that it was unusual for Caroline not to check in with her for so long. The two women eventually went to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police station and filed a missing person's report. They were accompanied to the station by McKnight's boyfriend, Henry Louis Wallace.

Investigators declared that Love's apartment bore suspicious signs, such as furniture that seemed disrupted during a scuffle, missing bed sheets, and a missing roll of quarters sold to her by her supervisor to do laundry with. Her laundry hamper was full. She had not gone out to do laundry. The investigation ended there. No interview with Wallace is recorded in the investigation. Love was declared a missing person. The case was filed.

Wallace returned to the spot where he had dumped the body two days later. He described Love's body as being "decayed to the point where she just looked like leather. An E.T. doll, or something." He returned a third time and found only bones. No longer having a roommate, McKnight moved in with her boyfriend.

Seven months passed. Wallace continued to live with McKnight. On the afternoon of Feb. 17, 1993, Wallace paid a visit to Shawna Hawk, a teenager who had just returned from community college. Hawk was slipping off her coat when she heard her doorbell. It was her manager from Taco Bell, Henry Wallace.

According to court records available on the North Carolina Public Records web site, Hawk let him in right away and the two chatted amiably for about an hour. Wallace appeared to have no difficulty gaining the trust of the women who knew him. Feeling relaxed around him, Hawk, according to Wallace's confession, didn't hesitate to tease Wallace when he described how he had been fighting with his girlfriend Sadie. As he was leaving, Wallace hugged her and told her that he wanted to have sex with her. According to Wallace's confession, she reluctantly agreed. Leading her to her bedroom, Wallace told Hawk to remove her clothes. The girl was afraid. She began to cry. It didn't stop him from having sex with her. She cried throughout. Afterwards, Wallace told her to get dressed and took her into the bathroom. Wallace put her in the same Boston chokehold he used on Caroline Love. Soon, Hawk was unconscious. He then ran a bath, put her body into it, went upstairs, took $50 out of her purse, and left.

Hawk's body was found by her boyfriend and mother. The autopsy revealed that the cause of death had been ligature strangulation - strangulation by an object wrapped around the neck and used to compress the throat. The investigating officers interviewed co-workers, friends, and classmates, turning up nothing.

In the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area in 1993, there were 122 reported murders and 350 reported rapes. Furthermore, hundreds of people are reported missing annually, many turning up within 24 hours. At the time of Wallace's activities, there were only seven investigators working full time in homicide.

About four months after Wallace murdered Hawk, he paid a visit to another young woman who had worked with him at Taco Bell, Audrey Spain. Spain, 24, had just returned from a vacation. Again, he was able to charm his way into the woman's apartment with his laid back attitude and smooth talking.

Wallace's drug use was escalating, and crack wasn't cheap. He needed money. He thought Spain would have access to the safe at Taco Bell. Rolling a joint, Wallace chatted amiably with Audrey as they both got high and Spain let her guard down bit by bit. When they were done, Wallace threw her to the ground and demanded the combination of the safe at Taco Bell. She did not know it. He asked her about her personal account. She had just returned from a vacation; there was no money in it. Wallace was frustrated. He put the Boston choke on her. He dragged her into the bedroom and raped her. According to Wallace's confession, she came to during the rape. She was frightened, and begged him not to hurt her. He continued to rape her, and then ordered her to get dressed. When Spain turned her back, he put the choke on her again. As she lay unconscious, he tied a nightgown and a shirt into a makeshift rope and strangled her to death. He put Spain's body in the shower, washed any evidence off of it, and then put her body on the bed. On his way out, he stole her credit card.

The similarities between the Hawk and Spain murders were striking: Both victims were young, black, attractive women who were killed in their homes. Both worked at the same Taco Bell for a time. Both victims were killed by ligature strangulation. Both victims were robbed of an insignificant amount of money. The murderer washed off both bodies. Both homes showed no sign of forced entry, indicating that the victim knew the murderer. The investigation into Spain's murder by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, however, records no connection to any other recent murder in Charlotte. The case was considered unsolved. The police apparently came to the same erroneous conclusion as Joseph Geringer, author of Henry Louis Wallace: A Calamity Waiting to Happen: "The killer's modus operandi did not follow a set pattern."

Six weeks passed. Wallace kept to his pattern. He went to the home of Valencia Jumper, a friend of his sister's. He again talked his way in, telling Jumper that he needed to talk to someone about a fight he had had with his girlfriend. After talking for a while, he suggested that Jumper call McKnight to tell her where he was. When she turned her back, Wallace choked her, dragged her to the bedroom, and raped her. He then choked her to death with a towel. Here Wallace's methods took a turn. According to his confession, he soaked her body in rum. He put some pork and beans on the stove, and turned it on high. He took the battery out of her smoke detector, struck a match, lit her body on fire, and walked out. Before leaving, he took some jewelry from Jumper's body, which he later pawned.

Despite being troubled by tests showing that Jumper did not die of carbon monoxide poisoning (the cause of most fire related deaths), nor finding evidence of inhalation through soot in the airway, County Medical Examiner Michael Sullivan ruled the cause of death to be "thermal burns". His decision effectively ruled the death accidental, although the victim's injuries were not consistent with an accidental death. Had he ruled it "undetermined," her death would have prompted a more thorough investigation, which may have shown Jumper's true cause of death: ligature strangulation. A police investigation may have revealed the removal of Jumper's smoke detector battery and the presence of rum on her entire body. As it stood, the case was considered isolated despite the similarity of the victim to three other recent victims. Sullivan's comment upon finding out his error a year later? "It was just a bad judgment call." (Sullivan remains the county's medical examiner.}

Five weeks passed. On Sept. 15, 1993, Wallace dropped in on Michelle Stinson, a friend of his from Taco Bell. Stinson was 20 years old and had two sons, aged 1 and 3. After talking for a while, Wallace, according to his confession, gave her a hug and told her he wanted to have sex with her. She should take off her clothes. Stinson told him she was sick. Wallace demanded to see the medicine she was taking for this "illness." Stinson could not find any medicine. Wallace raped her on the kitchen floor. He then put the Boston choke on her, but decided for some reason to run to the bathroom for a towel. He attempted to finish the job with the towel. Stinson, however, continued to moan and gasp for air. Wallace then stabbed her four times in the back with a kitchen knife. Using a washcloth, he wiped his fingerprints from a glass, the phone (which, for unknown reasons, was ripped from the wall), the door, the wall, and the floor. At some point, Stinson's 3-year-old son woke up and wandered into the kitchen. Wallace told him to go back to bed. Fleeing the apartment, he threw the knife and washcloth over a fence near the back of her apartment. Her two children discovered Stinson's body. When a visiting friend knocked on the door, the 3-year-old told him that their mother was sleeping on the kitchen floor.

Sullivan determined that Michelle Stinson died from stab wounds with ligature strangulation as a contributing cause. It is not known if the investigation conducted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department established that Wallace was a friend of Stinson, although this was common knowledge. It did ascertain that she frequently ate at the Taco Bell where Wallace worked. Still, no connection was made.

At this point, there had been five deaths/disappearances in 15 months, all within a five-mile radius inside East Charlotte. The predominantly black community was frightened and angry. Black residents accused City Hall of a lackadaisical attitude towards the problems of 31 percent of Charlotte's population. The police department held an emergency press conference. Hours before the conference, the department appointed Sgt. Gary McFadden as lead investigator. McFadden had no previous involvement with any of the cases in East Charlotte. But he was black.

Three things happened in the fall and winter of 1993-94 that may have kept Wallace from continuing his killing spree. In response to the black community's indignation, the police increased patrols in East Charlotte. A second factor was that three months after raping and murdering Stinson, Wallace fathered a baby girl, although not by McKnight. Finally, on Feb. 4, he was arrested for allegedly shoplifting. He was booked, given a court date, and released. He did not turn up for that court date, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. There is no record of an attempt to apprehend him.

Perhaps it had occurred to Wallace after being arrested and released that he had very little to fear from the authorities. They had him in handcuffs, and they had let him go. They had no idea what was going on. Whatever was going on inside his head, the way he killed his next four victims suggests that he felt a growing confidence about his actions. His modus operandi grew reckless. The murders became more violent. Combined with his mounting addiction to crack, Wallace's state of mind turned East Charlotte into a terror zone for nearly a month, culminating in an incredible spree that saw him killing a woman a day for three days.

Two weeks passed.

The pattern was familiar by now. Wallace was jonesing hard for crack, but had no money. Wallace called on Vanessa Mack, the sister of one of his employees at Taco Bell. Again, according to his confession, Wallace used his charm to chat with her for a while, and then asked for a hug. This time, the victim refused. Instead, he asked her for a drink. She turned. He brought out a pillowcase from under his shirt, and choked her with it. He wanted her bank card, and her code number. She gave him a code. Again, he dragged his victim into the bedroom and raped her. Again, after he was finished, he ordered his victim to get dressed, and then strangled her with a towel. Leaving the apartment, he walked down the street and hailed a cab. He got out of the cab and walked to a bank machine. He couldn't take out any money with Mack's card. She had given him the wrong code number.

Mack's body was found by her mother the next morning. Sullivan determined the cause of death to be ligature strangulation. There was no report of the murder on the news that night. The investigation did not make special note that Mack's sister worked at the same Taco Bell as Shawna Hawk or Audrey Spain.

Two more weeks passed. Evidence indicates that Wallace's crack addiction was now the center of his life. He didn't get any money from his last victim, so he was still too broke to get high. Perhaps he thought that two weeks was long enough to wait before taking another victim, since Mack's murder hadn't even been reported on the news. On March 8, Wallace went to the apartment complex of his friend Vernon Lamar Woods, with the intention of robbing, raping and murdering Woods's girlfriend, Brandi Henderson. When he got there, Woods answered the door. He hadn't expected that. Flustered, Wallace told him that he was leaving town for a while and said goodbye. Before leaving the apartment complex, he realized he knew someone else that lived there: Betty Baucom, who worked with his girlfriend McKnight at Bojangles. Betty was the assistant manager. Wallace believed that she might have the key and the combination to the safe at Bojangles. He went to her apartment door.

When Baucom answered the door, Wallace told her he needed to use her phone. She was more than glad to help her friend's boyfriend. He pretended to look up a phone number until Baucom turned her back, and then he grabbed her. He demanded keys, the safe combination, and the alarm code for Bojangles. Baucom resisted for over 30 minutes, refusing to give them to him. Finally, she surrendered the combination. Wallace stopped choking her. Baucom asked him, "Why did you do that to me"? Wallace said he was sick. He had hurt many people. According to Wallace's confession, Baucom stood up and told him that she forgave him. She told him that he needed help. Wallace grabbed her by the throat, and pushed her to the floor. The pattern held: He dragged her to the bedroom, and put a towel around her neck, choking her until she was almost unconscious. He took off her clothes and raped her. Afterwards, he ordered her to get dressed, demanded the money in her purse, and strangled her to death. He also took a gold chain from around her neck.

Wallace's new recklessness appeared here. He stole Baucom's TV and her car. He sold the TV, bought crack with the money, and smoked it. Later, he returned to her apartment and took her VCR. He checked to make sure she was still dead. He smoked the VCR too, along with Baucom's gold chain and the money from her purse.

Twelve hours passed. There was no time for a police investigation between Baucom's death and Wallace's next murder. He went back to the same apartment complex that night, March 8, knowing that his friend Vernon Woods would be at work, and he could resume his original plan: the murder of Brandi Henderson. Pretending he had something to drop off for Woods, Wallace gained entry to the apartment. Again, he smooth-talked Henderson until she was relaxed, asked for a drink, and attacked her from behind. Many things went wrong for Wallace during this murder. He demanded money from Henderson. All she had in the house was a Pringles can filled with change. He ordered her into the bedroom and forced her to disrobe. According to Wallace's confession, she begged him to let her hold her son. He refused. She continued to beg. He relented. With Henderson holding her baby son across her chest, Wallace raped her. The baby cried. They moved into the baby's room to keep it from crying. Wallace continued to rape Henderson. When he was finished, he told her to get dressed. She put the baby back in his crib. Wallace went to the bathroom, took a towel, wiped the apartment free of his fingerprints, and strangled Henderson to death. The baby cried loudly. Wallace panicked. He tried to give the baby a pacifier. It didn't work. He went to the bathroom and got a smaller towel. He tied it around the baby's neck tightly. The baby, barely able to breathe, sputtered and choked, but stopped crying. Wallace took Henderson's TV and stereo, and left. He sold them for $175, and bought crack with the money.

The police were scrambling now. Sullivan had determined that ligature strangulation was the cause of death in these two most recent cases as well. Maybe because the Henderson murder followed the Mack murder by only two weeks, someone noticed that the two cases were similar. Two days after Henderson's murder, Sgt. McFadden, the head of the investigation, called a meeting of his detectives to compare notes. Only then did they learn that Betty Baucom had been killed in the same apartment complex as Henderson. The method of Baucom's murder matched Henderson's and Mack's. The detectives approached the families of the three victims and asked for a list of people that each woman might let into their apartment. Wallace appeared on all three lists.

The next day, March 11, Baucom's stolen car was recovered. All fingerprints had been wiped from the steering wheel, gearshift, handle, seat, but not from the trunk. A handprint was taken, and matched Wallace's.

McFadden ran his name to see if he had a sheet. He did. It contained burglaries, an armed rape, and an outstanding warrant for failing to appear on a larceny charge from a month ago. A citywide hunt for Wallace began.

Meanwhile, the same day, Wallace was murdering his final victim. Debra Slaughter used to work at Bojangles with McKnight. Wallace knew that she smoked crack, and wanted to talk her into buying some with him. She told him she needed her money for rent. Wallace asked her for a drink. When he put the towel around her neck, Slaughter accused him of murdering Betty Baucom and Brandi Henderson. She probably figured it out a few hours before the police did. Wallace ordered her to give him head. She said, "I don't do that. You might as well go ahead and kill me." Wallace tightened the towel and asked her if she wanted to change her mind. She refused again. He raped her. After he was done, he told her to get dressed. Wallace knew Slaughter well enough to know that she always kept a knife in her purse. He told her to empty it. He kicked the knife away and told her to give him everything in her wallet. Wallace grabbed the knife. Slaughter gave him $40, smacked him, and screamed for the police. Wallace twisted the towel around her throat until she fell to the floor and started kicking loudly. He tried to sit on her legs to keep her from tipping off the downstairs neighbors. At some point he stuffed a sock into her mouth. He tied another towel around her neck, grabbed her knife, and stabbed her 38 times in the stomach and chest.

Wallace took the money Slaughter had given him and left. He returned a few hours later with a glass pipe and some crack rocks. He smoked the pipe in her bathroom. When he was done, he grabbed a Chicago White Sox jacket, a baseball cap, and a butcher knife, and left again. He threw all three items away after leaving the apartment.

The next day, on March 12, Wallace was arrested again. By then he had killed nine. Under questioning, he confessed to all nine murders, explaining in a recorded interview the details of each murder. He also confessed to two other murders committed before the nine. He told the officers present that he felt "like a big burden has been lifted." Wallace went on trial in September of 1996 and was pronounced guilty on Jan. 7, 1997. Wallace's defense attorney, Jim Cooney, said at his defense:

Henry Wallace's life is full of holes. He was born into terrible circumstances, circumstances most of us can't relate to. For a while, he was able to overcome those circumstances. Then the darkness inside those holes overcame him.

On Jan. 29, 1997, he was given nine death sentences. He currently is on death row in Raleigh, N.C.

Why had it taken the police so long to capture such a manic, careless killer? The community that Wallace victimized demanded answers. Dee Sumpter, Shawna Hawk's mother, stated that the victims "weren't prominent people with social-economic status. They weren't special. And they were black." Debra Slaughter's father also suggested that each girl's murder investigation took a low priority because of her race and economic status. "To me, the girls just weren't important to the police," he argued. "They didn't live in a high-rent district. They weren't famous or known. They worked in fast-food joints. And they didn't have blond hair and blue eyes." Slaughter says he can't understand any other explanation for the police's slow response.

Darrell Alleyne, a retired police officer from New York now living in Charlotte, called for Sgt. McFadden's dismissal, arguing that Wallace should have been a suspect in the Caroline Love disappearance in 1992, let alone in any of the other killings. Charlotte's National Organization of Women called for an independent counsel to investigate the police department:

Whether [the problem] is economic, racial, procedural, or managerial this issue must be resolved so that all Charlotteans can feel complete confidence in the Law Enforcement's ability to deal fairly and effectively with crime.

One of the reasons that the police department gave for its inability to catch Wallace was its inexperience with investigating serial murder. Early in 1994, the department sought the help of the FBI. The FBI erroneously declared that the rash of murders was not the work of a serial killer. Wallace didn't fit the profile: He was black, whereas most serial murderers are white; serial killers are also expected to kill strangers whereas Wallace killed friends and co-workers. Robert Ressler, an FBI expert on serial killings, testified in Wallace's defense: "If he elected to become a serial killer, he was going about it in the wrong way."

The police department's excuse would seem to negate itself: It couldn't catch Wallace because it had no experience investigating serial killers. But Wallace's methods did not match that of a serial killer. Serial killers are difficult to catch because they kill randomly; nothing links their victims, so investigators have no way of connecting their murders. All of Wallace's victims, however, did have something in common. They had many things in common.

In May of 1994, Dee Sumpter of Mothers of Murdered Offspring asked Charlotte's City Council to investigate the police department. Her organization offered to work with the department and train police investigators to be more sensitive to the kinds of issues they were overlooking, increase communication between investigators, and increase information exchanges between the homicide department and patrol divisions. The council requested a report from the department on the specifics of the Wallace investigation, but decided that it was inappropriate to hear the report until after Wallace had been tried. There has been no briefing on the investigation to date.

Since being incarcerated, Wallace has confessed to killing other women. He claims to have committed murders while stationed around the world during his time in the Navy. If true, these new murders bring his death toll to nearly 20. On June 5, 1998, Wallace married prison nurse Rebecca Torrijas, 23 years his elder. They were married in the room next to the execution chamber. Wallace has not received an execution date.

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