In 1978, Larry Ralston received four life sentences for killing four young Ohio women. One conviction was overturned, but in 1984 he received another life sentence for murder. Somewhere between Chicago and Batavia, in the back seat of a police car, Larry Ralston freed his conscience. "He just started crying, and he said, "I didn't mean to kill any of them,' " recalled Robert Stout, a sheriff's investigator assigned in November 1977 to transport Mr. Ralston to Clermont County Ohio, where he faced charges of raping three 15-year-old girls.
The words sent a jolt of electricity through the detective: No one had accused Mr. Ralston of any killings. In a second, Mr. Stout's role had changed from rookie detective to lead investigator and sole interrogator in a string of serial killings. Grueling interrogations over two weeks yielded confessions to five slayings that had stymied police for more than two years. Those admissions landed Larry Ralston in prison with four life sentences. When police caught up with him, Mr. Ralston was a 28-year-old unemployed dropout of Norwood High School. He had held jobs before at the Hamilton County morgue and a state mental hospital, but at that time, he was living at home or with a short list of friends.
Mr. Ralston's father told reporters he had warned his son that his irresponsible lifestyle - sleeping all day, staying out all-night and running around with young girls - would bring only trouble. His mother called him a "likable boy" who had a knack for talking to anybody, even if he didn't know them.
The killings began Sept. 3, 1975, with Mrs. Porter's 17-year-old daughter, Linda Kay Harmon. She disappeared while waiting for a bus at Wolfangle Road and Beechmont Avenue, about three blocks from home. It was to be Miss Harmon's first day at Withrow High School after moving from Finneytown. She never made it. Miss Harmon's body parts were found scattered in a wooded area in Felicity 34 days later, after two dogs dragged pieces of her arms to their owner's porch.
A year later, the nude remains of other young women were discovered in shallow graves. Nancy Grigsby, 23, of Withamsville, a disabled woman who frequented bars in Clifton, Madisonville and Mount Lookout, disappeared May 4, 1976, on the way to meet her boyfriend in Fairfax. Hunters discovered her body Nov. 15, 1976, on Moore-Marathon Road in Clermont County's Jackson Township. Elaina Marie Bear, 15, of Northside was found Feb. 28, 1977, in a creekbed off Katy's Lane near Wilmington in Clinton County. Diana Sue McCrobie, 16, of Springfield Township was found Oct. 22, 1977, covered with brush at East Fork Lake State Park in Clermont County. Police said she dated Mr. Ralston.
Hamilton County authorities would later convict Mr. Ralston in the death of Mary Ruth Hopkins, 21, of Cincinnati's East End. Her naked body with a T-shirt wrapped around the neck was discovered June 30, 1976, off Five Mile Road in Anderson Township. In taped confessions, played in court, Mr. Ralston told Mr. Stout how he picked up his hitchhiking victims, drove them around drinking wine and smoking marijuana and that he strangled them when they rejected him sexually. "After every murder he did, he would go to (a friend's) house and he said he would turn on the song, "Fly Like An Eagle.' It just put him in a trance, made him feel better about what he did," Mr. Stout said.
Watching people die was a subject Larry Ralston seemed to enjoy talking about, Mr. Stout said. "When he worked at Longview Hospital, one of the things he really got off on was the fact that he had missed his lunch hour, for maybe three or four days, for a week, in order to watch a person die," he recalled from the interviews with Mr. Ralston in November 1977. "He would be taking care of these people, just people in his area. He would know they were dying. He would go watch."