Robert Ben Rhoades


Robert Ben Rhoades

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Torture - Truck driver
Number of victims: 3 +
Date of murders: 1989 - 1990
Date of arrest: April 1, 1990
Date of birth: November 22, 1945
Victims profile: Regina Kay Walters, 14 / Douglas Scott Zyskowski, 25, and Patricia Candace Walsh, 24
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation - Shooting
Location: Texas/Illinois, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison without parole in Illinois on September 11, 1992

Texas town to try case involving Utah body

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

OZONA, Texas — The ongoing drama in Eldorado and San Angelo, Texas, involving the YFZ Ranch and the FLDS Church has captured the attention of Utah and the nation.

But the legal battle surrounding the polygamist sect isn't the only court case in the Lone Star State with Utah ties.

About 45 minutes outside of Eldorado along I-10 is the town of Ozona. There, prosecutors are preparing their case against alleged serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades, 62, accused of murdering two people 18 years ago. The badly decomposed body of one of those victims, Patricia Candace Walsh, 24, was found by hunters in Millard County months after she had been murdered.

Rhoades' travels are the subject of a book, "Roadside Prey," by Alva Busch.

Rhoades, a former truck driver, is believed to have equipped the cab of his truck as a type of dungeon with handcuffs on the ceiling used to incapacitate his victims. He is accused in the book and by investigators of sexually assaulting and systematically torturing the women he held captive before killing them.

A story in the Tucson Weekly in 1996 quoted officials as saying they believed by early 1990, Rhoades was kidnapping and killing an average of three women a month. He allegedly carried a briefcase of torture items with him on the road, according to the article.

In 1990, Walsh and her husband, Scott Zyskowski, 25, both originally from Seattle, were hitchhiking in Texas when Rhoades allegedly picked the two up. Prosecutors believe he killed Zyskowski and dumped his body in January 1990 in Texas. Utah officials say they believe that for the next seven days, Rhoades held Walsh captive before shooting her multiple times and dumping her body.

Even after the body was found, Walsh went unidentified for 13 years while her remains were kept in the basement of the Millard County Sheriff's Office. But by a set of chance circumstances, Millard County sheriff's detectives were finally able to identify her in 2003.

After identifying Walsh, the next step in the investigation proceeded much more quickly. Police found enough evidence to link Rhoades with the crime. By then, Rhoades was serving a life sentence in Illinois for murder.

A month after Walsh's death, Rhoades picked up 14-year-old Regina Walters and Ricky Lee Jones, two runaways from Texas. He killed Walters in Illinois and was later convicted of that crime. Jones' body has never been found.

Rhoades was caught on April 1, 1990, in Arizona, where police came across Rhoades' semitrailer truck while he was in the process of torturing another woman. He was convicted and sent to prison. Just before he was to be released in Arizona, officials in Illinois filed their case. Rhoades was sent to Illinois where he stood trial and was convicted again.

In 2005, Rhoades was extradited from the Pontiac, Ill., Correctional Center to Utah to stand trial for Walsh's murder. If convicted, prosecutors said they would have sought the death penalty.

But based on the wishes of the families of Walsh and Zyskowski, Utah dropped its case in 2006 and sent Rhoades back to Illinois in anticipation of Texas authorities filing two murder counts and also seeking the death penalty. Under Texas law, prosecutors would be able to put Rhoades on trial for both deaths at once. In Utah, only Walsh's murder could be tried.

The families, not wanting to relive the tragedy twice, asked Utah officials if Texas could handle both cases at the same time.

Rhoades' Texas case, however, is currently delayed. A trial scheduled to begin in September was postponed until 2009 because Rhoades recently got a new defense attorney.

Ozona District Attorney Laurie English said that as far as she knew, Rhoades was still in Illinois and had not yet been extradited to Texas.

English said she has met with the families of the victims, and they are aware of the delays. English declined to talk further about the Rhoades case, saying she could not comment on an open case.

Preliminary hearing to begin in capital case

August 10, 2005

A suspected serial killer charged with capital murder for the 1990 slaying of a woman found along Interstate 80 near Fillmore is scheduled for a 10-day preliminary hearing starting Feb. 27 in 4th District Court.

Robert Ben Rhoades, 59, was linked by DNA in 2003 to the murder of 24-year-old Patricia Candice Walsh. Rhoades allegedly dumped the body of Walsh's husband, Douglas Scott Zyskowski, 28, in Texas. The couple were traveling from Georgia to Seattle when they allegedly crossed paths with Rhoades, a long-haul trucker suspected of a decade of rape, torture and murder.

For the past 15 years, Rhoades has been serving a life sentence in Illinois for slaying a 14-year-old girl.

Suspected Serial Killer Appears in Court

April 11, 2005

A suspected serial-killer appeared in court in Fillmore today, charged with the murder of a woman whose body was found 15 years ago.

Truck driver Robert Ben Rhoades was assigned a court appointed lawyer. He's accused of abducting a Seattle woman and holding her captive in his truck until killing her in Utah.

Investigators believe she was only one of numerous women held in a traveling torture chamber and later killed.

If ever there was a story to make you leery of accepting rides from strangers, this is it. The story of truck driver Robert Ben Rhoades.

Alva Busch/ Author of "Roadside Prey": "Mr. Rhoades is a very evil man." "In the cab of that semi-truck, he had a torture chamber built into it."

Alva Busch wrote a book about Rhoades nearly a decade ago. By then, Rhoades was safely behind bars.

Busch believes Rhoades roamed the highways for years, using his truck to satisfy his lust for torture and murder. It ended one day in 1990, when an Arizona cop stopped to investigate a semi parked alongside the highway with its lights flashing.

Alva Busch: "When he stepped up on the running board to look in, he saw a woman shackled inside the cab with a horse bit in her mouth."

The cop arrested Rhoades and rescued the woman, who had been held captive on the highways for many days.

Alva Busch: "She had whip marks all up and down her back. She told investigators that he had shackled her in there and beat her, and that he'd take her out of the truck on lonely stretches of road with a leash around her neck like a dog." "I spoke with two of the victims who escaped from him and they basically told the same story of ongoing tortures that lasted for days."

Also in 1990, Patricia Walsh of Seattle was found murdered along I-15 in Millard County. Detectives have now reportedly linked Rhoades to the 15-year-old case with DNA evidence.

Busch says Rhoades' truck was equipped with torture devices and restraints that could hold people for weeks.

Alva Busch: "He drove around the country torturing these people until he got tired of them. Then he killed them."

Although Busch and other investigators believe there were many victims, Rhoades has only been convicted of one murder. He's serving a life sentence in Illinois. If convicted in Utah, he could face the death penalty.

Rhoades will be held in the Millard County jail until his next court appearance on May 23rd. The lawyer appointed today to represent Rhoades did not return phone calls to the Deseret Morning News.

Charges against former truck driver dropped

Instead, he will be tried in Texas for the Utah slaying

By Pat Reavy - Deseret Morning News

Charges in a 16-year-old murder case against a former truck driver police say tortured and killed women across the country were officially dropped in 4th District Court Monday.

But Robert Ben Rhoades, 60, is far from off the hook.

Prosecutors filed a motion in Millard County's 4th District Court Monday officially dismissing capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges. Instead, Rhoades will be tried in Texas for the Utah slaying.

Before he was extradited to Utah in early 2005, Rhoades was serving a sentence of life without parole at the Pontiac, Ill., Correctional Center. He will now be returned there.

In Utah, he was charged with the murder of Candace Walsh, 24, whose badly decomposed body was discovered by deer hunters 22 miles south of Fillmore in October 1990. She had been dead for several months when she was found.

Walsh's body remained unidentified in the basement of the Millard County Sheriff's Office for 13 years until a chance set of circumstances lead to her identity finally being discovered.

Investigators believe Rhoades picked up Walsh and her new husband, Scott Zyskowski, 25, both originally from Seattle, hitchhiking in 1990. Near El Paso, Texas, Rhoades allegedly murdered Zyskowski and dumped his body in January 1990.

For the next seven days, Walsh was apparently held captive by Rhoades, according to prosecutors. A week later, he allegedly shot her multiple times and dumped her body in Millard County.

Rhoades murderous streak was written about in the book "Roadside Prey" by Alva Busch. It claimed Rhoades would pick up female hitchhikers or women he met at truck stops.

The cab of his trailer was described as a type of dungeon with handcuffs on the ceiling used for his victims. Rhoades is accused in the book and by investigators of sexually assaulting and systematically torturing the women he held captive before killing them.

A story in the Tucson Weekly in 1996 quoted officials as saying they believed by early 1990 Rhoades was kidnapping and murdering an average of three females a month. He allegedly carried a briefcase full of torture items with him on the road, according to the article.

Once Rhoades is returned to Illinois, Texas will begin the process of extraditing him to their state where murder charges for both Walsh and Zyskowski have been filed. If convicted there, Rhoades would face the death penalty.

Prosecutor Brent Berkley said Monday that the witnesses in both murders are all the same. It just made more sense, he said, to make those people only have to testify once.

"It's in the best interest of justice and the victims' families," he said.

Berkley said he didn't regret extraditing Rhoades to Utah only to return him to Illinois more than a year later.

"It was worth it, I think we'd do it again," he said. "This case is different from most homicides. Most of the evidence is from out of state and from different agencies. It's kind of a complicated case. When we got looking at the best interest of the victims ... it'll bring swifter justice in the case."

Under Texas law, the Lone Star State can prosecute both murders because Walsh's ordeal began with her kidnapping there, Berkley said. Utah, however, would only be able to prosecute one murder.

According to court documents, Walsh's family "expressed concern about having to go through multiple hearings" and "expressed their strong preference to proceed in Texas."

Berkley said he didn't know what, if any, involvement Utah prosecutors would have in the Texas trials.

Dead End

Sexual Sadist And Cold-Blooded Killer Robert Ben Rhoades Was A Travelin' Man, Until...

Well, at that particular time, when I shined the flashlight inside the vehicle, the woman screamed and I saw a momentary illumination of a man's face with the flashlight. That's when this series of events started, and there was no stopping any of the events that happened.

--DPS Officer Mike Miller,
State of Arizona vs. Robert Ben Rhoades

The Peterbilt semi-tractor rig was pointed toward Tucson in the dark, early morning hours of April 1, 1990. Arizona State Trooper Mike Miller wondered if the trucker was having difficulty, because the rig, its hazard lights flashing, was parked on a curb off Interstate 10, just at the city limits of Casa Grande. Those lights nagged at Miller.

His decision to stop that morning came just in the nick of time; it was the first in a horrifying chain of events.

As Miller opened the Peterbilt's cab, he couldn't imagine time depravity he was about to find, nor could he know that blood had spilled well beyond Arizona's borders. Subsequently, the details of two separate kidnappings in different states emerged, gradually fitting like transparencies over a savage homicide in yet another state. Then, evidence that was tagged for destruction in Arizona would be salvaged and yield crucial information.

Only much later would weary investigators marvel at how it all came together. They still wonder about the 50 skeletonized bodies strewn across America that they can't rule out. They only know for sure that Robert Ben Rhoades killed, and cruelly relished it, long before they ever caught up with him.

Although they're still waiting for Rhoades to talk, authorities believe his is a classic case of sexual sadism; they say this frightening psychological disorder is being seen in greater numbers.

Officer Miller took his flashlight and walked around the truck, looking for the driver. He noticed some commotion within the rig, so he stepped up on the runner to look inside the sleeper cab.

His breath caught when he saw a nude woman shackled and chained to the wall. She screamed frantically when she saw him, and Miller saw a man scramble through the curtains separating the sleeper cab from the front seats.

Trying to maintain calm as the woman kept screaming, Miller lurched to the driver's side of the truck and ordered the man out. He complied, calmly assuring Miller everything was all right. The man also informed Miller he was carrying a gun.

"It's the good guys who tell you they have a weapon," recalls Miller. "He was so smooth, yet that woman was terrified. I didn't know what I had on my hands."

The trucker's cool composure and the woman's terrified shrieks were more than Miller could attend to at once. So he went by the book: He took the trucker's wrists and handcuffed them behind his back, then seatbelted him in the patrol car. With the man out of the way, Miller returned to the woman and saw she was badly wounded. She bore mean red welts on her body and cuts on her mouth. She had a horse bridle strapped around her neck and a long chain padlocked to the horse bit. Her hands and ankles were handcuffed. Seeing all this, Miller called the city of Casa Grande for back-up.

Miller tried to cover the young woman's body until help arrived. He couldn't console her--she was terrified the trucker would return. And with good reason, Miller discovered.

The trucker had managed, Houdini-like, to get his hands down to his feet and bring them up so that the cuffs were now in front of him. In that amount of time, he'd also unfastened the seatbelt.

Unnerved, Miller realized the trucker could've killed him, climbed back into his rig and disappeared into the sparse but anonymous traffic on I-10.

Miller was relieved when Officer Robert Gygax of the Casa Grande Police Department pulled up behind him. Gygax freed the woman with the handcuff keys Miller managed to find inside the trucker's pocket. She was taken to the Casa Grande Police station.

At the station, 27-year-old Katie Ford (not her real name) finally began to feel safe. After her injuries were photographed, she readily gave information about her attacker, who'd been identified as Robert Ben Rhoades, of Houston, Texas.

In a videotaped interview, Ford told Detective Rick Barnhart that Rhoades had picked her up at Rip Griffin's truckstop, just north of Phoenix. She often hitched rides in order to visit friends, she said, adding Rhoades had been very polite at the truckstop.

She'd been asleep when he stopped the truck, shoved her into the sleeper cab and shackled her.

He took his torture items from a briefcase, she said. She'd been tortured on and off since he picked her up earlier that day. Long red welts from a vicious whipping covered her chest and back . Rhoades told her his name was "Whips and Chains," and she correctly took this to mean this was his CB radio nickname. He also told her he'd been doing this for 15 years.

Barnhart asked if she'd been raped and noted that Ford hesitated before stating she'd been rescued just in time. Barnhart doubted that, because her injuries were severe and the photos revealed her nipples and labia had been punctured with sharp objects. Before the interview ended, Ford told Barnhart that Rhoades "got off" on the torture.

It was about 3 a.m. as Barnhart prepared to question Rhoades. The detective looked over some of the evidence, especially the well-stocked briefcase.

"He took good care of the contents of that briefcase," recalls Barnhart. "There were alligator clips, leashes, handcuffs, whips, pins and dildos. It was just very well cared for and everything was placed neatly. I knew I had a serial rapist because of all that, and I suspected he might also have killed someone."

Rhoades entered the interview room while the video camera was rolling. He stretched out comfortably on the couch and yawned. He spent a long time explaining how the woman they'd found in his truck was "not playing with a full deck," that he was tired and never had the time or inclination to screw around while on the road.

Barnhart had no way of knowing that not half a month before this interview, Rhoades had managed to steal huge chunks of time for his sadism, nor did he know the extreme to which Rhoades took it. Rhoades continued to explain the term "lot lizard," or women who loiter around truck stops. "That's what that woman is," he claimed. Barnhart sensed Rhoades was trying to act chummy with him when he chortled that you just don't get involved with the women at truckstops "unless you want your dick to fall off, you know."

But Barnhart wanted an explanation for the woman's injuries. He conducted the interview carefully, frequently asking if Rhoades wanted to stop. Rhoades kept talking, like an experienced damage-control expert, all around the subject. Finally, he made a crease in the couch with his hand. "I took you up to the point where I stopped the truck. Now, I'm not gonna cross that line. I stopped the truck."

Barnhart photographed Rhoades' injuries on his arm and flank, after Rhoades asked if a lawyer would allow that. After Barnhart left the room, Rhoades took a deep drag on his cigarette and winced as he patted the bite wound on his left flank that Ford had managed to give him.

Barnhart was disturbed by the interview. Rhoades acted so normal and had a knack for persuasion. He acted as if this nasty business of the shackled woman in his truck had been her own doing, that it had been his bad luck to offer the crazy woman a ride. If there hadn't been so much physical evidence, including a live, screaming victim, it would've be easy to imagine Rhoades talking himself out of lots of questionable situations.

As Rhoades was being booked for aggravated assault, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment, Barnhart sent a teletype nationwide, and faxed a letter to a superior court judge in Florence, Arizona, to detain Rhoades at least until some information came in. Then Barnhart called the Houston Police Department, since Rhoades lived there.

It wasn't long before Detective R. E. Bomar called Barnhart to relate the details of a similar kidnapping in Houston--a kidnapping in which Rhoades was involved. In that case, Rhoades kept the 18-year-old woman about two weeks, then clipped her hair short and shaved her pubic hair. She, too, had been systematically tortured, and Rhoades had talked to her about killing her. She escaped when Rhoades forgot to close the handcuff that kept her chained inside the truck.

The Houston victim had described the truck and its driver to the police, but when two officers brought her face to face with the detained trucker--Rhoades--the victim looked at the ground and said he was not her attacker. The officers couldn't detain Rhoades any longer. Only later did the woman tell them the man they'd stopped was indeed her attacker, but she'd been too afraid. After weeks of torture at his hands, she said, in her mind there weren't enough officers around to protect her.

That case never went anywhere because the victim seemed too iffy. Both of Rhoades' known victims were especially vulnerable: Either they'd had emotional upsets at the time they were abducted, were very young and naive, or had physical afflictions like dyslexia.

Two victims in two different states, both with similar tales of unbelievable torture at this man's hands, thought Barnhart. He called the Phoenix FBI office, and from there the growing file on Rhoades went to the Houston FBI office, where it was assigned to Special Agent Bob Lee.

When Lee reviewed the two kidnapped victims' accounts of the methodical torture they endured, and viewed the contents of Rhoades' briefcase--it was the most refined "rape kit" agents had ever seen--he saw a classic profile of a sexual sadist.

"Sexual sadists start off with a limited rape kit, as we call it," explained Lee. "Because his was so refined, we knew he'd been doing this for a long time."

Lee immediately wanted to search Rhoades' Houston apartment, since sexual sadists--defined as those who become aroused by their victim's suffering--often keep journals, photos and other items to help them re-live their exploits. He found out the apartment was leased only to Rhoades. But Rhoades' apartment manager was nosy, and had entered his apartment. What she told Lee made him more determined to get a search warrant. She'd seen handcuffs, whips, bondage magazines and women's clothing strewn over the floor. The manager also told Lee that a woman claiming to be Rhoades' wife had recently visited, saying that Rhoades had just called her and instructed her to clear everything out of the apartment.

Lee smiled. Rhoades obviously had some secrets in there. But Lee had to get a behavioral sciences expert from FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, to explain to a judge the reasons he needed a search warrant.

The search was granted. On April 6, agents swarmed into Rhoades' apartment while other agents tracked down his wife.

The agents removed all the bondage material, women's clothing, make-up, and a bunch of white towels, one of which was saturated with blood. Rhoades liked his white towels. Both kidnap victims related that he placed a white towel beneath them before starting his sexual torture.

On one wall was a large poster, a blow-up of a Santana album cover that looks like a lion but on closer examination reveals many faces of contorted agony.

Agents also seized photographs, many of a young teenager with very short hair in various stages of undress--always shackled and handcuffed. She must have been with him for some time, Lee realized, because some of the photos revealed old bruises near her breasts, and shaved pubic hair in various stages of regrowth. In some photos, she had a vacant stare, while in others she looked tearful and scared. The photos bothered Lee.

He couldn't ask for help in identifying the girl because she may have been a willing partner in the sadistic sexual acts. In that event, broadcasting her picture would violate her rights. It was a legal obstacle that Lee couldn't circumvent, but in his gut, he knew the girl was a victim and he wanted to find her.

Lee is a burly man with a serious demeanor softened only by his pleasant Texas drawl. It's clear the photos he seized on April 6, 1990, still bother him. Maybe more so, for now he knows what happened.

"Back then," Lee explains, waving his arm about the expansive Houston FBI office, "this place didn't have these dividers. It was like a bullpen, and you could hear other agents discussing their cases."

It was nearly a year after the apartment search when Lee heard Special Agent Mark Young talking about a homicide in rural Illinois. The victim was found in a barn loft, when a farmer decided to take one last look through the decaying wooden structure before having it burned.

To the farmer's horror, he discovered a desiccated body. Young had the case because it had been confirmed that the 14-year-old victim, identified through dental records as Regina Walters, of Pasadena, Texas, was last seen in February, 1990, near Houston with her boyfriend, Ricky Lee Jones.

"The FBI entered the case in early 1991 because she was apparently kidnapped from the Houston area," Young explained. "I studied the crime scene photos--she'd been strangled with bailing wire that was attached to a wooden beam. The wire had been twisted many times beyond the point needed for death. Her hair was very short, and the forensic report told me something invaluable: Her pubic hair had been shaved prior to death. This was the signature aspect of the killer I would be looking for."

Behavioral experts like Young take pains to distinguish the difference between M.O. (Modus Operandi) and signature aspect, or ritual.

The M.O., which can be anything from the approach the offender takes to lure a victim or the type of binding material he uses, is something that changes, usually every 3 to 4 months as the offender becomes more experienced. But the signature aspect--that which gives him psychosexual gratification--never changes. In this case, it was the cutting of the victims' head hair and shaving the pubic hair that served some need.

Although there are some classic sadists in custody who've talked about their criminal acts, they've never discussed the bizarre individual rituals that accompany their crimes.

"The law enforcement folks in Illinois thought their best suspect was the boyfriend, 18-year-old Ricky Lee Jones," Young said. "But based on my profiling experience, I knew her killer was older, had more fetishes, and was a traveler. The people in Illinois and I exchanged some words, there was a lot of tension. Time was passing and they understandably wanted to find the killer of Regina Walters and clear the case. They couldn't understand why I couldn't locate the boyfriend. I strongly suspected then, and still do, that he's dead."

Jones, of Houston, had some minor brushes with the law, but was described by friends as rather meek. He and some siblings were removed from their home by Child Protective Services when he was younger. According to friends, he was infatuated with Regina Walters, but didn't know she was only 14. A friend told police the two were in love, and were hitch-hiking to Mexico.

Jones has not been found, and his family never reported him as missing. It's his sad epitaph that he was charged in absentia in Bond County, Illinois, for the murder of the girl he loved--Regina Walters.

IN RECALLING THE case on Rhoades, agents Lee and Young stop a moment and look at each other, puzzled. "I don't know exactly how we teamed up," says Lee. "I heard him talking about his own case and knew that he should see the file on my kidnapping cases, including the photos I seized from Rhoades' apartment."

By October 1991, Young looked over some of the photos in Lee's file on Rhoades. He saw the red welts on Ford's back and chest. Her hair was dark brown and long. The other kidnap victim in Rhoades' file though, had short, clipped head hair. Astonished, Young saw that her pubic hair was shaved, just like the late Regina Walters' had been. Lee had to rush to court, but he assured Young there were more photos.

The other photos were of a young, nude teenager with short hair. She had a choke chain around her neck and was shackled and handcuffed. This was the girl Lee wanted to find.

Young thought she resembled the photograph he had of Regina Walters, his homicide victim, but he couldn't be sure because she had long hair in his photo. He blocked part of a photo and showed it to the girl's father, who sadly nodded it was his daughter. There were three birthmarks on her neck that also matched.

In an especially cruel twist, Regina Walters' father had received anonymous phone calls, both at work and at his unlisted home number, a month after her disappearance.

The caller told Walters, "I made some changes. I cut her hair." He also told Walters that his daughter was in a barn loft, and when Walters asked if she was alive, the caller hung up.

The calls, made over a two-day period, were traced to Oklahoma City the first day, and to Ennis, Texas, the next day. Though the phone calls will forever haunt Walters, they would also come back to haunt the over-confident Rhoades.

Among the photos of Regina Walters seized from Rhoades' apartment were a series in which she wore a black dress, oversized black high heels and a terrified expression. She was made to pose in front of and inside an old barn. Experts compared these photos with those from the crime scene in Illinois and were able to conclude it was the same barn.

Now, years later, agents Young and Lee open the photo album, Rhoades' own chronicle of the torture he inflicted on the teenager. The harsh fluorescent lights of the Houston office bring even the dimmest photos into crisp focus.

"It was eerie," says Young, "because one of the crime scene photos was taken from the same angle as one of Rhoades' photos, and the position of the body was the same."

Lee points to one of the photos in which the teenager appears in despair. "These guys usually tell their victims what they're going to do ahead of time," he says tersely, before firmly shutting the photo album.

After linking Rhoades to Regina Walters, agents Young and Lee worked together. They notified Illinois, since Rhoades would have to be tried for the murder of the Walters girl in Bond County, where the body was found.

"I called Arizona, where Rhoades had been sentenced to six years for the kidnapping of Katie Ford in Casa Grande," says Young. "He was about to begin a work-furlough program. We wanted the evidence that was seized from the truck, and to my amazement, it was tagged for destruction!"

They managed to salvage the evidence, and among the items recovered was a notebook belonging to Regina Walters. In it were the unlisted phone numbers of her father, along with the phone numbers of her mother, grandmother and friends. This explained how Rhoades was able to call her father.

The agents compared Rhoades' trucking logs with the dates of the traced phone calls. The first call to Regina's father was from a pay phone at a truckstop in Oklahoma City on March 16. On that day, Rhoades had fueled up his rig at the same truckstop. The next day, Rhoades had been in Ennis, Texas, the logs revealed. In the notebook, someone had scrawled a message "Ricky is a dead man" and crudely drawn a picture of a gun and drops of blood. There were also cryptic notations that seemed to indicate directions and other unknown meanings, such as "water tank, Fun and Hide."

Rhoades' wife was shown the handwriting and identified it as her husband's.

It wasn't until early 1992 that the Bond County, Illinois, state attorney was convinced there was sufficient evidence against Rhoades. In September, 1992, Rhoades was shown all the evidence against him by his court-appointed attorneys, who wanted to negotiate a plea agreement in order to spare him the death sentence.

Rhoades became convinced the case against him was solid, pled guilty to killing Regina Walters, and received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole.

Rhoades' trucking log had already been analyzed at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (VICAP) at FBI headquarters in Quantico, and skeletonized bodies had indeed been found in areas where Rhoades had traveled.

"We're positive he's killed before," Young states firmly. "Killers like Rhoades often pick on vulnerable, anonymous people who won't be reported missing immediately. The skeletonized bodies are found, and nobody knows what really happened."

Along with Regina Walters and Ricky Jones, there were udoubtedly many others who couldn't imagine the truck coming around the bend was equipped for the cross-country murder binges of its driver. The task still remaining is to eliminate which bodies cannot be attributed to Rhoades.

Young thinks Rhoades increased his savage activity until he was kidnapping and murdering about three girls a month in early 1990. In late 1989 and early 1990, Rhoades had job assignments that brought him to Tucson or neighboring cities 36 times.

Sadists like Rhoades are of special interest to behavioral experts like Roy Hazelwood, formerly of the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit and now with the prestigious Academy Group in Manassas, Virginia.

The interest stems from the fact that sexual sadists are seen in growing numbers. Hazelwood, a chain-smoker in loose-fitting expensive suits, is quick to share the information experts have compiled, but only with a disclaimer of sorts: "We can give you facts. We can tell you what occupations they probably have, their marital status, what branch of the military they served in, even what kind of sexual dysfunction each one has--based on the crime scene. This is all based on cases, crime-scene investigation and experience. What we can't tell you is why, or how they got that way."

The uninterpreted facts are amazing: Nearly 100 percent of sexual sadists studied so far--only 30--have been Caucasian males. One case involved an African-American adopted at birth by a white couple. Of the sadists who'd served in the military, they'd overwhelmingly been in the ground forces. Most had occupations that involved contact with the public. Excessive driving, or driving with no clear goal, or driving long distances, characterized 40 percent of the men. Eighty-three percent collected items related to sexual or violent themes, or both. The most common collectible is pornography, followed by guns, bondage paraphernalia and detective magazines. Nearly 75 percent murdered a victim.

Close to half were married at the time of their known offenses, usually to a "compliant partner," who is the victim of many of the sadist's tortures, which he later plays out to the extreme with strangers.

Debbie was Rhoades' third wife and stayed married to him for several years. According to Rhoades' statement, that marriage was his first foray into what he considered merely kinky sex.

Debbie told agents she thought it was far more than kinky. She says she felt awful about going along with the physically painful perversions, but as her self-esteem plummeted, she just acquiesced. She now wonders, as do the federal agents, how many others died at Rhoades' hands.

"He killed a 14-year-old," she says today. "I have a 14-year-old daughter myself."

She credits Hazelwood for being the first to make her realize it wasn't her fault. But Hazelwood gave her some impressions to think about. "He told me that my ex-husband is the essence of evil. I wonder how I could have loved the essence of evil."

Meanwhile, Agents Lee and Young in Texas, and Detective Barnhart and Officer Miller in Arizona, have had time to contemplate the nature of the evil that touched their lives. Lee and Young have teamed up, not by coincidence this time, on a similar case.

Barnhart is still struck by how normal Rhoades seemed, how smooth-talking and at-ease he was even under threatening circumstances. He points to Rhoades on the video, taken right after Miller had arrested him in April, 1990. "Does he look evil to you? Not at all. That's how he got away with it."

Barnhart studies Rhoades on the video--the gestures, the easy laughter--and shakes his head: "Thank God for Mike Miller."

NO. 5-98-0821



ROBERT BEN RHOADES, Defendant-Appellant.

JUSTICE GOLDENHERSH delivered the opinion of the court:

Robert Ben Rhoades (defendant), pursuant to negotiations with the State, on September 11, 1992, pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to imprisonment for natural life. The sentence of death had been a possibility because on May 6, 1992, the State had filed a notice that it intended to seek the death penalty. This is defendant's third appeal to this court. Due to the procedural history of this case, this is a direct appeal from defendant's conviction.

On this appeal, defendant initially contended that the circuit court erred in refusing to allow him to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, after a remand from this court following defendant's second appeal. On the motion of defendant, this court allowed defendant to file a supplemental brief that raises the issue of whether the statute under which defendant was sentenced is unconstitutional. He relies on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000).

Prior to the entry of the guilty plea, a hearing was held pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 402 (134 Ill. 2d R. 402(c)). The parties agreed that to establish a factual basis, the court could take judicial notice of the evidence presented to the grand jury which indicted defendant.

The grand jury heard evidence that the victim, Regina K. Walters, age 14, was last seen alive at her mother's apartment on February 3, 1990, in Pasadena, Texas, and that in April 1990, defendant, an over-the-road truck driver, was arrested in Casa Grande, Arizona, where he was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. Defendant had been a suspect in a kidnapping/rape case in which the victim, F.R.T., had been taken from California to Houston, Texas. F.R.T. had been kept chained up in the back of defendant's truck for a two-week period during which defendant had raped F.R.T. This victim was able to escape.

The grand jury also heard evidence that defendant was arrested in Arizona when a state trooper stopped to check on defendant's tractor-trailer, which was parked along the side of a highway, and noticed a nude woman handcuffed and chained to the sleeper of defendant's tractor-trailer. When the officer shined a light into the truck, the woman started screaming, and defendant got out of the truck. Regina K. Walters' notebook was found in defendant's truck.

The grand jury heard evidence that a search warrant was issued for defendant's residence in Houston, Texas. The search produced numerous items of women's clothing, numerous obscene magazines and books, and instruments that could be used in bondage-type situations. The search also produced photographs of nude women, one of whom was Regina K. Walters. Some of the clothing that was found resembled the clothing worn by Walters in other photographs found in defendant's apartment. Other photographs showed Walters in defendant's truck and in front of the barn where her body was found.

Lastly, the grand jury heard evidence that from the trip logs of defendant's employment, it was determined that he had been on Interstate 70 in Bond County during February or March 1990. The victim's badly decomposed body was found on September 29, 1990, in a barn along Interstate 70. It appeared that she had been strangled. The method of strangulation was described as follows: "A small piece of board inserted through a double wire loop of baling wire, twisted clockwise around the neck of the body."

During the Rule 402 hearing, the court informed defendant that the court could impose a term of natural-life imprisonment without parole if the court decided his actions were exceptionally brutal and heinous indicative of wanton cruelty.

Within 30 days of sentencing, defendant filed a motion to reduce sentence, which was denied after a hearing. On defendant's first appeal, he contended that because defense counsel did not file a certificate of compliance with Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(d)), the cause should be remanded for further proceedings to consider defendant's motion at a hearing after compliance was shown. This court reversed that portion of the trial court's judgment denying defendant's motion to reduce sentence and remanded the cause for further proceedings. People v. Rhodes, 259 Ill. App. 3d 1054, 674 N.E.2d 1284 (1994) (unpublished order pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 23 (166 Ill. 2d R. 23)) (defendant's name was misspelled in the casebooks).

On August 24, 1994, the mandate of this court issued. On September 21, 1994, the trial court received a letter from defendant in which he wrote that he withdrew his plea of guilty and that his three trial attorneys did not respond to letters mailed to them. On September 26, 1994, the court appointed Jon Coleman, one of defendant's previous trial attorneys, to represent him on the remand from this court. The order advised defendant to discuss with his attorney what documents should be filed.

On October 21, 1994, Coleman filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for defendant, on the basis that defendant accused Coleman of committing error in his prior representation of defendant.

On January 23, 1995, the trial court received another letter from defendant. Defendant wrote that he had told Coleman that defendant would present evidence in court that he had been coerced to plead guilty by all of his attorneys and by the Bond County sheriff's office. Defendant also wrote that he had previously fired Coleman as his counsel. Defendant further wrote, "f a new attorney has been appointed, I wish the court to order them to contact me at once," and "[P]lease acknowledge this letter by return mail, including any pertinent information on my new attorney."

On January 31, 1995, the trial court allowed Coleman to withdraw as counsel for defendant. The court found that the sentence was the result of plea negotiations binding the court and all parties, that defendant had clearly stated that he did not wish to withdraw his guilty plea but only wanted his sentence reduced, and that, therefore, pursuant to then-recent opinions of this court, counsel need not be appointed when a plea and sentence were fully negotiated. The trial court denied defendant's motion to reduce sentence without appointing counsel and without conducting a hearing. On defendant's second appeal, he asked that the cause be again remanded to the trial court because the trial court denied his Rule 604(d) motion without appointing counsel. People v. Rhoades, No. 5-95-0084 (February 7, 1996) (unpublished order pursuant to Rule 23) (Rhoades II).

This court reversed and remanded pursuant to People v. Maltimore, 161 Ill. 2d 535, 647 N.E.2d 586 (1995) (supervisory order), in which our supreme court vacated our earlier decision in that matter (see People v. Maltimore, 268 Ill. App. 3d 532, 644 N.E.2d 478 (1994)) and remanded the case to the circuit court of Madison County for the filing of a new motion to reduce sentence. Rhoades II, order at 4. We reasoned, "Under Rule 604(d) a trial court has an obligation to appoint counsel except in situations where a defendant 'affirmatively, knowingly, and intelligently waives appointment of counsel.' " Rhoades II, order at 4-5 (quoting People v. Ledbetter, 174 Ill. App. 3d 234, 238, 528 N.E.2d 375, 378 (1988)). This court could not find, as the State had argued, that defendant's actions were tantamount to a waiver of counsel. This court reversed the order of the circuit court of Bond County denying the motion to reduce sentence, and we remanded the cause to the circuit court in order to determine if defendant desired counsel and, if so and if defendant was found to be indigent, for the appointment of counsel and further proceedings in strict compliance with Rule 604(d). Rhoades II, order at 5.

On remand, on December 26, 1996, defense counsel filed a motion to withdraw the guilty plea. Defense counsel also filed a certificate of compliance with Supreme Court Rule 604(d) (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(d)). The State filed a motion to dismiss alleging that the motion to withdraw the guilty plea was not timely filed and that this court's decision applied only to the previously filed motion to reduce sentence.

On April 24, 1997, defense counsel filed an amended motion to withdraw the guilty plea and/or to reduce sentence. Defense counsel filed another Rule 604(d) certificate on April 24, 1997. The court allowed the State's motion to dismiss as it related to the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, on the basis that the motion was not filed within 30 days of sentencing as required by Rule 604(d). The court stated, however, that the parties would be allowed to present an offer of proof on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

On December 4, 1998, a hearing was held on the motion to reduce sentence, and an offer of proof was presented on the motion to withdraw the guilty plea. The court reiterated its ruling denying the motion to withdraw the guilty plea because the motion was not timely filed. The court found that the sentence was negotiated in all respects within the range allowed by law, and the court denied the motion to reduce sentence.

On this appeal, defendant contends that the circuit court's interpretation of this court's mandate was incorrect. Defendant states that the only reasonable reading of this court's mandate is that the trial court must appoint counsel, who then would be allowed to present and address all claims consistent with Rule 604(d), including a motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

We find that the circuit court's actions on the remand from defendant's second appeal were entirely consistent with this court's mandate. The circuit court appointed counsel. Counsel received the court file and the report of proceedings of the guilty plea, and he conferred with defendant concerning his contentions of error. Counsel performed his duties by raising all the issues counsel found appropriate and by filing an amended motion to withdraw the guilty plea and/or to reduce sentence. The court ruled on the motion by applying the law applicable at the time the amended motion was presented. In People v. Janes, 158 Ill. 2d 27, 630 N.E.2d 790 (1994), our supreme court held that a timely filed motion to withdraw guilty plea is a condition precedent to taking an appeal. Here, defendant timely filed a motion to reduce sentence. Therefore, the circuit court properly refused to consider the motion to withdraw the guilty plea, which was not filed within 30 days of sentencing. See People v. Feltes, 258 Ill. App. 3d 314, 316, 629 N.E.2d 1172, 1174 (1994). As the guilty plea and sentence were fully negotiated, defendant could not attack his sentence without attempting to withdraw his guilty plea in a timely manner. See People v. Evans, 174 Ill. 2d 320, 673 N.E.2d 244 (1996). The circuit court correctly read this court's mandate.

Alternately, defendant suggests that the circuit court should have considered his September 19, 1994, letter, indicating that he wanted to withdraw his guilty plea, as an inartfully drawn postconviction petition. As this contention could have been raised on the second appeal and was not, the issue is waived. See People v. Taylor, 199 Ill. App. 3d 788, 790, 557 N.E.2d 575, 576-77 (1990). Further, this suggestion has no merit.

The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law that is reviewed de novo. People v. Fisher, 184 Ill. 2d 441, 448, 705 N.E.2d 67, 71-72 (1998). Statutes carry a strong presumption of constitutionality. Arangold Corp. v. Zehnder, 187 Ill. 2d 341, 351, 718 N.E.2d 191, 197 (1999). A party challenging the constitutionality of a statute bears the burden of rebutting the presumption and clearly establishing a constitutional violation. Arangold Corp., 187 Ill. 2d at 351, 718 N.E.2d at 197.

Count VIII of the criminal information to which defendant pled guilty alleges that defendant committed first-degree murder "on or about February 3, 1990[,] to March 17, 1990." At the time of the offense, section 5-8-1(a)(1) of the Unified Code of Corrections provided:

"Except as otherwise provided in the statute defining the offense, a sentence of imprisonment for a felony shall be a determinate sentence set by the court under this Section, according to the following limitations:

(1) for first[-]degree murder, (a) a term shall be not less than 20 years and not more than 60 years, or (b) if the court finds that the murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty or that any of the aggravating factors listed in subsection (b) of Section 9-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 [Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 9-1] are present, the court may sentence the defendant to a term of natural[-]life imprisonment ***." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(a), (b).

Defendant states that the trial court imposed a natural-life sentence on the basis that the offense was exceptionally brutal or heinous indicative of wanton cruelty or was committed in the course of a forcible felony. Defendant argues that since the count of the criminal information to which he pled guilty did not allege felony murder, the only possible justification for imposing a natural-life sentence would be the exceptionally brutal or heinous nature of the offense. Defendant concludes that the court did not make the finding that the first-degree murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty and that under Apprendi the court did not have the authority to make that finding, because section 5-8-1(a) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)) does not require that this factor be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. In Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000), the United States Supreme Court held a New Jersey hate-crime statute unconstitutional because it allowed judges to make a factual finding that enhanced their power to punish beyond the maximum penalties prescribed for a given criminal offense.

In 1994, Charles Apprendi, Jr., took his handgun and fired a spray of .22-caliber bullets into the home of his new neighbors. Apparently, the newly arrived family did not fit Apprendi's color criteria for living in a Vineland, New Jersey, neighborhood. Apprendi was indicted on numerous criminal offenses because of his misconduct, but none of them alleged that his actions were racially motivated. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 469, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 442, 120 S. Ct. at 2351.

Apprendi pled guilty to possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose, an offense for which the New Jersey legislature had provided a 10-year maximum prison sentence. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 469-70, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 442-43, 120 S. Ct. at 2352. However, a separate New Jersey hate-crime statute authorized the imposition of greater punishment for any crimes motivated by racial hatred. The trial judge found that Apprendi's crime was so motivated and, because of that fact, sentenced Apprendi to a prison sentence greater than the 10-year maximum that could otherwise have been imposed. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 470, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 443, 120 S. Ct. at 2352.

The Supreme Court, relying upon constitutional protections of due process, notice, and the right to a trial by jury, struck down the New Jersey hate-crime statute. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 470, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 442, 120 S. Ct. at 2351. The Court took an exhaustive look at what our founding fathers promised when they bestowed the right to a trial by jury in all criminal cases. It found that a part of that promise was the right to have a jury determine all facts necessary to a determination of the maximum punishment the law allows. The Supreme Court handed down a constitutional-based rule when it stated, "Other than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury[] and proved beyond a reasonable doubt." Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 455, 120 S. Ct. at 2362-63.

In the instant case, by enforcing the guidelines for accepting a guilty plea, the trial court provided the protections that Apprendi now ensures. Before defendant entered his guilty plea, the court informed him of the possibility of a sentence of natural life for the crime to which he pled guilty. Indeed, the State had previously filed a notice that it intended to seek the death penalty, and the guilty plea avoided that possibility. The court also made sure there was an adequate factual basis for the plea and that evidence was presented in open court. See People v. Calva, 256 Ill. App. 3d 865, 873, 628 N.E.2d 856, 862 (1993).

The guilty plea is sufficient proof that defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. See North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 33, 27 L. Ed. 2d 162, 91 S. Ct. 160, 165, (1970). Defendant's guilty plea was a knowing admission of guilt of the criminal acts charged and all the material facts alleged in the charging instrument. See Davis v. City of Evanston, 257 Ill. App. 3d 549, 553, 629 N.E.2d 125, 129 (1993). A guilty plea ends the controversy and removes the prosecution's burden of proof, as it supplies both the evidence and the verdict. Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 242 n.4, 23 L. Ed. 2d 274, 279 n.4, 89 S. Ct. 1709, 1712 n.4 (1969) (quoting Woodard v. State, 42 Ala. App. 552, 558, 171 So. 2d 462, 469 (1965)). The reliability of guilty pleas is strengthened by the fact that by pleading guilty a defendant knowingly waives several constitutional rights, including the privilege against self-incrimination and the right to a trial by jury. People v. Williams, 188 Ill. 2d 365, 370, 721 N.E.2d 539, 543 (1999).

As defendant was sentenced according to the statute for the offense to which he knowingly pled guilty, he cannot now claim that his rights were violated per Apprendi. Although Apprendi itself was an appeal following a guilty plea, the defendant there expressly reserved the right to challenge on appeal the constitutionality of the sentence-enhancement statute. Apprendi pled guilty to one offense and was then given a sentence exceeding the statutory maximum for that offense. In this case, defendant was admonished regarding the possible sentence he eventually received. The possibility of a natural-life sentence for the charge to which defendant pled guilty was clear at the time of the plea, and defendant did not object or raise this issue until his third appeal.

By pleading guilty, the defendant gives up the right to challenge a sentence within the statutory range for the offense to which he pled guilty. People v. Jackson, 319 Ill. App. 3d 110, 113, 744 N.E.2d 1275, 1278 (2001). In addressing how Apprendi affects guilty pleas, the Second District has stated:

"A defendant who pleads guilty does not have the same appeal rights as one convicted following a trial. [Citation.] Generally, after pleading guilty, a defendant may not raise claims of the deprivation of constitutional rights that occurred before the entry of the plea. [Citation.] Before defendant entered his plea, the court informed him of the sentencing ranges for the offenses and specifically admonished him of the possibility of consecutive sentences. Having waived a jury trial on all issues, defendant cannot now claim that he was deprived of the right to have a jury determine the issue of his future dangerousness. Similarly, he cannot claim that he was unfairly deprived of the right to have the State prove that point beyond a reasonable doubt." People v. Chandler, 321 Ill. App. 3d 292, 297, 748 N.E.2d 685, 690 (2001).

In this case, after receiving a sentence within the range for the offense to which he pled guilty, defendant cannot now claim that his Apprendi rights were violated. See United States v. Johnstone, 251 F.3d 281 (1st Cir. 2001) (a guilty plea gives the court the discretion to impose the statutory maximum sentence because the defendant is informed of that possible sentence).

Finding that an Apprendi violation did not occur in this case is consistent with our prior interpretation of Apprendi. In People v. Nitz, this court called into question the validity of section 5-8-1(a). People v. Nitz, 319 Ill. App. 3d 949, 968, 747 N.E.2d 38, 55 (2001). This court reduced the defendant's sentence from natural life to 60 years' imprisonment. However, we made clear that our difficulty with the application of the statute was that it violated the defendant's right to a trial by a jury. Nitz, 319 Ill. App. 3d at 968, 747 N.E.2d at 55. In this case, defendant's right to a trial by a jury was not violated. Defendant waived this right. Defendant should not be able to waive a right, receive a sentence he subjected himself to, and then contend that the right was violated.

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the circuit court of Bond County is affirmed.


Mug Shot From Casta Grande, AZ 4-2-1990

Robert Ben Rhoades

Robert Ben Rhoades at one of his swingers clubs in Houston TX 1985

Robert Ben Rhoades prison photo

Robert Ben Rhoades prison photo

Robert Ben Rhoades prison photo

Det. Rick Barnhart, Ed Russell, Troper Mike Miller

Letter from Rhoades to Ed Russell

Robert Ben Rhoades Father Killed himself after being charged with Fondoleding a fourteen year old girl.

Ricky Lee Jones body has never been found

Regina Kay Walters 14 years old died by the hands of Robert Ben Rhoades

Last Photo Taken of Regina before she was killed by Robert Ben Rhoades in Bond County IL Barn.
This Picture was the key evidence photo.