arkansas serial killers feature

With the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozarks in the highlands and the Arkansas Delta and the Gulf Coastal Plain in the lowlands, Arkansas offers a diverse landscape which includes rivers, caves, waterfalls, mountains, and prairies. However, this southeastern state has also been home to some of America’s most depraved criminals, including Theodis Hill, a confessed serial killer who has admitted to strangling multiple women to death in Forrest City, Arkansas, and James Waybern Hall, a man who killed his wife after less than a year of marriage and then went on to commit multiple murders in the state. The Redhead Murderer — an unidentified serial killer — is believed to have discarded at least one victim’s body in West Memphis, Arkansas, while Debra Sue Tuggle — who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas — was convicted of killing one child and suspected of murdering four others.

Mark Allan Smith killed multiple victims in Germany before brutally murdering a young woman in Mountain Home, Arkansas, while Jack Harold Jones killed a woman in Florida before beating and strangling a young mother to death in Bald Knob, Arkansas. Leroy Bullock robbed and murdered multiple victims in Arkansas until a series of unusual events led to his arrest, while Ronald James Ward was linked to the brutal killing of a young woman at an Arkansas rest stop — as well as two California women — while he was behind bars for shooting a man to death in Montana.

Theodis Hill

Image via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

While Theodis Hill was incarcerated in Missouri for strangling 56-year-old Fanny Mae Hill to death in St. Louis on November 6, 2006, he confessed to the murder of Marissa Lowe, a 40-year-old woman whose lifeless body was discovered in a ditch in Forrest City, Arkansas, on September 22, 2009. In 2013, Hill — who was born on August 26, 1966 — was convicted of killing Lowe, and he was given 40 years in prison for her murder. The following year in March 2014, the convicted killer wrote a series of letters to officials, admitting to suffocating Katherine Dawson, 48, to death with a pillow in her home in Forrest City, Arkansas, where her corpse was found on September 9, 2009. He also confessed to killing Janice Mayhew, a 46-year-old woman who was found dead on September 6, 2008, in her home in St.Louis, Missouri, and Sierra Sullivan, a 22-year-old woman he strangled to death in a St. Louis hotel room on July 17, 2009, before dumping her corpse in a vacant lot.

On June 29, 2017, Hill pleaded guilty to killing Janice Mayhew and Sierra Sullivan, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for murdering the two women. Hill — who blamed his crimes on drug and alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder — is awaiting trial for the murder of Katherine Dawson.

The Redhead Murderer

From February 1983 to April 1985, the bodies of seven women and girls were found near major highways in Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Investigators concluded they may have been attacked by the same perpetrator, and because some of the victims shared the same hair color, the series of killings was dubbed the “Redhead Murders” by law enforcement. Many of the women and girls were naked or partially nude when their corpses were found, and in many cases, the authorities were unable to determine how they were killed. Only one of the victims attributed to the Redhead Murderer, 26-year-old Lisa Ann Nichols, has ever been identified.

Nichols, who was originally from Linden, West Virginia, was found dead — wearing only a sweater — on September 16, 1984, off of Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Arkansas. The 26-year-old young woman was estranged from her family at the time of her murder, so Nichols wasn’t identified until June 1985. Officials determined that Nichols, who had strawberry-blond hair, was strangled to death, and they think she may have encountered her killer while hitchhiking. Police have questioned two truck drivers about their involvement in the killings, but investigators determined neither man was the Redhead Murderer. To this day, the murders of Lisa Nichols and the six other victims attributed to this unidentified serial killer remain unsolved.

James Waybern Hall

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Less than a year after taxi driver James Waybern Hall married 19-year-old Fayrene Clemmons on March 14, 1944, he shot the teenager to death in late September 1944, burying his young bride’s body in a remote part of Pulaski County, Arkansas. In order to avoid detection, Hall told Clemmons’ family she had left him, and he even sent a Christmas card — purportedly from his wife — to her parents with a California postmark. Approximately three months after he killed his wife, Hall murdered Carl Hamilton, and the barber’s body was discovered several days later in an abandoned vehicle in Ouachita Country, Arkansas, on January 29, 1945. A few days later on February 1, 1945, Hall shot E.C. Adams to death as the man was on his way to work at a plant in Little Rock, and his car and body were found in a remote area in Dallas County, Arkansas. Shortly after shooting Adams to death, this Arkansas serial killer murdered Doyle Mulherin after robbing the trucker of $125; the man’s body and vehicle were found in Stuttgart, Arkansas, approximately 40 miles from Little Rock.

Five weeks later on March 9, 1945, a car containing the burned remains of J.D. Newcomb, Jr., was discovered in Heber Springs, Arkansas, and on March 15, 1945, Hall was arrested near Little Rock after police managed to connect a gun the serial killer had borrowed from an acquaintance with the murder of barber Carl Hamilton. Hall, who had Hamilton’s shaving gear in his possession when he was apprehended, confessed to robbing and killing the four men, and he also admitted to murdering his wife, eventually leading officers the young woman’s burial site. This confessed Arkansas serial killer — who was born on January 28, 1921 — was given the death penalty for his crimes, and he was executed in the electric chair in Tucker Prison on January 4, 1946. Hall, who was dubbed the “Arkansas Butcher” by the media, was just 24 years old at the time of his death.

Mark Alan Smith

Image via Illinois Department of Corrections

While he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, Mark Alan Smith murdered several women, and when he returned to the United States, he strangled Obie Faye Ash, 32, to death on December 3, 1969, in the television store in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where the young woman was employed. After murdering Ash, Smith — who was born on June 27, 1949, in Chicago — went to his home state of Illinois where he murdered 27-year-old Jean Irene Bianchi on January 27, 1970, in McHenry County, raping the wife and mother before beating, stabbing, and strangling her to death.

One month later, this serial killer attacked Janice Bolyard, 23, in Des Plaines, Illinois, on February 27, 1970, ending the young woman’s life. On May 27, 1970, Smith raped and bludgeoned 17-year-old Jean Ann Lingenfelter before strangling the teenager to death with her own bra and dumping her lifeless body in a lake in McHenry, Illinois. Smith, who had gone to prom with one of Lingenfelter’s friends, became a suspect in the teenager’s murder when he helped in the search for the missing 17-year-old and led police right to her corpse. This serial killer eventually confessed to murdering a total of seven victims, although officials think he may have taken the lives of more than 20 women and girls. In 1971, Smith was sentenced to 500 years in prison for his heinous crimes; he is currently behind bars in the Pontiac Correctional Center in Illinois.

Jack Harold Jones

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On June 1, 1991, Jack Harold Jones raped and strangled Pennsylvania native Lorraine Anne Barrett, 32, to death in her hotel room in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. While investigators were able to create a composite sketch of Jones with the help of witnesses who had seen him with Barrett shortly before she was murdered, police failed to arrest him for killing the 32-year-old. Four years later in Bald Knob, Arkansas, Jones struck again on June 6, 1995, sodomizing Mary Phillips in the accounting officer where the 34-year-old worked as a bookkeeper before strangling and beating her to death. Jones also attacked Phillips 11-year-old daughter, Lacy, choking the young girl and repeatedly hitting her in the head with the barrel of a gun.

Despite the life-threatening injuries and severe psychological and emotional trauma Lacy endured, the 11-year-old provided law enforcement with a description of the man who had raped and murdered her mother. Incredibly, an official from the Arkansas State Police recognized Jones from Lacy’s description, and he was arrested at his home and subsequently admitted to the killing. Jones — who was born on August 10, 1964 — was convicted of rape, murder, and attempted murder, and he was given the death penalty for his crimes. While he was behind bars awaiting execution, the authorities linked him — via DNA evidence — to the rape and murder of Lorraine Anne Barrett in 1991, and in 2005, he pleaded guilty to killing the 32-year-old tourist. On April 24, 2017, this serial killer was executed by lethal injection in Arkansas; Jones was 52 years old.

Debra Sue Tuggle

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In 1974, Debra Sue Tuggle — who was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958 — allegedly killed her 2-year-old son, Thomas Lee Bates, by suffocating the child to death, and later that same year, she purportedly murdered her 21-month-old son, William Earl Henry, using the same method. However, the children’s deaths were attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allowing her — according to officials in Little Rock, Arkansas — to kill her 9-month-old son, Ronald Earl Johnson, in 1976, and her 2-month-old son, Terranz Andre Tuggle, in 1979.

Three years later on June 23, 1982, Tuggle — one of Arkansas’s few known suspected female serial killers — suffocated her fiance’s 2-year-old daughter, Tomekia Shenee Paxton. The girl’s death was initially attributed to pneumonia, but a Pulaski County coroner became suspicious about the number of unusual deaths connected to Tuggle, sparking an investigation. In March 1984, this suspected Arkansas serial killer was arrested for killing Paxton, and she was convicted of the girl’s murder in 1984. However, the authorities didn’t have enough evidence to convict Tuggle of killing her other children, so she was only sentenced to 10 years in prison. Law enforcement were unable to determine exactly why Tuggle may have suffocated five children to death, but she did have a history of serious mental illness. Tuggle was released from prison in 1994 when she was 36 years old. Her current whereabouts are unknown.

Leroy Bullock

On December 13, 1988, Leroy Bullock murdered Bryant Jones and his wife Jonnie in the couple’s home in Paragould, Arkansas. Unbeknownst to Bullock, Bryant Jones had hired a hit man to kill his wife, so the Arkansas doctor simply let his murderer into his home, thinking Bullock was there to attack Jonnie. After shooting the couple to death, Bullock stole a number of valuables from the Jones’s Arkansas home, including one of Jonnie’s rings. Approximately three months later, Bullock killed 74-year-old Dixie Drago Johnson in her home in Memphis, Tennessee,  and on March 22, 1989, this serial killer murdered two women who lived in the same neighborhood in Jonesboro, Arkansas, shooting Ruth Nisenbaum, 73, and Syble Cooksey, 65, to death inside their residences.

On December 19, 1989, Bullock murdered two 72-year-old women — Veronica Pettit and her employee, Velma Rexrode — in Pettit’s home in Falmouth, Virginia. Bullock also shot Pettit’s 81-year-old husband, Harvey, but the elderly man survived the attempt on his life and provided investigators with a description of the person who had killed the two women. Incredibly, officers were looking through some of the Pettit family’s photographs, and they found a picture of a man who matched Harvey’s description. Eventually, officials discovered — unbeknownst to Bullock and the Pettits — the serial killer had once been married to one of the family’s distant relatives. After officials found out his name, Bullock was arrested for the murders in Virginia, and he was also connected to the killings in Arkansas when a jeweler recognized Jonnie Jones’s ring when one of the serial killer’s associates brought the item into his store for an appraisal. Bullock pleaded guilty to six counts of murder on April 2, 1990, and he was given eight life sentences for his crimes.

Ronald James Ward

Image via Billings Gazette

While Ronald James Ward was serving a life sentence in Montana for shooting Craig Petrich to death in Ravalli County on October 6, 2000, authorities linked the convicted killer to the murders of three women. In 2005, officials discovered Ward’s DNA matched biological evidence recovered from the body of Jackie Travis, 49, who was murdered in her home in Merced, California, on December 7, 2000, and Shela LaRae Polly, a 32-year-old certified nurse’s aide who was murdered on December 30, 2000, in Modesto, California. Investigators also connected Ward with the brutal murder of Kristin Laurite, a 25-year-old daycare worker who was moving across the country from New Jersey to Eureka, California, when she visited a rest stop in Morrilton, Arkansas, on August 25, 2000.

At the Interstate 40 rest stop, Ward attacked Laurite, raping the 25-year-old before stabbing her to death. Ward pleaded no contest to Laurite’s murder, and in June 14, 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison for killing the young woman. According to this serial killer, he was high on moonshine, cocaine, and heroin when he attacked Laurite, so he didn’t remember raping the 25-year-old or stabbing her to death. Ward also pleaded guilty to killing Shela LaRae Polly and Jackie Travis, and he was given a life sentence for each their murders. However, Ward died of natural causes at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge on April 11, 2004; he was 48 years old.


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