The Highway Killer- The Story of Larry Eyler

case study of Larry Eyler

During the Halloween of 1977, the quiet suburban peaceful foothills of Los Angeles witnessed the most heinous scene of the crime. It was early in the morning, and a dead man was found naked in front of a house near the pedestrian walk.

To avoid his children from witnessing this shocking scene, the owner of the house covered the victim’s body with a carpet and called the police. On reaching the crime scene, the senior officer in charge termed it as a complete murder the moment he saw the body. There were clear ligature marks around the victim’s neck, ankles, and wrists.

On further observation it was found that the body was positioned upside down as if someone more powerful or more than one person dragged the body carrying it below the armpits and dumped it there. The police also found a small white fiber on the victim’s eyelids. They concluded it as strangulation and started with the procedures of regular investigation.

However, in the following weeks, similar types of murders kept happening across Los Angeles with the exact pattern of ligature marks around the victim’s body. It was more of a cat and mouse chase, where the culprit was purposefully challenging the police.

On one such crime scene away from Los Angeles, they stumbled upon very important evidence which the culprit forgot to remove. It was a gold fiber from a carpet attached to a fresh strand of heather along with a strand of hair that did not belong to the victim. This led the police to the most dangerous criminal – Larry Eyler whom the public and the media referred to as “The Hillside Strangler.”

Early Life of Larry Eyler

Larry Eyler was a native of Crawfordsville, Indiana and was born on December 25th, 1952 to a family of toxic parenting. He was the youngest among the four siblings and his parents divorced when he was young. He dropped out of high school in his senior year and did odd jobs for an income for a few years.

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Later Eyler’s mother remarried which lasted one year before the couple divorced. His mother married for a third time in 1960, although the couple divorced four years later. She married for the fourth time in 1972.

Eyler’s father and his first two stepfathers drank heavily, due to which larry and his siblings were subjected to frequent physical and emotional abuse, with one of his stepfathers frequently holding Eyler’s head beneath scalding water as a form of discipline.

He used to experience frequent depression symptoms as said by his therapist since childhood. During his teenage, he discovered that he was homosexual and struggled with his emotions and relationships with his peers, as his sexual orientation was considered shameful in society. With severe emotional instability, Eyler was known for his temper and instability among his friends.

First Murder By Larry Eyler

Larry’s first murder was reported in Chicago on August 3rd, 1975. Eyler picked up a 19-year-old boy who was also homosexual. A meeting that was a romantic encounter turned out to be nothing less than a cold-blooded murder.

According to Eyler, the boy criticized his temper and sadistic nature towards physical relationships which triggered him. He stabbed the boy right away using a fancy knife which he always carried. Even though he felt guilty, nevertheless continued to bury the boy’s body.

Later killing became an obsession for Larry, especially in a society where people turned at him with disgust. Larry killed a couple of men in Chicago after which he moved to Los Angeles. His motive was always driven by sadism and his victims were men but not necessarily with a homosexual orientation. 

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Crimes in Los Angeles and Ones That Followed

The Halloween crime reported Larry’s first murder in Los Angeles. A week after this, another man was found dead and raped near a popular park with a similar pattern of ligature marks. After a month two boys around 15 years old were found dead inside a caravan near a river. But in this case, there was a witness who saw the victims get out of a bus and was called in by a man dressed in police uniform to a car. According to the witness, the car was a large Sedan. After this incident police became more cautious as he was masquerading as one among them.

On December 28th, 1977, the Warner family reported their son was missing. One week after that his body was discovered from a farm dumped along with corporation wastes. After the repetition of back to back murders, the police force was baffled. The media pointed out the inefficiency of the government system and people were scared to step out of their houses. But just like that, the murders stopped. For more than year and a half, such crimes were not reported.

The Return of Larry Eyler

In January 1979 in Washington, a man reported his boyfriend was missing. When the police searched the apartment where his boyfriend lived, they found some groceries spread out, some of which required immediate refrigeration too.

From this, the police concluded that something unusual had happened which made the man leave all the items on the floor and go. There was a note left on the table which had the message for sending documents related to house guardianship to a security guard named Mr. Kenneth along with his address.

Police questioned the security guard Kenneth but he denied everything and claimed that he was never offered any guardianship to the house. After three days, the dead body of the complainant’s boyfriend was found from a curbside parking lot inside a car. But the car was wiped clean.

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However, the back deck had some heather attached to a golden fiber from a carpet which was crucial. Police also found a hair strand that did not belong to the victim. As Kenneth was already a suspect, the police called him in for inquiry. 

The fibers matched with the golden carpet which was placed at the entrance of his backyard and the hair matched him too. The heather was from his backyard garden. On further inquiry, police found that Kenneth’s identity was fake and he was the reported serial killer, Larry Eyler. 

Trial and Conviction

Eyler was brought to trial for the aggravated kidnapping, unlawful restraint, and murder of twenty-plus crimes which he, later on, confessed in the court.

On proving he was guilty, he was further subjected to the psychological department, where they identified him to have a borderline personality. As he was in rehabilitation his death penalty was changed to life imprisonment.

Death of Larry Eyler

On March 6th, 1994, Eyler died due to AIDS. He was admitted due to serious illness for approximately ten days before his death. He died at Pontiac Correctional Centre.

Conclusion

It has been proven over time that hair can be the best evidence a forensic scientist or an investigator can encounter at a crime scene. It is rich with a variety of assessment possibilities helping to solve any case at a rapid pace. 

This case study shows a classic example of how hair as evidence ruled out a variety of other evidence, with new criteria and technology in terms of DNA extraction, dye analysis, and species identification.

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