Larry Eyler: The Highway Killer
Larry Eyler is known to most as the “Highway Killer” from Indiana. Eyler was said to have killed 20-23 homosexual males. All the murders were brutal and the weapon was always a knife. The death count spanned across four states and fourteen counties, from southeastern Wisconsin to north-central Kentucky. Bodies were found in parts of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. Eyler was sentenced to death on October 3, 1986 and his date of death was set for March 14, 1990. He managed to delay his death sentence with appeals, but later died of AIDS in prison on March, 6, 1994.
Like most serial killers Eyler didn’t have a great childhood. Larry Eyler was born on December 21, 1952 in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Eyler was the youngest of four and his parents divorced when he was two years old. After the divorce he remained living with his mother. His mother married again when he was four, but then at the age of five he witnessed his mother’s second divorce. Following that was his mother’s third marriage when he was seven and third divorce when he was eleven. Soon after at the age of twelve his mother was married for a fourth time which ended in divorce during his teens. Also she had many boyfriends in and out of Larry’s life. There was a strong history of alcoholism in the family and Eyler was a victim of extreme physical and mental abuse by his natural father (who died when Eyler was eighteen) and his three stepfathers. It was said to be known that one of the stepfathers repeatedly punished him by running hot water over his head, but much worse was done to the boy.
At age ten he was sent to the Riley Child Guidance Clinic at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, where psychological tests revealed normal intelligence, extreme insecurity, and great fear of separation and abandonment. The staff of the clinic noted that Eyler did not feel loved or secure in his relationship with his parents. Clinic staff came to believe that Eyler’s home environment was unstable and chaotic, and they recommended that he be sent to live elsewhere. At the age of twelve he went to live in a Catholic boys’ home. Dropping out of high school in his senior year, he worked odd jobs for a couple of years before earning his GED. Sporadic enrollment in college between 1974 and 1978 left Eyler without a degree, and he finally not long after leaving high school joined a monastery, but he left after a brief time. He then began living a life of low-paying jobs. Unknown to friends and relatives, Larry Eyler was a young man at war within himself, struggling to cope with homosexual tendencies which simultaneously fascinated and repelled him. An evaluation that had been done concluded that Larry had continuing developmental trauma as a result of abrupt and repeated intrusions into his life over many years.
He had three areas where he worked and played, as well as killed. He could be found in Greencastle, Indiana, where he worked in a liquor store, a friend’s place in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, where he shared his space with not only his lover, but the lover’s wife and kids. Living this way gave him a wide area to find victims to fulfill his violent sexual needs. After he would fulfill his sexual desires he would be mad at himself for being gay and kill his victims.
In March of 1982 it all began, with Jay Reynolds found stabbed to death outside Lexington Kentucky. In October of the same year, police found the body of fourteen year old Delvoyd Baker outside Indianapolis. Two weeks later, another body, that of nineteen year old Steven Crockett was found, stabbed twenty-two times, in Lowell, Indiana. In November, they found the body of Robert Foley in a field outside Joliet, Ill.
Law enforcement began to see a pattern of assaults on young men, with stabbing and strangulation present in every case. On Christmas of 1982, Eyler murdered twenty-five year old John Johnson outside Belshaw, Indiana. December 27, 1982 twenty-one year old John Roach of Belleville, and twenty year old Steven Agan of Newport, Indiana was found dead. In 1983 killings around Illinois started to come about. In July of 1983, Eyler was now responsible for twelve murders, and he was now increasingly mutilating his victims after death. The sex and murder was no longer enough and he had still not been discovered my authorities.
On August 31st, Robert Calise was murdered near Lake Forest, Ill. He was bound with clothesline and tape, and stabbed seventeen times. A month later, a police officer in Indiana spotted a pick-up truck off the side of Interstate 65, with two men nearby walking towards a group of trees. It appeared that one of the men was tied up. When the officer approached them, the bound young man told him that Eyler made homosexual propositions, including asking permission to tie him up. When the officer searched the truck, he found surgical tape, clothesline, and a hunting knife stained with blood.
Eyler was immediately taken in, where forensic experts matched the blood on the knife with that of Calise. Experts were also able to match tire tracks left at the Calise sight with that of Eyler’s truck. Police this was enough to put Eyler behind bars, but authorities let him go, while they continued their investigation.
On October 4th, 1983, fourteen year old Derrick Hansen was found dismembered near Kenosha, Wisconsin. Almost two weeks later, a “John Doe” was found near Effingham, Illinois, and two other victims. Richard Wayne, and an unidentified male, were found dead outside Indianapolis. By this time, Eyler was under intense constant surveillance, albeit not a very good job of it to say the least. Eyler went as far as filing a civil suit with authorities for what he claimed was harassment against the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, but what he got was arrested for the Calise murder, seemingly putting an end to a serial killers reign on the Interstates of Mid-America. However, once again, officials blew it. On Feb. 5th, 1984, at a pretrial hearing, it was determined that all evidence recovered from Eyler’s truck was not allowed into court. Eyler was free again and embarrassed law officials rushed to regain control of the case that was in the palm of their hands just a few days before. Luckily for authorities his own clumsy arrogance landed him back in court and ultimately sent him to death row.
On May 7th, 1984, twenty-two year old David Block was found murdered near Zion, Illinois. The murder was the same as the other slaying attributed to Eyler. In August, the janitor where Eyler lived was led to garbage bags neatly placed on the sidewalk for removal by his excited dog. When the janitor opened them, he found the dismembered remains of a local fifteen year old hustler named Danny Bridges.
Larry Eyler was said to have killed 20-23 gay men. They were all killed with a knife. Eyler mutilated most of the corpse and even dismembered some to dispose of. His slayings were very brutal and happened after his homosexual sex acts. He was sentenced to death on October 3, 1986. Larry died of AIDS in prison on March, 6, 1994. Some of The Highway Killer’s victims are still unidentified.There are many theories that could be used to identify why Larry Eyler committed these harsh crimes from sociological to biological. A sociological theory that may have to do with Eyler’s crimes could be the culture conflict theory.
“The culture conflict theory (also called cultural deviance theory), a clash of values between differently socialized groups over what is inherent in ecological criminology (discussed earlier in this chapter) and its belief that zones of transition tend to be in flux and harbor groups of people whose values are often at odds with those of the larger society. The culture conflict perspective found its clearest expression in the writings of Thorseten Sellin in his 1938 book Culture Conflict and Crime, where he stated that the root cause of crime could be found in different values for what is acceptable or proper behavior” (Schmalleger, Frank).
This theory could have to do with Larry because he was at war within himself. He enjoyed the homosexual acts he performed on the victims, but felt like he had to kill them because if anyone found out he would feel ashamed. In the 1980’s homosexuality was still not widely accepted in society. Some may argue that this theory does not fit Larry, because on May 8, 1984 police raided Eyler’s apartment at 7:00 A.M. and caught him in bed with John Dobrovolskis, his lover. Also in the apartment sleeping was Dobrovolskis’ wife and child. The situation makes it seem like Larry is not ashamed of his homosexual tendencies, which may question if a biological theory would better explain the killer’s motives.
“Displastics are a mixed group described as highly emotional and often unable to control themselves, and they were thought to commit mostly sexual offenses and other crimes of passion (Schmalleger, Frank)”. Larry Eyler fits the description of a displastic because of his homosexual assaults on his victims before killing them. These crimes of passion were carried out due to Eyler not being comfortable with his homosexuality. It was as if he could not accept the fact that he was gay and he found pleasure in the sexual act, but was ashamed of himself after the sex so he would kill the boys. This theory could also be argued against due to his relationship with John. It could be argued that Larry had a passion for assaulting the men and then killing him and not just seeking pleasure through sexual intercourse.
Larry Eyler is a good example of the attachment theory. The attachment theory is a social-psychological perspective on delinquent and criminal behavior that holds that the successful development of secure attachment between a child and his or her primary caregiver provides the basic foundation for all future psychological development. “According to the attachment theory, delinquent behavior arises when nonsecured attachments are created. This theory predicts that the most problematic individuals will be those who were abandoned at an early age, who experience multiple placements, had to deal with the early absence of one or both parents, and who faced traumatic conditions in early childhood (Schmalleger, Frank)” . As mentioned, Eyler’s childhood was not very good. He watched his parents’ divorce at a young age and then watched his mother have men in and out of his life. Larry suffered physical abuse by almost every man in his life and it was said that his childhood environment was very unstable. He was sent off at the age of ten which made him feel abandoned by his mother.
The self-control theory studied by Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi proposed that self-control is acquired early in life and low self-control is the premier individual-level cause of crime. ”It develops by the end of childhood and is fostered through parental emotional investment in the child, monitoring the child’s behavior, recognizing deviance when it occurs, and punishing the child. Some researchers have called the argument that self-control develops early in childhood and persists over the stability thesis (Schmalleger, Frank)”. This theory could be used to describe Larry Eyler, because his parents were not around to help him develop self-control. Self-control is fostered through parental emotional investment in a child, which did not happen in Eyler’s life. When you study his reasons and actions during his crimes it is as if he could not control his emotions, moods, impulse, or mind when he was kidnapping, raping, and murdering his victims.
There are many theories that fit the description this killer and his crimes. I strongly believe that Larry Eyler related to the biological attachment theory more than any other theory. It seems that Eyler’s childhood had a lot to do with the way he behaved as an adult. I think society may have had something to do with the Highway Killer being ashamed of his homosexuality, but he did not kill his lover John. Why would he kill the other men? It will never be known why this man committed these horrifying crimes. Larry died at the age of 41 in prison. Eyler lived a very disturbing, troubled, and brutal life taking 23 lives in those 41 short years.
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Schmalleger, Frank. Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2012. Print.