Arizona · Serial Killers

“The Truck Stop Killer” Robert Ben Rhoades is arrested

April 1, 1990
Casa Grande, Arizona
Serial rapist and killer Robert Ben Rhoades (pictured) is arrested

Rhoades, later dubbed “The Truck Stop Killer,” was a commercial truck driver. As such, his career granted him the opportunity to travel great distances across the country, and the overwhelming majority of his time was spent alone and in transit. His route began in Houston, Texas, through St. Louis, Missouri, then west to California, though he also occasionally traveled to Florida. Rhoades is suspected to have raped, tortured, and killed 50 or more women and teens in multiple states, with speculations arising after investigators matched his truck route and a timeline to unsolved murders between 1975 and 1990.

Rhoades had converted his truck’s sleeper cab into a “torture chamber” which he outfitted with a welded bar equipped with hooks. With this “chamber,” Rhoades would pick up unassuming female hitchhikers, dispatch of their male companions if necessary, and rape and torture the victims as he traveled until he inevitably murdered them and dumped their bodies.

At least one victim, Pamela Milliken, unknowingly survived her brush with Rhoades when, in 1985, she was picked up while hitchhiking. Rhoades at some point motioned towards a sign reading “CASH, GRASS or ASS — No one rides for free,” and Milliken consented to having sex with him. She forgot about the incident until decades later when photographs found in Rhoades’ possession were distributed online in 2015, with the suspicion the subjects of the pictures were victims. Milliken stated the truck driver introduced himself as Robert before snapping the picture which he explained was so “If you rip me off I can tell the cops that you stole from me.”

On April 1, 1990, Officer Mike Miller pulled up next to Rhoades’ truck while it was parked on the roadside. As Miller investigated, he found a woman, nude save for a pair of handcuffs and a horse bridle, who screamed when she saw his flashlight. Rhoades attempted to talk his way out of the situation but was unable. He was promptly arrested for aggravated assault, sexual assault, and unlawful imprisonment, and the survivor was taken to receive medical attention.

The woman — who will not be named to protect her identity — told police Rhoades had picked her up while she was hitchhiking. She fell asleep as he drove and woke as Rhoades was shoving her into the sleeper cab. She also showed authorities her injuries, including long, crisscrossing welts on her back “forming a torture grid,” as Alva Busch described the marks in Roadside Prey. The woman also described being whipped, being threatened to have her nipples ripped off as Rhoades put metal clamps over them, and Rhoades gloating that he had been “doing this for 15 years.”

While Rhoades was under investigation, photographs of a nude teenager were found in his home during the execution of a search warrant. The photos were later determined to be of Regina Kay Walters (15), who had disappeared while hitchhiking in Texas with Ricky Lee Jones (20), and was reported missing on February 2, 1990. Another picture of Walters was also found, one that has been redistributed on the Internet often (also pictured). In the photo, Walters appears visibly distressed wearing ill-fitting high heeled shoes and putting her hands in front of herself in a defensive stance while backing away from the person holding the camera. Walters’ decomposing body — identified by her dental records in 2003 — was found in the loft of a barn in southern Illinois on September 29, 1990, which looked similar to the background of the photograph of Walters looking distressed, and indicates she was likely murdered shortly after the picture was taken. She had been strangled with wire. It was estimated she had been killed in late February or early March of 1990.

As authorities were investigating Walters’ murder, her father mentioned he had received a telephone call from a man believed to have been Rhoades, making sadistic comments about Walters’ death, made around the time of her murder. Partial remains discovered in Austin, Texas in 1991 were identified in 2008 as those of Ricky Lee Jones.

Along with the murders of Walters and Jones, Rhoades was also linked to the murders of Candace Walsh (25) and Douglas Zyskowski (26). The couple had been hitchhiking together for two years during a mobile evangelical preaching mission, in which they would travel to the homes of parishioners to preach. The couple’s family last made contact with them on January 9, 1990, though it was not uncommon for the pair to be out of contact for stretches of time due to their preaching. Zyskowski’s body was found in a ditch in Ozona, Texas within days of his death on January 21, though his body would not be identified until 1992. He is believed to have been killed immediately after coming in contact with Rhoades before Walsh was abducted. She was held captive for a week during which time she was raped repeatedly before she was shot multiple times and dumped in Utah. Walsh’s body was found in October 1990 and identified by dental records in 2003.

Rhoades was convicted of the sexual assault and torture of the survivor in Texas and sentenced to 6 years before he was extradited to Illinois to be tried in Walters’ murder (as that was the state in which her murder had occurred). There, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, despite Walters’ body not yet being positively identified. He was then extradited to Utah for Walsh’s murder, but was moved to Texas to be tried for Zyskowski’s murder as well as Walsh’s (because Texas was the State in which Zyskowski’s murder and Walsh’ abduction occurred). Rhoades pleaded guilty to both counts in an effort to avoid the death penalty and was again sentenced to life. He is currently serving his term in Illinois though, if he is granted a release for any reason, he will be returned to Texas to serve the remainder of his sentence.


Robert Ben Rhoades


One of the final photographs of Regina Kay Walters, thought to have been taken directly before her murder

Sources:
Illinois Department of Corrections. IDOC number: B24683. http://www.ilinmatesearch.com/IDOC_offender_search.html
“Identified – Index 9.” The Doe Network. Accessed: March 23, 2020. http://www.doenetwork.org/cases/identified9.html
Moore, Holly. “Alberta woman recognizes herself in photo found in U.S. serial killer’s truck.” APTN. February 24, 2019. Accessed: March 10, 2020. https://aptnnews.ca/2019/02/24/alberta-woman-recognizes-herself-in-photo-found-in-u-s-serial-killers-truck/
Rosewood, Jack. The Big Book of Serial Killers. LAK Publishing, 2017
“Robert Ben Rhoades.” Sioux City Journal. May 20, 2017. Accessed: February 9, 2020. https://siouxcityjournal.com/robert-ben-rhoades/image_1a77c1a6-e751-5c29-9901-851510a07be2.html
Ng, Christina. “Trucker With Traveling Torture Chamber Admits to More Murders.” ABC News. Arch 30, 2012. Accessed: February 18, 2020. https://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-trucker-traveling-torture-chamber-admits-murders/story?id=16037743
Reavy, Pat. “Texas town to try case involving Utah body.” Deseret News. June 25, 2008. Accessed: March 23, 2020. https://www.deseret.com/2008/6/25/20260246/texas-town-to-try-case-involving-utah-body
Busch, Alva. Roadside Prey. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1996
Bosworth Jr., Charles. “50 Murders Probed On Truck Route.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. August 27, 1992.
Biel, Gail K. “Dental records used to name Houston girl.” News Messenger [Marshall, Texas]. August 13, 1992
“Tragedy along a Texas highway.” The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Chronicle. May 26, 1992
Bosworth Jr., Charles. “Prosecutor Seeks Help With Trial.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 2, 1992
Bosworth Jr., Charles. “Illinois Asks For Help In Murder Case.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 29, 1991

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