James Mitchell "Mike" DeBardeleben (March 20, 1940 – January 26, 2011) was a convicted rapist and counterfeiter who became known as the "Mall Passer" due to his practice of passing counterfeit bills in shopping malls abutting interstate highways across the country. After his arrest for counterfeiting, he was found to have committed much more serious sex crimes. Although he was never brought to trial for murder, he was the principal suspect in two homicides and he remains a suspect in several others. He died of pneumonia at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina in early 2011.
DeBardeleben grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, the second of three children born to James Mitchell DeBardeleben Sr. and Mary Lou Edwards DeBardeleben. His younger brother Ralph was an army paratrooper who committed suicide at age 19. His older sister is identified in the 1940 census as "M. Linda DeBardeleben, age 1".
In 1945, when he was five years old, the family moved to Austin, Texas, and his father, who was serving in the U.S. Navy, shipped out to the South Pacific for nine months. In 1949 his family moved briefly to Kentucky before relocating to Frankfurt, Germany for one year.
In 1956, at the age of sixteen, DeBardeleben physically assaulted his mother; it is unknown what sparked this violent encounter. On September 8 of that year, he purchased two handguns and ammunition with a friend. Later that month, he was arrested and convicted for his first felony, possessing a concealed firearm. This arrest was the first of many that followed, including arrests for sodomy, attempted murder and kidnapping.
In the Spring of 1957, he was expelled from Peter Schuyler High School and did not seek further formal education. In October of that year, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After only a year, he was court-martialed for disorderly behavior and was sentenced to two months in the base stockade. In 1958, he was ordered to see a psychiatrist for counseling after he was pronounced AWOL several times. At the age of eighteen, he was discharged from the air force and moved in with relatives in Fort Worth, Texas.
In 1959, he attempted school again, enrolling in R.L. Paschal High School, but after three months was expelled. In August of that year, he married his first wife, Linda Weir, but three weeks later separated from her. Also that month, he was arrested for attempted robbery with an accomplice, followed two weeks later by his involvement in a string of auto thefts, and was sentenced to five years probation. In October with an unknown woman, he fathered a premature daughter who was a stillborn.
He later met Charlotte Weber who was seventeen at the time he started courting her. In March 1960, he impregnated Charlotte and on June 9 the same year, married her. On December 12, 1960, he successfully fathered a daughter, Bethene. Afterward, Charlotte became pregnant again with another child but was forced by DeBardeleben to give it up for adoption. In August 1961, his brother Ralph committed suicide for unknown reasons.
"Mall Passing" case
In the early 1980s, Secret Service agents were investigating a string of counterfeiting cases in which a man was determined to be entering a mall with a wad of counterfeit $20 bills, making a small purchase at each store in the mall, and receiving most of the remainder in legitimate cash as change. Following the pattern of his itinerary, FBI agents out of Knoxville, Tennessee began passing out his composite sketch to mall clerks in chain stores he had targeted along a hypothesized projected itinerary. DeBardeleben was identified as the suspect in these crimes, and a national manhunt ensued.
At the time of his arrest, more wads of counterfeit $20 bills were found in his car, each with a label stating the city in which they would be used. His counterfeiting operation was also discovered, along with evidence of sex crimes, which consisted of photographs taken during the act of rape/murder. FBI profilers speculate that in photographs where his face is seen along with the victim's, he murdered the woman & disposed of her body - whereas in photographs where he is hiding his face, he allowed the victim to live. DeBardeleben asked to be allowed to represent himself at his trials, which were held in various jurisdictions & earned the respect of FBI profilers because he never gave himself away in unguarded moments, nor bragged about his exploits.
DeBardeleben was convicted of multiple crimes and sentenced to 375 years at Butner Federal Bureau of Prison, North Carolina. He made friends selectively with other serial rapists/murderers while in prison with whom he allegedly shared fantasies & actual details of his crimes.