Freeway Phantom

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Freeway Phantom
Span of crimes
April 25, 1971–September 5, 1972
CountryUnited States
State(s)District of Columbia
Date apprehended

The Freeway Phantom is a media epithet for an unidentified serial killer who was active in Washington, D.C. from April 1971 through September 1972.[1][2]


Carol Denise Spinks[edit]

On the evening of April 25, 1971, 13-year-old Spinks from Southeast was sent by an older sister to buy groceries at a 7-Eleven located a half-mile away from her home, just across the border in Maryland.[3] On her way home from the store, Spinks was abducted; her body was found six days later at 2:46 pm behind St. Elizabeths Hospital on a grassy embankment next to the northbound lanes of I-295, about 1,500 feet south of Suitland Parkway.[4] Examination revealed she had been both physically and sexually assaulted and strangled, was dressed but missing her shoes, and had only been killed a few days previously.[5]

Darlenia Denise Johnson[edit]

On July 8, 1971, Johnson, 16, from Congress Heights was abducted while en route to her summer job at Oxon Hill Recreation Center. One witness reported having seen Johnson in an old black car, driven by an African-American male, shortly after her abduction.[6] Eleven days later, her body was located only 15 feet (5.5 meters) from where Spinks had been found[4] even though police had been notified of the location of the corpse nearly a week earlier by an anonymous caller who had details only her killer could have known.[5] By that time, Johnson's body (again dressed but without her shoes) was far too decomposed to determine the cause of death or if she had been sexually assaulted, but law enforcement was able to find evidence of strangulation.[7]

Brenda Faye Crockett[edit]

On July 27, 1971, 10-year-old Crockett from Northwest failed to return home after having been sent to the store by her mother.[5] About two hours later (around 9:20 pm) the Crocketts' phone rang and was answered by her 7-year-old sister, who had waited at home while her family searched the neighborhood. Crockett was on the other line, crying.[8] "A white man picked me up, and I'm heading home in a cab," Crockett told her sister, adding that she believed she was in Virginia before abruptly saying, "Bye" and hanging up.[7]

A short time later, the phone rang again and was this time answered by the boyfriend of Crockett's mother. It was Crockett again, and she merely repeated what she'd said in the last telephone call, adding "Did my mother see me?" and indicating she was alone in a house with a white male.[5] The boyfriend asked her to have the man come to the phone. Heavy footsteps were heard in the background and Crockett said "I'll see you" and hung up.[5]

Authorities quickly concluded that Crockett likely called her home at the behest of the killer, who fed her inaccurate information in order to buy the necessary time to perpetrate the crime, and to hamper the investigation. At 5:50 am the next day, a hitchhiker discovered Crockett's shoeless body in a conspicuous location on U.S. Route 50, near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway in Prince George's County, Maryland. She had been raped and strangled, and a scarf was knotted around her neck.[4]

Nenomoshia Yates[edit]

12-year-old Yates was walking home around 7:00 pm from a Safeway store in Northeast on October 1, 1971 when she was kidnapped, raped, and strangled.[5] Her body was found within three hours of her abduction, just off the shoulder of Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George's County, Maryland.[9] As with the other cases, her shoes were missing and unidentified green fibers would also be found on her clothing. A witness apparently saw her getting into a blue Volkswagen, and although investigated, the lead led nowhere.[5]

It was after this murder that the "Freeway Phantom" moniker was first used in a Daily News article describing the murders.

Brenda Denise Woodward[edit]

After having dinner with a high school classmate on November 15, 1971, Woodward, 18, from Baltimore boarded a city bus around 11:30 pm to return to her Maryland Avenue home. Approximately six hours later, a police officer discovered her body, which had been stabbed multiple times and strangled, in a grassy area near Prince George's County Hospital, along an access ramp to Route 202 from the Baltimore–Washington Parkway.[10] Unlike the other victims, she was still wearing her shoes, and a coat had been placed over her chest. One of its pockets contained a note from the killer:[11]

this is tAntAmount to my
insensititivity [sic] to people
especiAlly women.
I will Admit the others
wheN you cAtch me iF you cAn!
FRee-wAy PhanTom[12]

Based on handwriting samples, authorities surmised that the note, written on paper cut from the victim's school notebook, had been dictated to and handwritten by Woodward.[13][14] They also speculated that, given the absence of indications of duress in the writing, apart from evidence of dysgraphia, she may have known her kidnapper.[5]

Diane Denise Williams[edit]

The Phantom's final victim was claimed almost a year later, on September 5, 1972. A 17-year-old Ballou High School senior, Williams cooked dinner for her family and then visited her boyfriend's house.[15] She was last seen boarding a bus at 11:20 pm near his house.[16] A few hours later, her strangled body was discovered dumped alongside I-295, just south of the District line.[17] As with other victims, her shoes were missing, but no signs of sexual assault were found although traces of semen (assumed to be from the boyfriend) were found.[12]


Reward poster released by law enforcement

The Freeway Phantom case has seen a myriad of investigators and garnered much interest over the years. Numerous investigative tips came from the general public by a telephone hotline operated by the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia (MPDC) and information also came by way of the mail.[18] All these leads were investigated to their logical conclusion. Some leads were easily proven not to be viable, while others required substantial investigation. The investigation was conducted by a law enforcement task force that included Detectives from the MPDC Homicide and Sex Squads, investigators from Prince George's County and Montgomery County, Maryland, Maryland State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[19]

Common practice at the time was that case files at MPDC Detective Divisions were retained by the detectives assigned to the case. As a result, the Freeway Phantom case files are now incomplete - some have been discarded entirely and others are incomplete with pages or articles of evidence having been lost, along with their associated notes, and all the primary or task force investigators have either long retired, or are deceased.[20][2] With current evidence and any information of the case from when it happened, no leads produced sufficient evidence for prosecution. This case, which has been closed and opened a number of times over its history, is currently open as a cold case in the MPDC Homicide Division.[4] A reward of $150,000 remains open as well.[5]


Green Vega Rapists[edit]

Among those individuals considered suspects were members of a gang known as the Green Vega Rapists.[21] Members of this gang were collectively responsible for numerous Washington D.C. and surrounding Maryland vicinity rapes and abductions that occurred near the Washington Beltway.[22] Logical investigation and intimate knowledge of the modus operandi of the Green Vega Gang brought them to the forefront. The Green Vega Gang members were individually interviewed by MPDC Homicide Detectives Fickling, Irving, and Richardson, at Lorton Prison in Virginia, where the gang members were serving sentences in conjunction with the successful prosecutions of those crimes in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

During these interviews, one gang member initially implicated another gang member, who he said told him he was involved and gave information as to one of the beltway homicides. This particular inmate was also serving a sentence at Lorton Prison for the Green Vega convictions. The inmate being interviewed stipulated that he would provide the information only if he could remain unidentified, which was agreed upon. He identified the man who gave him the information, the date and location of the crime, and signature detail which was not provided to the public, but which was known only to the perpetrator, and to detectives. That signature information was correct.

The inmate who provided the information said he was not involved in the homicide, and provided an alibi which was found to be verifiable. During this period, an election was being held in Maryland, and one of the candidates publicly announced to the press that a break had occurred in the Freeway Phantom investigation, and provided that an inmate at Lorton Prison had given the information. After that announcement, the inmate who provided the information declined any further interviews, and denied that he had ever provided any information.[citation needed]

Edward Sullivan and Tommie Simmons[edit]

Sullivan and Simmons, two ex-cops, were arrested for the murder of Angela Denise Barnes.[23] Barnes, 14, was at one point thought to be a victim of the serial killings.[24][25] Authorities later determined that Barnes was not a victim of the Freeway Phantom and resumed their investigation on the murders.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (May 25, 2018). "美國近半世紀懸案》連環殺人魔姦殺6名黑人女孩,為何至今無法破案?-風傳媒". The Storm Media (in Chinese). Retrieved 2018-06-13.
  2. ^ a b Smith, Brendan (2009-07-01). ""We Want These Cases Closed" | Washingtonian". Washingtonian. Retrieved 2018-05-11.
  3. ^ Thompson, Emily (2017). Unsolved Child Murders: Eighteen American Cases, 1956–1998. Exposit Books. p. 25. ISBN 9781476630564.
  4. ^ a b c d ""Freeway Phantom" Homicide Victims | mpdc". Retrieved 2018-05-09.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Case 121: The Freeway Phantom". Audioboom. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  6. ^ Fountain, John W. (1997-09-20). "KILLINGS UNSOLVED 25 YEARS LATER". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  7. ^ a b Thompson, Emily (2017). Unsolved Child Murders: Eighteen American Cases, 1956–1998. Exposit Books. pp. 26–27. ISBN 9781476630564.
  8. ^ Cawthorne, Nigel (2011). The Mammoth Book of Killers at Large. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 9781780333625.
  9. ^ Franscell, Ron (2012). Crime Buff's Guide to Outlaw Washington, DC. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 68. ISBN 9780762788705.
  10. ^ "'Freeway Phantom' stalks Washington". The Brazosport Facts. Freeport, Texas. November 19, 1971. p. 6.
  11. ^ a b Newton, Michael (1999). Still at Large: A Casebook of 20th Century Serial Killers who Eluded Justice. Loompanics Unlimited. p. 88. ISBN 9781559501842.
  12. ^ a b "The Freeway Phantom". Unresolved. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  13. ^ "Freeway Phantom- "Catch me if you can"". The Daily Tribune. Wisconsin. November 18, 1971. p. 5.
  14. ^ "Freeway Phantom Signs Note On Murdered Girl". The Tampa Tribune. November 17, 1971. p. 39.
  15. ^ Bell, Lori (2016). "Serial Killers Who Were Never Caught". SERIAL KILLER MAGAZINE (22).
  16. ^ "7th Girl Slain by 'Freeway Phantom'". The Atlanta Constitution. September 8, 1972. p. 6.
  17. ^ "DNA discovery could solve 1972 Freeway Phantom slaying". Washington Examiner. 2009-02-21. Retrieved 2018-05-09.
  18. ^ Morgan, Thomas (1980-08-03). "A Common Bond". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  19. ^ "Up to $150,000 Reward "Freeway Phantom" Murders" (PDF). MPDC. 2006. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  20. ^ Smith, Rend (April 25, 2011). "Why the Freeway Phantom Still Hasn't Been Caught". Washington City Paper. Retrieved 2018-05-13.
  21. ^ "'Freeway Phantom'". The Sydney Morning Herald. July 11, 1975. p. 5.
  22. ^ "United States v. Warren". Justia Law. Retrieved 2018-05-13. The record indicates that in earlier proceedings appellee Warren was tried and *875 convicted in late 1973 of a series of armed rapes which had become known as the "green Vega rape cases."
  23. ^ "Two ex-cops from Washington held for 'Freeway Phantom' murder of girl". The Morning Herald. April 1, 1974. p. 14.
  24. ^ "'Freeway Phantom' Feared Back, Police Find 7th D.C. Area School Girl". The Indianapolis Star. September 8, 1972. p. 19.
  25. ^ "Black Ex-Cops Arrested In. D.C. Phantom Murder". Jet. May 2, 1974.

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