Freeway Phantom

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Freeway Phantom
Victims 6
Span of killings
April 25, 1971–September 5, 1972
Country United States
State(s) District of Columbia
Date apprehended

"Freeway Phantom" was the name given to an unidentified serial killer known to have abducted, raped and strangled six female youths in Washington, D.C. from April 1971 through September 1972. The victims were all black girls between the ages of 10 and 18.


On the evening of April 25, 1971, 13-year-old Carol Spinks 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. On her way home from the store, Carol was abducted; her body was found six days later on a grassy embankment next to the northbound lanes of I-295, about 1,500 feet south of Suitland Parkway.

Over a month later, on July 8, 1971, Darlenia Johnson, 16, was abducted while en route to her summer job at a recreation center. Eleven days later, her body was discovered only 15 feet from where Spinks had been found.

On July 27, 1971, 10-year-old Brenda Crockett failed to return home after having been sent to the store by her mother. Three hours after Brenda was last seen, the phone rang and was answered by her 7-year-old sister, who had waited at home while her family searched the neighborhood. Brenda was on the other line, crying.

"A white man picked me up, and I'm heading home in a cab," Brenda told her sister, adding that she believed she was in Virginia before abruptly saying "Bye" and hanging up.

A short time later, the phone rang again and was this time answered by the boyfriend of Brenda's mother. It was Brenda again, and she merely repeated what she'd said in the last telephone call, indicating she was alone in a house with a white male. The boyfriend asked Brenda to have the man come to the phone. Heavy footsteps were heard in the background. Brenda said "I'll see you" and hung up. A few hours later, a hitchhiker discovered Brenda's 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.

Authorities quickly concluded that Brenda 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. Furthermore, one witness reported having seen one of the victims, Ms. Johnson, in an old black car, driven by an African-American male, shortly after her abduction.

12-year-old Nenomoshia Yates was walking home from a Safeway store in Northeast Washington, D.C. on October 1, 1971, when she was kidnapped, raped, and strangled. Her body was found within a few hours of her abduction, just off the shoulder of Pennsylvania Avenue in Prince George's County, Maryland. It is after this murder that the "Freeway Phantom" moniker was first used in city tabloid article describing the murders.

After having dinner with a high school classmate on November 15, 1971, Brenda Woodward, 18, boarded a city bus to return to her Maryland Avenue home. Approximately six hours later, a police officer discovered her body, stabbed and strangled, in a grassy area near an access ramp to Route 202 from the Baltimore–Washington Parkway. A coat had been placed over her chest, and one of its pockets contained a note from the killer:

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

Authorities surmised that the note, written on paper cut from the victim's school notebook, was dictated to and handwritten by her.

The Phantom's final victim was claimed almost a year later, on September 5, 1972. 17-year-old Ballou High School senior Diane Williams cooked dinner for her family and then visited her boyfriend's house. She was last seen boarding a bus. A short time later, her strangled body was discovered dumped alongside I-295, just south of the District line.

Investigation and Evidence[edit]

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 and information also came by way of the mail. 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 Metropolitan Police Department Homicide and Sex Squads, investigators from Prince George's County and Montgomery County, MD, Maryland State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Among those individuals considered suspects were members of a gang known as the Green Vega Rapists. 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. 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 M.P.D.C. Homicide Detectives Fickling, Irving, and Richardson, at Lorton Prison, Lorton, VA, 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 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.

Unfortunately, common practice at the time was that case files at Metropolitan Police Department Detective Divisions were retained in files maintained by the Detectives assigned to the case. As a result, the Freeway Phantom case files have been lost, along with the associated notes, and all investigators assigned as primary or task force have either long retired, or are deceased.

Ultimately, no investigative lead produced sufficient evidence for prosecution. This case is open as a cold case in the Metropolitan Police Department Homicide Division.


External links[edit]