Fred Rosen follows a killer’s trail back in time 2 decades to discover how a monster slipped through the legal system When police in Tampa, Florida, arrested Larry Singleton in 1997 for brutally murdering prostitute Roxanne Hayes, they soon realized it wasn’t the man’s first violent attack. Back in 1978 he had gained notoriety as “the Mad Chopper” for raping and cutting off the arms of 15-year-old Mary Vincent on a patch of desolate, sun-scorched land 5 miles off the highway near Modesto, California. When Singleton was let out of prison on supervised parole after serving only 8 years for his crimes, no community in California would accept him. He eventually moved back to his home in Florida, where he killed Hayes nearly 20 years after his original crime. But his first victim, Vincent, had survived, walking nearly a mile to get help after the assault, and testified against him at his trial for murdering Hayes.
|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Fred Rosen, a former columnist for the Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times , is an award-winning author of true crime and history books, including Gold! , Did They Really Do It? , and Lobster Boy. He can frequently be seen on the Investigation Discovery network’s Evil Kin and Evil Twins TV series, where he is a regular on-air commentator.
Read an Excerpt
The Mad Chopper
How the Justice System Let a Mutilator Free, this Time to Kill
By Fred Rosen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1999 Fred Rosen
All rights reserved.
The University of California at Berkeley is situated across the bay from San Francisco. A hotbed of radicalism in the 1960s, Berkeley, as the school was commonly known, clung to its radical reputation in the 1970s like a baby to its bottle.
The reputation fed the school's popularity and as such, its radical past, and present, provided a haven for those free-thinking academics who would have found it difficult to teach at most other universities. Students knew this, and those who wanted to be taught in a different way, free from the rhetoric and mores of contemporary society, still flocked to Berkeley. Enrollment was also helped by the fact that it was a great party school.
There weren't too many places more interesting than the San Francisco Bay area. The heavy gay population, and the strip clubs that dotted the landscape contributed to the feeling that San Francisco was a place where you could and would find anything and everything. At Berkeley itself, drug use was still de rigueur if you were a student, and sexy — well, all you had to do was look around at the sun-kissed bodies of men and women in tank tops and shorts, and if you didn't get turned on, then you were surely asexual.
This casual attitude toward sex, and the free-form education structure, contributed to an attitude of permissiveness that blanketed the campus. The last thing on anyone's mind was danger. How could it be, if you spent most of your time partying? But in Berkeley, there was a corner where crime, major crime, was just waiting to happen.
The students called it "Hitchhiker's Corner" on University Avenue. It was the place you went to in order to hitch a ride anywhere in the state. Often it would be a student who'd pick you up. But there wasn't anything to stop anyone else from driving there, someone who wanted to take advantage of, say, some young coed, or some runaway who happened to float into Berkeley. Luckily, nothing major had ever happened that anyone could remember.
Sure, maybe some kid had gotten picked up by some weirdo and been roughed up a bit, and maybe some poor girl had been picked up by some frustrated suburban husband who had forced himself on her. But for the most part, everyone who didn't have a car just hitched and didn't think twice about his or her safety.
Soon, they would.
September 30, 1978
In Rome, the Pope had just died. The College of Cardinals was meeting to anoint a new Pope. In Northern California, Mary Vincent was hitchhiking.
Vincent was a fifteen-year-old teenager with a troubled present. She had a "companion," twenty-six-year-old Diego Montoya, who had been arrested the previous month on a charge of raping another fifteen-year-old girl in Sausalito. Mary relied on Diego, and with him behind bars, she just didn't know what to do. Her solution was to try to help her friend. Maybe she could help find a way to get him out. Toward that end, Mary traveled to see his lawyer at the Marin County Civic Center.
There, Mary spoke with Diego's attorney. It didn't do any good. Unsuccessful at resolving her friend's legal problems, and therefore her personal ones, Mary needed to find a way to live. She applied for emergency public housing. That didn't work either. Finally, with her options for survival dwindling, with no place to go and no way to support herself, she placed a long-distance phone call to her grandfather, Ricker Vincent, in Los Angeles.
She said that she was coming down to visit him, and asked him to get some money. Mary had little or no money in her pockets, which was why she had to hitchhike to Los Angeles.
Beginning her trek in San Rafael that morning, she was first picked up by a man who was alone in his car. He drove her north across San Pablo Bay on Highway 37. He dropped her off someplace around Vallejo, but not before giving her written directions on how to get to Los Angeles.
Next, she was picked up by a woman who had two men and a dog with her. Traveling south and west on Interstate 80 for approximately fifteen miles, the woman left her off at Hitchhiker's Corner in downtown Berkeley.
Wearing a light pink top, blue jeans, and white tennis shoes, carrying a green backpack and reddish-purple knit purse, Mary looked like the archetypal Northern California — Berkeley hippie. She waited at Hitchhiker's Corner with her thumb out for someone to stop and pick her up. Someone did. A burly-looking guy, with a bulbous nose, driving a blue 1974 Ford Econoline van.
"I'll give you a ride where you're going, if you'll help me load my van at my house," the guy said.
He was vague about where that was, but said it was somewhere "nearby." Mary agreed and off they went.
"My name's Larry," he said.
They drove for a while, up toward the north bay area, until they got to his house, a neat little clapboard number. Mary helped him load up the van with his stuff and once again, they were off.
"You know, I have a daughter," Larry said wistfully. He did not say that he had been accused of beating her, and that his daughter had little or no contact with him, a fact that hurt him deeply.
Mary listened to the man talk about his second home in Nevada, and other facets of his life. After a while, the man's conversation turned boring and ran out of steam. Just as they hit the freeway, Mary dozed off.
It was hard for her to measure how long she had been asleep, but Mary reckoned later it was just a catnap. Yet when she awakened, it was to a tremendous shock.
Instead of being greeted by the lights of the San Francisco Bay area, Mary awoke to see that they had passed Sacramento and were on their way east to Nevada, not south to Los Angeles.
"Hey, you're going in the wrong direction," Mary shouted.
"No, I'm not," Larry answered reasonably.
Whatever he was up to, he tried to stall, to make Mary believe that they were on the right route. Mary, though, was too bright for him and repeated her protest: "Los Angeles is in the other direction!"
Larry stopped the van and forced Mary into the back. Mary was a feisty girl. She picked up a stick from the floor of the van and whacked the man with it. Suddenly ashamed of his conduct, Larry backed off.
"I apologize for my behavior," Larry said sheepishly. "I'll take you where you want to go."
Driving south on Interstate 99, he pulled in at a greasy spoon, in the Sacramento area, where they both got out to get something to eat. Considering the guy's strange behavior, Mary would have been smart to escape from the stranger at that point, but she was clearly not experienced enough and decided to travel on with him.
After the meal, the guy headed out onto Interstate 5 and turned south, toward Modesto. It was a roundabout way to get back to San Francisco, but Mary was still not suspicious.
At the greasy spoon, the guy had bought a soft drink. As he drove, he drained some of it and then pulled a bottle of whiskey out from under his seat. While driving, he uncorked it, filled the soft-drink container to the brim with the booze, and continued to drink.
A short time later, outside Modesto, he had found the way into Del Puerto Canyon, a barren, deserted landscape, so isolated it might have been on the far side of the moon. The night was pitch black, and the only sounds were cicadas clicking in the darkness. The sky was like black velvet with diamondlike stars set upon its surface.
Larry put his foot on the brake.
"I gotta go take a leak," he said and pulled over.
"Well, I gotta go do that myself," said Mary.
They both got out of the car to heed nature's call. Mary was just about to take down her pants when Larry came up behind her. He knocked her senseless and then dragged her into the back of the van.
Screaming, trying to resist, but powerless against the man's massive strength, Mary was forced to the floor of the van. Larry loomed over her like some monster, powerful shoulders and chest flexing, rough, callused hands holding her down. He seemed to get off on the power he had over her. He brutally raped her.
Afterward, to show he wasn't all bad, he gave her a drink of whiskey. More likely, he was trying to calm her down just in case she screamed and someone nearby happened to hear her.
Drained, Mary expected that the worst was over when the guy started up the van and drove farther into the canyon. She figured he was looking for the way out. But he wasn't and she knew that when he pulled to the side again.
Her worst fears were realized when he pulled her out of the van and raped her again, only this time, he wasn't content to merely force himself on her sexually. Larry put his hands around her throat and began to squeeze, harder and harder and harder, squeezing the life out of the poor, defenseless fifteen-year-old, who happened to be hitching at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Suddenly, Larry stopped and looked down at her. The girl seemed dead, and his hands were around her throat. He had killed her. He had to think fast.
Larry carried her back into the van. He drove farther into the canyon and then stopped beside a drainage pipe. The pipe ran under the two-lane road. It was a good place to stash a body. Chances were, the girl was one of those troubled runaways whom no one ever missed.
But wait a minute, Larry thought, what if someone did discover her? Yeah, you always had to think about the "what ifs" if you were a smart dude. Larry thought of himself that way.
He was smart all right. Hadn't he chosen to rape the girl in an isolated, out-of-the-way canyon where no one else was around? Hadn't he figured out how to get rid of her after he killed her? But he came back to that question of discovery. And fingerprints. If the cops did find the girl, her fingerprints would identify her and then maybe they could figure it all out.
Fingerprints. Get rid of the fingerprints and no one could identify her. No one could get to him. He'd get off scot free.
It was the booze talking, but Larry didn't know that. Or didn't care. No matter. A plan had formed in his mind and Larry was nothing if not thorough.
Larry hit the brakes. The van coasted to a stop. By this time, he was so far into the canyon, the blacktop had ended and a dirt road had taken its place.
He jumped out, the door closing with a crash, and he went around back to take the body out. He reached in with one arm and draped the body over his shoulder, and with the other, reached under a tarp and took out a hatchet.
Mary opened her eyes and groaned. From that moment on, Mary Vincent was fully conscious and understood everything that was happening to her.
Now he really had to kill her. Otherwise it was prison for raping her. But he had to remember about the prints. The prints. The hatchet.
Larry forced her down onto the gravel, then took her right arm and held it down. He raised up the hatchet and slammed its sharp edge into the flesh of her arm. Not once, but repeatedly until he had hacked off her right arm below the elbow.
Barely conscious, Mary felt the pain and the blood flowing out of her. She felt him spinning her around. She felt the hatchet blade again, this time on her left arm. After several vicious chops, her left arm fell off below the elbow. Mary collapsed from the shock and blood loss and again lost consciousness.
That's good, real good, thought Larry. Without hands, there were no fingerprints. And no identification.
Larry picked her up like a rag doll and tossed her over the embankment. Then he climbed down and pulled her into the ditch and started kicking and shoving her into the drainage pipe until he was satisfied that she was safely hidden. Leaving Mary to die, Larry retrieved the two bloody hands and drove off.
What seemed like hours later, Mary regained consciousness and tried crawling out of the drainage pipe and was almost all the way out before she collapsed again. Weighed down by her body, her bloody stumps were immersed in the cool mud.
Mary had had enough trauma for one lifetime. She needed escape and the only escape available to her now was sleep. Soon her eyes closed and she drifted off.
Larry made his way back west through the San Joaquin Valley, through the San Joaquin Pass, until he got to the Oakland Bay Bridge. It was early, the empty hours of the morning, with little or no traffic. That was why the next part would be easy.
As he drove on the bridge's lower deck, he rolled his window all the way down, and then tossed one arm and then the other out the window. One arm sank in the water below never to be seen again. The other was picked up by the swirling water and carried into an estuary, where it eventually washed up on the rocks.
His night's work done, Larry headed on home.
Mary Vincent lay on the muddy floor of Del Puerto Canyon. Weighed down by her body, the cool thick mud sealed her wounds and saved her from bleeding to death.
As dawn broke, she opened her eyes and blinked, surprised to find herself alive. With the greatest effort of will, the naked fifteen-year-old girl slowly raised herself and walked out of the canyon. The temperature was already climbing into the eighties and sweat poured off her.
All around her was land scorched brown by the sun, eroded by ancient seas until it was unfit for human habitation. Del Puerto Canyon was hell on earth, and Mary had had the bad fortune to be abandoned there.
Suddenly, she heard the sound of cars. Interstate 5 was nearby. That was how they'd gotten into the canyon, she remembered.
Mary took off toward the sound of the cars, following a two-lane blacktop that disappeared over a distant hill. She saw a car approaching over the rise. It began to slow.
"Help me," she shouted weakly.
Seeing this strange, naked, armless girl in front of him, the driver got scared out of his wits. He braked and turned around, speeding away in a cloud of dust, leaving Mary alone again, with little hope of survival.
The sun continued its ascent into the bright blue sky. The heat rose in waves from the blacktop. Mary struggled forward, topped the rise and continued to walk. She was staggering from side to side, her condition worsening by the minute. It was later reckoned by the county sheriff that she had walked a full two miles from the spot where she was assaulted, an astonishing physical accomplishment considering the trauma she had suffered.
It is unclear how much time passed before the second motorist saw her. His name was Todd Meadows, and he was on his way home from work, using Del Puerto Canyon as a shortcut. At first, when he saw her emerging from the shimmering heat waves, he thought her to be an optical illusion. As he got closer, he saw the illusion was in fact a young girl, a teenager, and she was naked. He slowed down as he got to her and stopped.
"Help me," she implored.
Todd got out of the car. That was when he realized that this young, naked girl had no hands! They had been chopped off at the forearm. What was left were dirty, bloody stumps.
Mary collapsed into Todd's arms. He carried her to his car, put her inside and drove. He headed for a nearby air strip. When he got there, he dialed 911. Soon, an ambulance came and transported Mary to the local hospital.
Her assailant's attack had left Mary Vincent in need of surgery. The surgeon amputated more of each forearm so prosthetic arms could be fitted later.
Police made sure that surgeons kept a record of the before X rays. If they ever found the missing hands, they could forensically be matched up to Mary's stumps and used as evidence against her assailant at trial. That is, if there was a trial. The cops had to first catch the depraved son of a bitch who had done this to her. And with a common first name like "Larry," the odds were against it.CHAPTER 2
Modesto is the West, in the best sense of the word. In the West, people have a profound sense that justice will prevail. That's exactly how Richard Breshears felt.
Breshears was a tall, lanky young police detective, bright and ambitious, with a studious manner set off by his spectacles. Experienced in different kinds of investigations, from homicides to burglaries, he was assigned the Vincent case as chief investigator.
The newspapers played up the crime's sensational nature. But when you stripped away the sensational aspects of the case, despite the vicious nature of the attack — neither Breshears or anyone else on the Modesto police force could recall such a grisly crime where the victim had survived — it was a brutal case of assault, pure and simple.
Excerpted from The Mad Chopper by Fred Rosen. Copyright © 1999 Fred Rosen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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