For years an elusive serial killer sought his prey: young women along lonely highways of the West. By abducting, sexually assaulting, and strangling his victims in one jurisdiction and dumping their bodies in another, he created an investigative nightmare for detectives throughout northern California.
In a gripping true-crime drama that reads like a haunting suspense novel, bestselling author Bruce Henderson ( #1 New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell), unravels the shocking story of the "Interstate 5" sex-strangler murders drawing on exclusive interviews with key investigators: Vito Bertocchini, the burly ex-street cop who took the killing of one beautiful young woman personally; Kay Maulsby, the rookie homicide detective who helped to unmask the serial killer; Ray Biondi, who fought budget cuts that threatened to derail the investigation; and criminalist Faye Springer, who attempted to tie the suspect to his victims through persuasive microscopic evidence.
The killer was uncannily adept at staying one step ahead of authorities as the body count grew. Even after police finally identified the culprit -- when a would-be victim escaped his grasp -- they lacked the evidence to charge him with murder. Instead, he was convicted of assault and sentenced to a few months in county jail. With the clock ticking toward his release, investigators worked desperately to build a first-degree murder case before the killer was set free.
Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews -- including the killer's wife, who never spoke to authorities -- Henderson delves into the psychological complexities of his characters with astute sensitivity and eloquence, building a chilling, fascinating portrait of a depraved and unrepentant serial killer whose only brother was a veteran homicide detective in a neighboring county.
Trace Evidence, structured with the razor-sharp precision of a Hitchcock film, is a powerful commentary about our society's priorities. If investigative resources had been based on need and not on politics, lives might have been saved. Knowing that this is a true story and the characters are real people will haunt you for days.
"Trace Evidence is a gripping, fast-paced account of what it takes to capture
and make a winnable case against an elusive serial killer. Bruce Henderson has written a fascinating true-crime book that both frightens and enlightens."
—Vincent Bugliosi, author of Helter Skelter
"Trace Evidence tells the behind-the-scenes story of one of the most exciting and frustrating serial-killer cases of my seventeen years working Homicide. This book captures our desperate, high-stakes effort to identify and make a case against a diabolical killer who would never stop on his own. How many more would have to die?" —Lt. Ray Biondi (Ret.), Homicide Bureau, Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
"Bruce Henderson, coauthor of And the Sea Will Tell, has written a compelling account of the capture of that most vicious of criminals: the random serial killer.”
“Henderson does a masterful job...Lusciously detailed and immensely readable, this is true-crime writing at close to top form.” —Booklist
“A roadside strangler confounds California detectives in this tense and gritty true-crime account from the co-author of And the Sea Will Tell. With novelistic urgency, Henderson tells two equally chilling stories in Trace Evidence: how a handful of detectives and a trace-evidence expert nabbed the killer and how a police detective’s brother and ‘somebody’s husband’ became that killer.”
From the Author
This is not the first book I have written, nor the last. In so many ways, though, it is a story, and a cast of characters, that will stay with me always. It is nonfiction, of course, and there is something about true stories that have always meant more to me than works of fiction (perhaps my journalistic background). I cannot forget the faces of the victims, or the tears of their loved ones who will miss them until their own dying days. I also will never forget the heroes in this story. The victims were women, yes, but so were the heroes -- I considered that "sweet revenge." Without them, the killer would still be on the loose. He came close, much closer than TV or the movies usually show, to getting away with cold-blooded murder. The other thing that is most unusual is the openness with which the wife of the serial killer spoke to me. She had, years earlier, refused to talk to the police or prosecutors. It was a matter of my approaching her at the right time with the right questions. In a real sense, the subplot here is: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Marriage. Talk about unfaithfulness-- can you imagine what it felt like for her when she realized her husband was going away at night, not to have an affair, but to rape and kill other women? Shortly before his trial, the wife nearly died of a heart attack-- but wait, I shouldn't be telling you all this, I suppose. Let it unfold for you the way it did for me -- only in my case it did so over a period of the 2 1/2 years while I worked on it and interviewed hundreds of sources. I will not say "enjoy the book," but I do hope you are moved by it -- and, like me, will be unable to forget those faces, and the women, alive and dead, who populate this story.