Robert Ben Rhoades: The Truck Stop Killer: Newsmakers: GQ
In the summer of 1985, somewhere near Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, the body of a young woman was pulled from a truck-stop Dumpster. I had just hitched a ride and was sitting in a nearby truck waiting for the driver to pay for gas so we could leave. When they found her, there was shouting. A man from the restaurant ran out and started yelling for everyone to stay away as a small crowd gathered around the Dumpster in the rain. Word filtered back that the dead girl was a teenage hitchhiker. I remember thinking it could be me, since I was also a teenage hitchhiker. Watching the driver of my truck walk back across the wet asphalt, a second thought arose: It could be him. He could be the killer. The driver reached the cab, swung up behind the wheel, and said we should get going. He said he didn't want to get caught up in anything time-consuming. Stowing his paperwork, he released the brake. Neither of us said anything about the dead girl. As we pulled away, I looked once more in the side mirror. They were stringing crime tape around the Dumpster just as another state trooper rolled into the lot.
That ride turned out to be fine. We drove up to Ohio drinking Diet Coke and listening to Bruce Springsteen. The trucker bought me lunch and didn't even try to have sex with me, which made him a prince in my world. Several days later, though, heading south on I-95 through the Carolinas, I got picked up by another trucker who was not fine. I don't remember much about him except that he was taller and leaner than most truckers and didn't wear jeans or T-shirts. He wore a cotton button-down with the sleeves rolled neatly up over his biceps and had the cleanest cab I ever saw. He must have seemed okay or I wouldn't have gotten in the truck with him. Once out on the road, though, he changed. He stopped responding to my questions. His bearing shifted. He grew taller in his seat, and his face muscles relaxed into something both arrogant and blank. Then he started talking about the dead girl in the Dumpster and asked me if I'd ever heard of the Laughing Death Society. "We laugh at death," he told me.
A few minutes later, he pulled the truck onto the shoulder of the road by some woods, took out a hunting knife, and told me to get into the back of the cab. I began talking, saying the same things over and over. I said I knew he didn't want to do it. I said it was his choice. I said he could do it in a few minutes. I said it was his choice. I said I wouldn't go to the cops if nothing happened to me, but it was his choice—until he looked at me and I went still. There was going to be no more talking. I knew in my body that it was over. Then he said one word: Run. Without looking back, I ran into the woods and hid. I stayed there until I saw the truck pull onto the interstate. It was getting dark. I was still in shock, so I walked back out to the same road and started hitching south. I never went to the police and didn't tell anyone for years.
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