aka Sean Patrick Goble
There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad.
Take a long holiday
Let your children play.
If you give this man a ride
Sweet family will die
Riders on the storm, yeah
Riders on the Storm/ LA Woman/ The Doors
Sean Patrick Goble is a name you are unfamiliar with. He is a faceless man, one whom you have never hear of, though it is quite possible you could have been in close proximity to him. What difference does that make, you ask? It's a significant fact because Sean Patrick Goble is a murderer.
An imposing hulk of a man, Goble weighs in at 310 pounds, and a height of 6'3". He has variously been described as a gentle giant, a quiet man, or a very scary man. Like most other members of our species, he can be different things to different people. For a long time, he was the invisible man.
Sean Patrick Goble was a truck driver. He spent his time out on the highway, pushing his body and his rig to deliver the freight needed by the American public. He is not so different from thousands of truckers, those men and women who appear briefly to our view only to recede toward a destination unknown to the public.
Truck driving is that most rare of occupations. Drivers are in large part unsupervised, their employers depending on them to 'get the job done' without constant hand-holding by supervisors. Usually, that's exactly how truckin' gets done, a man and his machine showing up with the goods in a timely manner.
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Trucking is the only job I know of where the employee (driver) can be an absolute butthead 95% of the time and keep his job. The driver has to possess enough social skill to deal with the shipper on one end and the receiver on the other end. Between those punctuations, he is free to be as stupid as he wants to be. For verification of that assertion, turn on the CB radio, especially near a truckstop. You'll quickly find the most stupid, vile, rude, crude, and otherwide cretinous expressions flowing freely from the anonymous lips of 'truck drivers'.
Most of a truckers time is spent on the road, surrounded by people he or she neither know nor care about to a significant degree. That anonymity lends itself to a certain unaccountability. A driver can chase hookers all week long to return home to his wife and kids for the weekend, fire up the old family sedan, and calmly proceed to church with no one being any the wiser.
Trucking is a lifestyle, and truckers are a brotherhood. Las Vegas has popularized the phrase What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Truckers were ahead of that curve years ago. Truckers live by the philosophy of "What happens on the road, stays on the road." Drivers are reluctant to drop a dime on their brethren because of the kindred spirit the job engenders. They also hesitate to drop that dime because memories are long, and someone might just drop a dime on them. Best to let sleeping dogs lie, right? Usually, only the most eggregious behavior will get relayed to a driver's company or the police.
Truckers are the modern day Flying Dutchman, materializing out of the evening mist only to fade away into the distance. It is an occupation made to order for hit and run crimes. Not only can a trucker become a thief, an assailant, or a murderer with no identity, he can even have his company provide a vehicle and fuel to make his getaway. Unless he is incredibly sloppy or incredibly unlucky, it wouldn't be difficult at all to launch a one man crime wave that could go on for years.
There was a time when a lot of truckstops had a party row, the back row of parking where the lights are fewer, where the shadows are thicker. The darkness makes it easier to make a dope deal, acquaint someone with a couple feet of lead pipe to aid in the removal of their wallet and valuables, or strike up a bargain with a lot lizard. Lot lizards are truckstop whores, and they are the McDonald's of sex for hire. Get the customer in, get him serviced, and get on to the next transaction. You might spot a really pretty girl getting out of the cab of a rig, see the driver, wonder how she ever endured 10 minutes alone in the sleeper with that particular piece of nastiness. Illegal drugs are the reason, that and her pimp. Drugs may kill, but first it apparently makes a girl go blind. Blind to any type of discrimination, blind to danger, blind to consequences. Maybe drugs don't make a girl go blind after all, perhaps it simply limits their vision to a shade of green, maybe the exact shade of green found on a $100 bill.
The only tool available to truckstops in their effort to keep these 'ladies of the evening' off their property is to enforce anti-trespassing laws. If you don't have legitimate business to conduct on the property, stay away. This explains why many truckstop prostitutes have trespassing charges on their rap sheet. If the police can't bust her for solicitation, they can nail her on trespassing. The end result is the same, she is eliminated as a problem, at least for the time being.
West Memphis, Arkansas is one of the remaining areas where truckstop crime flourishes. There are several truckstops clustered within a small area, so if it gets too hot to operate in any given location, the criminals simply hike across the street. The CB radio is constantly alive with solicitations for drugs, sex, stolen fuel, a whole host of items sought by an underlayer of the trucking community. Some other locations where similar operations happened were Slidell, Louisiana, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Lake Station, Indiana. The crime at these spots was almost 24/7, while other places maintained a much lower occurrance.
A monster on the loose
The story of Sean Patrick Goble became relevant to the police and the public when the body of an unknown woman was found dumped on the side of a residential road just off exit 10 of I-81, just north of Bristol, Va. The finding was reported by a scared newspaper carrier, calling from a convenience store. The female paper carrier said she thought it might be a mannequin, but she sure wasn't going to stick around to find out.
When Detective Kenneth L. Wilson got the call, he was asleep at home. Wilson was Supervisor of Investigators for the Washington County Sheriff's Department with 14 years experience. Hurrying to the scene, he saw the partially clad body of a middle aged woman. She had been strangled, dumped in plain view, and her right leg had been run over by a vehicle. From the tire marks and pattern outlined in her blood, it was obvious an 18 wheeler had been the culprit, at least in running over the body.
Wilson's partner, Detective Ross Sheets, a 17 year veteran of the force, recalled an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, one in which a series of prostitute murders had been occurring in the midwest. The bodies had been dumped along the highway in several states, the same as the one with which they were now confronted. The signs were the same, with a dead woman dumped by the highway, missing shoes, missing panties. The perp was known to be a truck driver, and witnesses had spoken of a black Peterbilt being in the area of the crimes. The unknown trucker was even identified by his CB 'handle', going by Stargazer. Were the 2 detectives becoming a part of the Stargazer killer's story? Based on the scant evidence available to them, the detectives told reporters that the woman could be the victim of a serial killer. They hoped to get the word out so someone with knowledge might come forward and aid them in solving this mystery.
The next 3 months were to become an intense search and investigation which led to the arrest of a suspect in the case. Between the time investigators Kenneth Wilson and Ross Sheets became involved and an arrest was made, the bodies of 2 more women were found dumped along the road in the region, 1 in Tennessee and 1 in North Carolina.
Geographically, the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina are quite close to one another in the region around Bristol, Va and Kingsport, Tennessee. Just down the road along I-26 lies North Carolina. A truck traveling along I-81, I-40, or I-26 would have easy access to the locations where the bodies were found.
The detectives knew they had a tough nut to crack. They are part of a rural police department in Washington County, Va. The murder rate for that department usually averages 1 a year. Crime in a rural department usually consists of traffic violations, drug busts, and crimes against property. Add a few domestic violence charges and assaults to round out the dance card. Bluntly put, the detectives didn't have a lot of experience in pursuing murderers, but that is exactly the role into which Wilson and Sheets had been thrown.
They enlisted the help of the Virginia State Crime Lab as well as the aid of the FBI, drawing on all available resources.
Step by step
There seemed to be few clues to who the victim might be, much less the killer. Near the body was a pair of white jeans. Wedged between the jeans and the victim's face was a plastic Winn-Dixie grocery bag. The woman's clothing was light, unsuited to the weather in Virginia in January. Police speculated that she was from outside the region.
An examination of the jeans yielded a taxi cab receipt, which led to a cab company in Gainesville, Florida. That fact helped lead to the woman's identity. She was Brenda Kay Hagy, a native of Bloomington, Indiana. Brenda was a drifter, running the roads wherever they took her. She had a rap sheet from being arrested for trespass at truckstops.
The plastic bag was a crumpled mass, and little hope was held out that it would yield any worthwhile piece of evidence. The bag was submitted for analysis and, much to the suprise of the detectives, yielded a clear thumbprint, probably that of a man. That break came on January 30, 1995.
The initial excitement for a fast resolution waned as attempts to match the print were not forthcoming. The prints were matched against the database of 30 states who utilize AFIS, an anagram for the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Failing in that attempt, the bag was submitted to the FBI, whose massive fingerprint database covers all criminals charged in federal crimes, all military services personnel, and states which aren't part of the AFIS network. No promises were made by the FBI, an outlook which further dampened hope.
While waiting for some good news from the FBI, another body was found on February 19. It was that of Sherry Masur, a native of Clearwater, Florida. She was discovered dumped by the road in Guilford County, NC near I-40. The body was wrapped in a blanket and bore evidence of cocaine in her blood. She too had been strangled. Sherry Masur had a rap sheet detailing a history of arrests for prostitution.
A month later, on March 19, 1995, the battered body of Rebecca Alice Hanes was discovered along an I-81 overpass in Tennessee. The location was just 20 miles south of Washington County, Va where the first victim had been discovered. The body bore the same signs, being partially clad, strangled, and dumped. Rebecca Hanes had also been run over by a tractor-trailer after being dumped. She too had a rap sheet for arrests for trespass at truckstops. The total of unsolved murders had escalated to 3 in a scant 2 months.
As these grisly discoveries were being made, detectives Wilson and Sheets were busy. They had been in contact with other police departments investigating similar murders. They fielded 104 such calls, revealing how common this type of crime was. They interviewed truck drivers, and spoke with the victim's families in hope of getting relevant information, spending hundreds of hours on the telephone.
Almost 3 weeks following the discovery of the 3rd victim, Wilson and Sheets received a call from the FBI. It was simply a status check call, informing them that no match had been found, and that it could be up to a year completing the search. The call did nothing to boost the spirits of the investigation team.
Just 45 minutes later another call came from the FBI, this one informing the investigators that they had secured a match on the print. Depression immediately turned into elation at getting a much needed break.
The FBI told them the prints belonged to Sean Patrick Goble, a trucker who had been arrested in West Memphis, Arkansas in September, 1994 for reckless driving, resisting arrest, and creating a public disturbance with a prostitute. Following up on this information with a call to the West Memphis, Arkansas authorities, the team learned that Goble was employed by Rocky Road Express, located near Winston-Salem, NC. He job was that of a long haul driver, running multiple states on an irregular basis. The West Memphis cops put icing on the cake when they passed along the news that Goble drove a black Peterbilt.
Springing the trap
Taking their time to coordinate with police from Tennessee, North Carolina, and the FBI to make the arrest, the investigators moved in on Rocky Road Express on April 12, 1995. Taking a little time to chat with the owners to establish whether they'd be cooperative, the cops dropped their bomb concerning Goble. The owners were given the choice to open their files or be served with a search warrant. The owners immediately complied, making their records available. The logs on file showed Goble to be in the area of each of the 3 murders. Company officials informed the cops that Goble was due to return to the terminal later that night. Calling in from South Boston, Va about 9 pm, Goble told dispatchers he might be a few days late, being offered a load of pine bark mulch going elsewhere. Dispatch told him to forget the load and instead to return to the home terminal. The police continued to wait for Goble over the projected 2-3 hours he needed to arrive. Goble failed to appear, and the investigators feared he'd been tipped off, or maybe was even then killing another woman.
At 8 am the following morning, the black Pete and Goble rolled into the terminal. He had been delayed because he had stopped to sleep along the way. He parked the Pete and walked into the dispatch office where he was taken into custody without incident. The massive Goble left an impression on the law enforcement officers when his wrists were too large to be handcuffed. They had to link multiple pairs to encircle his wrists.
Investigator Wilson accompanied Goble to the Winston-Salem, NC police department where he would be booked. Goble denied having any knowledge of any deaths involving hookers. Wilson asked Goble how it came to pass that his thumbprint was on the Winn-Dixie grocery bag found with Brenda Hagy's body. Goble started to spill his guts, telling how he had as an act of human kindness given her a ride. Stopping to sleep, he had awakened with her on top of him, demanding sex. He grabbed her around the neck in an attempt to get her off him, and her hands soon fell limply by her sides. Goble said Hagy had bled profusely from her nose during the struggle and in an effort to keep from soiling his sleeper area, he had put the plastic bag over her head.
Nailing the lid on the coffin
While Wilson was busily mining gold from Goble's confession, his partner Sheets had stayed at Rocky Road Express to investigate what evidence could be found in Goble's rig. Within was found a pocketbook belonging to Rebecca Hanes, whose body had been found dumped along the road in Kingsport, Tennessee. Goble said he had picked her up at a truckstop in Fredericksburg, Va. and had killed her in Jefferson County, Tennessee. Goble also confessed to the killing of Sherry Masur, murdering her in Orange County, NC.
Same sad story, same sad result
Sean Patrick Goble, like so many other violent criminals, had an unhappy and unstable home life in his formative years. When he was living in Rockport, Il. at the age of 6, his father was sentenced to 4 years in prison for the rape of a 10 year old girl. Young Sean told how his father left him to sit in the car while he was inside committing the rape. As of 1995, the father, (Kenneth Goble), is serving an 18 year stretch for raping a 6 year old girl in New Mexico.
Sean dropped out of high school before his senior year and entered the Army. He was married for a short time, and has a 10 year old son who doesn't know the identity of his father. Goble became a truck driver in 1992. He was known to friends and employers as a big, friendly, intelligent (though somewhat egotistical) man, proud of his size and his ability to scarf down 5 pizzas at a sitting, and his ability to push himself and his rig for 4,500 miles per week.
Predictably, Goble has 2 sisters who were quick to defend their brother. They describe him as a big teddy bear of a man, sensitive and caring for others. He often gave them gifts which included clothing and jewelry. Police believe some of the articles are items Goble harvested from the possessions of his dead victims.
Wall of silence
Goble was awaiting trial in Jefferson County, Tennessee in 1995 for the murder of Rebecca Hanes. He had also been charged with the murder of the 2 other women, Masur and Hagy. The public defender appointed to represent Goble in the case was Edward C. Miller. Miller refused to make comment on the case or to allow Goble to be interviewed further. Goble denied being the Stargazer Killer, saying some of those killings happened before he even became a trucker.
Detectives Wilson and Sheets have their doubts concerning these assertions. Goble still had family in Illinois and was known to stop by in his rig to visit family members. In a search of Goble's home near Asheboro, NC a collection of women's shoes and panties was discovered. The fear that the collection represents a trophy collection from Goble's criminal past haunts the investigators. They both believe that Sean Patrick Goble has much more to add to these and other investigations, if only the public defender would allow him to be interviewed.
Tip of an iceburg
There are a number of unsolved murders following a similar pattern in 7 states including New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Goble's ex-wife, an employee of an Asheboro, North Carolina convenience store, was contacted and refused to make comment, saying "I'm not saying nothing".
A check of Sean Patrick Goble's police record shows a number of minor traffic infractions, as well as charges for possession of a small amount of cocaine and drug paraphernalia in Cumberland County, North Carolina in 1991. Goble also had been charged in 1989 and 1992 with passing bad checks.
There are a litany of names, a roll call of women who have either been murdered or have simply gone missing in circumstances similar to those involving Goble. A partial recounting of some of those names are as follows:
- an unidentified woman, age about 18, last seen at a Burlington, NC truckstop in 1990.
- Cheryl Mason, a prostitute whose body was found in Guilford County, NC in 1991.
- Nona Cobb, whose body was found along I-77 near an on ramp in Surry County, NC near Elkin, NC.
- An unidentified woman whose body was found in western Guilford County, NC on February 19, 1995.
- An unidentified woman found along I-81 in Greene County, Tn. Her body was badly beaten about the head.
- Margaret Sue Goins, 26, of Soddy Daisy, Tn. Found in Sullivan County, Tn along I-81 near the Tri-Cities Airport. Her body had been run over by a tractor-trailer.
- Rebecca Alice Hanes, 36, from Columbus, Ohio. One of the victims Goble confessed to killing, her body was found just a mile from that of Goins.
- An unidentified woman, age 20-25, found along I-75 in Miami County, Ohio
- Marcia K. (Pepper) Matthews, age 25, body found June 12, 1985 along I-71 in Richmond, County, Ohio.
- Shirley Dean Taylor, age 26, body found July 20, 1986 on Route 224 in Medina County, Ohio.
- April Barnett, age 19, found December 4, 1986 along I-71 in Ashland County, Ohio.
- An unidentified woman, age 20-25, found August 10, 1987 along I-70 in Montgomery County, Ohio.
- Anna Marie Patterson, aka Cindy Lawson, aka Jenny Morrison, age 27, found March 23, 1987 near I-71 in Warren County, Ohio
- Unidentified woman, age 25-35, found April 19, 1990 near junction of I-70 and SR 37, Licking County, Ohio.
- Kathryn Hill, aka Wendy Turner, found November 5, 1990 near I-280 (Toledo area), Wood County, Ohio.
Anyone with knowledge of the identity of any of these unidentified females or other information related to any named individuals are urged to contact their local law enforcement organizations or those mentioned in the list.
Sean Patrick Goble, 29, was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in the murder of 2 women in Tennessee on December 15, 1995.
The members of the investigative team in Washington County, Virginia were recognized for their diligent work in a commendation by the Washington County Board of Supervisors on their May 9, 1995 meeting. Officers receiving commendations were
- Supervisor of Investigators Kenneth Lee Wilson
- Detective Ross Howard Sheets
- Detective Charles Donald Hash
- Investigator Curtis Blaine Tate, Jr.
- Investigator Bobby Dean Arnold