Police thought the killer must have been a monster to leave the nude body of a young woman face up in a cornfield near Summerfield in 1986. Her neck was bruised from strangulation and her pelvic area was horribly mutilated.
The victim — known in law enforcement circles as “Summerfield Jane Doe” — was identified in 2007 as Eulalia Mylia Chavez, of Palo Alto, California, after two Belleville News-Democrat reporters continued to push for evidence in the case.
Larry D. Hall, a federal prisoner in North Carolina, remains a suspect in the murder and disappearance of dozens of girls and young women mostly throughout the Midwest, including 13 who remain unidentified. Now, Hall has emerged as a suspect in the Chavez killing, St. Clair County investigators say.
Hall became the prime suspect in Chavez’s murder after he admitted in a prison telephone interview with an Associated Press reporter that he had abducted 39 women and also confessed to several sexual murders. He mentioned in a hand-printed letter to a television reporter in 2008 that he killed Chavez. The letter implied that he found Chavez, who traveled basically by hitching rides, in St. Louis.
He later recanted all of the confessions, including Chavez’s murder, and denied killing anyone.
Local law enforcement officials are hoping DNA evidence will tie him to the Chavez killing three decades ago.
In May, two detectives from St. Clair County waited for Hall to be led into a conference room at the federal correctional complex in Butner, N.C., where Hall is serving life without parole for kidnapping. When Hall sat down at a table across from the officers, they didn’t know at first what to think. They had expected a monster. Hall looked more like a comedian.
“He was this little guy. He looked like Danny Devito,” said investigator Ken McHughes.
But like Charles Manson, whose mug shots put him at just 5-foot-2, looks can be deceiving. The investigators said Hall was frustratingly vague.
We said to ourselves, ‘We can solve this. This is solvable.’
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson
Hall, 53, has been convicted only once — of the 1993 kidnapping and rape of a 15-year-old girl from Georgetown, Ill. During his trial in federal court, he testified that he strangled the girl with a belt from behind so he wouldn’t be forced to watch her die. He has been in prison since 1995.
St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson sent McHughes and fellow investigator Scott Weymouth to interview Hall in an attempt to finally identify the perpetrator in what may be the most notorious unsolved murder in the metro-east.
Chavez was initially buried as a “Jane Doe” until 21 years later when her exhumation led police to discover that they had erred when she was first fingerprinted. They had initially requested an FBI check for unidentified female victims up to age 25. Chavez was 28 at the time of her death, it was later determined.
A second check in a wider age range quickly identified her under one of about 30 aliases that came up with dozens of misdemeanor arrests. Chavez had been hitchhiking throughout the country for more than a decade.
Watson, who became sheriff in 2012, reopened the case after receiving an inquiry from News-Democrat reporters. He asked his detectives to review the entire cold case file.
“We said to ourselves, ‘We can solve this. This is solvable,’” Watson said.
But Watson is not depending on a confession from Hall. “Even if we had a confession, it wouldn’t be enough to say for certain one way of the other who did this,” Watson said of the interview with Hall.
So the case will be made by DNA, Watson said, from a number of items found at the grisly crime scene that were either never tested or were submitted years ago before genetic testing had risen to advanced levels.
The items, which he declined to describe, were recently placed on a “priority list” at the new Illinois State Police Lab in Belleville. Coroner’s records showed that numerous crime scene items included cheap jewelry, paper towels, a dozen or so pieces of women’s clothing too large for the 5-foot-1, 110-pound Chavez, a cloth bag with a strap, a souvenir matchbook from the Illinois State Fair and monofilament fishing line.
The investigators said the diminutive, bearded Hall was low key — soft-spoken and not given to talking unless asked a question. After 2 1/2 hours, McHughes and Weymouth left without a confession or any significant new information. But they hadn’t really expected that to happen. They had opened their talk with idle chat about hot muscle cars and Civil War re-enacting — both known passions for Hall who traveled widely across the Midwest, including in Illinois and Missouri, to indulge in these pastimes.
“This guy is a nut job. But it was worth the effort to see how he reacted,” Watson said.
However, Hall’s reactions during the questioning were encouraging, Watson said. Hall was visibly nervous, and when he shook Weymouth’s hand, he held tight as if afraid to let go. Although he agreed to give a sample of his saliva for a DNA buccal swab, he asked, “What do you want that for?”
Hall’s DNA had already been tested and his genetic sequence is known, but the St. Clair County investigators said they wanted their own saliva sample.
An investigative outline compiled by the Department of Psychology at Radford University, Radford, Va., states that Hall may be linked to the disappearance or death of 54 women and girls and one boy. The ages of the victims ranged from 10 to 59, but most victims were teenagers or in their 20s.
Many articles and at least two books have been written about Larry D. Hall, whose twin brother, Gary Hall, still lives in Wabash, Indiana. The twins grew up living on cemetery grounds and sometimes helped their father, the sexton or caretaker, dig graves. Gary was the extrovert and Larry, who had an IQ of only 80, an introvert. Both twins traveled the re-enactment and car show circuit. Gary has never been a suspect in any of the deaths attributed to his brother.
Police investigations of Larry Hall show he confessed, then recanted, to several murders of women and girls, and that strange coincidences involving Hall turned up in killings that remain unsolved.
In November 1994, authorities interrogated Hall about several victims, including the abduction and murder of Jessica Roach, the 15-year-old Illinois teenager whom he was eventually convicted of kidnapping and taking across state lines for sexual purposes.
“All of the girls looked alike. I cannot remember all of them,” he told a Wabash County sheriff, according to a CNN.com report.
All of the girls looked alike. I cannot remember all of them.
Federal inmate Larry D. Hall
But they next day Hall told the sheriff, “I was just tellin’ you about my dreams. That didn’t really happen.”
Police investigating the death of Jessica Roach searched Hall’s vehicle and found a vial of birth control pills with the name “R. Rison” on it. The bottle was linked to 16-year-old Rayna Rison, whose strangled body was found floating in a pond near LaPorte, Indiana in March 1993.
In July 1990, four years after Chavez was killed, the still unidentified body of a woman was found in a Madison County bean field in a case that bore startling similarities to the strangulation near Summerfield. The victim was found about 10 miles away from where the body of Chavez was found. In both cases, sexual mutilation had occurred. Both victims were in their mid-20s. No cause of death was determined in the Madison County case.
The killer attempted to remove sexual organs from Chavez, and with the Madison County victim, the killer removed the sex organs entirely, according to an autopsy report.
In between the discovery of the bodies of Chavez and the victim in Madison County, another murder of a young woman who had been mutilated was linked to Hall. This was in December 1988 when an unidentified female victim was located near an interstate highway near the border between Georgia and Alabama. A nearby site from the Civil War, where a re-enacting event occurred, led investigators to believe Hall might be involved.
In all, female victims in 14 states in the Midwest and South and Pennsylvania have been investigated in connection to Hall’s regular travels to Civil War sites and car shows.
Watson said even if a DNA match to Hall is obtained, there will not be a prosecution. Hall cannot be released from prison and the death penalty no longer exists in Illinois.
“This would bring some closure for the family,” Watson said of the DNA efforts.
George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk
Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer