Bobby Jo Long
The Classified-Ad Rapist
By Fiona Steel
Bad Boy Bobby
It was March 6, 1984, and the woman in New Port Richey, Florida - about 40 miles west of Tampa - answered the knock on her door to find Bobby Joe Long on her doorstep. He explained he had seen the classified ad in the newspaper announcing her house was for sale and asked if he could come in and take a look around. Once inside the doorway, Long pulled out his gun, forced his victim into her bedroom and raped her. Before leaving, he helped himself to some of her jewelry, which he would later pawn in Tampa. It was just one of an estimated 50 rapes/robberies Bobby Joe Long committed over a two-year period - before becoming one of the most notorious serial killers in Florida history.
In 1981, in response to a brush with the law, Bobby Joe Long took a self-imposed leave of absence from Tampa to stay with his parents in West Virginia. It was just one month after his June 1983 return that Long met
Emma at the Humana Hospital where he worked as an X-ray technologist and she as a nurse. It was not long before they were a couple, with dark-haired Emma encouraging Long to attend church. Long, in turn, phoned his parents in West Virginia to brag about his new love. In fact, Long often demonstrated his great affection for Emma by showering her with jewelry he stole from his rape victims. With the start of this new relationship, Long hoped he had reached a turning point in his life, with things finally looking up.
His hopes, it seemed, were to be short-lived. In September 1983, Long was found guilty on the assault charges stemming from the 1981 incident that had driven him to West Virginia. In October 1981, Long had shared a house -and, it seemed, a volatile relationship - with a woman named Sharon Richards. Richards accused Long of rape, but the police did not have enough evidence to make a charge. Just two weeks later, Long allegedly hit Richards during an argument.
Long refused to accept his guilty verdict lying down, a pattern that would revisit him throughout his lifetime of legal processes. Whether fueled by inner rage or by conviction of his righteousness, Long wrote numerous letters to the judge, demanding a new trial. He claimed he had done nothing criminal and that the whole incident had been Richards’ fault.
In November 1983, during his lengthy battle for a new trial in the Richards case, Long found himself charged with another crime. He was accused of sending an obscene letter and photographs to a twelve year old girl in Tampa. Officials had traced phone calls Long had made to the 12 year old and Long received a sentence of two days in jail and six months’ probation.
Long eventually earned a retrial in the Richards case and in early 1984, he was acquitted of the assault charges, despite the testimony of a number of witnesses against him. As he left the courtroom victorious, Long laughed at Sharon Richards.
Also in early 1984, just a few weeks the New Port Richey rape, Long quit his job at the hospital. Emma wondered how he could still afford to lavish her with expensive jewelry but, strangely, her suspicions went no further Nor was Emma the first woman in Long’s life who failed to question the source of such gifts. His ex-wife Cathy had never voiced any suspicions either.
Bobby Joe Long and Cathy were just 13 when they met. Both from broken homes, they quickly found in each other someone they could trust. It was not long before the two were inseparable. For the first time in his life, Long felt understood. Finally, he had someone with whom he could share the shameful stories of his mother bringing home men, and the rage he felt. Cathy seemed to understand how embarrassed he was by the flimsy, revealing outfits his mother wore, claiming they were required for her job as a bartender. In fact, it was not until he met Cathy that Long began sleeping in a separate bed from his mother.
Long and Cathy dated for six years before marrying in January 1974. He was in the army then, stationed at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida, and their newlywed life seemed idyllic - until a motorcycle accident that changed Long forever. His motorcycle had been struck by a car, resulting in grave injuries, including a serious blow to the head. It was not the first serious blow Long received to the head, having suffered multiple head traumas during his childhood and adolescence. In addition, the motorcycle accident threatened him with the loss of a leg, a fate he narrowly escaped. The entire experience transformed Long in a way that would change not only his life, but the lives of his victims, their families, and an entire community.
In addition to a newfound rage, the motorcycle accident left Long with an increased sex drive that he could not satiate, even with ritualistic masturbation five or six times a day. Shortly after his release from hospital, his growing and desperate sexual needs seemed to consume him. It was then that Long devised the idea of using the classified ads in the newspaper to locate women, arrive at their houses and rape them. And he did. Repeatedly.
Unemployed and discharged from the army, Long had no shortage of time in which to indulge in his new craving. The callous and methodical rapes continued throughout the entire duration of his marriage to Cathy. She never had a clue.
On March 27, 1984, Long made a transformation from which he could never turn back. On that date, he picked up 20 year-old Artis Wick in Tampa. After raping her, Long found himself strangely unsatisfied. Rather than leave her, as he had his other victims, Long strangled Artis Wick to death. Long believed he had discovered the perfect method to guarantee he would not get caught for his crimes.
It was a lesson that was reinforced next month as he attempted to abduct his next victim. At gunpoint, Long tried to abduct the woman in her Jaguar, but she outsmarted him by deliberately crashing her car. After being caught and scheduled to face charges in court that July, Long decided his future victims would not be allowed to live long enough to level any accusations against him.
April 1984 proved to be a particularly bad month for Long in all aspects of his life. Depressed and dejected at still being unable to find work, he also discovered Emma was seeing another man. The betrayal was devastating and, oddly enough, it was his mother Long called to share his tale of woe. He lamented to her that there weren't any good women. They had all, he said, gone bad.
Much to his chagrin, even a new job as an electrician did nothing to lift Long’s spirits. He felt the disquiet build within him and it was just two short days after he started his new position in May 1984 that he spotted the woman he wanted next.
She was a petite young Asian woman with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing shorts and a tank top. As she walked east on Fletcher at Nebraska Avenue, Long pulled his car up alongside her and offered her a ride. She accepted and it was only moments before what had seemed like a kind gesture turned quickly into a nightmare. Driving her to a wooded area off 22nd Street, he stopped the car and ordered the young woman to take off her clothes. He then forced her to lie face down on the front seat, tying her hands behind her back. Long had learned the skill of restraining victims when he was only a child, after witnessing robbery of his parents' home. He had sat silently behind his partially open bedroom door, watching with fascination as his parents were made completely immobile by the ropes that bound them as strangers plundered their home.
With the young woman bound, unable to move and too terrified to try, Long drove south along 301 to Symmes Road, then onto East Bay Road. At the dead end, he pulled into a cow field. As she lay on the front seat, Long raped his victim. He then began to remove her from the car and the young woman began to struggle, waging a desperate battle for her freedom. In response, Long assailed her with a series of punches that left her powerless to fight back. Returning to the car, he then obtained a length of rope and, tying it around her neck, strangled her as she lay helpless on the ground. Long then headed for home, leaving the body of his latest victim behind.
Victims Virginia Johnson and Vicky Elliot
On the Trail
The first officers to arrive on the scene on May 13, 1984 were greeted by the gruesome sight. The corpse of a young woman lay face down in the dirt, her hands tied behind her back and her legs spread wider than she was tall. Officials knew they had a deranged killer on their hands. Most disturbing was what they couldn’t yet know - that this was only the first of ten victims they would encounter before Bobby Joe Long’s terror was brought to a halt.
The victim was identified as twenty year-old Laotian-born Ngeun Thi Long, who had moved to Tampa from Los Angeles with her boyfriend. Known as Lana to her friends, she had recently quit her job as an exotic dancer in one of the local clubs to study art at the University of South Florida. Her hopes for a bright future were extinguished when she met Bobby Joe Long. The only evidence at the scene was a set of tire tracks and some red fibers, probably from carpet in the killer’s car. Despite following every possible lead, such scarce evidence left police with nothing to connect the crime to Bobby Joe Long.
Two weeks later, officials discovered the scene of Long’s next murder on lover’s lane at Park Road. This time, the victim was 22-year-old Michelle Denise Simms, a former California beauty contestant who worked as a hooker to support her $1,000 weekly cocaine habit. Simms had moved to Tampa only one day before she encountered Bobby Joe Long who picked her up on Kennedy Boulevard, posing as a customer. As with Lana, Long forced Simms to undress in the car and lie face down on the front seat. He tied her hands behind her back, then drove to the site where her body was later found. Once there, he raped her then threw her from the car. Long attempted to strangle her, but Simms refused to give up her life easily. Long grabbed a knife and slashed her throat several times, severing a large enough blood vessel to end his victim’s struggle. He fled the scene, leaving Simm’s corpse lying on the ground and items of her bloodied clothing hanging from a nearby tree.
At the murder scene police investigators found red fibers, human hair, a bare footprint and tire tracks - evidence enough to suggest that the same man had killed both Lana and Simms. FBI analysis of the evidence proved their theory correct. In addition to the red fibers and tire tracks found at both scenes, officials now had a Caucasian cranial hair and semen stains showing the presence of both A and B blood types.
To maximize efforts to catch the killer, all this information was shared with other law enforcement agencies. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) sent a detailed description of the two murders to the Behavioral Science Services Unit of the FBI for an analysis of the crimes and a detailed profile of the killer. Unfortunately, before the FBI could provide the reports, the HCSO’s worst fear materialized: the murderer continued to kill.
On Friday, June 8, 1984, Long chose his next victim. Late that afternoon, 22-year-old Elizabeth Loudenback left the trailer she shared with her mother, stepfather, sister and brother, in the Village Mobile Home Park. Although she normally didn’t accept rides from strangers Loudenback made a fateful - and final - decision to accept Long’s offer when he pulled alongside her on Nebraska Avenue. Loudenback had not been in the car long before she knew something was terribly wrong. Long pulled over and, at knife-point, ordered Loudenback to remove her pants. He tied her up, forced her face down on the reclined front seat and raped her. Then he drove with her to an orange grove in Brandon, where he raped her savagely from behind. When he had finished, Long did something different: he untied Loudenback, told her to put her clothes on and returned with her to his car. Long later claimed he had not intended to kill his victim but that her incessant crying forced him to change his mind. Dragging Loudenback from the car again, Long strangled her with rope and threw her body into the shrubs.
Again, Long deviated from his usual methods. As he drove away, he searched through Elizabeth’s purse, finding a bank teller card with the four-digit access code in an envelope. Over the next few hours, Long he used the to withdraw cash from several banks. He then threw away the card, much as he had discarded Elizabeth’s body hours before.
It would take another sixteen days before Elizabeth Loudenback’s badly decomposed body was discovered and reported to police. The circumstances, however, differed just enough from Long’s previous murders that police failed to connect it to the murders of Lana and Simms. Therefore, murder site evidence sent to the FBI was not compared to the evidence found at the other victims’ murder sites. It was not until much later that the HCSO requested that the FBI examine Loudenback’s clothes for fiber evidence, uncovering red carpet fibers matching those found on both Lana and Simms.
Victim Elizabeth Loudenbeck and Michelle Sims
Murder and Mayhem
Not long after murdering Elizabeth Loudenback, Bobby Joe Long went on an overnight visit with his two children, who lived with his ex-wife, Cathy, in Hollywood, Florida.On June 14, Long began work at the Tampa General Hospital as an X-Ray technician. Three days later, he went to court for the attempted abduction of Mary Hicks, for which he was charged with only a $1,500 fine for the damage to the car and three year’s probation. Long put the outcome of the case behind him and concentrated on his life, staying busy with moving into a new apartment in July.
By then, officials were beginning to hope that the murderer’s spree had ended with Lana and Simms. However, in late August, Long took a vacation in Miami, where he picked up a young prostitute. He drove with her until he found a remote area with little threat of interruption. There, he beat the young woman and forced her to undress. As he raped her on the reclined front seat of his car, Long took photos that depicted in graphic detail the various sexual acts he performed on her. When he was finally finished, Long drove away, leaving the woman, naked and shattered, to make her own way home from the isolated area.
Soon after Long returned to Tampa, on September 7, 1984, 21-year-old Vicky Elliott was re ported missing. Her employer at the Ramada Inn coffee shop had become concerned when the habitually punctual young woman had failed to show up for her 11 pm shift. When a couple of days passed without Vicky’s emergence, police searching her apartment discovered an airline ticket on a table next to her bed. The ticket indicated that Vicky had intended to return home to her parents in Muskegon, Michigan in two weeks, suggesting that her disappearance was not intentional. It would be two months before her parent’s hopes that their daughter would return to them were shattered completely.
Before the end of September, Long identified his next victim, offering her a ride as she walked home late in the evening. Chanel Williams instantly fell prey to Long’s cruel methods, as he beat her and forced her to lie face down on the reclined front seat. As with his other victims, Long forced Chanel to undress and tied her hands behind her back. Then he beat her again. As Chanel lay terrified on the seat, Long drove toward Morris Bridge Road, stopping his car near the entrance road to a cattle ranch.
There Long savagely raped Chanel from behind while she was still on the front seat. He then pulled her from the car and attempted to strangle her. But Chanel struggled against him. An athletic girl, she refused to surrender quietly and Long quickly grew impatient with her fight for survival. Taking out his gun, he shot her once in the back of the head and pushed her lifeless body under a wire fence. As he drove away, Long tossed Chanel’s clothes from his car, her underpants landing on the fence and her bra on the entrance gate.
It would be another week before Chanel’s decomposing body was discovered. The FBI laboratory found red carpet fibers on her clothing, along with a brown Caucasian pubic hair and semen containing A and H blood group substances. The carpet fibers matched those in the Lana and Simms cases, but the semen from the Simms case didn’t match. Officials knew both women were prostitutes, which could account for the different types.
Identifying Chanel’s body proved a relatively easy task as she had just been released from jail for soliciting prostitution. Police investigations revealed that 18-year-old Chanel Devon Williams had only recently moved to Tampa to escape the mundane life of her nearby hometown of Bartow. With no qualifications to speak of, Chanel saw prostitution as the only means to generate enough money to provide her with the life she had always wanted.
Long had killed his next victim the very day that Chanel’s body was discovered, although it would take a week before police uncovered the crime. It was less than a week before Long killed again, picking up his victim as she walked Hillsborough Avenue looking to earn the forty-seven dollars she needed for her next heroin fix. After Long accepted her offer of prostitution, the young woman climbed into the car. Long undressed, bound and raped the woman before driving her to an orange grove where he strangled her as he raped her again. He paused briefly, startled by the sound of dogs barking nearby. Afraid that he had been discovered, Long sat quietly in the car with his victim until he was certain there was no danger.
Long wrapped the young woman’s body in a beach blanket and shoved her into the trunk. He drove to another grove and dragged the corpse underneath a nearby tree. The woman’s tee shirt was now pulled up under her armpits, exposing her breasts. Long wrapped the woman’s feet in the blanket, binding them with a shoelace and strips of cloth from a blue sweatsuit. He tied her wrists together in front of her with a red bandanna, then took a shoelace and wrapped it around her wrists and neck. When his macabre display was arranged to his satisfaction, Long threw his victim’s clothes from his car and drove away into the night.
Police immediately recognized the 22 year old woman when her body was found on October 14, 1984. Karen Beth Drinsfriend, although beautiful and intelligent, was well known to local police and had a Florida police record that dated back to her early teens. A drug addict since junior high, her life had slid successively downhill, resulting in jail sentences for grand larceny, drug charges and prostitution. She had turned to the latter to help fund her heroin addiction, but it wasn’t until after she climbed into the car driven by Bobby Joe Long that Drinsfriend would pay the ultimate price for her addiction.
Victim Chanel Williams
The entire Tampa community now lived in terror of a deranged killer who seemed to evade all police efforts to catch him. Newspapers were filled with stories about his victims. Interviews with prostitutes shared their grief over murdered friends and their fears that the killer could be someone they knew.
Police found Long’s fifth victim on Halloween 1984, but nothing at the scene helped identify the badly decomposed body. Only once Bobby Joe Long was captured would they learn that her name was Kimberly Kyle Hopps. Again, Long had picked up his victim under the auspices of soliciting prostitution, driven her out near the county line, then bound and raped her. He strangled Hopps with the black collar she wore around her neck and threw her lifeless body down an embankment into a ditch.
Every available police officer in the Tampa area was now assigned to this case, with officers patrolling the major streets and highways in an attempt to capture the killer. Tension and frustration grew as officials worked too hard and too long, with no results. But on November 3, 1984, their efforts would be finally and richly rewarded as Bobby Joe Long made the mistake that led police right to his door.
At 2.30 that morning, Long was cruising for his next victim when he spotted 17 year-old Lisa McVey on Waters Avenue, riding her bicycle home from work. As he passed her going in the opposite direction, Long knew instantly that he wanted her. He turned his car around and followed her. As he overtook her, Long studied the young woman in his rearview mirror. Lisa McVey was slender and athletic with shoulder length, dark auburn hair. Long pulled into a church parking lot, parked his car and crossed the road to wait for the young beauty to pass. As she did, Long grabbed Lisa McVey by the hair and pulled her from her bike.
Holding a gun to her throat, Long responded to McVey’s terrified scream by assuring her he would kill her if she made another sound. He forced her back to his car and ordered her to undress. Long then unzipped his pants and forced the young woman to perform oral sex on him as he drove. Before he ejaculated, he ordered her to stop and to sit up, warning her to keep her eyes closed the entire time. Lisa McVey was terrified, but equally determined to survive this ordeal. She complied with Long’s every order, knowing that refusing to do so could provoke him - and she had no idea what horrors this man could be capable of.
Long cruised the streets for some time before taking McVey back to his apartment on East Fowler Avenue. He ordered her to put her clothes on and tied a blindfold around her eyes before they got out of the car. His blindfolded victim did not see the red carpeting covering the two flights of stairs Long forced her to climb - nor would she have known its significance.
Long took McVey to his bathroom and forced her to undress again. Ordering her to bend over, he attempted to sodomize her, stopping when she cried out in pain. Instead, he took her to his bedroom and raped her. When he was finished, he took young Lisa McVey, still blindfolded, into the shower with him. He then dried her hair and brushed it gently, telling her how beautiful it was.
Long returned McVey to his bedroom, ordering her to lie on his waterbed. He tied her legs tightly, turned off the light and removed her blindfold. To ensure she continued to comply with his demands, Long let her feel the cold steel of his gun against her skin before placing it on a shelf above the bed. They spent the rest of the night and most of the next day in his bed where he touched her body and made her do the same to him. He asked her to massage his back and shoulder to relieve the pain caused by some heavy lifting he had done at work. Long raped Lisa McVey repeatedly, forced her to perform oral sex several times and sodomized her once.
Throughout the entire ordeal, Long spoke to McVey as if they were new lovers spending their first night together. He asked about her family and her work. He called her “babe” and said he didn’t know why he had done this. As evening approached, Long realized McVey must be hungry and he made a ham sandwich for her. While she ate, he went into the living room and watched television until the news announced Lisa McVey’s disappearance. He turned the set off and returned to the bedroom.
Climbing into bed with his victim, Long turned off the light. He removed her blindfold again but he allowed her to stay dressed. As they lay together in the dark, Long nibbled at McVey’s ear and neck, telling her how much he liked her and that he wished they had met under different circumstances. He made Lisa remove her shirt, caressed and licked her breasts. Then Long told Lisa McVey to rest.
At 2.30 AM, the alarm clock sounded and Long helped McVey prepare to leave, blindfolding her before the walk to his car. As she climbed into the car, McVey’s head bumped against the door frame and Long apologized. He leaned down to put her shoes and socks on her feet. He then kissed McVey before he starting the engine. After a few moments of driving, Long stopped at a bank to withdraw cash from the automatic teller machine. Alone in the car, McVey dared to adjust her blindfold slightly. Through a tiny opening, she was able to note that the bank was a white building, and that the car was red or maroon with a white interior. On the dashboard was a brown strip with the word “Magnum” in silver letters and a digital clock with green numerals. Long returned to the car, but McVey’s blindfold remained positioned to allow a small line of vision. They drove around the corner to a gas station, after which a ten minute drive led them to the interstate, where McVey noted signs for Howard Johnsons and Quality Inn.
Long brought his car to a stop in a parking lot at the corner of Rome and Hillsborough. He told McVey that he didn’t want to let her go, but then helped her gather her belongings and get out of the car. Instructing her to wait a few minutes before removing her blindfold, Long hugged and kissed his victim one last time. McVey stood exactly where Long had left her, unsure if she was safe even as she heard the sound of his car engine fading in the distance. Several long minutes passed before she removed the blindfold. Realizing she had indeed survived, Lisa McVey fell to her knees and wept uncontrollably before she could compose herself enough for the walk home. It was 4.30 AM when McVey arrived home and awoke her father. Her ordeal with Bobby Joe Long had lasted twenty-six hours and Lisa McVey called the Tampa police, determined to help them bring her attacker to justice.
Victim Karin Dinsfriend
Two days after Lisa McVey reported the sordid tale of her abduction and rape to Tampa police, law enforcement agents from neighboring Pascoe County became involved in the case. They had discovered the skeletal remains of a young woman in a field. Officers on the scene found a skull and upper torso dressed in a tank top, a heavy shoelace and a piece of fabric twisted around the neck. Upon closer inspection, officers noticed a heart-shaped pendant still around the neck.
Investigators from the Pascoe County Sheriff’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement were immediately dispatched to gather all necessary evidence, which was then sent for FBI analysis. The autopsy revealed similarities between this and the Hillsborough County cases. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was called in. The remains found in Pascoe County would later be identified as those of 18-year-old Virginia Lee Johnson, who had turned to prostitution to support her alcohol and drug addiction. Her heart-shaped necklace was identified by friends and dental records removed any doubt as to her identification.
Less than a week after Virginia’s body was discovered, a sign writer found another of Long’s victims lying in the grass under an overpass. Driving while intoxicated that night was an even worse decision than Kim Swann could have imagined. Her vehicle was weaving all over the road when Bobby Joe Long spotted it, pulled his car alongside Swann's and asked her to pull over. In her drunken state, Swann accepted Long’s invitation to join him for a drink. Shortly after getting into his car, however, she suspected something was awry and began to fight with Long. He subdued her with his fists before binding and strangling her. Swann had fought so much that Long didn’t bother to rape her, instead simply dumping her body under an overpass.
Neither Bobby Joe Long or the police knew yet that Kim Swann would be his last victim.
Victim Kimberly Hobbs
Stop and Seizure
Two days after the discovery of Kim Swann’s body, a task force was officially established to coordinate the efforts of investigators of the multiple murders in the area. Representatives from HCSO, Tampa Police Department, Pascoe County Sheriff Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI contributed their efforts to catch the killer, whose victims were now being found on a weekly basis.
Certain that Lisa McVey’s abductor and rapist was the man they sought, the task force began the process of tracking down the killer’s apartment, bank and car. Task force members divided into teams and scoured allotted areas for anything matching the descriptions in Lisa’s statement.
The first breakthrough came on November 15, 1984 when detectives spotted a red Dodge Magnum, similar to the vehicle described by Lisa McVey. They followed the car down Nebraska Avenue and signaled for the driver to pull over. The driver’s license identified the driver as Robert Joe Long of East Fowler Street, Tampa. Following task force procedure, the detectives told Long they were looking for a robbery suspect and returned to their car on the pretense of checking his license details.
Certain he had finally been caught, and flooded with an unexpected relief, Long resigned himself to cooperate with the authorities. He agreed to be photographed and waited anxiously as the detectives completed the field interrogation report. Long’s relief soon turned to disbelief when the detectives told him he was free to go. Long drove away, now convinced the incident was a fluke and that he was in no danger of being caught after all. Meanwhile, the detectives alerted the task force members, who worked frantically to obtain enough evidence to link Bobby Joe Long to the murders and arrest him as quickly as possible.
Bank records revealed that Long had made a withdrawal from the Florida National Bank automatic teller machine at 58th Street and Fowler Avenue at 3:39 AM on November 4 - the morning Lisa McVey was set free. From the Parole and Probation Office in north Tampa, the task force learned that Robert Joe Long was on probation for his attempted abduction of Mary Hicks earlier in the year and had also been charged with rape in Dade County in 1974.
This new information was presented to Assistant State Attorney Michael Benito to establish probable cause and an affidavit was prepared to arrest Long for kidnapping and sexual battery. Vehicular and residential search warrants were also prepared.
Within two hours of Long’s encounter with the detectives, ground and air surveillance teams were monitoring his every move. Detectives watched as he left his apartment late in the afternoon and drove to the post office on 56th Street in Temple Terrace. He then returned home briefly before going to a laundromat at 56th and Whiteway. Long next drove to the outdoor tennis and handball courts at the back of the University of South Florida where he sat in his car and read a newspaper for some time before moving to a bench in the racquetball area. Long was completely oblivious to an undercover detective, who passed within three feet of him, providing the task force a detailed description of Long’s blue and white jogging shoes, blue jeans and grey t-shirt.
At 5.45 PM, Long returned to his apartment for the night. When his ex-wife Cathy called to arrange an upcoming visit with his children, Long asked her if she knew about the murders in Tampa. Long warned her that it was a dangerous world and she should be really careful.
The task force surveillance team continued to monitor Long’s movements the following day. Between noon and 1:30 PM, they watched as Long cleaned out his and threw the refuse in a nearby dumpster. As soon as Long left again, a detective retrieved the discarded evidence from the dumpster. Further evidence was collected after Long vacuumed his car at a gas station on 56th Street.
As Long entered the Main Street Cinema, followed closely by a detective, the task force made the last minute preparations for his arrest. Search and arrest warrants were prepared for signing by a judge. The Behavioral Sciences Unit at the FBI Academy was contacted for advice on interview techniques and a special agent from the FBI Laboratory in Washington flew to Tampa to assist with crime scene searches. An airplane was reserved to take the agent to the nearest FDLE laboratories to test any evidence.
Task force members were divided into four teams. The first team was responsible for Long’s arrest, transport and interrogation; the second would seize and search his vehicle; the third would search his apartment; and the fourth would interview Long’s neighbors.
Inside the Main Street Cinema, Long watched as Chuck Norris waged his battles on the big screen in Missing In Action, completely unaware that a task force team waited outside. As that team waited, other members of the task force positively matched the tires of Long’s car with tracks found at some of the murder sites. All warrants were prepared.
At 4.00 PM, as he left the Main Street Cinema and headed for his car, task force detectives arrested Bobby Joe Long. Detectives advised him of the specific charges against him, read him his Miranda rights and presented a warrant to search his car. It took no more than twenty minutes for the task force to complete the arrest, and bring to an end years of grisly crimes. Unfortunately, it was only the beginning of a legal process that would also last many years.
Victim Kim Swann
When he was taken to his apartment, Bobby Joe Long waived the right to be present as officers conducted their search. He was taken to task force headquarters and his car delivered to the HCSO. His interrogation began at 6.00 PM on November 16, 1984.
Detectives Latimer and Price were given the responsibility of interrogating Long. Their line of questioning began with Long’s past convictions for rape then moved directly to the abduction of Lisa McVey. Long made no efforts to hide his guilt, readily providing his version of the events. When asked why he had set McVey free, Long explained that he had unloaded his gun before taking her home, specifically to avoid the temptation to kill her. His admission that he had placed the blindfold in his glove compartment two days prior to the abduction confirmed that the attack was premeditated even though his selection of McVey was random.
Price showed Long photographs of the murder victims and informed him that FBI lab results matched the tire impressions at two of the murder scenes matched his Dodge. Realizing the detectives suspected he was guilty of more than just abduction and rape, Long expressed his belief that the interrogation had changed its emphasis. He said he thought he might need an attorney. Detective Latimer suggested that Long knew these crimes would be discussed and proceeded with his line of questioning. As soon as Latimer mentioned the hair and fiber evidence, Long admitted to killing all of the women who had been mentioned in the newspapers. He then proceeded to describe each murder in detail.
Detective Price then asked Long if he knew anything about the disappearance of Vicky Elliott. Long admitted he had offered her a ride as she was walked down Nebraska Avenue on her way to work. When he turned his car down a side street and attempted to tie her up, Vicky pulled a pair of scissors from her bag and stabbed him in the chest. Although the wound was minor, it had angered Long and the two struggled until he had Elliott successfully bound. He then drove to a dead end road where he raped her in the car and strangled her. Long told detectives that he had deposited Vicky Elliott’s body near a barbed-wire fence along a dirt road and drew a map showing detectives the exact location they would find her corpse.
With all of the known murders covered, Long proceeded to tell Latimer and Price that his only preparation for the murder was the purchase of rope from K-Mart, which he cut into various lengths and kept in his car.
Long also admitted to having committed the New Port Richey rape as well as up to fifteen others. At the end of his interrogation, Long said that even though it had resulted in his capture, he did not regret releasing Lisa McVey - and asked the detectives to convey his apologies to her. He then asked if he could call his ex-wife Cathy and, during their thirty minute conversation, confessed to her he had killed the girls they discussed the night before. He asked Cathy tell their children he had been killed in a car accident.
As soon as Long’s interrogation, detectives went in search of Vicky Elliott’s body, which they found in the exact spot marked on the hand-drawn map. A patrol unit guarded the site until officers arrived the next morning. The skeletal remains were found with a pair of black-handled scissors in the victim’s vagina, the sharp ends pointing towards the abdomen. Clothing, cranial hair, teeth and bones were found within a seventy foot radius of the body. Each item was bagged, labelled and sent to the FBI for comparison with evidence obtained from searches of Long’s car and apartment. Dental records positively identified the body as Vicky Elliott.
On Sunday, November 18, 1984, as task force investigators enjoyed a well-earned day off, Bobby Joe Long appeared before County Judge Perry Little at the courtroom in the Hillsborough County jail building. It took less than three minutes to charge him with eight counts of sexual battery and nine counts of kidnapping, the last for the Tampa abduction of the woman whose body would later be identified as Virginia Johnson. He was also charged for violating the probation terms of his April 1984 aggravated assault charges. Judge Little advised Long of his legal rights and refused bail for the murder charges.
The investigation continued the following morning. By this time, the body of Kim Swann had been identified and police questioned her fiancee. The fiancee told them he had seen Kim get into a maroon car, which he thought was a Chrysler Cordova, and he said he recognized Long as the driver from newspaper photographs.
On November 19, 1984, the body of another young woman was found floating in the Hillsborough River. The victim had been strangled, but it was impossible to determine the time of her death and Long was never charged with this murder. Three days later, police also discovered the skeletal remains of Artis Wick, Long’s first victim, in rural southern Hillsborough County. Long did not mention Wick’s murder until long after his original confession, but was never formally charged with the crime.
Over the next six months, many law enforcement agencies would submit unsolved rapes and murders to the FBI for comparison to Long’s crimes. In many cases, the comparisons would prove a successful match. Long was confirmed as fitting the description in the New Port Richey rape case, and items stolen from the woman’s house were found in his apartment. A cable converter box found in his apartment linked him to a Palm Harbor rape and robbery in May 1984. He was also a suspect in five rapes committed between 1978 and 1983 in Marion County, St. Lucie County and Clearwater, as well as a Marion County murder from November 1983.
In addition, the HCSO seriously considered the possibility that Long was the “Green River Killer,” responsible for a number of murders committed in King County, Washington between January and September 1982. During this period, five prostitutes from the Seattle-Tacoma Strip were found murdered and dumped in Green River, the circumstances of their deaths strongly matching Long’s methods. At the time Long was living in Wilmington, California, completing a commercial diving course at the College of Oceaneering. The task force thoroughly checked Long’s movements during his nine month stay in California but found no evidence to confirm their suspicions. When asked if he had ever been to Washington, Long emphatically denied that he was “that Green River guy.” Another 27 skeletal remains would be discovered before Washington detectives had a total body count in the Green River case.
Victim Lana Long
Condemned to Die
On November 27, 1984, despite concern about the local publicity the murder trial had generated, a hearing determined that Long would appear before a Hillsborough County grand jury for the eight murders committed in that county.
Similarly, in December 5, Pascoe County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence E. Keough determined Long would stand trial in Pascoe County for the murder of Virginia Johnson. Judge Keough allowed a court reporter to transcribe the proceedings and question potential jurors regarding media coverage of the case. After hearing the evidence, the grand jury indicted Long on one count of first degree murder. Long’s defense counsel immediately requested a series of psychological, neurological and intelligence tests for their client. Each of the tests required a separate written request to the court, further delaying the entire trial process.
A total of six experts examined Long in 1985 and 1986. While their diagnoses of Long’s psychological disorders differed - as did their assessment of underlying causes - the experts unanimously declared that he was not criminally insane. It was the experts’ determination that Long was aware of the criminality of his actions and had the ability to control his behavior. Any hopes Long‘s attorneys may have had for a sanity plea were demolished by their own panel of experts.
On January 15, 1985, task force officers tracked down a woman who appeared in photographs found in Long‘s apartment. It was the woman Long had abducted, raped and abandoned in an isolated spot during his Miami vacation the year before. Three days later, officials confiscated letters Long had written to a fellow prisoner, describing escape plans and details of the rapes he had committed. In response, prison officials moved Long to a higher security cell away from other prisoners.
In April 1985, Long stood trial in Pascoe County for the New Port Richey rape. In addition to his confession, the jury heard his victim’s wrenching testimony and found Long guilty as charged.
The Johnson murder trial began later that month, also in Pascoe County, with the judge denying a defense motion to exclude Long‘s confession and suppress evidence found after his arrest. It took the jury only 44 minutes to convict Long of first degree murder.
The next day, during the penalty phase, the prosecution submitted that Long’s past criminal record warranted the death penalty. In response, the defense relied on the testimony of Long’s ex-wife and mother, who suggested that the defendant’s repeated head injuries and traumatic childhood experiences suggested he should be spared the death penalty. The prosecution‘s arguments carried more weight with the jury, and on May 3, 1985, Robert Joe Long was sentenced to death by electrocution. Long whistled as he was taken from the court.
A month later, as Long prepared for the first of his eight Hillsborough County murder trials, public sentiment and media interest in the case were as strong as ever. Circuit Judge John P. Griffin determined therefore that a fair trial was impossible and granted a five month delay before the first case went to trial.
Assistant State Attorney Michael L. Benito used the extra time to negotiate a plea bargain agreement with the defendant. Long had already received the death penalty in Pascoe County and faced strong forensic evidence against him in the Hillsborough County murder cases. Benito proposed that Long bypass a lengthy trial process by pleading guilty to all eight murder charges. He would receive life sentences for seven of the charges. The Simms case would go through to the sentencing phase, with the possibility of a death sentence, but Benito would not use the seven other murders as supporting evidence during the proceedings. Such an agreement would counteract the possibility of Long‘s confession being ruled as inadmissible.
Long took the advice of his attorneys and agreed to the plea bargain. His defense team hoped that, considering the seven life imprisonment sentences, a guilty plea in the Simms case would yield the same result. The agreement was signed by all parties concerned in late September 1985, with the following conditions:
Long would serve a minimum of fifty years before parole could be granted;
Long waived his right to contest the admissibility of his confessions;
Long waived his right to contest the admissibility of evidence seized from his car or apartment, especially the knife found at his apartment, in the Simms sentencing phase;
Both parties recognized that an agreement may lead to a departure from sentencing guidelines and waived any issues which might arise out of those departures;
The court would decide the number of peremptory challenges to the sentencing phase jury panel and the questioning of such potential jurors;
The State of Florida would not rely on Long‘s guilty pleas or other convictions in other counties as aggravating circumstances in the Simms sentencing phase.
The same day the agreement was signed, an open court inquiry found Long guilty of all eight murders. Sentencing for the first seven murders was pronounced as agreed in the plea bargain and the penalty phase of the Simms case was set for mid-December. As jury selection began, Long attempted to withdraw his plea agreement, arguing that one of his key witnesses would be unavailable to appear and that he had not fully understood that the plea bargain meant he was unable to appeal his confession.
Griffin granted Long twenty-four hours to make a final decision regarding the plea bargain, at the end of which Long decided not to withdraw the agreement after all. To ensure that Long completely understood all of the legal implications involved, Judge Griffin conducted a full inquiry of the entire agreement. As each point was covered, Long stated that he understood. He also reaffirmed to Judge Griffin his confidence in his public defender.
A new sentencing date was set for July 1986. In the months leading up to the sentencing, Long again changed his mind, and wrote twice to Judge Griffin claiming he had misunderstood the agreement and had not received proper representation from the public defender. In his second letter, Long informed Griffin that Ellis Rubin had agreed to become his court-appointed lawyer.
Ellis Rubin was a highly publicized Miami attorney, well known for his controversial methods. His defense tactics in the Simms sentencing hearing lived up to his reputation. Rubin shocked the court by introducing Long‘s confession to a tenth murder - that of Artis Ann Wick in March 1984. His intention was to paint his client as a sick man who needed help - not the death penalty. Rubin introduced new evidence that Long had been exposed to pornography as a child, slept with his mother until he was thirteen and witnessed her sexual activities with other men. Such damaging experiences, Rubin claimed, had resulted in Long‘s perverted sexuality in adulthood. He also related his client’s head injuries as a child and a young man, presenting doctors’ reports to support his contention that Long was predisposed to murder due to forces beyond his control.
Benito knew that Florida state law required him to prove one of nine specific criteria for imposing the death penalty. To counter Rubin‘s defense, Benito demonstrated to the jury that Simm’s murder met not one of these criteria - but four. The first two criteria met, Benito demonstrated, were that the crime was “heinous, atrocious or cruel” and “cold, calculated and premeditated.” Meeting a third criteria, the murder had been committed in conjunction with another violent felony, kidnapping. Finally, Long’s record of prior felonies met a fourth criteria.
Finding it difficult to disagree with such an overwhelming and compelling argument, the jury voted eleven-to-one in favor of the death penalty. Judge Griffin found that, despite Long’s serious mental and emotional problems, the four aggravating circumstances presented by the prosecution far outweighed the mitigating circumstances established by the defense.
Long was sentenced to death by electrocution for the murder of Michelle Simms on July 25, 1986.
Victim Lisa McVey
Despite his two death sentences, and multiple life sentences, Bobby Joe Long has taken full advantage of the appeals process to delay the commuting of his death sentence for more than a decade.
Long 8 years
Immediately after sentencing in the Virginia Johnson case, Long began the appeal process. His attorneys raised ten challenges against his conviction and sentence but the Florida Supreme Court addressed only the issue of his confession. During his initial interrogation, Long argued, he had told the detectives he might need an attorney before he began his confession. According to the US Supreme Court, Long’s desire to have an attorney present should have been clarified before any further questions were asked. The Florida Supreme Court ruled for a retrial, along with suppression of his confession.
Long was again found guilty of Johnson’s murder and sentenced to death in November 1988, but both his conviction and sentence were overturned during another appeal in 1992. The court found that, during Long’s second trial, the prosecution had used excerpts from a television news interview in which Long had confessed to the murders. The court ruled that in the new trial :
The interview could only be used in its entirety;
Evidence of cases with a guilty plea could not be used;
Evidence from the Lisa McVey case could be used only to establish Long‘s identity, and no details of the attack could be used;
Evidence from the Hillsborough County guilty pleas and convictions from Long‘s plea agreement were inadmissable as aggravating factors during the sentencing phase.
The third and final trial for the murder of Virginia Johnson began on February 1, 1994 - ten years after her murder. For the third time, Long was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.
Long’s first successful appeal in the Johnson case in turn complicated proceedings in the Simms case. Again, Long argued for a retrial due to the use of his confession and it was not until June 1988 that the Florida Supreme Court ruled that his plea agreement could not be set aside. The court determined that any influence Long’s confession may have had on the jury was a risk he undertook willingly and knowingly when entering into the agreement. In addition, the Court ruled that his previous conviction and sentencing may have unfairly influenced the decision to deliver the death penalty and, as a result, Long was entitled to a new sentencing hearing.
Long’s death sentence for the murder of Michelle Simms was upheld on October 15, 1992. Having exhausted his rights of appeal in both the Johnson and Simms cases, in January 1993 Bobby Joe Long began a series of collateral appeals that could delay the commission of his death sentence for another ten years.
The need to protect people from the possibility of a wrongful death sentence leaves many avenues open for the guilty to tie up the legal system for years through the process of appeals, at enormous cost to the tax payer. Very few prisoners who have been sentenced to death will actually have their sentences carried out. Effectively, most serve life sentences and die by some other cause. The many laws regarding rights of appeal seem to reflect an underlying reluctance to carry out the death penalty. Perhaps many of the problems would be solved if the option of the death penalty was removed altogether and replaced by a life sentence with no right of parole.