The Egypt Valley was wild, isolated, and full of timber, brush, and concealed inlets. In short, it was the ideal place to dump a body. It was a newspaper editor at the Ohio Valley Journal, Mitch Malone, who finally discovered the pattern. He began researching unsolved murders and documented eleven deaths-all women—over a five-year period. The victims, he noticed, were largely disposable members of society—prostitutes, drug addicts, petty criminals, and the occasional wild child, like Donna Herrick. He presented his findings in an award-winning series of stories in which he dubbed the killer, the "Egypt Valley Strangler." Newspapers all over the country picked up Malone's stories, and the remote Egypt Valley of eastern Ohio and its strangler became known to all.
Malone's series of stories ended, but the killings did not.
Sheriff's offices and small police departments along the Interstate 70 corridor began comparing notes and looking at old case files.
They had a problem.
The strangler continued to use the Egypt Valley as his killing grounds. Frustrated sheriffs called in the FBI for assistance, but they were no more successful than the locals. The national media descended on the little towns of Flushing, Hendrysburg, Holloway, and Sewellsville, interviewing residents. Some speculated it was a local man, a hunter perhaps, someone familiar with the woods and terrain. Others suggested an over-the-road trucker who passed through the area on occasion. In the four years after Malone's series of stories, another seven women—making eighteen in all—would be found in or near the Egypt Valley.
The murderer's ability to ply his craft with impunity was an embarrassment to law enforcement. Thus, it was with great fanfare in late October of 2001 that they announced they had their man.
This, however, did little to ease the troubled mind of Ed Herrick. He used a yellowed nail to pick at a chip of paint that was arching its back on the arm of his chair. "I'll die not knowing for sure what really happened, who really killed her," he said. "They say it was that one fella, that white supremacist boy, but I don't think they know for sure. I think they wanted to clear up all those murders, so they blamed 'em on him, and that was that. Case closed. It's important for fellas like you to find the killer. That's what you do. I don't worry about it anymore. I don't know if he did or he didn't. Either way, it doesn't bring my daughter back, does it? She's gone, and I understand that he'll be gone pretty soon, too. I suspect I'll be dead not long after that. Maybe I'll find out what really happened when I get to the other side."
* * *
The higher you climb in the justice system, the less interaction you have with the Ed Herricks of the world, the victims, the individuals left to pick up the pieces and whose lives are forever broken by the cruelty of others. The day I drove to eastern Ohio and interviewed Ed Herrick and Nick Dresbach was the first time I felt like I had done legitimate investigative work in the nearly three years since I was elected attorney general of the state of Ohio. I had been dealing with the so-called elite of the criminal justice system, the white-collar stuff, graft, misspent campaign funds, scams. The men—they're always men—I dealt with wouldn't sully their hands with a Saturday night special, but they had no compunction about bilking an eighty-year-old widow out of her life savings.
Losing a life savings, however, is nothing like having a cop show up at your front door and tell you that your daughter has been found face down in a lake. For that reason, law-enforcement professionals tend to dehumanize the victims. They push to the outside limits of their consciousness the photographic images of the victim's smile or tales of their tenderness. They treat their cases as if they are complicated puzzles to be solved and devoid of humanity. It is a coping mechanism that keeps them from losing their minds with grief.
I had done it many times. I immersed myself in the technical, scientific, and legal machinations of the case in order to put a man in prison or see him sentenced to death. But at some point, I would find myself across the table from a grieving father or wife seeking answers for their loss, my technical world colliding with their raw emotions.
That is why I became a prosecutor. I sought justice for those who could not fight for themselves, either because they were dead or because they were survivors thrust into the violent world of predation. Regardless of my motivations, the worst part of the job was dealing with the Ed Herricks of the world, those souls who would go to their graves with a hole in their heart as real and ravaged as one from a bullet.
As I drove back to my office that day, I was oddly rejuvenated by the misery of Ed Herrick. I had shared in his pain at the loss of a woman who would be perpetually twenty-three and full of life, and it was a reawakening. I remembered what I had been born to do, and once again my life had real purpose.