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Who Was The Freeway Phantom?

Was it one of these three suspects...or someone entirely different?

By Robyn ReischPublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Who Was The Freeway Phantom?
Photo by Simon Mumenthaler on Unsplash

It was the early seventies in Washington, DC. Six young black girls had been found dead within a year and a half. The oldest among them was eighteen - the youngest, only ten.

Each child had gone out on a short errand - down the block for some milk, across the street to the bus stop - and never returned. In every case, the victim's body was found several days later near the i-295 freeway. With the exception of those whose bodies were too decomposed to tell for sure, each girl had been sexually assaulted and strangled to death. Some were stabbed and tortured in various other ways.

Every victim was also missing her shoes - except for eighteen-year-old Brenda Denise Woodard. It is speculated that hers were left on because they were embellished with her name. Taking them would have been too much of a liability. 

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The killer taunted families and law enforcement with clues. He called the police and told them where to locate the body of sixteen-year-old Darlenia Denise Johnson when he felt they were taking too long to locate her remains. He called the home of ten-year-old Brenda Faye Crockett, as well. The Freeway Phantom even made Brenda herself speak to her family in her final moments. He wanted to find out whether or not they'd seen him take her. 

He left a note with the body of Brenda Woodard. It read: 

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This is tantamount to my insensitivity to people, especially women. I will admit the others when you catch me if you can!

-Freeway Phantom

Tragically, police never did catch the Freeway Phantom. There were, however three major suspects:

The Green Vega Rapists

A local gang known as the Green Vega Rapists came under suspicion for obvious reasons. Members who were already incarcerated at the local Lorton Prison were among the very first to be interviewed. One claimed to have information regarding fellow gang members' involvement in the murders. 

Was he turning on his brothers in hopes of a lighter sentence? Or was he breaking under the weight of his own guilty conscience? We may never know. 

Unfortunately, a local politician hoping to play up his toughness on crime revealed key details of the Lorton Prison interviews on the radio. Their most promising witness immediately withdrew his cooperation for fear of being targeted by the gang. 

Was any of it true in the first place, though? Or did he manufacture the story for his own benefit?

Two Ex-Cops

Edward Sullivan and Tommie Simmons were the kind of bad apples that ruin the whole bunch. They resigned from the force during their probationary period, having served less than one year apiece. They did so in response to an incident in which their guns "went missing". Still, most reports identify them as "former police officers".

The two men were convicted of the rape and murder of Angela Denise Barnes. She was fourteen years old. Angela's age and race - and even her name - fit seamlessly among the other victims of the Freeway Phantom, and she was initially thought to be one of his victims. When Simmons and Sullivan were found guilty, investigators hoped they had found an answer to the Freeway Phantom killings entirely.

Unfortunately, authorities were never able to conclusively link Simmons and Sullivan to the other killings. Had the evidence been covered up by sympathetic police brethren? Or was the similarity to the other cases just a tragic coincidence?

Carolyn Morris and Doretha Prince, sisters of then 13-year-old victim Carol Spinks; Photo Credit:

Robert Askins

In the late 1970's, Robert Askins was charged with the rape and murder of a 24-year-old woman. As they investigated him further, police were chilled to discover that his evil ran deeper than that.

This man's past was absolutely thick with criminal activity - and he had a particular hatred toward women. At nineteen, he used cyanide to poison five prostitutes at a brothel. One of them died. He stabbed another prostitute to death just a couple days later. In the aftermath, Askins was determined to be criminally insane. He was institutionalized for twelve years. Five months after his release, Askins strangled yet another woman to death.

Police searched his house and interviewed his colleagues. Unfortunately, they found only circumstantial evidence to connect Askins to the Freeway Phantom murders - namely, his frequent use of the word "tantamount". 

It is worth noting that Askins' known victims ranged in age from 24 to 42 years old at the time of his attacks. By contrast, the Freeway Phantom's victims were all children. Did Askins change his victimology - and then change it back? Or was this a simple case of two monsters living in the same city?

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Who do you think committed these atrocities? Will we ever know? As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Over half a century later, we can only hope for a karmic retribution on behalf of these children.

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About the Creator

Robyn Reisch

Robyn Reisch spends her days cooking, writing, and raising three gorgeous little hooligans. She is married to the world's greatest man.

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