- Mark Rein
A DNA Story: Catching Up to a Midwest Serial Killer
Coyote's heart pounded in his chest. It wasn't fear. Rather, what hunters called buck fever- exhilaration a predator feels when he is about to feed.
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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Coyote is on the move again. A frenetic drive town to town, searching for the next prize. In some ways, he's on safari trying to bag the big game, make the big score. In other ways, he thinks he's on a mission behind enemy lines. He technically had been a military man, but the term mission was a stretch for what he'd done as a Navy cook.
These were the kind of missions he could sink his teeth into. Dangerous. Rewarding. Failure could cost him his life, but the prize. Oh, so sweet.
Coyote thought back to the most recent victory. She had caught his eye in a parking lot. He pulled off. Followed her into the grocery store. The woman, maybe 50, nicely dressed. She looked a little sad as she took her time wandering the aisles. That was a tell. An older woman in no hurry, unaltered by the feverish pace of the world around her. No, this woman was taking her time. Contemplative. Not much in her cart.
He followed her back to the lot, passing real close. She didn't even sense the shark in the water. Oblivious. He noted the make color of her car. There was no one waiting for her in the car. It looked good so far.
When the new object of his affection pulled out, coyote followed. Carefully. It turned out she was only about five minutes from home. Not an upscale neighborhood, but not bad either. Medium-sized houses. Yards big enough for a dog. Some places down the street had swing sets, kids' toys scattered in the yard. Americana.
It was far better than he had known growing up. He smirked to himself. He liked his hunting ground.
Coyote cautiously circled the block, giving his new lady time. Sure enough, still unescorted, shuttling groceries inside. No one was there to help her at the door. Alone.
He was tempted just to pull in and get on with it. Discretion being the better part of valor, this wasn't how he did business. He knew from his studies that reckless disregard could get him captured. Instead, he pulled past, turned the corner, stopped at a spot where he could still see. The view was pretty good despite the summer foliage.
Coyote was comfortable watching. Kids and adults flowed to and from the surrounding working-class blocks. He attracted no attention from neighbors as their busy lives carried them past his parked car. He was gone before the porch lights came on, having waited long enough to know that no one was coming home to his new lady.
That place and other recently scouted possibilities continuously swirled in coyote's mind. They would be there until he scratched the itch. Not every place panned out. Sometimes he flat misread the signs. Instead of returning to a lonely lady, living quietly by herself, there would be a man, or worse, a family that he had missed before.
The grocery store lady was different. Coyote's return trips confirmed that his first assessment was right. There'd be no one else coming to the party.
Coyote arrived in the afternoon. He drove slowly past the house, then around to the opposite side of the block, looking for prying eyes, parking unobtrusively. This was part of his escape plan. If things went wrong, he'd flee out the back through the yards to the car.
Coyote tried to look confident, like he had reasoned to be there. He walked between the houses and into the backyard. He expected no one was home in the working-class blocks, and his luck held.
The back of his lady's house was right where he knew it would be. With a little maneuvering, he crossed the two backyards and found himself at her front door. Coyote's heart pounded in his chest. It wasn't fear. Rather, what hunters called buck fever- exhilaration a predator feels when he is about to feed.
Coyote was experienced. Careful. He always knocked on the front door first. If someone opened unexpectedly, he'd make up a name, admit a mistake, and beat feet away. No one answered the lady's front door. No sounds of a dog inside. He scanned up and down the block. Still no busybody neighbors in view.
Coyote retraced his steps to the rear of the house. He'd already picked where he was going in. A small but accessible casement window. The type that cranks out. Perfect. Easy to pop the extension bars. Hard to tell the window was ever broken. He was inside in 10 seconds.
The light was filtering dimly past opaque window shades from one side of the house. The August Missouri Air was thick, moist. Coyote was comfortable. This was now his cave.
He prowled around. He always learned a lot about the ladies by sifting through their personal things. Mail, magazines, the contents of the fridge, underwear drawers, nightstands. This particular place was hard to read. There was evidence of a man. Clothes, papers, but it was like he hadn't been there for a while. Maybe she was divorced. A widow?
Once Coyote had satisfied his curiosity, he thought about what he wanted to do. He paced the floors. His soft footfalls, the only sound in the quiet house. He reran the fantasies, superimposing them on the reality of the new scene. The anticipation was almost as good as the event. When his plan was complete, he settled into the dark, listening for his lady to come home to him.
Coyote didn't have to wait long. He lost track of time, but it was maybe an hour before he'd heard the sound of a car approaching. Slowly turning in. Engine cutting off. Then a car door closed, then surprise, a second.
Coyote jumped up from the back room, rushing but cautious. He peeked out a front window. He saw his lady, but there was a second woman. Younger, maybe twenties, also slim with dark hair. They were walking up to the front door.
Coyote returned to the back of the house. He had an instant to decide. Two, or should he go out the back window? Could he handle two?
He heard the keys rattle in the front door. The squeak of hinges. Lady's conversation spilled inside. In the bedroom, an impulse decision. Coyote hurried and tied the blue bandana around his face. Then he went to the sound of the ladies talking.
They were inside. The door was closed, and the lights were on around him. Coyote stepped out in the main room, brandishing his pistol. A scream escaped the young woman.
Raising the gun, coyote ordered them to be quiet. The two women standing in the kitchen instinctively moved closer to one another. Coyote circled to the front door and locked it.
The older woman said, "just take what you want and go." Coyote assured them that they wouldn't get hurt if they cooperated. He asked where the man was. It turned out he was in the hospital. The younger woman was there to visit her father. Perfect.
Coyote waved the pistol as he ordered the women to turn and put their hands behind them. As he bound them tightly with cord, he asked them about valuables in the house. There wasn't much, but he already knew that.
Then he moved his ladies into the bedroom, closing the door behind them. He made them sit on the bed, and he gagged them with the cloth he had set aside earlier. Tears streamed down both ladies' faces that they leaned into each other, their wide, shocked out eyes following coyote around the room.
With his ladies secure, he pulled off the bandana and smiled at them. They're gonna have some fun. All the dreams Coyote ever had came down to moments like this.
Before he started stripping off their clothes, he made a promise. If they made any noise, he would shoot the other in the head. They were almost silent. Sobbing. A whimper from time to time. Coyote made mother and daughter watch as he lived out his fantasies with their naked bodies.
When he was finished with his last desire sated, he positioned his two ladies face-down, side by side, on the bed, and he put a bullet through each of their heads.
Remembering the ecstasy of the moment. That shock of the gun blast reverberating through the small room Coyotes brought back to the present. He's driving his car, but savoring the memory of his latest kill puts urgency and his need for release. He makes a detour. Driving back to his place.
His home is a trailer tucked behind a house. An old lady, a grandmother, lives there. Coyote wants his slave. He doesn't see her outside, so he whistles. Within a minute, he hears the back door of the house open. It's not the old woman but her 11-year-old granddaughter. She's a thin, pretty girl, dark hair. Her face is a blank mask with dark circles under vacant brown eyes. She follows coyote inside. He tells the girl to get in the back and remove her clothes. She does exactly as he says because she needs to protect her family. She knows he's an animal and he'll kill grandma if she resists.
In the late seventies and eighties, there was a man who raped and murdered women as a hobby. He lived in southern Illinois, but he traveled to several bordering states to do his evil deeds. The criminal's body of work was extensive. To the police at the time, the individual crimes were just that- isolated incidents or small clusters of crimes with very little evidence and no way to connect them across towns, much less across county or state lines.
Aside from the general crime category, there wasn't much to link the events. The man was a violent sadist, but unlike others of his kind, he didn't adhere to an MO or have a narrow victim type that might give him away. The rapes and murders went unlinked and would remain that way for over two decades.
The man was careful, leaving as little trackable evidence as possible. Crime scene technicians pulled a smudged partial here and there, but mostly there were no prints. The mistake the man made was a failure of imagination. He focused on the current detection techniques but did not anticipate the changes technological advancement would bring. So, he was not careful about leaving semen behind. On the occasions where he sustained injury and bled, either breaking open a window or during the struggle with his victim, they collected some of that blood from the scene. The crimes went unsolved. Evidence from the murders buried deep in property rooms across the region.
As advances in DNA analysis progressed through the nineties and past the turn of the century, victims' relatives began asking questions. Those questions prompted a search for the long-buried evidence and an investigative renaissance- the birth of the cold case detective. The archeological digs that were happening in police property rooms matched an effort to update and breathe fresh life into aspects of cases that sometimes had been dormant for more than a quarter century.
Early DNA matching successes led to CODIS the Combined DNA Indexing System, a national database, and laws in all 50 states that require DNA collection from certain convicts.
It was in this intersection of new technology and complimentary legal requirements where the distance between some unsolved violent crimes and the unknown offender converged. As law enforcement submitted DNA samples from prison inmates across the country, a slow but steady trickle of matches were being made. Over time, the trickle became a flood.
This is how one criminal in the Midwest was exposed. It turned out that dozens of rapes and many murders were the work of one man. In 2007 and 2008, one sample hit repeatedly. The name was Timothy Krajcir. In the words of author Michelle McNamara, because of DNA technology, he was "forced to step out into the light".
Who was Krajcir? As the investigators and journalists began digging, this is what they found. Fern Yost gave birth to a son on November 28th, 1944, in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. The father abandoned the mother and son shortly after the birth. Within a few years, Fern met and married Bernie Krajcir, who adopted the child.
Growing up, he was a smart boy, showing promise academically, but he found himself in regular trouble. He liked to steal things. In addition, as he approached puberty, he developed a penchant for voyeurism, exhibitionism, and an unusual sexual attraction to his mother.
At 17, Krajcir started his adult life by joining the Navy. In 1963, he worked as a cook while stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base in North Chicago, Illinois. He never lost his childhood penchant for thievery, and ev