Robert Ben Rhoades was like something straight out of a horror movie – but his crimes were all too real.
For years, police kept finding skeletal remains near America’s desert highways.
Who were these victims? And who was killing them?
Then, in April 1990, Arizona state trooper Mike Miller spotted a lorry parked on the highway.
Inside, he saw a terrified, naked woman shackled from the ceiling of the cab with handcuffs and chains. Gagged with a horse bit, she was covered in whip marks and cuts.
Miller had stumbled upon trucker Robert Ben Rhoades’ mobile torture chamber.
Police believed Rhoades had kidnapped and tortured an average of three women a week before his arrest.
But what turned him into a serial killer?
Rhoades was born in 1945 in Iowa to Betty and Ben.
At first, he was raised by just Betty. Then Ben returned from the Army. Ben was a strict authoritarian and a paedophile. Rhoades would later tell he’d been abused by his father.
By 18, Rhoades had joined the Marines. Then, Ben was convicted of molesting children, and killed himself. It had a terrible impact on Rhoades. Soon after, he was dishonourably discharged for theft.
He blew his savings on prostitutes – and developed an interest in extreme S&M sex.
Police believe he abducted hitchhikers throughout the 80s. Until April 1990, when Miller caught Rhoades…
At the police station, the terrified girl from the lorry explained she’d been hitchhiking when Rhoades picked her up. He’d handcuffed her and opened his ‘rape kit’ – a briefcase packed with a sadist’s cruel instruments of pain.
Rhoades whipped her chest and back, pierced her genitals with sharp objects, and forced her to walk through the desert on a collar and lead.
‘He got off on torture,’ the girl said.
He’d boasted he’d been doing it for 15 years, and his nickname was ‘Whips and Chains’.
Rhoades was charged with aggravated assault, sexual assault and unlawful imprisonment.
Now Rhoades’ third wife told police he’d beaten and raped her, too, before she’d fled.
And Houston police recalled a similar case three months before. An 18-year-old girl had run, hysterical, from a building site. She was half-naked, handcuffed, beaten, and had a chain round her neck.
She wept that she’d been hitchhiking when a trucker had abducted, raped and tortured her. The girl identified Rhoades.
Searching his flat, police found more torture implements. And multiple photos of a teenage girl, often naked, always shackled. In some she was in a barn. A year on, a girl’s body was found in a barn in Illinois.
She was Regina Walters, 14, who’d vanished with her boyfriend, Ricky Lee Jones, while hitchhiking in February 1990.
The girl in Rhoades’ photos.
As with all his victims, her hair was cropped, her pubic area shaved…
Police checked Rhoades’ old notebooks. Inside one, he’d scrawled Ricky is a dead man.
It seemed he’d kidnapped them both, killed Ricky – then kept Regina for a month before throttling her.
In 1992, Rhoades admitted Regina Walters’ murder and was sentenced to life without parole.
In March 2012, he admitted the murders of hitchhiking newlyweds Patricia Walsh, 24, and Douglas Zyskowski, 28.
Given another life sentence without parole, Rhoades will die in jail, a monster too dangerous to be released.