Altemio Sanchez seemed like the perfect family man. In fact, he held a terrible secret…
Baseball coach. Dad of two. Easy-going factory worker. Rapist and murderer?
That was what Altemio Sanchez, 48, stood accused of after his arrest in 2007. And, indeed, what he’d finally plead guilty to.
To the outside world, to his neighbours and friends, Sanchez was the model small-town citizen.
Married to his wife Kathleen, dad to two grown-up sons, he’d held down his factory job for over 20 years.
Mild-mannered, his co-workers called him.
At weekends, he’d usually host barbecues or coach baseball.
A simple, quiet life in the town of Cheektowaga, Buffalo, near the American border with Canada and Niagara Falls.
But this quiet life hid an evil secret…
Sanchez was the man that police officers knew as the Bike Path Killer…
The moniker was coined after three women were killed near different bike paths in the sleepy town.
The first victim was Linda Yalem, 22. A student, she was out training for the New York City Marathon on 29 September 1990.
She was found on the Ellicott Creek Bike Path – she’d been raped and then strangled to death.
The next victim was Majane Mazur, 32, who was murdered in November 1992 on a secluded path near a railway line.
Hiding in plain sight, in 1996 Sanchez even entered the memorial run set up in Linda Yalem’s memory – which police recorded, looking for clues.
But he escaped them.
Many years passed with no more bodies.
But Sanchez was free to strike again, and his third victim was Joan Diver, 45, who disappeared on 29 September 2006.
She was a mum of four, out jogging along the bike path.
Joan was beaten to death exactly 16 years to the day since Linda Yalem met the same fate in the same place.
The local police set up the Bike Path Task Force, to try to find out what was going on.
There were rapes, too, over the years.
In fact, a man called Anthony Capozzi was imprisoned for two rapes in similar circumstances.
Perhaps Sanchez talked about Capozzi’s arrest and conviction with his law-abiding friends.
A family man, a good man, a community man. Sanchez was all those things to many. But he was also a rapist and murderer, a cold-blooded stalker.
Some called him ‘Uncle Al’, because he was so friendly and kind. Or so it seemed.
In fact, he’d meticulously plan his murders, even leaving tape – with which to cover victims’ eyes – in different spots, ready for his attack.
He’d come at them from behind, attacking without warning. Barely any chance for his innocent victims to fight back.
Yet had the clues, in fact, been there all along?
In 1991 and 1999, Sanchez was arrested for soliciting prostitutes.
To law officials, that didn’t make him a killer. They couldn’t jump to that conclusion.
So, while Sanchez got on with his life, police continued their search.
Then, going through old files, they found a car number plate, given to them by a rape victim who’d told officers about the vehicle driving away from the scene.
It belonged to Sanchez’ uncle…who told officers his nephew had been driving.
Armed with DNA from eight different crime scenes, police believed Sanchez was their man.
So they set a trap…
On the evening of 13 January 2007, they sat patiently in a Latin American restaurant, where Sanchez dined with Kathleen – who still had no idea of her husband’s despicable alter ego.
When the couple had gone, officers took Sanchez’ glass and cutlery, found the DNA match they needed to arrest him.
A cunning killer, who’d got away with murder for so long, was finally trapped by a simple glass of water.
In May 2007, Altemio Sanchez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the strangulation of three women.
Astoundingly, while he admitted raping between 13 and 20 women since the early 1980s, he couldn’t be prosecuted because too much time had passed and US law didn’t permit it.
‘Whatever sentence I get today I deserve,’ Sanchez, 49, said when he was sentenced to 75 years to life in prison.
It was little comfort to the victims’ families, or to wrongly imprisoned Anthony Capozzi who was released after protesting his innocence for so long.
While the judge sentenced Sanchez, the killer’s wife Kathleen sat quietly crying, covering her eyes, horrified and devastated.
‘This man led one half of his life that was very appropriate,’ defence lawyer Andrew LoTempio said after the sentencing. ‘I really believe there was a part of him that hates the other part of him.’
Perhaps for Sanchez, being a kind family man just wasn’t enough. He needed to rebel against the normality of his life in the vilest way possible.
Now behind bars, ‘Uncle Al’ is nobody’s friend.
The bike paths are safe to use again, but the memories of what happened there are whistling in the wind between the trees forever.