In his early 30s, fresh off his release from prison on rape charges, Timothy Krajcir enrolled in college to study psychology and the criminal justice system.
Like other students, Krajcir was seeking self-enlightenment, a detective said. But over the next six years, Krajcir murdered at least six women in two states, covering up his crimes in part by using what he learned at Southern Illinois University, authorities said.
"He said initially he was trying to figure himself out. But he failed, obviously," said James Smith, a Cape Girardeau police detective who helped link Krajcir to five homicides here dating back 30 years.
Krajcir, now 63, confessed to nine murders earlier this month, Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle said. He pleaded guilty Monday in Illinois to the 1982 murder of classmate Deborah Sheppard and was charged later that day with five counts of murder and three counts of rape in Cape Girardeau.
Prosecutors are building cases in three other homicides Krajcir confessed to, which took place in states other than Missouri and Illinois, Swingle said. Police have released no details about those killings.
Public Defender Patricia Gross represented Krajcir in Sheppard's killing but would not comment Tuesday, according to her assistant. Krajcir doesn't have an attorney in Missouri, according to court filings.
Authorities say Krajcir is a rare specimen — smart enough to elude police during his crime spree, and apparently private enough to keep his deeds secret in the ensuing years. He eventually graduated from Southern Illinois with a degree in law enforcement.
"If he was studying criminal justice and law enforcement, he definitely would know what police were looking for and how to avoid detection," Smith said.
For decades, Krajcir sat in an Illinois prison on a rape charge, telling no one about the murders while detectives in different states struggled to close the cases, Smith said.
One important step Krajcir took to cover up his crimes was choosing a city to commit them where he did not live. While Krajcir attended classes just 45 miles northwest of town, detectives focused on local suspects in the killings of the five Cape Girardeau women, said former detective M.C. Hughs.
Krajcir used the city only as a hunting ground, said Carbondale Police Lt. Paul Echols, who has interviewed Krajcir several times. Krajcir would stake out shopping center parking lots in Cape Girardeau, stalking women until he found one he liked and then following her home.
Cape Girardeau police found Krajcir's first victims on Aug. 15, 1977. Mary Parsh, 58, and her daughter, Brenda, 27, were found in their home, nude, lying side by side on the bed, their hands tied behind their backs. Each had been shot in the head.
Sheila Cole was kidnapped from a Wal-Mart parking lot and killed in November 1977. Her body was found at a rest stop in southern Illinois.
In January 1982, Margie Call, 57, was found dead in her home. Her hands appeared to have been bound, and she had been raped and strangled. That June, Milfred Wallace, 65, was found killed and partially nude. Her hands were tied and she had been shot in the head.
Police make connections
The similarities in most of the killings led investigators to believe they were connected, Hughs said. But it was tough to imagine that the killer might be a stranger who chose them at random, so police looked at old classmates, mutual friends and past lovers of the women, he said.
The lulls between Krajcir's killings coincided with his stints behind bars on sex-related crimes, authorities said. He was jailed in Illinois in 1979 for having sex with his landlord's 13-year-old daughter, but given conditional release in 1981.
After moving to Pennsylvania, Krajcir was arrested in 1982 on sexual assault charges and imprisoned until 1988, when he was returned to Illinois to resume serving his sentence there because he had violated the terms of his parole. He has been in the state's custody since.
While he left some forensic evidence at the crime scenes, like hair or bodily fluid, investigators have not found any of his fingerprints that might have been entered into a national database, Smith said.
Police found a palm print matching Krajcir's at one crime scene, but palm prints weren't yet tracked when Krajcir was arrested in the early 1980s, Smith said.
Advances in DNA technology eventually led Echols to test a small sample from Deborah Sheppard's killing. It matched Krajcir's, which was in a database. Smith did a similar test with material from Wallace's killing, which matched Krajcir.
After initially denying his involvement in the murders, Krajcir confessed on Dec. 3, Smith said.