Case File #0145
The Flat-Tire Murders
The South Dade Killer
"Each were found stripped of their clothing except for a single item"
During a six month period in 1975 an unidentified individual murdered five women in South Dade County, Florida. Despite a thorough investigation the killer was never apprehended and the murders stopped abruptly. Although there were several theories, and possibly upwards of nine or more related deaths, no suspects were ever identified and the case remains unsolved.
The murders began on 1 February 1975, when 20-year-old Judith Oesterling was found dead. She had been stripped of clothing and dumped in a canal. At the time of her death she had been working in a massage parlour and was last seen alive leaving work at 9:00pm two days earlier. Oesterling was known to use hitchhiking as her primary means of transportation. Later that month another body was found. 23-year-old Barbara Stephens was kidnapped from a South Dade shopping mall by an unknown individual. She was later found stabbed to death. There are conflicting reports regarding the location her body was found, with some stating she was found murdered in her home. When investigators located her car, they found someone has deliberately let down one of her tires.
On 12 April 1975, 17-year-old Arietta Tinker was found drowned in a canal located not far from where Oesterling was dumped. Tinker was the only victim who was married, although she was separated from her husband at the time of her death and they had a 1-year-old son together. Nothing was reported for several months and then the the killer struck again. On 15 June 1975, Nancy Lee Fox, a waitress at a Taco restaurant was last seen walking home alone. Fox had moved to Fort Lauderdale from West Palm Beach after the end of an unhappy relationship. The body of the 19-year-old was later found dumped in the same canal where Judith Oserterling's body was found. The canal was located just north of the Dade-Broward Line. As with the other victims she had been stripped of her clothing, sexually molested and her head had been struck with a blunt object.
Two high school friends, 14-year-old's Barbara Schreiber and Belinda Zeterower were last seen hitchhiking on 18 June at 10:00pm. They were later found murdered, their bodies dumped side by side in a Broward canal. They had been stripped of their clothing, sexually molested and both had been shot once with a heavy calibre handgun, one in the head and the other in the chest. Three weeks later on 10 July, the body of another teen, 15-year-old Robin Losch was found drowned in the same canal. This canal was located just 200 yards from where the bodies of Oesterling and Fox were found. When she was found Losch was fully clothed, wearing her multi-coloured blouse, blue jeans and a sterling silver ring. The police believed the killer felt comfortable in the area because he continued to return and dump more bodies only short distances apart.
On 22 July 1975, 27-year-old Ronnie Gorlin's car was found in a North Miami shopping mall parking lot, with one of the tires deflated. The following day her body was found in the same circumstances as some the previous victims, face down in the canal with her clothes removed, except for her sandals, and sexually assaulted. Gorlin had been working at Latrobe, Pa. and was planning to get married to her boyfriend Thomas Philips the following February.
Eight days later 21-year-old Elyse Napp was found dead in the exact same way, in a canal located less than a mile from where Ronnie Gorlin was found dead. It was determined that she had drowned in 10 to 12 feet of polluted water after being hit on the back of the head, which would have cause concussion. Only one item was left on her body, a necklace bearing a small charm, the Hebrew symbol for luck. Her death was so similar to Gorlin's that investigators immediately linked the two to the same perpetrator. Rapp, who worked as a secretary for Kelly Girl Services in Broward, came to Florida for the summer and was originally from New York. She left her Hallandale apartment on 30 July and was last seen at the Hollywood Shopping Centre. This is where her car was located and was found to have a flat tire.
On 17 August 1975 another body was found in a rockpit. It was the wife of Seth Gordon, an administrative aide to Senator Kenneth Myers. Mrs. Gordon's car, a bronze Vega was found in the same parking lot that Ronnie Gorlin's was, however her tires were not deflated and when her body was discovered it was still fully clothed. Investigators surmised it was either a different killer responsible for Mrs. Gordon's death or the same killer had now altered his MO. On 29 August 1975 the assistant medical examiner of Dade County stated his belief that five of the killings, those of Stephens, Schreiber, Zeterower, Gorlin and Napp were committed by the same perpetrator.
In September it was reported in the Sentinal Star that each of the victims cars were found with one flat tire, parked in shopping centre parking lots and that each of the victims drove rental and/or lease cars with "E" tags. It was also stated that each of the victims were Jewish and this meant the killer was extremely selective in his victim choice and that each were found stripped of their clothing except for a single item. The rest of the clothing was never found and had presumably been taken by the killer as a souvenir. Investigators explained the killer was perhaps a fetishist who kept the victims clothing as part of his fantasy.
The medical examiner believed the victims were killed using a variety of methods including, shooting, stab wounds from an ice pick and blunt force trauma from the use of a hammer. Initially only some of these murders were thought to be committed by the same person and was due to the similarity of the crime scenes, the MO of the killer and the signature used. Others believed these murders were committed by a much more prolific serial killer. The initial theory was proposed by Sonoma County Sgt. Erwin Carlstedt who thought they were the work of the same person who was also responsible for the deaths of young women in the states of Washington and Utah. Carlstedt believed this killer was bi-coastal and travelled from east to west committing over 30 murders throughout the country.
However on 16 August 1975, a breakthrough was made in connection with the murders in Utah when Ted Bundy was arrested after he attempted to evade a Utah policeman for a routine traffic stop. He was later linked to other murders in Washington, Idaho and Colorado. Florida investigators dismissed Carlstedt's theory, and concentrated their search for an individual who had a very clear M.O. He would deflate the tires of his victims in commercial parking lots and then offer them assistance, before kidnapping and later murdering them.

Ted Bundy

During questioning, Bundy would admit that before he started killing, he stalked women and experimented on different ways of rendering their vehicles immobile so he could offer his assistance. He tried pulling the rotor device out of their motor's distributors and also deflated the tires but these tactics failed on the university campus, which were his stalking grounds, as there were always plenty of guys around to help a damsel in distress. Although Bundy confessed to the majority of his murders in 1989, just before his execution, he did not admit to the murders associated with the Florida Flat-Tire case and no other suspects were investigated.

Written by Nucleus