Michigan born in 1936, Gary Taylor spent his early years in Florida, launching his first attacks on women there, when he was in his teens. His standard M.0. involved loitering around bus stops after nightfall, waiting for solitary women to disembark, assaulting them with a hammer. Confined as a juvenile, Taylor returned to Michigan on release, in 1957, and there became notorious as the “Royal Oak Sniper,” shooting women he found on the streets after dark. Thus far, none of his victims had died, and Taylor was shuttled from one psychiatric hospital to another over an eleven-year period, assaulting several Detroit women during ill-conceived furloughs. Despite his continuing violence and a self-proclaimed “compulsion to hurt women,” Taylor was rated a safe bet for out-patient treatment, “as long as he reports in to receive medication.” Tiring of the game in late 1973, he stopped showing up at the hospital, and authorities waited fourteen months before listing his disappearance with the National Crime Information Center in Washington, D.C.
By that time, Taylor had murdered at least four women in three different states. A pair of victims from Ohio — 25-year-old Lee Fletcher and 23-year-old Deborah Heneman — were buried in Taylor’s back yard before he abandoned his home in Onsted, Michigan, moving west to Seattle. There, on the night of November 27, he abducted and killed a young housewife, Vonnie Stuth. Officers traced him to Enumclaw, Washington, where he sat still for interrogation but refused to take a polygraph exam. In the absence of an NCIC listing, homicide investigators did not know he was a fugitive, and they were forced to set him free. By the time Michigan authorities plugged Taylor’s name into the national computer, he had vanished again, bound for Texas.
On May 20, 1975, Taylor was picked up in Houston on a charge of sexual assault, swiftly confessing his role in four murders. Victims Fletcher and Heneman were unearthed in Michigan on May 22, and Taylor signed confessions in two other cases, including those of Houston victim Susan Jackson, 21, and Vonnie Stuth, found buried near his former home in Enumclaw. Further investigation cleared him of six other Washington murders, now blamed on Ted Bundy, but officers in Texas, Michigan, and California suspect him in as many as 20 unsolved homicides. Convicted on the four counts he confessed, Taylor was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.
Rest In Peace, Dear Father
Gary Addison Taylor a.k.a. Phantom Sniper
1936 – 2009
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