Further Reading: “The Truck Stop Killer”

Further Reading is a new blog feature in which we take a deeper look at topics from stories featured on Longform. It is produced along with Pitt Writers.

Last week, Longform picked Vanessa Veselka’s “The Truck Stop Killer” about her search for possible connections between her hitchhiking days and a murderer:

If there was any way to connect my story to [Robert Ben] Rhoades, it would be through the body of the girl in the Dumpster. Records on her would provide a date and a place that could then be checked against Rhoades’s trucking logs. To at least one of my questions—was Rhoades my guy?—I’d have a clear answer, a simple yes or no.

Here’s further reading on memory, Veselka, and Rhoades:  

The Mobile Torture Chamber of Serial Killer Robert Ben Rhoades
Tricia Romano • TruTV Crime Library • September 2012

A more detailed look at the killer’s methods and eventual discovery—and two of his victims, Lisa Pennal and Shana Holts.

As with Pennal, Rhoades waited for Holts to fall asleep in the truck. In the middle of the night, he made a sudden stop.

When she tried to escape, Rhoades responded by hitting her in the face. He took her at gunpoint to the mangy mattress in the back of the camper and shackled her with a handcuff to a bar hanging above her head. 

Sleeping Protects Memories from Corruption
Tina Hesman Saey • Wired • January 2011

Veselka emphasizes how little sleep she got while hitchhiking and how that may have played into her fuzzy memories. “I could rest but not dream,” she writes. “I could tell you the last three songs played on the radio if you asked, but only if you asked. If you didn’t, I had no memory of them at all.” On the link between sleep and memory:

Replaying memories while people are awake leaves their memories subject to tinkering. But reactivating memories during sleep protects them from interference.

Wooden Leg
Eric Berne • Games People Play • 2006

The author mentions Rhoades’s favorite book, a classic psychology text Games People Play. Read in the context of serial killers, the games take on a chilling feel.

The most dramatic form of “Wooden Leg” is “The Plea of Insanity.” This may be translated into transactional terms as follows: “What do you expect of someone as emotionally disturbed as I am-that I would refrain from killing people?” To which the jury is asked to reply: “Certainly not, we would hardly impose that restriction on you!”

FBI Makes a Connection Between Long-Haul Truckers, Serial Killings
Scott Glover • LA Times • April 2009

In 2009, the FBI began a database called the Highway Serial Killings Initiative to help find and track serial killers on the road. On its development and use:

For the most part, the FBI analysts assigned to the serial killer program have spent their time combing through crime data that is months or even years old for patterns that might link slayings to one another or to a suspect. But occasionally, they have spotted patterns as they were actually occurring. That was the case two years ago when authorities noticed that dead prostitutes who had been shot with a .22-caliber gun were being found along highways in Georgia and Tennessee.

A Conversation with Vanessa Veselka
Uzoamaka Maduka • The American Reader • October 2012

Writing, race, gender, and curiosity in an interview with Veselka.

People asked me after reading the article, “Do you think it was Rhoades?” I have two answers to that. The technical answer is, probably not. I just don’t see enough evidence that it’s him or anybody else. But the true answer is, I’ve lost the sense that it matters. Whether it’s Rhoades or somebody else—that is totally irrelevant. That’s not a relevant answer…Who gives a shit about their identity? The truth is that they are common.

Robyn Jodlowski


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