Andy Lowery thought he had seen the type before when Wayne Adam Ford first walked into his Christian book and music shop a couple of years ago. “People who have problems come to see the Christian people,” Lowery says.
Ford said his marriage had busted up, he was losing touch with the toddler son he adored, his life was adrift. Lowery tried to help, selling Ford evangelical tracts and a Bible on tape to listen to on his trucking routes. He even took Ford to his men’s Bible study group.
Through it all, only one thing made Ford seem different from other lost souls who dropped by the store. “He said he was concerned,” Lowery says, “that he didn’t have a conscience.”
On Nov. 3, Ford has told investigators, he found his conscience. After a night of heavy drinking and a tearful session with his brother in a threadbare hotel room, the two paid an early-morning visit to the sheriff’s station in Eureka. Ford carried his Bible and a woman’s severed breast stuffed into a plastic bag. He confessed, investigators say, to strangling four women and dumping their sometimes dismembered bodies in different parts of the state.
Now, as he sits in a Humboldt County jail cell, held in lieu of $1 million bail, stunned family, friends and acquaintances are struggling to understand how a man many describe as sweet and helpful could have carried out the grisly crimes he has described.
And criminologists are trying to figure out whether Ford is that rarest of creatures--a serial killer with a conscience--or just a very good liar.
“There is a huge inconsistency between his savage attacks on women--the mutilation, the dismemberment, the strangling while having sex, all of which suggests a sexual psychopath in the extreme--and his seeming remorse and sensitivity,” says Michael Rustigan, a professor of criminology at San Francisco State University who teaches courses about homicide to police officers. “Let me say that serial killers are often accomplished liars.”
Ford has detailed a pattern of preying on young women, often drifters or prostitutes, women he met at truck stops, on city streets and in bars. Some say they survived his attentions. According to Ford, one who did not was the mother of four, ages 11 months to 10 years, a woman who reportedly worked nights, did not have a car and may have simply accepted a ride from the wrong person.
The identity of another victim is not known--the dismemberment of her body making identification impossible.
Police are investigating the possibility that Ford, a man who loves karaoke singing, served in the Marine Corps and drove a bus for disabled schoolchildren in Orange County, may be responsible for many more killings.
During his many interrogations, Ford apparently has come up with no better explanation for the vicious assaults and killings than that he burned with anger at his ex-wife, Elizabeth Ault, who divorced him in Las Vegas earlier this year. Ault, daughter of a Las Vegas police captain who Ford has said opposed their marriage from the start, lives in Las Vegas with their son.
Ford has told investigators, relatives and friends that he had visitation rights but that his ex-wife would not let him see the boy. Even now, he frets about what she will tell their son about Daddy. Ault--who had her divorce papers sealed after Ford turned himself in--could not be reached, and other members of her family declined to comment.
‘I Didn’t Mean to Hurt Anybody’
Repeatedly, investigators have described Ford as distraught, emotional, often overcome as he detailed his attacks.
“He’s not the kind of guy we typically deal with, like some gangbanger,” says Kern County Sheriff’s Det. Ron Taylor. After describing horrific acts of savagery, Ford “was apologetic at the end. He said: ‘I’m sorry these people got hurt. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,’ ” Taylor says.
Professor Jack Levin, who has written books on serial killers and runs a center for the study of violence at Boston’s Northeastern University, says Ford’s apparent remorse does not fit the pattern of a serial killer.
“In a sense, he reminds me more of a mass murderer than a serial killer,” Levin says. “Often, a mass murderer is bent on revenge--he wants to get even with a wife, or a boss or with society at large and sometimes he kills innocent people along the way.”
A serial killer is a sociopath, Levin says. Serial killers “are not doing anything wrong, from their point of view. If you don’t have a conscience, you don’t care.”
Rustigan, for one, remains skeptical that Ford’s regret, if it is real, extends to his victims.
“If this guy is sobbing and crying, the question I would ask is this: Are these tears of self-pity, or is this genuine sympathy for these women, these poor girls?” the criminologist says.
Ford was born into a military family in Petaluma, Calif., in 1961. He has always been close to his brother Calvin Rodney, born a year and nine months before him.
Ford has said he was not close to his father, Calvin E. Ford, who served 13 years in the Army and was a staff sergeant when he left in 1969. Now 60, he lives in Napa.
Anonymous relatives told the San Jose Mercury News that Ford blamed some of his problems on his mother, who reportedly divorced his father when Ford was 12, then disappeared from her sons’ lives. Ford responded with sarcasm to that report. “This all started with my mom. It always does, doesn’t it?” Ford told one investigator.
Ford’s family moved often as he was growing up, living in Eureka, Sonoma County, Okinawa. He attended Eureka High School in 1977, but didn’t graduate there.
In 1979, Ford joined the Marines. He told investigators he had hoped to be a career soldier. Trained as a chemical weapons specialist, he worked his way up to sergeant, but was demoted to corporal at one point, according to military records.
Ford, then 19, married Karen Kelly Dick in May 1981. He has told investigators that he had a mental and physical breakdown after the marriage disintegrated in 1984. Ford’s military records say he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in San Diego in September 1984 and honorably discharged from the service in January 1985.
After his discharge, Ford drifted from job to job in Southern California. In January 1986, he was arrested on suspicion of beating, raping and robbing a prostitute in Garden Grove, according to police records. But he was never convicted of that attack, and there is no record of court action in the case, which officers say they can’t remember.
In 1990, Ford got a job as a bus driver for the Capistrano Unified School District, driving children to and from the R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs facility in Dana Point.
“To the drivers, he was a quiet guy,” says Daniel Crawford, assistant superintendent for the district. “He showed up every day and was conscientious and wanted to do a good job.”
Ford Shoots a Dog to Death
James Fleming, the district superintendent, says he and Crawford were shocked to learn what Ford has allegedly confessed.
“When I see what he’s accused of doing, and I realize he was anywhere near schoolchildren, I’m mortified,” Fleming says.
Sometime between 1990 and 1995, Ford took a night job driving a tow truck for B&M; Towing in San Clemente. In another scrape with the law, he was questioned by police for shooting the company’s guard dog to death, an act he said was in self-defense. But the towing company manager didn’t buy Ford’s version of the story.
“He was upset because the dog was barking,” says the man, who declined to give his name. “He kept firing rounds in the dog after it was dead.”
In 1994, Ford married Ault in Las Vegas. She was 21 and he was 32. In December 1995, their son was born in Mission Viejo.
Shortly after that, the marriage apparently began to crumble and in 1996, Ford moved by himself into Arcata’s Town and Country Mobile Home Village. It is next to the Mad River, sandwiched between two concrete companies. Ford went to work for one, Arcata ReadiMix, as a truck driver.
The nerve-jangling rat-a-tat of gravel mixers can be heard all day at the trailer park. Gigantic mounds of gravel scooped from the riverbed rise above the fence that separates the park from ReadiMix.
Ford moved into the space next to Dan Ames, a concrete pourer who has been living there 19 years. A religious man, Ames found his new neighbor to be quiet, friendly, and troubled.
“I could tell that he was wrestling with something bigger than himself,” Ames says. “He talked about his wife and how he was angry with her. He talked about how much he missed his son. That’s why I started talking about the Bible with him, about the hope contained in the Bible.”
‘I Want to . . . Blow My Brains Out’
Sometime within the last year, Ford was laid off by ReadiMix, but quickly landed a new job, driving a long-haul truck for nearby Edeline Enterprises. Investigators say the truck had a large cab with two beds, a refrigerator and other amenities.
On Oct. 14, Ford had a minor brush with the law. A Vallejo, Calif., officer cited him for driving his big rig on a non-trucking route. Authorities say Ford was issued a traffic ticket in an area known to be frequented by prostitutes.
Then, on Nov. 2, the day before he turned himself in, Ford walked into the Ocean Grove Lodge, a bar, motel and restaurant just off U.S. 101 in the small northern Humboldt County town of Trinidad.
Marco Ibarra, who owns the lodge, says the trucker started drinking heavily--rum and Cokes, beers, Irish coffees. In a rough bar with a clientele of mostly fishermen and loggers, Ibarra says he had seen Ford once before.
“He drank a lot,” Ibarra says. “I asked him if he was OK. He said: ‘I want to get drunk and go up to my room and blow my brains out.’ ”
As the afternoon turned to evening, then night, Ford and Ibarra played pool three times, the lodge owner says. Ford asked for quarters and said he was going to call his brother in Vallejo. As Ibarra recalls, “He said: ‘I want to talk to my brother tonight. I can’t sleep, and I need to talk to him.’ ”
Late in the evening, Ford asked Ibarra if he could rent him his cheapest room. Ibarra gave him Room 0 for $38.50.
Sometime past midnight, Ford’s brother drove up in a black pickup, and the two went to the small room, nearly filled by a pair of twin beds with pink bedspreads, a bureau and a single chair.
By morning, the brothers were gone. A maid found the beds untouched. Shortly after 6 a.m., the pair showed up at the sheriff’s office in Eureka.
Investigators say Ford told them that he killed four women, one of whose name he did not know, someone he picked up in Eureka, took to his trailer and strangled while having sex. Ford allegedly used a saw and knives to cut up her body, storing some of the parts in his freezer and burying her head and other parts in a sand bar of the Mad River, not far from his trailer.
The woman’s headless torso was found by duck hunters, floating in Ryan Slough outside Eureka on Oct. 26, 1997. Ford took investigators to where he remembered burying her head, but they could not find it--perhaps, they fear, because it has been washed away.
Ford also told investigators that he killed Patricia Anne Tamez, a prostitute he picked up in Victorville, whose body was found in the California Aqueduct near Hesperia on Oct. 23 of this year. Tamez’s breasts had been cut from her corpse, and authorities say it was one of those that Ford gave them.
Police say Ford also confessed to killing Lanett White, a 25-year-old Fontana mother of four. Her body was found in an irrigation ditch near Lodi in September.
And they say he confessed to picking up a prostitute in Las Vegas, Tina Renee Gibbs, 26, and strangling her after sex. Her body was found in June in the California Aqueduct near the Kern County town of Buttonwillow.
The choice of victims does not surprise Rustigan, the criminologist.
“I suspect that he’s been raging against women for years,” Rustigan says. “Prostitutes are frequent victims of serial killers, because they are easy prey and because these guys have contempt for prostitutes.”
Ford insists that he is not responsible for any deaths other than the four he has told police about. But investigators now are painstakingly tracing his jobs and his trucking routes, matching them against unsolved murders of prostitutes and hitchhikers that go back as far as 1986.
Already, Sonoma County officials say, a prostitute has picked Ford out of a photo lineup as the man who tied her up, raped, beat and robbed her, then dumped her in a ditch near Healdsburg in August.
Charged With One Count of Murder
Kern County sheriff’s detectives say Ford told them that he had picked up at least five women in Bakersfield for sex since February and dumped two of them, bound but alive, on the side of the road.
Vallejo and Oakland investigators, among others, have reopened their books on several unsolved murders. Both the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department and Ford’s court-appointed attorney are getting phone calls and e-mails from women who suspect they encountered Ford.
“This guy has abducted women, has kept body parts. This is not something that was sparked by his wife leaving him a couple of years ago,” Rustigan says. “You don’t get that sadistic that fast.”
So far, Ford has been charged with a single count of murder in connection with the slaying of the unidentified woman in Humboldt County. He has pleaded not guilty.
Alarmed by the national publicity the case was attracting and his client’s willingness to help investigators who were flying in from across the West before he even had a lawyer, Ford’s attorney, Kevin Robinson, told the suspect to stop talking to investigators--but Ford has continued to meet with them.
“He was soft-spoken, polite, quiet. I would characterize him as cooperative,” said Vallejo Police Lt. JoAnn West, who met with Ford last week.
In the initial hours after he turned himself in, Ford told investigators that he decided to confess because he wanted to stop himself from killing again and wanted to let the suffering families of his victims know what had happened to their loved ones. Most of all, he said, he just wanted to die.
Investigators say Ford is not suicidal, just convinced that he deserves the death penalty for what he has done.
On Nov. 9, his lawyer petitioned Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson to issue a gag order in the case. Law enforcement officials and attorneys now are forbidden to speak publicly of it.
At the New Hearts Gifts bookstore, Lowery says he pities Ford.
“He was confused, hurt and he struck back in a horrible way,” Lowery says. But his face hardens when he is told that Ford has said he wants to die. That is only appropriate, Lowery says.
“If he was reading his Bible and he knows what the words say, he knows what the response will be to what he has done.”