Serial killers : the serial homicide case of the day

The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton

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  Dudley, Kenneth E. and Irene Gwyn

On February 9, 1961, the body of a female child was found along Route 1, near Lawrenceville, Virginia. Indications of severe abuse included bruises, open sores, a healing fracture of the child's right leg. The cause of death was listed as a combination of exposure to the elements and malnutrition.

Suspicion quickly fell on Kenneth and Irene Dudley, stopped by a highway patrolman on February 6, not fifty yards from where the tiny corpse was found. The Dudleys had been traveling with several ragged children in their car, and a description was broadcast, leading to their arrest near Fuqua, North Carolina, on February 10. The next day, they were back in Brunswick County's jail, attempting to explain themselves to homicide investigators.

Interviews with two older daughters, in New York, revealed that Kenneth and Irene departed Syracuse in July 1958, with six children in their care. At the time of their arrest, only one -- two-year-old Christine -- was still alive. The others had been lost along a rambling trek across the continent and back again.

Authorities could chart the family's progress with a string of bodies. Claude had been the first to die, on November 19, 1958, still three months shy of his fourth birthday; his body, bound in canvas and a blanket, had been found near Lakeland, Florida. Norman Dudley, ten years old, had died December 23, 1959, with eight-year-old Charles following on Christmas day; their bodies, tied together in a blanket and canvas, were dropped off a bridge into Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, on January 1, 1960.

Three-year-old Deborrah Jane survived until May 21, 1960; her small corpse was wrapped in canvas, wedged into a cardboard box and dumped on a rubbish heap outside Jenkins, Kentucky. Carol Ann, age nine, was the last, her blanket-wrapped body discovered in a patch of snow near Lawrenceville on February 9.

Investigation demonstrated that another Dudley child had been unearthed near Syracuse, New York, in 1946, resulting in Kenneth's imprisonment for improper burial. Dudley had served a year on that charge, but detectives never pressed the search for evidence homicide of.

In custody, statements from Irene Dudley documented a pattern of brutal abuse through the years. In fits of anger, Kenneth often beat the children over trivial offenses, sometimes binding them with ropes for a day or more at a time, resulting in loss of circulation to arms and legs. Once, Irene recalled, her husband slapped one of the girls for "moving a lot," and then thrust his fingers down the child's throat to silence her "hollering."

Above all else, the Dudley children finally fell prey to malnutrition and a general neglect. "Because we had no money," Irene told police, "at times the children were denied food, as punishment for misbehavior. At times, my husband and I ate while the children had nothing. We were better off than the children." Both defendants were confined for psychiatric observation pending trial.

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