Although Hollie and I are wellness-focused, we also love a good true crime story. On episode 9, we talked about the excellent new Richmond podcast, Southern Nightmare, and I mentioned my "hometown murder" which also tells the story of the Southside Strangler. With that in mind, I'm sharing that story here.
As an avid Murderino, I originally submitted this to the gals at My Favorite Murder for their minisodes. To my knowledge, they've never read it on air, but I'm not holding it against them.
Mom found his ski mask in the front yard
My mother just retired after 40 years of teaching high school math, and when I asked her what she’d miss most, she said, “telling the kids every year about the Southside Strangler.”
Yeah, my mom is the F-ing best.
In the late eighties when I was very little, the Southside Strangler murdered four single women inside their homes in my neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia.
I remember hearing this story a thousand times as Mom’s best party anecdote:
The murders were very publicized and everybody in town knew about them while they were happening. My mom was super creeped out and convinced she was next on the list because: one victim lived a block away from our house, another lived down the street, one was connected to our family friend, and another took place in Arlington, my parents’ hometown.
One day, Mom and Dad were doing work in the front yard and found a ski mask in the bushes. Mom was immediately freaked out because it wasn’t a store-bought Balaclava; it was a black knit hat with the eyes and mouth cut out. Dad was less concerned and laughed about it; our house is on the main street in that neighborhood, and we’d found crazy shit in the yard before.
But Mom called the cops, and minutes later there were four squad cars and two detectives at our house. It turned out the mask belonged to the killer, and it helped convict him by confirming the timeline of the murders. He had killed a woman in her apartment down the street and then stolen her car. But the car broke down or he wrecked it, and he ended up running down Forest Hill Avenue on foot, tossing the ski mask as he ran.
30 years later, Mom and Dad still live in the same house. And when I moved back to town after a long time away, I decided for the first time ever to google the real story and see how true Mom's version was.
Timothy Wilson Spencer spent some time in jail for breaking and entering and afterward ended up living in a halfway house in our neighborhood. In the fall of 1987, he brutally raped and murdered four women after breaking into their homes, often through open windows. He wasn’t caught for a while during his spree, in part because he was a young, attractive, black man—and as we know, that doesn’t fit the typical serial killer profile.
But ultimately, his case was the first murder case ever convicted based on DNA evidence. And it led to the first overturned conviction based on DNA, because the wrong person was initially convicted of his first murder.
I found absolutely nothing to support Mom’s story, the ski mask, or whether it actually even mattered. But I’m gonna go ahead and assume it’s the truth.
Anyway, that’s the story of the Southside Strangler. Not quite as good coming from me and not your trigonometry teacher, but certainly explains why I’m a lifetime Murderino.
xoxo & ssdgm
PS: If you're looking for a new beach book, Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwell is loosely based on this case and is an excellent work of pre-DNA paperback murder mystery.