Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Draw Me A Killer

By Larry Mauro
Detective Dragnet
February 1980 (Volume 24, Number 1)

There very likely wasn't a more popular young couple in Paducah, Kentucky, than Teresa Hayes and Joe Mayer. So, it didn't come as any big surprise when they announced their engagement.

During the three months that their marriage bans were posted in the St. Thomas More Catholic Church and they received their instructions from Father Aloysius Powers, the couple refurbished an older home and made plans for their honeymoon.

Joe, 24, had lived most of his life in Paducah. He worked as an emergency medical technician with the Angels of Mercy ambulance service and had registered to enter the paramedic trainng program. Teresa, 21, planned to enter Paducah Community College to take a course in nursing while Joe was becoming a paramedic.

The wedding was on Saturday, July 28, 1979. The church was filled to overflowing and someone said you couldn't have gotten another person inside with a shoe horn. The reception was a gala affair. The fellows took turns kissing the bride and joshing Joe with the old bromides of having lost his freedom and taken on a ball-and-chain. The girls kept gushing over Teresa and said they had never seen a more beautiful bride.

The young couple confided to their parents that they planned to slip away from the reception and drive as far as Memphis for their first night. From there they planned to go to Biloxi, Mississippi, and then on to New Orleans. A very practical person, Joe had made the reservations at all of the motels in advance.

Amid shouts of good wishes and a rain of rice, the couple left the reception in Joe's 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass. Someone said they might be riding in a car but they were actually floating on a pink cloud.

The honeymoon would last just 30 hours. The perfect couple, headed for a perfect life, would have it end in a ghastly, heinous murder.

Joe called his father at 10 o'clock on Sunday night. He said they were in Biloxi. They had spent the day on a leisurely drive, sightseeing along the way. He said they had just finished an excellent dinner and planned to go to bed and possibly watch television for awhile.

Joe's father chuckled and told him that as he recalled, he hadn't watched television on his honeymoon.

Monday noon, the maid at the motel in Biloxi came into the office with a report that the bed in the unit rented by the young couple had not been slept in. There were suitcases in the room and a woman's purse on the nightstand. The car was gone.

"Don't worry about it," the manager told her. "They're honeymooners and sometimes they do strange things. They'll likely be back later to get their things."

Tuesday noon, a couple were checking the lot markers in a new, undeveloped subdivision of Rolling Hills, 15 miles north of Pass Christian, Mississippi. They came on the horrifying sight of the two bodies.

The corpse of the young man was on the ground with hands and feet bound. The body of a young woman, nude from the waist down with her hands tied behind her back, had been flung on top. The moist heat from the Gulf had already started the decomposition of the flesh.

The office of Harrison County Sheriff Leroy Hobbs was notified in Gulfport. Deputies Craig Monroe and John McAdams arrived on the scene with a crew from the coroner's office.

Both victims had been shot in the back of the head with a small caliber weapon. An immediate identification was made as there were credit cards and $300 in travelers checks in the man's wallet.

"It couldn't have been robbery," Monroe said, noting that both of the persons were still wearing expensive rings and wrist watches.

A call was put in to Paducah. The shocked and grief-stricken parents were notified. There was no doubt from the descriptions and identification that the corpses were those of Teresa and Joe. Sherriff Hobbs was told about the call Joe had made to his parents on Sunday night from Biloxi. He was also told that the couple were on their honeymoon and had been driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass, copper colored with a beige top, and he was given the Kentucky license plate numbers.

Monroe contacted the police in Biloxi with a request for a check at the motel. The report came back shortly that the suitcases and Teresa's purse with money in it were still in the motel room. The bed ad not been disturbed and there were no signs of blood or violence in the room.

"The call to Paducah was made from a telephone in the office," the biloxi officer told monroe. "The clerk recalls they were both there and both talked on the telephone. It looks like they must have been kidnapped as they were returning to their room. We haven't located anyone here at the motel who heard or saw anything but we'll keep checking."

Physical evidence where the bodies were found suggested the slayings had taken place at that spot. It posed a question for Monroe. The undeveloped subdivision is well off Interstate 10 that skirts the Gulf from Biloxi to New Orleans. Had the killer selected the spot by random, or was he acquainted with the area?

"Let's just hope that he keeps the car for awhile," Sheriff Hobbs said. "It's distinctive and with the Kentucky plates should be easy to spot."

There was an alert out on the vehicle covering the entire South.

The bodies were taken to New Orleans for post-mortem examinations by pathologists. A report came back that the weapon used was a .22-caliber. Joe had been shot once in the back of the head and Teresa twice. Decomposition of the flesh made it impossible to positively determine the young woman had been raped. The fact that she had been found nude from the waist down and the killer hadn't taken the travelers checks or jewelry pretty much determined the motive.

Thursday moning Monroe received a telephone call from a resident in West Gulfport. "I saw in the paper that a young couple from Kentucky had been murdered and you are looking for their car."

"That's right," Monroe said.

"I think it's parked just down the street from my house."

When the deputies arrived, the license positively identified the car as being that of Joe Mayer. The person who had called said, "I saw it there Monday morning. I thought at the time one of the neighbors must be having visitors from Kentucky.

The right front fender of the car was crumpled. Dirt and grass was wedged into the lower part of the radiator and under carriage. It definitely had been in some kind of an accident.

Deputies canvassed the neighborhood. They were unable to locate anyone who could recall seeing anyone in the automobile. It was towed into the sheriff's garage for a thorough examination by lab technicians. There were no signs of blood, confirming that the murders had taken place where the bodies had been found.

Sheriff Hobbs put in a call to Paducah. He requested that the parents of Mayer be contacted and asked if Joe had made any mention that he had been in a wreck at the time he called on Sunday evening.

The response was negative. Joe's father said he was positive that if there had been an accident, his son would have mentioned it at the time he called.

It posed the question of whether the accident had take place before of after the slayings. It was answered a couple of hours later with a telephone call from a farmer, located three miles west of where the bodies had been found.

"A guy woke me up at two o'clock on Monday morning and told me he had run his car into a ditch and asked if I would help him get it out," the farmer said. "I just heard on the radio about that car that was found that belonged to a couple who were killed. I'm sure it was the same one."

Hobbs, Monroe and McAdams hurried out to get additional details. "Seemed like a nice enough sort of guy," the farmer told them. "He said he was driving down from Kentucky to visit sime friends in Bay St. Louis and had become lost. He said he was trying to turn the car around when he ran it off the road and into the ditch."

The farmer said he had first attempted to pull the car out of the ditch with his pickup truck. "We couldn't make it, so I got my tractor," he said. "We had to use shovels and a pickaxe to free the front wheels. Must have taken us a couple of hours. The guy insisted upon giving me 20 bucks for helping him."

"What did he look like?" Hobbs asked.

The farmer described the man as being 40 to 45 years old, with brown hair speckled with fray with a receding hair line. He had a mustache and a thin growth of whiskers on his chin. He was over 6-foot tall and weighed 200 pounds or more.

"Jeez!" the farmer said. "If he killed those people, I'm starting to get scared now. He could have killed me any time we were out there."

"Did you notice anything else in particular about him?" Monroe asked.

"Yeah," the farmer said. "He had tattooes on both of his arms. I thought at the time he might be a sailor. I asked him and he said he hadn't been to sea for a long time. I think he mentioned something about living up in Pearl River County for a time. Just seemed like a real nice fellow, like I said before."

"Had he been drinking?"

"Nope, he wasn't drunk," the farmer said. "But I can tell you one thing, he's a hell poor driver. Didn't seem to know much about the gadgets in the car and he told me he had just bought it and that's why he was unfamiliar with it."

"Would you come in and describe the man to a poice artist?" Hobbs requested. "If we can put out a sketch of him, somebody else may recall having seen him."

"Sure thing," the farmer said. "But it sure gets me that a fellow like that could kill two young people and then come here and be so calm and nice about it all."

The farmer returned with the officers to Gulfport. An artist began a sketch from the description he gave, suggesting a few changes and additions as the sketch progressed. He was asked about the tattooes he had seen on the man's arms.

"Wouldn't actually swear to it because I didn't pay much attention," the farmer said. "But I think the one on his left arm was a snake wrapped around a dagger that was plunged through a heart. I've seen that kind of a tattoo before."

"And on the right arm?" Monroe prompted.

"Wait, I got that one," the farmer said excitedly. "It was a skull and crossbones with the word Mississippi writen under it. I remember, because when I saw it that's when I asked him if he was from around here and he said he had spent some time in Pearl River County." Pearl River adjoins Harrison County to the north.

As the artist progressed with the sketch, the farmer cried out, "Hey, fellow, you've got it perfect. I don't think you could have done it none better if he had been sitting right here for you to see. It's perfect."

"Nothing you'd like me to add or delete?" the artist asked.

"Not a thing. You got him just like you'd take a picture of him."

Hobbs had copies of the sketch made and included a physical description of the suspect and the tattooes the farmer had noted on his forearms. Copies were sent to the FBI, the National Crime Information Center and to the police in Biloxi, so it could be shown around the motel where the couple had been kidnapped.

"We'll give it to the newspapers and television stations," Hobbs said. "If he's from around these parts somebody may recognize him because it's a pretty good sketch."

There was an immediate response when the sketch was made public with a number of persons certain they had seen the man in Pass Christian and Gulfport.

One was from a young woman who said she had seen a man sitting in a swing in the front yard of her home at 9.30 on the Monday that the newlyweds had been slain.

"I went out and asked him what he was doing there," the girl related. "He said he was just resting."

The girl said the man resembled the sketch in the newspaper and was about the same size, weight and age as the man the farmer had described.

"Then, he said something real funny to me," the girl continued. "He asked me if I would like to get my picture in the newspaper. I told him, no, I didn't want no picture of me in the newspaper."

"Then he said, 'Well, you just wait a few days and maybe you're going to have your icture in the newspaper whether you want it or not.' I asked him why he said that and he said it would be just a surprise. Then he got up and walked away."

A report came in to Sheriff Hobbs from the National Crime Information Center in Washington, D.C. The physical description, tattoo marks and everything else known about the suspect had been fed into the giant computers. The machines spat out a number of possibilities and the technicians selected those that were most likely.

"I think we've identified you man," a caller from NCIC told Hobbs. "It's remarkable how close the sketch came to the photo we have on file. We're sending it to you with all of the other information.

The suspect the computer had selected was Kenneth William Wheat, 40 years old and a former resident of Pearl River County, Mississippi. He had a tattoo of snake wrapped around a dagger thrust into a bleeding heart on his left forearm. A tattoo of skull and crossbones with the word "Mississippi" beneath it was on his right forearm. He had an additional tattoo with the initials "HWX" between his thumb and index finger on his left hand.

The description included the information that Wheat had a 3-inch scar on his upper left arm, an 8-inch scar on his left foreare and a scar on his left wrist, which had been made duing a knife fight while he was in prison.

Wheat had been convicted in New Jersey on a charge of second-degree murder for the slaying of his brother-in-law with a shotgun on November 24, 1961. Wheat's wife and brother-in-law worked in a laundromat and the slaying had taken place during an argument there.

A report from James Stabile of the New Jersey Department of Corrections stated that Wheat was a problem prisoner and had been confined at the Trenton State Prison where the most dangerous prisoners are held.

Psychiatric reports labeled Wheat as being schizophrenic, sadistic, assaultive and suicidal and, as the result of his brutal and aggressive acts,had spent a considerable part of the 18 years in prison in solitary "lockup."

The record included the information that on July 24, 1974, while being questioned by a prison psychologist, Wheat had broken a drinking glass and had threatened to cut the man's throat with it if he was not released. He was given additional time on a charge of false imprisonment for holding the psychiatrist as a hostage.

Wheat was paroled on March 24, 1979. It was thought he had headed for Mississippi and had a considerable amount of money that had accumulated while he was in prison.

Later, when officials were questioned as to shy a man who had been listed as schizophrenic, violent and dangerous had been release, the reply was that he could no longer be legally held, since he had served the maximum time imposed for second-degree murder and the false imprisonment charges.

A photo of Wheat, which had been taken shortly before his release, reached Sheriff Hobbs in Gulfport. It was immediately takenout to be viewed by the farmer who had helped a man get a car out of a ditch (later positively identified as belonging to Joe Mayer). The farmer allegedly exclaimed, "That's him! By golly, didn't I tell you that sketch the artist fellow drew from what I told him was a dandy. It looks just like him."

Several additional witnesses were located who allegedly claimed they had seen a man resembling Wheat in Biloxi on the Sunday the honeymooning couple had been abducted from the motel and later slain near Pass Christian. Other witnesses allegedly claimed they had seen a man resembling Wheat in Gulfport shortly after Mayer's car had been abandoned.

On August 10, Sheriff Hobbs appeared before Judge J. Ruble Griffin in Gulfport with a request for a warrant charging Wheat with the murders of Teresa and Joseph mayer. He submitted the statements from the witnesses, along with physical evidence which authorities have asked not to be revealed at this time, to support the charge.

Judge Griffin issued the warrant. Immediately, federal authorities were asked to declare Wheat a fugitive from justice which would allow the FBI and the NCIC to participate in the search for him.

At the time of this writing, Wheat has not been taken into custody. Authorities warn that he should be considered extremely dangerous and that anyone sighting him should call the nearest police agency or the FBI.

By law, although Wheat has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping and of being a fugitive, he must be considered innocent pending a fair trial on the charges.


david brewer said...

I'm seeking the writer of the column "Draw Me A Killer." I was Joe Mayer's best friend at St. Thomas More elem schl and St. Mary High, both in Paducah. We served as altar boys together at St. Thomas More and had even played a piano duet at a concert in elementary school. My family & I moved from Paducah to Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1971. I now live in North Alabama.

david brewer said...

please feel free to email me re: "Draw Me A Killer" column at

I can't believe that no one has been convicted in these murders.

I'm interested in knowing the source of this information.

david brewer said...

actually, I learned today from law enfoWrcement officials that Kenneth Wheat was convicted of two homicides in this case is currently serving two consecutive life sentences in a Mississippi state prison. A prison photo of this animal can be seen by getting on the Mississippi Dept of Corrections Web site & clicking on inmate information.

Come on True Crime Stories, let's keep this garbage updated.

Anonymous said...

Joe & Teresa Mayer were my godparents. I was 1 year old when they were murdered. Some of this story and what I've been told do not match up exactly. I do know that my family grieved the loss of their beloved Joe & Teresa greatly. I also think it is very important to say that I have forgiven Mr. Wheat for his crimes and pray for him. All of us fall short of the glory of God. It is only through Jesus Christ that we may be forgiven and forgive others.

Anonymous said...

Im trying to get hold of the writer of this article, I was a close friend of Teresa and I have some questions.

Anonymous said...

This article was written in 1980. It says it at the top. The writer is also listed at the top (Larry Mauro), you can probably google him and find out his contact info.

Anonymous said...

I was friends with the couple for several years Sad to said the story sound about how I alway heard maybe ,less harsh from the facts I heard as how they die, but I do hope this mad man is burning in Hell Fire and I know Joe and Teresa are in Heavan together.

Anonymous said...

I worked with Joe Mayer at Angel of Mercy Ambulance service. He was a guy I really looked up to and admired, plus a great person to work with. We all lived at the station during our 24 hour shifts so I got to know Teresa a little bit as well. On the day he and Teresa got married, I was working his shift for the week and sadly one week from the day of their wedding I was an honorary paul bearer at their funeral.

I asked to be placed on the victim notification service by MS DOC so I received period updates. This piece of debris, Wheat, finally died in the Southern Mississippi Correctional Facility last year. He did not get what he deserved, which was to suck gas in Parchman 3 decades ago.

Mark Cubine
Vincent, AL