Phantom pursuit: The hunt for the I-70 killer

A man killed six people in 1992, appearing out of nowhere to strike in broad daylight before disappearing just as fast. Now, nearly 30 years later, police from
Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 1:07 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It was April 8, 1992, and Robin Fuldauer was one of only two full-time workers at The Payless Shoe Source in Indianapolis, just north of Interstate 70.

When a co-worker called in sick that day, Fuldauer knew she would be busy, and sometimes alone. Payless was in a single building, with its own parking lot. Next door was a gas station. Across the street was a paint store.

The morning was routine. She grabbed lunch and ate through the noon hour. Across the street, a witness reported seeing a strange man carrying a long bag repeatedly circling the store, then sitting for nearly a half hour at a curb nearby before disappearing. Sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m., a killer entered the Payless store, led Fuldauer to a storage room and shot her in the head with a .22 caliber handgun. Only a small amount of money was taken from the register. The killer left through a back door.

On April 8th 1992, Robin Fuldauer was shot to death inside a Payless Shoe Store in Indianapolis.
On April 8th 1992, Robin Fuldauer was shot to death inside a Payless Shoe Store in Indianapolis.(KMOV)

Fuldauer was 26 years old. The witness later saw the man calmly trying to hitch a ride along the highway. The I-70 killing spree had begun.

It would end 29 days later. Or maybe it wouldn’t. There are other killings, not officially attached to the I-70 killer, that could eventually be tied to him. But now, nearly 30 years after the murders, police departments from Indianapolis, Wichita, Terre Haute, St. Charles, and Raytown are preparing to come together again, this time with help from federal agencies, in an effort to take one more look at a case that has stymied investigators for decades.

CHASING A MURDERER

All of the killings occurred in small shops. All had only one or two workers on duty. All were within a short distance of either Interstate I-70 or I-35. It’s 700 miles from Indianapolis to Wichita, where the killer struck three days after Fuldauer was killed.

The La Bride d’Elegance and Sir Knight Tuxedo and Formal Wear was due to close at 6 p.m., but a customer who ordered a cummerbund for his tuxedo was running late. He called and asked if there was any way he could come by at 6:30 to pick it up.

Patricia Magers, left, and Patricia Smith, right, were found shot to death in a bridal store in...
Patricia Magers, left, and Patricia Smith, right, were found shot to death in a bridal store in Wichita. Both are considered victims of the I-70 killer.(KMOV)

Patricia Magers and Patricia Smith both agreed to stay to help the customer. When he arrived at 6:30, he couldn’t find either woman in the store. Instead, he came face to face with a man who he said tried to lure him toward a back room. Sensing something was wrong, the customer fled the store.

Police would find the bodies of Magers and Smith in that back room, both shot in the head. Again, only a small amount of money had been taken. The customer was able to give police a description: slight of build, maybe 5′7, dull red hair, around 150 pounds. Ballistics tests confirmed that the women were killed by the same gun as Fuldauer, a semi-automatic .22 caliber pistol.

Police departments around the country soon realized they had a serial killer on their hands. He was quiet for two weeks before his next stop: Terre Haute. His killing there gave investigators pause.

Sylvia’s Ceramics Shop was another small store along Interstate 70. It was the scene of another murder in broad daylight. Another small amount of money was taken.

But this time, the victim was a man. 40-year-old Michael McCown never saw his killer. He was not lured or forced into a back room. He was stocking his shelves when the killer fired a bullet into the back of his head. Was the killer no longer targeting women? Maybe. But McCown had long brown hair that he wore in a ponytail, and was wearing an earring at the time he was shot. And there was also something else about this murder scene. The killer fled with McCown’s wallet.

His next stop, just one week later, would be in St. Charles, Missouri.

A LOCAL VICTIM

Nancy Kitzmiller, 24, was killed in a St. Charles store in 1992 by a serial killer who police...
Nancy Kitzmiller, 24, was killed in a St. Charles store in 1992 by a serial killer who police believe killed at least 6 people across 3 states.(St. Charles Police Department)

It was a beautiful spring day on May 3. Nancy Kitzmiller could not have been more excited. She had just graduated from Oklahoma State with a degree in geography, and was hoping to land her dream job, cartography with the Defense Mapping Agency in St. Louis. It was no surprise that she was working at a store called Boot Village until then. She loved the western lifestyle, from her clothes, to line dancing, to her boots. With blue eyes and long curly hair, and those boots, she was hard to miss.

She opened the store at noon that Sunday in the Bogey Hills Plaza, just south of Interstate 70 at Zumbehl Road. Boot Village nestled between a beauty salon and a veterinary clinic. The plaza was busy, with shoppers throughout the day. Kitzmiller was working alone. A shopper passing by the store just before 2:30 p.m. saw Nancy waiting on a customer, described as medium height, with dull red hair. Minutes later, different customers found her dead. The man with the dull red hair was gone. A small amount of cash was missing from the register.

Just 24, Kitzmiller was buried in Oklahoma City, with her boots on. The local community mourned.

It only took four days for the killer to strike again, this time down the road in Raytown. Sarah Blessing started her day with an early breakfast, fed her pets, and headed to a friend’s house. She opened her Store of Many Colors at noon, selling health goods and miniature trampolines. The store had just opened a month earlier, with Blessing and four of her friends taking turns usually working alone. Around 6:15 p.m., a witness spotted a man in a gray sport coat, walking toward Blessing’s store. Near the same time, another store owner reported a mysterious unidentified man hanging around the area. And a worker at another business nearby heard what he thought was a gunshot coming from the Store of Many Colors. He ran inside and found Blessing’s body. A grocery store clerk was gathering carts nearby. He reported seeing a man leave Blessing’s store. Another witness told police they saw the same man walking toward Interstate 70. Raytown provided police with more witnesses than the other sites, but the killer’s identity remained a mystery.

Victims Patricia Magers (top left), Patricia Smith (top center), Nancy Kitzmiller (top right),...
Victims Patricia Magers (top left), Patricia Smith (top center), Nancy Kitzmiller (top right), Robin Fuldauer (bottom left), Michael McCown (bottom center), and Sarah Blessing (bottom right).(KMOV)

Then, the killings appeared to stop. At least killings with that particular .22. But soon there would be more grieving families, and more victims killed along the interstate in shops that bore a striking resemblance to the ones that were the setting of the horrors of early 1992.

A year later, a rash of shootings occurred along highways in Texas. Mary Ann Glasscock, a clerk at Emporium Antiques in Fort Worth, was shot in the head on Sept. 25, 1993. A month later, Amy Vess was shot inside Dancers Closet apparel store in Arlington. Then Vicki Webb was shot at a Houston gift shop but managed to survive by playing dead. Dark haired women, killed along the interstate. At the time, Texas authorities called the link a “definite possibility.” But ballistics did not match, and police began to sour on the connection. But that didn’t stop the nation from going on alert. Small stores across the country took notice if they were near major highways.

Years went by. Then, police had a lead: the gun. Police identified it as a very rare model, either an Intratec Scorpion or Erma Werke Model ET 22. It’s a gun that holds a small caliber bullet, a remake of an old German navy pistol. And strangely, the killer rubbed the bullet casings with jeweler’s rouge, a polishing designed to make the bullets slide easily into the chamber.

THE SUSPECTS

A sketch of what authorities believe the killer looks like today. He is believed to be between...
A sketch of what authorities believe the killer looks like today. He is believed to be between 52 and 70-years-old(S. Charles, Mo PD)

Herb Baumeister grew up in Indianapolis. After a difficult childhood that saw him committed to a mental institution for schizophrenia, and then losing numerous jobs, Baumeister became a respected businessman in the Indianapolis community after opening a string of Sav-A-Lot stores. He lived in an 11,000 square foot mansion north of Indianapolis. In 1993, one year after the I-70 killings, gay men began disappearing in the Indianapolis area. Eleven of their remains were found on Baumeister’s property. Baumeister fled to Canada where he committed suicide. Police would eventually link Baumeister to nine more men, whose bodies were discovered between Indiana and Ohio, along Interstate 70. With his death, it became impossible to verify if he as linked to the killings, but given that so many of the I-70 victims were women, he didn’t fully fit the profile.

Donald Waterhouse lived with his parents in Dyersburg, Tennessee. A month before the I-70 murders, Waterhouse’s parents were found shot to death in their home, and Waterhouse had vanished. Like the I-70 victims, they were shot in the head with a .22 caliber weapon. And after police had a composite sketch of the I-70 killer, it resembled Waterhouse. Eventually, Waterhouse was found in October of 1992, just months after the I-70 murders, after an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” led to a tip. His truck had been abandoned in East St. Louis.

Despite the possible links, he was eventually cleared in 2012 when police determined there was no concrete evidence he was the shooter.

And there were others, as police departments across the country searched for any leads possible. But they all fizzled.

Now, nearly 30 years after the killings, police agencies from those cities, along with federal agents, will soon come together again, to take one more crack at trying to solve the case, and hunt down the man responsible for at least six deaths in five cities in one month in 1992. New faces will look at old files. Old voices will be heard for what could be the final time. It’s all hands on deck in the hunt for a serial killer.