Back in 2001 and 2002, bodies of murdered women were turning up in Illinois, St. Louis and St. Charles County, Missouri. There was a debate among law enforcement as to whether the work was that of one, two or more persons. There is surprisingly little written about Maury Troy Travis. What is known is that he is credited with killing somewhere between 10-20 prostitutes over a two year period.
I know there are many in law enforcement who have much more first hand knowledge of Maury Travis and his heinous deeds than I do. I was on the very fringe of the investigation, having participated one Saturday in late May, 2002, in the hunt for one of his victims. Fifteen years have passed since Travis wreaked his two year havoc on the prostitutes on the streets of St. Louis, and I’m surprised no one has written his story yet.
On May 25, 2002, just a scant two weeks after I became a detective with the Crimes Against Persons unit of the St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department (now the St. Charles County Police Department), I was assigned to a squad tasked to search a location in the northeast portion of our county for the possible remains of a homicide victim. Other detectives in St. Louis, Illinois, and St. Charles County had been seeking to identify an individual(s) who had been murdering prostitutes and dumping their bodies in different locations in the two states. A letter and a map had been received by a Post-Dispatch reporter detailing the location of a murder victim. This map showed a location along the intersection of Highway 67 and St. Charles Street in West Alton, an area along former MKT railroad tracks which is now the Katy Trail.
Arriving at that location on the sunny May morning, I was prepared for a long hot day. Not long after we arrived we split up, each detective searching a particular area. As I walked the grassy area between the wood-line along the former railroad tracks and St. Charles Street, I observed what I thought was a rather large mushroom lying in the grass. Upon closer examination, much to my surprise, it was a bleached human skull. We were all very excited about the find and knew that most likely there would be more bones scattered throughout the area. On a hunch, I began to search the wooded area long and below the former railroad tracks. My thinking was, if I were going to dump a body, I’d drive down the former railroad tracks, stop and roll the body down the embankment into the wooded area. Sure enough, about 50 yards from the location of the skull, in the wooded area next to the railroad track embankment, were more skeletal remains. The torso of the remains was still clad in a woman’s jumper, leading us to believe that the body found was that of a woman.
Just as Travis had rolled his victim’s body downhill, what started the ball rolling downhill for Travis was his arrogance and lack of internet knowledge. Although he obviously thought himself superior to those who were hunting him and wanted to tantalize them, his lack of knowledge about the workings of the internet, led to his downfall.
On May 19, 2002, Bill Smith a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote a long article about Teresa Wilson, one of the prostitutes that had been found murdered and dumped in a roadside ditch along Highway 67 in St. Charles County. This article attempted to humanize the victim and spoke about her love for her daughter. This approach apparently irritated Travis as he probably did not like the idea that the women he had killed were anything other than whores and prostitutes.
On May 21, 2002, Reporter Smith received a letter and a map in the mail. “The American flag was affixed neatly upside down. The return address cited a masochist Web site devoted to naked women in chains. Inside, under a bizarre graphic of flowers, rakes and a beehive, Smith found a chilling note typed in red. “Nice sob story about Teresa Wilson,” it read. “Write one about Greenwade write a good one and I’ll tell you where many others are…To prove I’m real, here’s directions to number 17. Search in a fifty yard radius from the x put the story in the Sunday paper like the last one”. The second sheet of paper contained a map of nearby West Alton marked with an X“. The map had been downloaded from Expedia.com and through subpoenas to the website and internet service providers, authorities were able to determine there was only one person who had clicked on the map; Maury Travis.
On June 17, 2002, Stephanie Simon of the LA Times wrote a very informative article regarding the steps taken to identify Travis. She wrote that the first steps taken was to surf the net for travel sites whose maps may match the one sent to Smith. It was quickly discovered the map came from Expedia.com. She writes “such online browsing can be tracked because each time a computer user connects to the internet, he is assigned a unique number, known as an IP address. Each site he surfs, each page he looks at, is linked to that individual IP address.” In response to a court subpoena, Expedia was able to identify each user who had browsed the West Alton map in recent days; of which there was only one. and the unique IP address of the person viewing the map. The next step was to identify which internet service provider owned the IP address, later found to be Microsoft. By serving a second subpoena to Microsoft, requesting the name of the user of the IP address identified by Expedia on the date and time listed, authorities were able to identify the user as MSN/maurytravis.
On June 7, 2002, Travis was arrested and taken to the St. Louis County jail. Authorities searched Travis’ home in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson (remember that place?) and found blood spatters throughout the house, belts and ligatures with blood on them, and a filing cabinet with video tapes; tapes of Travis’ torture and murders of several of his victims.
The prosecution of this case would have been a slam-dunk, with Travis most likely receiving life without the possibility of parole or possibly the death penalty due to the extraordinary amount of physical evidence. Travis, though, took the coward’s way out and hung himself in his jail cell on June 10, 2002.
Travis has been linked positively to the deaths of Alyssa Greenwade, Betty James, Yvonne Cruse and Brenda Beasley and was linked to the death of Teresa Wilson, found dumped along Highway 67 in West Alton and the woman whose remains were found in West Alton on May 25 as well as four other women whose remains have yet to be identified. All women were African-American, prostitutes and had drug abuse issues.