Serial killers haunt U.S. highways

Ginger Strand's "Killer on the Road" tells the epic tale of America's soulless Interstate System.
Written by Sonya James, Contributor

"Among American serial killers, Bundy seemed especially terrifying because he was mobile," writes Dwight Garner of The New York Times. "He confessed to murdering 30 young women in the 1970s, and those killings were spread across seven states."

Garner is unpacking the eery and thought provoking work of author Ginger Strand. Her new book, Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate, dives into the connections between the soullessness and anonymity of the U.S. Interstate System and the history of random killings along its pathways.

"Reading Ms. Strand’s thoughtful book is like driving a Nash Rambler after midnight on a highway to hell," writes Garner.

This hectic image speaks to the complex layers of meaning an analysis of the Interstate System unearths.

It becomes clear that the roadways connecting the nation, these lonely anonymous landscapes, opened a space for the disenfranchised to easily stumble into.

Tragically, many never return.

Strand writes about the killings of young people, mostly black boys, in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She details how the Interstate System rolled through black sections of town, desecrating old neighborhoods.

"These were 'white men’s roads,' as the National Urban League put it, 'through black men’s bedrooms.'" writes Garner.

Trucking is described as “sweatshops on wheels" - an observation from economist Michael Belzer. Strand notes that “at least 25 former truckers are currently serving time in American prisons for serial murder.”

Trucking, Strand writes, attracts workers who are “less educated, less stable, less tied to unions," and "less rooted in family life." She also points out that very little work has been done concerning the mental health of truckers and advocates for trucker's welfare.

So-called lot lizards, sex workers offering their services at truck-stops for as little as $30, face dangers compounded by the anonymity of the landscape.

Photo: Orianna Riley

“Those devalued lives,” writes Strand, “like the truckers’, are unimaginable outside the landscapes highway federalism built: the anonymous world of exit ramps, right-of-ways and travel plazas where places are numbers, people are anonymous, and human interaction is entirely mediated by commerce.”

There is also art to be found in this sordid history.

Strand recounts the crime sprees of men like Charles Starkweather. In 1958 Starkweather howled through Nebraska in a stolen car, killing 11 people with a sawed-off shotgun.

This rampage inspired Bruce Springsteen’s iconic song Nebraska and Terrence Malick’s film Badlands.

Killer on the Road both demystifies and newly mystifies the dark passageways between the nation's highly surveilled city centers.

Read The New York Times full book review here.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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