Police ID 'Slasher' who left three Indiana girls for dead 48 years ago

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Indianapolis Metropolitan Police announced a major break in a nearly 50-year-old cold case that involved three hitchhiking girls and one man who detectives at the time said was 'hunting.'

The elusive suspect behind the horrific attacks on the young girls in a field was revealed during a news conference at 11 a.m. Thursday, providing an answer to the investigation decades after it horrified the city.

Thomas Edward Williams — dubbed the 'Slasher' by police and the victims — died at age 49 in November 1983 inside a prison in Galveston, Texas. At the time of the abduction, Williams lived near the site of the kidnapping.

Background of the 'Slasher' case

In 1975, three girls trying to reach an amusement center hitchhiked along the 800 block of East Washington Street when a man picked them up. They soon realized something was wrong when the front passenger door was missing an inside door handle.

The man, suspected to be in his 40s, drove the girls past the teen hangout and continued east into Hancock County, eventually heading off a county road and into a cornfield.

There, he raped the youngest girl, 11 years old at the time, stabbed her three times in the throat and another 15 times in her chest. He then slashed the throats of the 13-year-old and 14-year-old and left them all for dead.

"I heard him wrestling around, the car door shut and the car start," the oldest victim told IndyStar during an interview in February 2018. "I was trying to see which way he was going to go because I wanted to get the heck out of there and (13-year-old) grabbed my leg and it scared me so I fell down, I didn't know which way he went."

The two couldn't find the youngest victim, who was the oldest victim's sister. The man had dragged her further back into the field. The oldest two girls said they thought he took her.

"He picked me up and tossed me into the cornfield," the youngest victim told IndyStar. She then passed out.

The two oldest victims crawled out of the field and onto US-40 in an attempt to wave down help. Three men pulled over to pick them up, took them to a motel and phoned authorities.

One officer, who arrived first on the motel scene, compared the cuts to the girls' necks as appearing similar to that of an accordion.

Law enforcement then returned to the field to find the youngest victim.

A manhunt ensues, but the case goes cold after charges dropped

A manhunt for the assailant ensued for years. Newspaper clippings shared leads and provided suspect sketches from what the girls relayed to artists. A police detective in one news article stated the picture matched the description of a suspect known for abducting and raping girls from east-side schools. The Marion County Sheriff at the time detailed 12 detectives to the case.

In December 1975, roughly four months after the attacks, Marion County prosecutors told The Daily Reporter that they had identified a Homer man as a suspect but no charges had been brought.

The search continued but the case eventually turned cold.

IndyStar followed the cold case for years

IndyStar has completed extensive interviews with the law enforcement first on the scene in 1975, the driver of the car who picked up two girls, multiple detectives who tried to crack the case and the three victims who have waited nearly 50 years for answers.

Steve Gibbs, at the time a detective sergeant with the Marion Co. Sheriff's, picked up the cold case and described the assailant this way in an interview with IndyStar in 2018.

"He was hunting," he said. "I would hate to use the word professional, but he was a hunter ... of victims. Once you're in his car, it's like being caught in a spiderweb, there's no getting out."

On Jan. 9, 2019 the women got their DNA swabbed after Sgt. David Ellison picked the case. IndyStar accompanied the women to the City-County building where their DNA was collected to compare against evidence.

Without sharing details, Indianapolis police said in a Wednesday news release that DNA is how they were led to the suspect after Indianapolis police partnered with Audiochuck and DNA Labs International.  

Marisa Kwiatkowski and Mykal McEldowney contributed to this report. Contact Sarah Nelson at 317-503-7514 or sarah.nelson@indystar.com

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