2. Paul John Knowles: The Casanova Killer
Knowles is considered to be among America’s most unpredictable serial killers, due to his murders not following a pattern.
Paul John Knowles was known as the Casanova Killer. According British journalist Sandy Fawkes, that named was earned because of his good looks, which she likened to a “cross between Robert Redford and Ryan O’Neal.” Fawkes had met Knowles in an Atlanta bar and was quickly infatuated by the killer, who happened to be driving a Chevy Impala from a victim he had murdered a few hours earlier.
Over a seven month period, Knowles murdered between 18 to 35 people. Knowles was born in Orlando in 1946 and given up by his father to live in foster homes and reformatories after being convicted of a petty crime. By the time he served his first jail sentence for kidnapping a police officer, he was a 19 year old with a 11-year history of crime.
Knowles began his killing spree after being rejected at the alter by a fiancé who called off their wedding after a psychic warned her of a dangerous man in her life. According to the Casanova Killer, that rejection resulted in him killing three people in San Francisco that night.
After returning to Jacksonville, he was arrested after stabbing a bartender during a fight. While being held in a detention cell, knowles picked his lock and escaped on July 26, 1974. Soon, retired Jacksonville schoolteacher Alice Curtis was found dead.
During his reign of terror in 1974, Knowles killed the old, young, men, women, and children by a several methods. Methods of death included strangulation, shotgun, and stabbings with scissors. During some of his murders, he sexually assaulted women. With others, he stole cars, money, and credit cards.
Knowles killing spree ended in November 1974, when he was captured by a hunter in the backwoods of Georgia, while trying to escape a roadblock. In custody, he bragged about the deaths and claimed his motive was a thirst for fame.
The Casanova Killer time in custody would not last long and he didn’t live to see 30. While working with detectives to locate hidden murder weapons on December 18, 1974, Knowles attempted to pick a lock on his handcuffs with a paper clip that he had hidden in his socks. Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Ronnie Angel responded by firing three shots into the chest of Knowles, killing him instantly.
1. Ottis Elwood Toole
Ottis Elwood Toole was born in Jacksonville on March 5, 1947 to an abusive mother and an alcoholic father who abandoned him. As a child living in Springfield, he was a victim of sexual assault and incest. In addition, he claimed that his abuse started when he revealed to his family that he was gay.
By the time he was a young adult, he had become a male prostitute and a serial arsonist, sexually aroused by fire. Although he was first arrested at the age of 17 for loitering, Toole claimed that his first killing occurred three years earlier when he ran over a traveling salesman who propositioned him for sex.
Between 1966 and 1974 and being supported by panhandling and prostitution, Toole drifted around the country racking up murder accusations in the Southwest and South. A wanted man, he returned to Jacksonville in early 1975.
After meeting Henry Lee Lucas at a Jacksonville soup kitchen in 1976, the two lovers went on to commit several murders. In 1982, Jacksonville’s streets would get a little safer when Toole was arrested and sentenced to 20 years for arson. While in custody, he admitted to barricading George Sonnenberg in a boarding house and lighting it on fire after an argument between the two, although according to Dr. Tim Gilmore of Jax Psycho Geo and author of Stalking Ottis Toole: A Southern Gothic, Toole also retracted his story. After being sentenced to life in prison, he admitted to committing several more murders. These included the strangulation of a 19-year old Tallahassee woman, four more murders in Jacksonville, and the confession of the 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh.
Walsh had been abducted from a Sears department store in Hollywood, FL and his decapitated body was found two weeks later in a Vero Beach, FL canal. Adam’s death promoted his father John Walsh to become an advocate for victims’ right. Walsh would go on to become the host of the television program America’s Most Wanted. In addition, President Bush signed the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act in 2006 and the Code Adam program for helping lost kids in stores is named in Adam’s honor.
As for Jacksonville’s Toole, he never stepped foot outside of a prison again. He also retracted, and confessed, and retracted to killing Adam Walsh. According to Dr. Tim Gilmore, “the Jacksonville detective credited with obtaining Toole’s confession was removed from the case after it surfaced that he’d fed Toole information and offered him a book deal–especially ironic since Toole was illiterate and had an IQ of about 75.”
On September 15, 1996, he died of cirrhosis at Florida State Prison in Raiford. Toole’s associate, Henry Lee Lucas, died in prison of heart failure on March 13, 2001.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Originally published on Metrojacksonville.com on 11/14/14. Contact Ennis at firstname.lastname@example.org