GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Greensboro police say that John Richardson is a serial killer. He’s not the first one they’ve encountered.
Police arrested Richardson, 53, last month and have since charged him with three counts of first-degree murder. They said in February and March he killed three people. Investigators said they think there could be more victims.
But they’ve already made it clear that they consider Richardson a serial killer, which the FBI defines as a person “committing two or more murders as separate events and usually done by one person acting alone.”
This is not to be confused with a rampage or spree killer, who murders several people at one time and is just less than a mass murder, which is a person who kills a lot of people at one time, such as at a school or a concert or a movie theater or a workplace.
There have been plenty of those killings in North Carolina, but there has been only one other person in Greensboro to be labeled a “serial killer.” In the 1990s Robert Sylvester Alston of Greensboro admitted to killing four women.
Richardson could join him on that list. He is charged in the death of Michael Hemphill, who died Feb. 1 after being shot on Yanceyville Street in Greensboro in late January; the killing of Mark Anthony Gilbert Jr., whose body was found on West Terrell Street in Greensboro on March 10; and in the disappearance on March 25 of James Goolsby, whose body was found buried in Virginia in mid-April.
A lot of serial deaths
Data collected by Worldpopulationreview.com confirm that the United States has had more serial killers than any other country, and the numbers of victims are in the thousands, ranging from as many as 1,628 in California to as few as seven in South Dakota. After California, Texas, with 893, Florida, 845, Illinois, 629, and New York, 628, sit atop that list.
North Carolina by that accounting has had 266 victims of serial killers, and if you rank them by a ratio of 100,000 residents, that’s 2.46, which ranks North Carolina roughly 34th nationally. Alaska has had only 51 victims but has the highest ratio, at 7.08 victims per 100,000 residents. Hawaii is the lowest, at 0.71, with only 10 victims (tying New Hampshire for the second-lowest count).
If you want to look closer to home, South Carolina has had 162 victims and 3.03 per 100,000. Virginia had 238 deaths and a 2.76 ratio.
Who are these killers?
There is, of course, a Wikipedia page that purports to name every serial killer. There are hundreds of them, categorized by those named killers – think Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy – and those whose identities have not been discovered, such as the Boston Strangler and the Zodiac Killer.
Paul Holes is a cold-case detective in California who in 2016 caught the so-called “Golden State Killer,” James DeAngelo, who had been sought for 40 years. DeAngelo is charged with killing 50 women and raping 13.
Holes, in his book, “Unmasked: My Life Solving America’s Cold Cases,” writes that he has seen statistics suggesting there are “some two thousand serial killers” prowling the United States today, operating in a way that allows them to stay hidden, as DeAngelo had. Mostly, he said, they prey on the marginalized, “people whose lives have spiraled down.”
Samuel Little is said to be the most prolific serial killer of all time. He confessed to the FBI that he killed 93 women between 1970 and 2012, most of them sex workers and drug users. His victims were from 14 states, ranging from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and from Lake Erie to Miami. Two were from South Carolina. Some never were found.
Serials in North Carolina
The Insider compiled a list of the most notorious serial killer by state, and North Carolina’s No. 1 is Henry Louis Wallace, who was charged with strangling 10 women in Charlotte in the mid-1990s. They called him “The Taco Bell Strangler” and even made a movie about him.
In the Triad, you might argue that the designation should go to Blanche Taylor Moore, who was convicted in Forsyth County in 1990 of the arsenic poisoning of a long-time boyfriend. Moore was 57 when she was sentenced, and at 89 she is the oldest person on North Carolina’s death row.
Moore was charged as a serial killer because she is believed to have killed a series of people since 1966, including her father, a mother-in-law, a husband and almost a second husband. But he survived her arsenic attack and testified against her. An investigator told the News & Record that she is believed to have about 30 victims.
She also was acclaimed because “Bewitched” star Elizabeth Montgomery portrayed her in a made-for-TV movie called “The Black Widow Murders,” which depicted how she fed her husband arsenic-laced banana pudding. Bodies of her alleged victims were exhumed in Alamance County.
There also was media infamy for the story of Frederick Robert “Fritz” Klenner, who is charged with killing eight family members in North Carolina and Kentucky. Those victims include his cousin/girlfriend Susie Newsom Lynch of Rockingham County and her two children, who died when their vehicle blew up on NC 150 in Summerfield in 1985 while the police pursued them. Klenner also died in that explosion.
Susie Lynch’s aunt, Susie Sharp, was the first elected female chief justice of a state supreme court. That story became the basis of the book and TV miniseries “Bitter Blood.”
Iheart.com in 2021 compiled a list of worst murders to take place in North Carolina, and it included Gary Michael Hilton, who was charged with kidnapping, murdering and beheading hikers in Florida and Georgia, as well as a North Carolina couple in a national forest in 2007. He is on death row in Florida.
A few others to note:
- Robert Kenneth Wayne Stewart on March 29, 2009, in Carthage killed eight women and injured two and was sentenced to life in prison.
- Will Harris on Nov. 1, 1906, in Asheville killed five women and injured 12 before being killed by an angry mob.
- Harvey Glenn McLeod, on May 29, 1972, in Raleigh killed four women and injured seven before committing suicide
The most notorious mass killer though is an oddity. Julian Andrew Frank in 1960 is charged with blowing up a National Airlines flight from New York to Miami. All 34 onboard died. And the plane crashed in North Carolina.
That first serial
Robert Sylvester Alston, who turns 53 in two weeks, is serving four life sentences at the Columbus Correctional Institution in Whiteville on four counts of second-degree murder and kidnapping and rape in the second degree. But in an interview with the News & Record, he “hints there may have been more.”
True crime author Robert Keller profiled him on his blog, and in 2016 he granted an interview with the News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin. “I won’t feed anyone’s fascination with my crimes,” Alston told her. “That trigger, that one thing that pushed me over the edge, I’ll die with that.
“I don’t see myself as a serial killer, but people do. Society is so quick to put monikers on people, name tags. Robert Alston. That’s who I am.”
Timeline on Richardson
JAN. 25: Police found Michael Antown Hemphill, 46, on the 3200 block of Yanceyville St. He had been shot. He died Feb. 1, and the investigation was upgraded to homicide.
MARCH 10: Mark Anthony Gilbert Jr. was found injured after what police called a “disorder,” apparently beaten and lying near a Dumpster. He died later that day, and court records allege that Richardson had taken Gilbert’s car, phone and wallet.
MARCH 28: James Devon Goolsby was reported missing after last being seen in the 1000 block of Summit Avenue in Greensboro three days earlier. Police suspect foul play.
APRIL 8: Jonathan Murphy, 38, of Greensboro, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Hemphill, as well as possession of a firearm by a felon. Court documents indicate that text messages between Murphy and Richardson connected them in the homicide.
APRIL 13: Richardson is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Hemphill.
APRIL 14: The Henry County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia notifies detectives that Goolsby’s remains had been dropped into the Mayo River from a bridge on George Taylor Road in Spencer, Virginia.
APRIL 19: Richardson is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon in the death of Mark Gilbert Jr.
APRIL 22: Richardson is charged with first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, felony robbery and two counts of felony concealment/tampering with a corpse in the death of James Goolsby.