JACKSON, MI — On September 17, 1997, Benjamin “Tony” Atkins — a ruthless, sadistic rapist and murderer who came to be known as the “Woodward Corridor Killer” — breathed his last.
Atkins died that day in a prison hospital from conditions related to HIV. He was 29. Few mourned his passing.
Tony Atkins came of age in Detroit, the product of a nightmarish childhood. Atkins’ mother was a sex worker, and he said he frequently watched her in action. He also later claimed he’d been raped by (at least) one of his mom’s johns at age 10.
From that horrific milieu, Atkins grew up to become homeless crack cocaine addict. He supported the habit, he said, by working as “a part-time pizza cook and male prostitute.”
Atkins also absolutely despised women in general and sex workers in particular— so much so that, between December 1991 and August 1992, he beat, raped, and fatally strangled 11 of them.
Throughout his homicidal run, Atkins maintained a basic modus operandi. Cruising Woodward Boulevard along one of the scariest and most crime-ridden districts in Detroit, Atkins would score crack and offer to share it with one of the numerous streetwalkers working the area.
He’d then lure his target into a derelict building or an empty lot blocked from street view. Once there, Atkins would attack his victim sexually, and choke her to death while screaming such epithets as “You whore! You b—ch!”
In channeling his rage, Atkins prolonged both the rapes and the strangulations as long as he could. And as noted, he repeated this pattern 11 times in just nine months before got caught — a vile record that got Atkins deemed “America’s fastest serial killer.”
With bodies turning up with such horrific frequency, the Detroit Police teamed with officers from Highland Park, Michigan State Police, and even the FBI to hunt down the killer. Interviewing the locals, State Police detective Royce Alston came across “Donna,” the working girl now thought to be the first victim Atkins tried to murder.
Donna told the detective about somebody named Tony picking her up back at Christmastime. She said she got high with him in an abandoned Howard Johnson’s and then, after catching a vibe that things were turning ugly, she escaped by running stark naked out into the street.
Talking to a reporter later, Donna said, “I couldn’t figure out what else he was going to do but kill me, so I got away.”
On August 11, Donna took a ride with Detective Alston along the Woodward Corridor. She spotted Tony Atkins on a corner, presumably looking to turn tricks himself. Alston brought Atkins in for questioning. Initially, Atkins denied everything. He said he was gay and asked why he’d want to pick up women for anything, let alone sex.
After a while, Detroit homicide detective Sergeant Ronald Sanders took over the interrogation. He achieved a breakthrough by calmly and compassionately saying to Atkins, “You never had a father. I have a son exactly your age. You need to get this off your chest. Talk to me.”
While downing five cheeseburgers, Atkins did just that — he confessed every detail to Sanders. In describing what he did to each victim, Atkins said:
“After raping her, having sex, and hating her for being a woman, I had the desire to kill her for being a woman. I just wanted to hate her and cause her harm.”
He also added: “I killed all 11 of them so I didn’t have to worry about them pressing charges.”
Following a four-month trial, the court sentenced Atkins to 11 life terms, one for each murder. He died just four years later.
Upon learning of Atkins’ demise, prosecutor Michael Reynolds told reporters:
“While no one takes joy in another’s death — even one who has committed such hideous crimes — at least those who lost loved ones at Mr. Atkins’ hands can take comfort in knowing he will never be released back into society.”
To learn more about this case, watch the “Rage Killers” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Most Evil on ID GO now!
Main photo: Benjamin “Tony” Atkins [Michigan Department of Corrections]