JEFFERSON CITY, MO — On December 7, 1984, guards at Missouri State Penitentiary discovered Charles Ray Hatcher dead in his cell, dangling from a self-made noose.
The 55-year-old child rapist and serial killer had been convicted of yet another murder four days earlier and had actually requested the death penalty. The jury refused. So, just as Hatcher had done to at least 16 victims between 1969 and 1982, he took one last life — his own.
Born in 1929, Charles Ray Hatcher suffered an abuse-filled and traumatic childhood, just one lowlight of which was his standing nearby when lightning fatally struck his brother. As a young man, then, Hatcher turned to theft, forgery, and break-ins, regularly getting arrested and locked up. By age 30, Hatcher had spent half of his life behind bars.
Shortly after getting sprung from his sixth prison stint in 1959, Hatcher attempted to kidnap a 16-year-old paperboy. Cops picked him up in a stolen car. Hatcher got five years in the state pen, where he likely first developed a taste for sexual assault followed by homicide.
In 1961, Hatcher was the main suspect in the rape and stabbing death of a fellow inmate. Authorities locked Hatcher in solitary while they built a case against him, but they failed to gather sufficient evidence. Two years later, Hatcher walked free on parole.
On August 29, 1969, Hatcher abducted six-year-old Gilbert Martinez in San Francisco. A dog-walker caught Hatcher in the act of beating and sexually violating the boy in a park. The Good Samaritan rescued the child and held Hatcher for the cops.
Upon getting arrested, Hatcher convinced the authorities he was a first-time offender named Albert Price. He’d soon be free again.Related: DNA & Justice Delayed — Closing The Cold Cases Of NJ Serial Killer Robert Zarinsky
From there, Hatcher bounced between jails and psychiatric facilities, often escaping (or attempting to) before, insanely, the parole board cited his “good behavior” and cut him completely loose in 1977.
Over the next five years, Hatcher repeatedly got picked up for heinous crimes, including sexual assaults of children and even attempting to stab to death a seven-year-old. Shockingly, he never got a serious sentence.
Time and again, the system failed, and Hatcher always landed back out on the street, where he raped, robbed, assaulted — and worse — with near impunity.
Indeed, throughout all his trips to court and jail, Hatcher never got arrested for his most horrific transgressions, the full scope of which only came to light upon the discovery of 11-year-old Michelle Steele’s ravaged remains in St. Joseph, Missouri, on July 29, 1982.
Going by the alias Richard Clark, Hatcher attempted to check himself into a mental hospital. The following day, officers picked him up and charged him with Steele’s rape and murder.
At last, Hatcher confessed to killing Michelle Steele. He also provided detailed accounts of the 15 other murders, and even drew a map to where he disposed of the bodies. Hatcher first killed in 1969 and, as long as he was free, he never stopped.
Among the killings Hatcher admitted to was the 1978 sex assault and suffocation of four-year-old Eric Christgen, whose body turned up next to the Missouri River.
Police had rounded up “every known pervert in town” — but not Hatcher — before subjecting Melvin Reynolds, a developmentally disabled 25-year-old, to relentless interrogations, even occasionally shooting him up with the drug amobarbital (claimed, back then, to work as “truth serum”).
Eventually, Reynolds told the cops demanding his confession, “I’ll say so if you want me to.” He got sent away for life. Four years later, Hatcher’s confession freed Reynolds.
Hatcher attempted an insanity plea in the cases of both Michelle Steele and Eric Christgen. It didn’t work. After the Christgen conviction, Hatcher’s demand for capital punishment fell on deaf ears, thereby, apparently, prompting his suicide. Case(s) closed.
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Main photos: Charles Ray Hatcher [Wikipedia]