Murder by Craigslist

A serial killer finds a newly vulnerable class of victims: white, working-class men.

Richard beasley, aka Jack, was born in 1959 and raised in Akron primarily by his mother, who worked as a secretary at a local high school, and his stepfather. He was briefly married and had a daughter, Tonya, who was about Rafferty’s age. Over the years, he worked as a machinist, but his job record was interrupted by spells in jail. He served from 1985 to 1990 in a Texas prison on burglary charges and, starting in 1996, another seven years in a federal prison for a firearms offense. When he went on trial for the 2011 Craigslist murders, the photo favored by newspapers made him look deranged, with wild eyebrows and hair and a crumpled mouth. But during the trial, with his white hair combed and his beard trimmed, he looked almost like Santa Claus, especially when he smiled.

In the mid-2000s, a dump truck hit Beasley’s car and he suffered head, chest, and spinal injuries. He had recently returned to Akron from federal prison, where, he told everyone, he’d found God, and he’d begun spending a lot of time at a local megachurch called the Chapel. After the accident, he started taking opiates for back and neck pain and stopped working steadily.

But Brogan Rafferty’s father, Michael, who knew Beasley from the local motorcycle circuit, told me that even before the car wreck, Beasley had been “lazy.” He was known as someone who always had “a little bit of an angle going,” like a “scam artist,” Michael Rafferty said. People in their motorcycle clubs knew Beasley had a criminal record, but to Michael Rafferty he seemed harmless, like he was “all talk.” Michael Rafferty said he’d never once seen Beasley lose his temper in the 20 years he knew him.

Beasley didn’t drink or smoke much, and he spent a lot of his free time at the Chapel, where he went to Bible study and worked in a soup kitchen. So when, at age 8, Brogan Rafferty said he wanted to start going to church on Sundays, his dad said it was okay for him to go with Beasley. It was only church, after all. And Michael Rafferty, a single parent who was working long shifts at the time, hated waking up early on Sundays anyway.

For the next eight years, Beasley was a regular presence in the Rafferty house on Sundays, coming by early to get his young charge, who’d be waiting in a slightly rumpled suit. Sometimes when he took Rafferty to church, Beasley would bring along his daughter, Tonya, or Rafferty’s half-sister Rayna, who was three years younger than Rafferty and shared the same mother but, like Rafferty, lived full-time with her own father. (Rafferty’s mother, Yvette, was a crack addict who didn’t have custody of her four children and was rarely around when they were young.) Beasley was a mentor to Rayna and her brother, Rayna recalls. After Bible study, he’d sneak them leftover donuts or take them to McDonald’s and talk to them about the importance of school or the danger of drugs. “The Bible is the key to peace of mind, and a road map to salvation,” he wrote in the Bible he gave Brogan.

Around 2009, Beasley founded what he told friends was a halfway house to help reform addicts, runaways, and prostitutes. Beasley would cruise the streets of Akron at night, picking up strays and bringing them back to the house. If they were in trouble with the law, he would vouch for them in court, saying they had turned their lives over to Christ. A few times, Rafferty asked Beasley whether they could go out and look for his mother, Yvette, who Rafferty always worried was in trouble.

But there was another side to Beasley—and to his halfway house. Amy Saller, who later described herself on the witness stand at Rafferty’s trial as a former crack addict and prostitute, lived at the house on and off for more than two years from 2009 to 2011. Beasley had picked her up one night, and she came to stay with him because he told her his mission was to “save all the girls that are on the streets,” she testified. “I pictured him as a savior, somebody that was trying to help me.” There were four or five other prostitutes in the house, Saller recalled, and Beasley got them all cellphones. Soon, instead of being their savior, he became their pimp. He began advertising their services online and driving them to meet johns. Saller said that Beasley would “do anything in his power” to keep the girls at the house, including buying them drugs. Saller said she never saw Beasley get violent, although she added that she was nonetheless afraid of him.

In February 2011, Beasley was arrested in Ohio on a variety of drug-related charges. While he was in jail, investigators were building a prostitution case against him. He was released on bond in mid-July. But after he failed to check in with authorities in Texas, where he was still on parole for his earlier crimes, the state issued a warrant for his arrest, and he was deemed on the run from the law.

Beasley wanted to disappear. The key, he realized, would be to assume a new identity, and it wasn’t long before he came up with an idea. Whereas once he had preyed on prostitutes, now he would target a member of a new class of vulnerable citizens drifting at the margins of society: unemployed, middle-aged white men.

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Hanna Rosin is an Atlantic national correspondent.

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