Murder by Craigslist

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

This will be the fourth time we’ve talked to you. And each time we get a little bit more. But tonight it all needs to come out, 100 percent. All right?

One week after arresting Brogan Rafferty, investigators made a deal with their 16-year-old suspect. If he agreed to testify against Beasley, he would be charged only with complicity to murder and attempted murder, respectively, in the cases of David Pauley and Scott Davis. He would not be charged with two other homicides that had by now been uncovered. Later, Rafferty would back out of the deal, but the plea-deal interview was recorded and the judge allowed it to be played at Rafferty’s trial.

The story Rafferty told began in the first week of August, when Beasley told Rafferty that he was on the run from the law. He was determined not to go back to jail, and he suggested to Rafferty that “he needed [his] help to survive.”

The first thing Beasley wanted was a new identity, and he began hanging around a local homeless shelter searching for someone who looked like him. He had by now come up with the perfect lure for a male victim in post-recession America: he would present himself as a beneficent but exacting employer, one with the power to alter a man’s fortunes by granting him the “job of a lifetime” as the caretaker of a sprawling farm.

It wasn’t long before Beasley met a man named Ralph Geiger, who for many years had run a thriving maintenance business, but for whom jobs had gradually dried up. Geiger, 56, was staying at a shelter and looking for work, and Beasley told him about the caretaker job he’d invented. Geiger had lived on a farm when he was younger, and he leapt at the opportunity. Rafferty remembers Beasley quizzing Geiger about his size and appearance: How much do you weigh? You look a lot like me, except your hair is a little bit darker.

At what other moment in history could a serial killer identify middle-aged white men as his most vulnerable targets?

Whether Rafferty knew that Beasley intended to kill Geiger would later become a key point in the teenager’s trial, and he told different versions of his story at different times. In his plea-deal confession, Rafferty told the investigators that Beasley “said that he needed a new identity. And that this guy looked similar to him. And he said that he needed to somehow murder him.” Later, though, Rafferty would tell the jury that he’d had no idea what was coming. The first time he realized that Beasley was anything other than a “very nice man,” he claimed, was on August 9, when they drove Geiger to the same wooded spot where they would later take David Pauley and Scott Davis. After they got out of the car, Beasley raised a pistol and shot Geiger in the back of the head. “It was as if somehow I immediately slipped into a dream or something,” Rafferty told the jury. “Like I had ice in my veins.” From then on, Rafferty said, he lived in a state of fear and panic, terrified that Beasley would kill his mother or half-sister Rayna if he told anyone what had happened, or that maybe on their next run Beasley would kill him.

“He was just scared and he didn’t see a way out,” Rafferty’s father, Michael, told me. “Heroes aren’t born at 16.”

Rafferty didn’t tell anyone about Geiger’s murder, but he did describe it in a poem dated August 16, 2011, that was later found on his hard drive. It was titled “Midnight Shift”:

We took him out to the woods on a
humid summer’s night.
I walked in front of them.
They were going back to the car.
I did’nt turn around.
The loud crack echoed and I did’nt
hear the thud.
The two of us went back to the car
for the shovels.
He was still there when we returned.
He threw the clothes in a garbage
bag along with the personal items.
I dug the hole.
It reached my waist when I was in
it, maybe four feet wide.
We put him in with difficulty,
they call them stiffs for a reason.
We showered him with lime like a
Satanic baptism
it was like we were excommunicating
him from the world
I thought there would be extra dirt,
he was’nt a small man.
There wasint. I don’t know how.
We drove out of there discarding
evidence as we went
felt terrible until I threw up
in the gas station bathroom where
I was supposed to throw away the bullets and shell.
I emptied myself of my guilt, with
my dinner, but not for long.
When I got home,’ took a shower hotter than hell itsself.
prayed like hell that night.

Rafferty grew moody that fall, according to his parents and friends, but they figured it was just hormones or girl trouble. He later told his mom that after homecoming, while the other kids were having fun, all he could think about was crashing the Buick his dad had bought him, so that he could join Gram Rita, his beloved grandmother who’d died a few years earlier. But he didn’t wreck the car. He just stayed in his room and waited for Beasley to call.

Beasley, meanwhile, was constructing a life as Ralph Geiger. He dyed his hair brown and found a room to rent. He went to a doctor to get prescription painkillers for the injuries he’d sustained in his car accident. In September, he landed a job as a quality inspector at a company that made liftgates for trucks. But it didn’t last long. Beasley’s back still hurt, and he became worried that parole officers would somehow catch on to him. Still, he couldn’t survive without a steady income. Perhaps that’s when the idea came to him. The Geiger killing had gone so smoothly that he could turn it into a career of sorts, preying on other men who’d fallen out of the economy.

Instead of trolling the shelters, as he’d done to find Geiger, Beasley came up with the strategy of placing an ad on Craigslist. After all, he didn’t want his victims to be completely down and out. He needed men on the margins, yes, but not so marginal that they didn’t have some possessions worth killing for: a truck or a TV or a computer or even a motorcycle.

On Sunday, October 23, as David Pauley was driving his U-Haul full of stuff to the breakfast meeting with his new employer, Rafferty woke up early. He fed his cats, tidied his room, and told his father he was heading out for a job digging drainage ditches. “I love you, Dad,” he said as he left to pick up Beasley. Before driving to the Bob Evans in Marietta, Beasley and Rafferty went to Kmart and bought a couple of shovels. Then they drove to a spot not far from where Geiger was buried, and Rafferty dug the grave intended for Pauley. Before they left, Beasley put a $20 bill under a nearby rock: if it was gone when they came back, he’d know someone had been there.

After breakfast with Pauley, Beasley had his new hire follow him to the Emporium in Caldwell, to park his truck and trailer. He told Pauley the same story about the road to the farm being split that he would later tell Davis. On the subsequent drive in the Buick, Pauley asked about the job and Beasley told him not to worry: “You get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.” When they pulled over near the creek, Beasley asked Rafferty and Pauley to follow him up a hill, but Rafferty said he had to go to the bathroom. “And then, as I finished and turned around,” Rafferty told investigators, “I heard a crack.” Pauley was lying facedown. Somehow his cowboy hat had ended up hanging on a nearby branch.

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Hanna Rosin is an Atlantic national correspondent.

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