Thomas Braun and Leonard Maine were teenage killers and enjoyed it. Both 18 and self-styled hippy rebels, they roamed Washington State and northern California in a succession of stolen cars in the summer of 1967 carrying loaded revolvers and looking for defenceless and unsuspecting victims. By September 1967, they had killed three young women and a man, hitch-hikers who had welcomed a lift on a hot day and had then been driven swiftly and violently to their deaths and left spread-eagled on some deserted road, thrown out of cars as their killers drove away. Police in Snohomish County — the area in which the murders occurred — were getting nowhere. Detectives particularly hate what they call roving killers — murderers who don't fit any profile but travel large areas killing randomly and unpredictably.
That's certainly what was happening in Snohomish County in the summer of 1967 and Thomas Braun and Leonard Maine went on their murder spree secure in the knowledge that there were no witnesses and no victims left alive to tell the tale. Earlier in the summer, while driving a stolen car through Cannon Beach, Oregon, they had a blow-out and while changing the tyre by the side of the road, salesman Sam Ledgerwood pulled over to help. It was the last act of kindness he would perform. Minutes later Ledgerwood lay dead by the side of the deserted road with two .22 slugs in his head. Braun and Maine then set fire to the Buick saloon they were driving and continued their journey in Ledgerwood's blue Dodge.
Three days later a woman hitch-hiker, Carine Schwartz, was shot dead in Cedarwood, Oregon and thrown from the car at speed. Once again the crime had taken place at dusk on a deserted road with no one to witness the mindless killing. On a Saturday afternoon in August, Deanna Buse, a pretty 22-year-old, married less than a year, left home in Redmond, Washington, to drive three miles to visit her mother. She never arrived, and was never seen alive again. For three days, police, helped by family and friends, scoured the area for some sign of Deanna or her grey Ford car. Eventually both were found in a wooded area about ten miles from Redmond. Deanna's body was lying a few yards from the car. Apparently she had tried to crawl for help and had then been shot five times in the head, killing her instantly. She had not been assaulted or robbed. It was yet another apparently pointless killing.
Police were beginning to despair that they would ever catch the roving killer or killers when the unbelievable courage of a 17-year-old girl named Susan Bartolomei gave them the breakthrough they wanted. The tragedy was it had to happen in the way it did. Four days after the discovery of Deanna Buse's body, Mrs Howardine Mease and her husband and two children were driving back to their home in Santa Barbara, California, after visiting their eldest daughter in Lake Clear, when the car brakes began to over-heat. It was now dark and rather than risk an accident, the Mease family pulled off the road and spent a safe, if uncomfortable, night in sleeping bags in the car.
"We woke up about 6am," Mrs Mease recalled, "packed up our sleeping bags and drove off. We had only driven about a mile when we came across a girl lying in the middle of the road. We thought at first she had been hit by a car and was dead. "When I took her arm I found a faint pulse. While my husband flagged down vehicles to get help, I comforted the girl and assured her that she would be OK. She could hardly speak but told me that her name was Susan Bartolomei.
"She gave me her parents' phone number and told me that she and her boyfriend, Tim Luce, had been hitch-hiking after their car broke down and two young men in a green Mercury with Oregon licence plates gave them a lift. Minutes later they had shot her and, she presumed, killed her boyfriend."
Mrs Mease told police that Susan said that after being shot she had been thrown over an embankment by her attackers. She knew her only chance of survival lay in being found quick