Small town security, or head-in-sand-ity?

By Chad D. Baus

I live in a place some city-dwellers don't think exists any more.

My small Fulton County, Ohio town is place where most of the faces passing by on the road are recognizable...a place where people can walk to work and church...a place where housing is still (fairly) affordable, and doors are often left unlocked...a place where families (sometimes two or three generations at once!) can be seen together riding bikes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, or enjoying ice cream cones on an evening stroll...a place where neighbors actually know one anothers' names and maybe even something about each other...a place where the largest crowds form at pee-wee league games on weeknights and in church pews on Sundays.

And my small town is a place where an over-the-road truck driver recently came to pick up a load of furniture just hours before he was arrested and, according to Nashville's (TN) Metro police, confessed to being a multi-state serial killer.

Click 'Read More' for the entire commentary.

The driver, Bruce Mendenhall, is married and a father of two. He hails from an even smaller version of "Mayberry" than my own - Albion, Illinois, where he once ran for mayor. The Chicago Tribune describes the town this way[1]:

    It's a town where kids play catch in the street after sunset, where the lampposts are decorated with yellow ribbons and the names of those sons and daughters who have joined the military in wartime. Every phone number in town begins with the same three-digit prefix: 445.

What a bizarre coincidence. For years, all the phone numbers in my town began with 445 (the prefix 446 was added much later). Would that being patriotic small towns with 445 prefixes was all we had in common. But it is not. As we will soon see, we also are connected through Bruce D. Mendenhall.

The Albion police chief says Mendenhall never had any serious run-ins with the law. Neighbors say they didn’t think he’d be doing anything like this. Friends say he never displayed behavior that was out of the ordinary or violent. He spent every Sunday at the bowling alley with his daughters, and could often be spotted at the ball field.[2] His boss calls him "meek"[3] and a good worker who was very personable, easy to talk to[4]. Yet authorities say this man has confessed to being a violent, serial predator.

One June 26, police say Mendenhall was in Nashville, Tennessee, at a TravelCenters of America truck stop just off of I-24. Soon after, a 25 year-old woman's body was discovered with a fatal gunshot wound. Detectives spotted a yellow truck in surveillance footage, and began a stake out.

According to the (Nashville) Tennessean[5], on the afternoon of July 1, a semi with a yellow cab and white trailer was parked at a small local truck stop in Birmingham, Alabama. The truck pulled out. Ten minutes later, a passer-by spotted the body of Michelle Carter on the pavement next to the spot where the truck had been parked. "She'd been shot and killed and thrown to the side of the road with a bag over her head," said Birmingham Police Detective Mike Allison.

Investigators told The Tennesseean that Mendenhall, who was arrested Thursday, July 12 as he climbed out of the blood-spattered cab of his yellow semi-tractor, told them he killed another woman one day earlier and left her body in a car at a Flying J truck stop, near a Hardee's restaurant, somewhere on the south end of Interstate 465 in Indianapolis. Again, from The Tennessean[6]:

    "This could be just the tip of the iceberg," said Danny Davis, owner of Quality Oak Products in Noble, Ill., where Mendenhall has worked, making interstate deliveries for the past year. "Basically, we run our trucks all over the Midwest … Arkansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota. He's been in all them states."

    Davis said he had been going over Mendenhall's records — and finding troubling gaps and trips that took far longer than they should have. Just last week, Mendenhall was supposed to make an eight-hour run to Fayette, Ohio. He wound up in Fayetteville, on the wrong side of the state, and took another day to reach his destination.

    "I asked him, 'What's taking you so long?' " Davis said. Mendenhall said he got confused, Davis said.

Mendenhall's boss, Danny Davis, told Nashville's NewsChannel5 that he is working with police across the country to fill in shaky gaps in several of Mendenhall's deliveries. They were problems Davis never thought of as serious before now. "It's just so hard to tell how far this thing goes back," Davis said.[7]

This horrific case is impacting lots of small towns. Investigators from Sewanee, Georgia, were in Nashville this week to interview Mendenhall about the January 29 death of Deborah Ann Glover, who was found shot to death beside the parking lot of a Motel 6 that is often used as an overnight rest area for truckers. It was the first murder in Sewanee in 40 years, and until Thursday there had been no leads in the case.[8] Police say Mendenhall has implicated himself in Glover's murder.[9]

So the timeline for the past month goes like this:

On June 26, Mendenhall was in Nashville, allegedly murdering a 25 year-old woman. He is suspected of murdering a woman in Birmingham on July 1. Later that same week, his boss says he made an unauthorized trip to Fayetteville, Ohio (a small town in Brown County), and eventually wound up at his scheduled stop in Fayette, Ohio (yet another small town in Fulton County). And on or about July 10 he was back here in Fulton County, in my town, picking up a load of furniture bound for Buford, Georgia.[10] According to his alleged confession, he made a stop along the way, murdering another woman in Indianapolis, before returning to the Nashville truck stop where detectives were waiting.

All the while, small town folks slept soundly.

Not so any more, at least not in Mendenhall's hometown. According to the Tribune[11], Albion has been left reeling since the news of the arrest hit last week.

    "It's a bad deal," said Maude Hortin, Mendenhall's mother-in-law, standing at her screen door Tuesday while Mendenhall's dogs yapped behind her. She spoke slowly, almost cringing. "It's just one of those things that happens to you. Nobody ever expects nothing like that to happen to you."

Indeed, no one expects it to happen to them. Sometimes not even in the city, but definitely not in a small town like Albion, or Fayetteville, or Sewanee.

If we measure my Fulton County neighbors' sense of security based solely on the number of concealed handgun license holders, we would conclude people in this extreme northwest Ohio county believe they are quite safe indeed. But as people are now learning the hard way, the truth is something far different.

Employees at the local business where Mendendall picked up his load of furniture are buzzing. What if he had been of the drivers needing to be awakened because his load was ready? What if he'd chosen me?

What if? They're the kind of personal security questions many small town folks aren't used to asking. But in a world connected by everything from interstate highways to the Internet, we should be.

Chad D. Baus is an NRA-certified personal protection instructor and Vice Chairman of Buckeye Firearms Association.

Related Stories:
The Awful Price Of Not Being Prepared

Mindset – the key to winning a deadly encounter

''I Thought This Would Never Happen to Me''


Chicago Tribune, Arrest in truck-stop death shocks farm town

WKRN, Who Is Bruce Mendenhall?

Chicago Tribune, Arrest in truck-stop death shocks farm town

The Tennessean, Mess in trucker's cab held clues in slayings

The Tennessean, Suspect spawns search for a sixth body


NewsChannel5, Serial Killer Suspect May Have Killed Before Arrest

The Tennessean, Suspect spawns search for a sixth body

WKRN, Mendenhall Case Expands To More States Across U.S

The Tennessean, Suspect spawns search for a sixth body

Chicago Tribune, Arrest in truck-stop death shocks farm town

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