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Is Trucker That Rare Serial Killer With a Conscience?

Crime: Ex-O.C. school bus driver Wayne Adam Ford has been called sweet, apologetic. Some say he's just a good liar.

November 19, 1998|MARY CURTIUS and TOM GORMAN and ROBERT OURLIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ARCATA, Calif. — Andy Lowery thought he had seen the type before when Wayne Adam Ford first walked into his Christian book and music shop a couple of years ago. "People who have problems come to see the Christian people," Lowery says.

Ford, who had lived and worked in Orange County before moving north, told Lowery his life was adrift, his marriage had busted up, he was losing touch with the toddler son he adored. Lowery tried to help, selling Ford evangelical tracts and a Bible on tape to listen to on his trucking routes. He even took Ford to his men's Bible study group.

Through it all, only one thing made Ford seem different from other lost souls who dropped by the store. "He said he was concerned," Lowery says, "that he didn't have a conscience."

On Nov. 3, Ford has told investigators, he found his conscience. After a night of heavy drinking and a tearful session with his brother in a threadbare hotel room, the two paid an early-morning visit to the sheriff's station in Eureka. Ford carried his Bible and a woman's severed breast stuffed into a plastic bag. He confessed, investigators say, to strangling four women and dumping their sometimes dismembered bodies in different parts of the state.

Now, as he sits in a Humboldt County jail cell, held on $1 million bail, stunned family, friends and acquaintances in Orange County and elsewhere are struggling to understand how a man many describe as sweet and helpful could have carried out the grisly crimes he has described.

Police are investigating the possibility that Ford, who loves karaoke singing, served in the Marine Corps and drove a bus for disabled schoolchildren in San Clemente, may be responsible for many more killings.

And criminologists are trying to figure out whether Ford is that rarest of creatures--a serial killer with a conscience--or just a very good liar.

"There is a huge inconsistency between his savage attacks on women--the mutilation, the dismemberment, the strangling while having sex, all of which suggests a sexual psychopath in the extreme--and his seeming remorse and sensitivity," says Michael Rustigan, a professor of criminology at San Francisco State University who teaches courses about homicide to police officers. "Let me say that serial killers are often accomplished liars."

Ford has detailed a pattern of preying on young women, often drifters or prostitutes, women he met at truck stops, on city streets and in bars. Some say they survived his attentions. According to Ford, one who did not was the mother of four, ages 11 months to 10 years, a woman who reportedly worked nights, did not have a car and may have simply accepted a ride from the wrong person.

The identity of another victim is not known--the dismemberment of her body making identification impossible.

During his many interrogations, Ford apparently has come up with no better explanation for the vicious assaults and killings than that he burned with anger at his ex-wife, Elizabeth Ault, who divorced him in Las Vegas earlier this year. Ault, daughter of a Las Vegas police captain who Ford has said opposed their marriage from the start, lives in Las Vegas with their son.

Ford has told investigators, relatives and friends that he had visitation rights but that his ex-wife would not let him see the boy. Even now, he frets about what she will tell their son about Daddy. Ault--who had her divorce papers sealed after Ford turned himself in--could not be reached, and other members of her family declined to comment.

'I Didn't Mean to Hurt Anybody'

Repeatedly, investigators have described Ford as distraught, emotional, often overcome as he detailed his attacks.

"He's not the kind of guy we typically deal with, like some gangbanger," says Kern County Sheriff's Det. Ron Taylor. After describing horrific acts of savagery, Ford "was apologetic at the end. He said: 'I'm sorry these people got hurt. I didn't mean to hurt anybody,' " Taylor says.

Ford also has described the killings as "accidents" and even told investigators he attempted to revive his victims once he realized they were dead.

Professor Jack Levin, who has written books on serial killers and runs a center for the study of violence at Boston's Northeastern University, says Ford's apparent remorse does not fit the pattern of a serial killer.

"In a sense, he reminds me more of a mass murderer than a serial killer," Levin says. "Often, a mass murderer is bent on revenge--he wants to get even with a wife, or a boss or with society at large and sometimes he kills innocent people along the way."

A serial killer is a sociopath, Levin says. Serial killers "are not doing anything wrong, from their point of view. If you don't have a conscience, you don't care."

Rustigan, for one, remains skeptical that Ford's regret, if it is real, extends to his victims.

"If this guy is sobbing and crying, the question I would ask is this: Are these tears of self-pity, or is this genuine sympathy for these women, these poor girls?" the criminologist says.

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