Serial Killer Michael Ross, The Roadside Strangler

He Told His Lawyer That He Never Had a Chance

Michael Ross
Mug Shot

The story of confessed serial killer Michael Ross is a tragic tale of a young man who came from a farm he loved, and a childhood filled with parental abuse, although he could not remember the experiences. It is also a tale of this same man who, driven by sexually violent fantasies, brutally raped and murdered eight young girls. And finally, it is a tragic tale of a judicial system that is riddled with imperfections in its responsibility of deciding life or death.

Michael Ross - His Childhood Years

Michael Ross was born on July 26, 1959, to Daniel and Pat Ross in Brooklyn, Connecticut. According to court records, the two married after Pat had discovered she was pregnant. The marriage was not a happy one. Pat hated farm life, and after having four children and two abortions, she ran off to North Carolina to be with another man. When she returned home, she was institutionalized. The admitting doctor wrote that Pat talked of suicide and of beating and striking her children.

Michael Ross' sister has said that as a child, Ross took the brunt of his mother's anger. It is also suspected that an uncle of Ross' who committed suicide may have sexually molested Ross while babysitting him. Ross said he remembered very little about his childhood abuse although he never forgot how much he loved helping his father around the farm.

Strangling Chickens

After his uncle had committed suicide, the job of killing sick and malformed chickens became eight-year-old Michael's responsibility.

He would strangle the chickens with his hands. As Michael got older, more of the farm responsibilities became his, and by the time he was in high school, his father depended a lot on Ross' help. Michael loved farm life and met his responsibilities while also attending high school. With a high IQ of 122, balancing school with farm life was manageable.

By this time, Ross was exhibiting antisocial behavior, including stalking young teenage girls.

Ross' College Years

In 1977, Ross entered Cornell University and studied agricultural economics. He began dating a woman who was in ROTC and dreamed of someday marrying her. When the woman became pregnant and had an abortion, the relationship began to falter. After she had decided to signup for a four-year service commitment, the relationship ended. In retrospect, Ross said as the relationship became more troubled he began to have fantasies that were sexually violent. By his sophomore year, he was stalking women.

In his senior year at college, despite being engaged to another woman, Ross' fantasies were consuming him, and he committed his first rape. In that same year, he also committed his first rape and murder by strangulation. Ross said afterward he hated himself for what he did and tried to commit suicide, but lacked the ability to do it and instead promised himself he would never hurt anyone again. However, between 1981 and 1984, while working as an insurance salesman, Ross had raped and killed eight young women, the oldest being 25.

The Victims

  • Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25, a Cornell University student, killed May 12, 1981.
  • Paula Perrera, 16, of Wallkill, N.Y., killed in March 1982
  • Tammy Williams, 17, of Brooklyn, killed Jan. 5, 1982
  • Debra Smith Taylor, 23, of Griswold, killed June 15, 1982
  • Robin Stavinksy, 19, of Norwich, killed November 1983
  • April Brunias, 14, of Griswold, killed April 22, 1984
  • Leslie Shelley, 14, of Griswold, killed April 22, 1984
  • Wendy Baribeault, 17, of Griswold, killed June 13, 1984

The Search for a Killer

Michael Malchik was assigned chief investigator after the murder of Wendy Baribeault in 1984. Witnesses provided Malchik with both the description of the car -- a blue Toyota -- and the person who they believed kidnapped Wendy. Malchik began the process of interviewing a list of blue Toyota owners which brought him to Michael Ross. Malchik testified that during their initial meeting, Ross enticed him to ask more questions by dropping subtle hints that he was their man.

By now, Ross was living in Jewett City as an insurance salesman. His parents had divorced and sold the farm. During the interview with Malchik, Ross told of his past two arrests on sex offenses. It was at this point Malchik decided to bring him to the station for questioning. At the station, the two talked like old friends: discussing family, girlfriends, and life in general. By the conclusion of the interrogation, Ross confessed to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of eight young women.

The Judicial System:

In 1986 Ross' defense team moved for a dismissal on two of the murders, Leslie Shelley and April Brunais, because they were not murdered in Connecticut and not within the jurisdiction of the state. The state said that the two women were murdered in Connecticut, but even if they hadn't been, the murders began and ended in Connecticut which granted the state jurisdiction.

But then a question of credibility came up when the state produced a statement by Malchik claiming that Ross gave him directions to the crime scene. Malchik claimed that somehow the directions were left out of statements, both written and taped two years earlier. Ross denied ever giving such directions.

Evidence in Rhode Island

The defense produced cloth matching a slip cover in Ross' apartment which was found in the woods in Exeter, Rhode Island, along with a ligature used to strangle one of the girls. The defense also produced a taped statement of Ross offering to take the police to the crime scene, although Malchik stated he did not recall such an offer.

Possible Cover Up

Superior Court Judge Seymour Hendel exploded during the closed hearing, accusing the prosecutors and police of purposely misleading the court with lies. Some of the counts against Ross were removed, however, the judge refused to reopen the suppression hearing on Ross' confession. When sealed records were opened two years later, Hendel retracted his statements.

In 1987, Ross was convicted of the murders of four of the eight women he confessed to having killed.

It took the jury 86 minutes of deliberations to convict him and only four hours to decide on his punishment -- death. But the trial itself faced a lot of criticism in regards to the Judge who presided over it. 

Imprisonment

During the next 18 years that he spent on death row, Ross met Susan Powers, from Oklahoma, and the two were engaged to be married. She ended the relationship in 2003, but continued to visit Ross up until his death. 

Ross became a devout Catholic while in prison and would pray the rosary daily. He was also accomplished at translating Braille and helping troubled inmates.

In the final year of his life, Ross, who had always been opposed to the death penalty, said he no longer objected to his own execution. According to Cornell graduate Kathry Yeager. Ross believed that he had been "forgiven by God" and that he would be going to "a better place" once he was executed. She also said that Ross did not wish for the victims' families to suffer any more pain.

Execution

Having waived his right to appeal, Michael Ross was scheduled to be executed on January 26, 2005, but an hour before the execution was to take place, his lawyer obtained a two-day stay of execution on behalf of Ross' father. The execution was rescheduled for January 29, 2005, but early in the day was postponed again as a question into Ross' mental capabilities came into play.  His lawyer said Ross was incapable of waiving appeals and that he was suffering from death row syndrome.

Ross was executed by lethal injection on May 13, 2005, at  2:25 a.m., at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers, Connecticut. His remains were buried at the Benedictine Grange Cemetery in Redding, Connecticut.

After the execution, Dr. Stuart Grassian, a psychiatrist who had argued that Ross was not competent to waive appeal, received a letter from Ross dated May 10, 2005, which read "Check, and mate. You never had a chance!"