John Eric Armstrong

He Said He Killed to Revenge a High School Breakup

John Eric Armstrong
John Eric Armstrong. Mug Shot

John Eric Armstrong was a 300-pound, former U.S. Navy sailor, who was known for being mild-mannered and who had an innocent child-like look, so much so, that while in the Navy he was nicknamed "Opie" by his mates.

Armstrong joined the Navy in 1992 when he was 18 years old. He served seven years on the Nimitz aircraft carrier. During his time in the Navy he received four promotions and earned two Good Conduct medals.

When he left the Navy in 1999, he and his wife moved to Deaborn Heights, a working-class neighborhood in Michigan. He got a job with Target retail stores and later with the Detroit Metropolitan Airport refueling airplanes. 

Those who lived around the Armstrongs thought of John as a good neighbor and stand-up guy who was a committed husband and devoted father to his 14-month-old son. 

A Call to the Police

Detroit investigators became suspicious of Armstrong after he contacted them in regards to a body he saw floating in the Rouge River. He told the police that he was walking on the bridge when suddenly he felt ill and leaned over the bridge and saw the body.

Police pulled the body of 39-year-old Wendy Joran out of the river. Joran was known to the police. She was an active drug user and prostitute.

Investigators noted that Joran's murder was very similar to a string of murders of prostitutes which had recently occurred.

Police Suspect Armstrong

Investigators looking into the possibility that a serial killer was murdering local prostitutes found Armstrongs "walking along the bridge" story to be highly suspicious.

They decided to place him under surveillance. Once they had Joran's DNA and other evidence collected they went to Armstrong's home and requested a blood sample and asked if they could collect fibers from around his home and from the inside of his car.

Armstrong agreed and allowed the investigative inside his home.

Through DNA testing the investigators were able to link Armstrong to one of the murdered prostitutes, but they wanted to wait to get a full report from the testing lab before they arrested Armstrong.

Then on April 10, three more bodies were discovered is various stages of decomposition. 

Investigators set up a task force and began interviewing local prostitutes. Three of the prostitutes admitted to having sex with Armstrong. All three of women described his "baby-like face" and  the 1998 black Jeep Wrangler that Armstrong drove. They also said that after having sex, Armstrong appeared to go crazy and tried to strangle them.

Arrest

On April 12, police arrested Armstrong for the murder of Wendy Joran. It did not take long for Armstrong to crack under pressure. He told investigators that he hated prostitutes and that he was 17 years old when he first committed murder. He also confessed to killing other prostitutes in the area and to 12 other murders that he committed around the world while he was in the Navy. The list included murders in Hawaii, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Singapore, and Israel. 

He later recanted his confessions

Trial and Conviction

In March 2001, Armstrong went on trial for the murder of Wendy Joran. His lawyers tried to prove that Armstrong was insane, but their efforts were unsuccessful.

On July 4, 2001, Armstrong bargained down to a plea of second-degree murder, and as a result he was sentenced to 31 years of life in prison for the murders of Brown, Felt and Johnson. All together he received two life sentences plus 31 years as punishment for his killings.

Armstrong later said that he began killing prostitutes after his high school girlfriend broke up with him for another man, who he claimed seduced her with gifts. He viewed it as a form of prostitution and began his killing spree as an act of revenge.

FBI Launches an International Investigation

The FBI continued to try to connect Armstrong to similar unsolved murders in countries such as Thailand, and all other places Armstrong was based while in the Navy.