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Jul 2002 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Who Counts?
By Traci Angel

Maury Troy Travis, the deceased alleged serial killer, seemed to always be one step ahead of authorities.

The news of his apparent suicide by hanging last month in a St. Louis County jail cell set off more alarms, and sent media into a bigger frenzy, than the initial discoveries of women's skeletal remains found periodically over the previous 14 months, many of which are still unidentified.

It was the tracing of a letter sent to a Post-Dispatch reporter in late May that led police to Travis, and began the recent twist of events. The note's tone was a bit arrogant, a bit mocking and included a map to the remains of another body, as if the killer wanted to prove who was ahead in the game.

Maury Troy Travis The discovery of Travis' limp body, hanging by ripped bed clothes funneled through a high wall air vent (on the very night he was charged formally with kidnapping two of the missing women), began a new chapter in a slew of strange murders that we only just started to learn about.

Authorities tried to answer the questions the public wants to know: Why does a man on police-professed "suicide watch" have bedding materials? Why does a guard only check such a prisoner every 15 minutes? How many bodies are yet to be found (with his letter suggesting up to 17)?

But if you flashback to a year ago, when the women were just being discovered littered about the weeds, you'll find "regular" news stories when the bodies were found. Not until October did the Belleville News-Democrat and the Post follow with analysis stories about the multiple bodies and the similarities of their findings and cause of death. That was after two bodies were found, two days in a row. At that time, law enforcement officials were seeking FBI help. Only weeks later, perhaps even with a little nudging from a dogged Post crime reporter, did the St. Louis police department become involved in the organizing of a multi-jurisdictional task force.

This story — perhaps St. Louis' largest crime tale ever — didn't garner the intense coverage like the cases of missing girls (Angie Housman and Heather Kullorn) from suburban neighborhoods. Those stories rocked the area and sent parents into a panic. But innocent ponytailed victims create more of a stir than prostitute victims on crack, reported missing full days after they disappeared. Even a profile story of the victim Alysa Greenwade (who was mentioned in the letter sent to the Post) ran in a Sunday 5-star edition, with placement near the bottom of the Metro front page. A feature on a Missouri law phasing out highway billboards got the top line.

So, the mysteries remain unsolved, and as authorities point fingers, and editorials scold authorities, dozens of children go motherless. The bodies of their moms — all streetwalkers, all African-American, with drug habits — may or may not be identified, and other bodies might not be discovered. When the counting stops is as good as a guess.

Traci Angel is a St. Louis reporter and editor.

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