COVER- Glenn Barker: Serial killer or convenient scapegoat?
Remembering Katie Worsky
In last week's cover story, we remembered Katie Worsky, a 12-year-old girl abducted from a sleep-over and presumed dead. The case rocked Charlottesville, and after a lengthy investigation and trial, Glenn Haslam Barker was convicted of second-degree murder in her death, only the second murder conviction without a body in Virginia.
Among the evidence: bloody wet men's clothes between the mattresses of Barker's bed and bloodstained girls' panties hidden in his sock drawer. Despite the conviction, Barker has never hinted at where Worsky's body might be found. And that's because, Barker says, he is an innocent man unfairly linked to various unsolved cases.
On April 30, 1992, the doors of the Buckingham Correctional Center swung open, and a free man walked out. Nine years after his conviction for the 1982 murder of 12-year-old Katherine Sybil "Katie" Worsky, who disappeared during a sleep-over, Glenn Haslam Barker– benefiting from what Governor George Allen has called a "lenient, dishonest" parole system– had served just half his sentence. At 33 years old, he still had most of his life ahead of him.
Barker might have settled somewhere and lived out his days quietly. In fact, he claims he tried to do just that. But within a few years, it was clear that his hopes for a life of tranquility and anonymity would continually be dashed.
As Barker moved around Virginia and eventually to New Jersey, headlines reported the furor his presence inspired. Warned by police of Barker's arrival, people picketed in front of his house as television cameras rolled.
Yet if his conviction for Katie Worsky's murder was enough to create fear, his connection to a gruesome double murder in 1996, four years after his release, sent new ripples of terror up and down the East Coast. Despite the fact that Barker has never been charged– much less convicted– in any other murder case, many people contacted for this story remain afraid of him.
"If he ever showed up on my doorstep..." says more than one source, trailing off before requesting anonymity. Says another: "I don't even want him to know I'm alive."
Barker has long maintained that he has been unfairly targeted by police trying to connect him to cases with no other suspects. In addition to maintaining he was wrongly convicted in Katie Worsky's death, Barker says law enforcement agents have persecuted him by naming him publicly as a suspect even when there is no evidence to implicate him and fanning public perception of him as a boogeyman.
Is Glenn Barker evil incarnate, or is he simply a man with remarkably bad luck?
Free at last
Freedom can be difficult for any inmate released after serving a long sentence, but for a convicted child killer, the challenge is even greater. When Barker left prison at age 33, he did not return to Charlottesville, where he'd been convicted in Katie Worsky's death; instead, he moved with his mother to King William County northeast of Richmond. But even there, the neighbors did not welcome him, particularly after Robert Ressler, the famed FBI profiler turned best-selling author, declared that Barker would very likely kill again.
"I had a young daughter," says Carol Nicely, a now-retired Richmond police captain who happened to live within sight of the Barker home. Nicely says she stopped letting her daughter ride her bike alone or walk to neighbors' houses. News reports from the time suggest neighbors' fears reached fever pitch when Ressler noted that Barker's age still left him in his killing "prime."
If most people reviled him, Barker was able to connect with someone. Cynthia Powers Johnson met Barker soon after his release, and the two began dating. Barker says she was aware of his past, but the single mother was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, even as the protests– and the publicity– mounted.
During that time, Barker agreed to an interview with the Tidewater Review in which he promised he was no threat.
"I truly believe that the people in the community are not bad people, just misinformed," he said. "I'm sure they're nice, and they're scared and afraid. I'm no different– I've just maybe a little more experience in some things than they have, and murder is not one of them..."
His appeasing words didn't soothe neighbors, but folks in Prince William wouldn't have to live with Barker for long.
At 1am on March 26, 1993, Barker was pulled over in Henrico County for a broken tail light. If the stop was routine, what police discovered was chilling: a partially concealed sawed-off pellet gun and handcuffs. Profiler Ressler testified that even if the handcuffs could be explained, the combination of the two items in the car had a "stronger implication." Officers called it a "rape/kidnap kit."
Initially, officers allowed Barker to leave the scene because they weren't sure the pellet gun counted as a firearm, but about a week later, he was arrested and later found guilty of possessing a firearm as a felon. He was sent back to jail for six months.
Speaking today from his home in South River, New Jersey, Barker insists there was an innocent explanation for the forbidden items. He had the pellet gun, he claims, because he felt threatened.
"I came out to my car one day, and the door was bashed in," he recalls. Since he was dating Cynthia Johnson, he says, often both she and her daughter, Heather, were with him.
"I didn't care about my safety," he insists. "I did care about theirs. The only reason I had the B.B. gun was in case somebody tried to stop me on the road and Cynthia or Heather was with me, I'd pull the gun out and point it at whoever was going to bother me to get Cynthia over into the driver's seat."
"Was it stupid?" he asks. "I'd rather be stupid than have Cynthia or Heather get hurt. My main concern was their safety."
As for the handcuffs, those, too, were harmless, he says.
"Cynthia had given me those as a joke, and they were in the car," he says. "They weren't real; they didn't lock. You can get them at the Dollar Store. I threw them in the back of the truck. I never thought nothing about it."
Unfortunately, neither Cynthia Johnson nor her daughter will ever be able to confirm that account.
AUGUST 29, 1996, Richmond
Towering trees shade West Junaluska Drive, an enclave of well-maintained brick ranchers and split-levels with manicured lawns that reflect the pride of their owners. It's a neighborhood in transition– young professionals moving in to join the retirees who remain to enjoy their golden years remembering children raised there decades earlier.
On a recent weekday morning, Bob Midkiff is one of the few people at home in this South Richmond neighborhood. Retired from his job as an Exxon executive, Midkiff, 83, has lived in his home on Junaluska Court, around the corner from Junaluska Drive, for 43 years. "It's a quiet neighborhood," he says, a place where neighbors wave but respect each other's privacy.
He remembers Cynthia Johnson and seven-year-old Heather playing outside and waving to him when he'd drive past their house at 6535 West Junaluska Drive.
A few doors down from that house, another couple also recall Cynthia and Heather as friendly and quiet, though neither knew them well. But no longtime neighbors will ever forget August 29, 1996.
In the early morning hours, firefighters discovered 34-year-old Cynthia Johnson dead in a family room near the carport and Heather in a bedroom at the front of the one-story house. At least seven fires had been set, but neither mother nor daughter had died of smoke inhalation.
"It was a horrific crime," says Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody, a Richmond police officer at the time. Woody declines to discuss the exact nature of the injuries, but he calls them "ritualistic."
"Being in homicide for 22 years, I've seen a lot of things," says Woody. "That's one I'll always remember."
Police quickly targeted Barker.
"She was in the process of getting away from him," says Woody. Johnson and Heather had recently returned from a vacation with another man Johnson had become involved with, Woody says, and Barker wasn't happy.
"He did not want her to go on the vacation, according to her father, whom I talked to," Woody says. (Citing frustration with past news coverage and a desire to keep a low profile, Johnson's family declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Woody says the investigation floundered because investigators were never able to place Barker at the scene. He says a neighbor believed he'd seen Barker's pick-up, notable for a Redskins sticker on the back, near the house the night of crime, but the neighbor would not testify.
Police interrogated Barker several times, says Woody, who kept a picture of the crime scene on his desk "to remind me how important it was to go after who did this." Woody says that even when he showed Barker the gruesome pictures of the burned corpses of his ex-girlfriend and her daughter, he showed no emotion. "He's a very cold individual," Woody says.
The sheriff says police couldn't determine where Barker was between 11pm and 2am on the night Cynthia and Heather Johnson were killed, but that he lied about his alibi. "He's a pathological liar," says Woody. "He covers his tracks very well."
Barker responds that if he showed no emotion, it was because he knew he was the prime suspect in a crime he insists he didn't commit. Police, he says, "went so far as to say they had neighbors that had me there that night. They told me they found my semen there and things like this." He cites the latter allegation as proof of police trickery, claiming that health problems had by then made him impotent.
"They didn't try to ask me questions," Barker says. "They tried to convict me right then instead of looking where they should have been looking."
Barker says he and Johnson had ended their romantic relationship, in part because of his impotence, but that they remained friends. He says Johnson called him the night she was killed, asking him to come to the house, but that he declined to go over.
"Now I wish I had," he says, "because either I would have been dead or I would have prevented what happened from happening."
The case remains open. Today, the Richmond police website asks anyone with information to contact detectives and, noting that a pizza was delivered to Johnson's house the night of the murders, seeks any information about the delivery driver.
In addition to that request for information, neighbors on and around West Junaluska say police are still actively pursuing the case. Within the past two years, says Bob Midkiff, police set up a roadblock and asked everyone who passed to share any information they could recall about the night of the crime.
Roosevelt Welch, who five years ago moved into a house across the street and a few houses down from Johnson's, says even if police are seeking a pizza driver, they still seem to consider Barker the prime suspect.
"They said the guy who did it lives in New Jersey," he reports. Midkiff reports hearing similar information.
Richmond Police Sgt. Max Matco, in charge of the cold file, declined specific comment on the investigation, but Woody says he's still haunted.
"It's one of the few cases that I was unable to solve, that bothered me and still bothers me greatly," says Woody. "I still see the little girl, Heather."
Angier, North Carolina, February, 1981
While Barker denies involvement in the deaths of Katie Worsky and Cynthia and Heather Johnson, there is one crime to which he has always admitted.
In 1981, when he was 22 and living in Angier, North Carolina, Barker pled guilty to a reduced charge of "assault on a female" after abducting an 18-year-old acquaintance at knifepoint and tying her to his bed. The young woman, who had known Barker for a year through her boyfriend, was leaving church one February night around 9 when she noticed Barker following her.
Barker motioned for her to stop and asked if they could talk. She allowed him into the car, and they drove around for about 20 minutes, until she returned to his driveway to drop him off. At that point, according to court documents, he pulled a knife, held it to her throat, and took her inside because "he just needed someone tonight." When Barker left the residence to move her car, his victim– who'd been tied to his bedposts face down on the bed– escaped out a window and ran to a friend's house.
Police believed Barker intended to cause her further harm, but when the victim refused to testify, the charges were reduced. He received a two-year-suspended sentence and moved soon after to Charlottesville, where his mother and step-father lived.
As reported in last week's Hook cover story, "Little Girl Lost: Remembering Katie Worsky after 25 years," Barker calls the North Carolina incident a "mistake" and insists he never meant to harm the woman. His wife had recently left him, he says, and he was drinking and using drugs. When he realized what was happening, he went outside and watched her escape.
"I just wanted the company," he explains.
Life for the young Barker had posed some challenges. When he was six, Barker's parents divorced and he remained with his mother in Hopewell. They stayed in Virginia another eight years, eventually moving to Chester before relocating to Angier, North Carolina in time for high school. By his own and others' accounts, he was a football star at Harnett County Central High School, from which he graduated in 1978. College scholarship offers for the 6'5", 240-pound Barker were forthcoming.
"He could have written his ticket," says a former acquaintance who attended high school with Barker and spoke on condition of anonymity. According to Barker's school transcripts in his Charlottesville court file, he was a C student whose talent lay primarily on athletic fields.
During his senior year, Barker's young girlfriend, Lynn, a pretty, petite sophomore, became pregnant. Instead of following his dream of playing college ball, he married her, and soon after graduation he took a job in a local factory to support his wife and infant son, Glenn Haslam Barker Jr., born in February 1979.
According to court documents, a second child– a girl– was born "in January or February 1981," but was given up for adoption three days after birth– at approximately the same time Lynn left him and that he committed the abduction he says sparked all the later suspicion about him.
"Police look at that [abduction] and assume I must be involved in all these other crimes," he says.
According to documents in the Worsky file, Barker did begin his court-ordered treatment– first at Dorothea Dix Hospital, a Raleigh psychiatric facility, and then through Region 10 Community Services Board in Charlottesville.
A report from North Carolina reveals that in March 1981– less than a month after the abduction– Barker was diagnosed with a "dependent personality" and with "adjustment disorder with depressed mood," a diagnosis that could fit almost anyone who seeks psychological counseling.
Barker, the report reveals, said he was seeking psychological help "to find out why I did this."
At Region 10, Barker saw a therapist on three occasions, but he terminated treatment, according to court documents, after a therapist suggested his impulsive behavior might have been prompted by "long-standing anger at women."
According to the document, that suggestion so distressed Barker that he asked for a change of therapist, and when that failed, he stopped attending the sessions. If Region 10 failed to follow up with Barker, however, the decision might have been based on the judgment of the North Carolina psychiatrist who signed Barker's papers and recommended probation for the abduction.
"In my opinion," the psychiatrist wrote, "he is not dangerous to others."
Just over a year later, 12-year-old Katie Worsky disappeared– and she wasn't the only young female to go missing in Central Virginia that summer.
JUNE 18, 1982 HARRISONBURG
For Kelly Bergh Dove, her job at the Imperial gas station on South Main Street in Harrisonburg was a temporary stop on a way to a better life.
At 20, Dove was the married mother of a four-year-old daughter. She had finished high school a year early and was registered to attend Blue Ridge Community College in September.
Dove's three sisters all worked at the Imperial station, then the lone building on an isolated stretch of road about a mile south of the James Madison University campus. On Thursday night, June 17, Dove agreed to trade with one of her sisters and work the overnight shift.
After midnight on June 18, Dove called Harrisonburg police to report that a man driving a silver Ford had been harassing her. She explained she was working alone and implored, "Could you keep an eye on me?"
In a second call, she reported the man had come in and had been "dressed improperly." She'd received a threatening phone call, and when she called police a third time, just before 2:30am, she sounded panicked. "Please hurry," she said. "He's back."
According to published accounts, police arrived at the station just two minutes after Dove's third call, but they found only her purse and a magazine she'd been reading undisturbed on the counter. Dove was gone.
Like Katie Worsky's parents, Fred and Rachel Bergh have lived for the past 25 years with the agony of not knowing what happened to their child.
Reached in Niceville, Florida, where the couple now live after raising Dove's daughter, her mother, Rachel Bergh, says details of that night are etched in her mind.
Police called sometime after 3am and told her she needed to come to the station. Bergh says she didn't learn Kelly was missing until she arrived, and she was bothered by the way police seemed to be handling the scene. They never closed the store, she says, never took fingerprints. She also doubts that they had arrived as soon after Kelly's call as they claimed.
Harrisonburg police did not return the Hook's repeated calls.
Could Glenn Barker have been responsible for Kelly Dove's disappearance more than 70 miles from Charlottesville? In the months that followed, news reports claimed that Barker– who sometimes drove a Ford– had been seen painting his car in the days after Kelly disappeared.
Barker maintains that police ruled him out as a suspect in Dove's disappearance because he'd been at a family reunion where several relatives verified his presence. And the Berghs say they believe someone else was responsible, a man Kelly had known in school.
"He had a silver Ford," says Kelly's sister, Elaine Bergh, declining to name the suspect. "He'd been in trouble before with indecent exposure and phone calls," she says, "but there was nothing concrete they could prove."
Still, the Berghs say they wonder about Barker. One of Kelly Dove's friends traveled to Charlottesville every day of Barker's 1983 trial.
"She wanted to make sure it wasn't him," says Elaine Bergh, who named her own daughter Kelly after her missing sister and remains close to Kelly's daughter, Tami, now 29 and a mother herself.
Rachel Bergh remembers Kelly, the middle of her five children, as a "very strong person, a loving mother, and very independent." The pain of the loss and the continuing mystery remains close to the surface.
"Today is my birthday," Kelly's mother says during a recent interview, beginning to weep. "We get by. You just always wonder how much pain she went though or what happened to her."
JUNE 19, 1982, Charlottesville
The night after Kelly Dove disappeared in Harrisonburg and just three weeks before Katie Worsky disappeared from McElroy Drive in Charlottesville, another young woman was finishing her evening shift at a Charlottesville restaurant. A petite strawberry blond, Paula Jean Chandler was 18 years old and a new graduate of Albemarle High School working for the summer at El Cabrito's Mexican restaurant across Hydraulic Road from her alma mater.
After work that night, Chandler asked a co-worker if she could go with him to his apartment to watch television. Two days later, a fisherman hooked her body near the dam at the Rivanna Reservoir.
Although headlines about the case would soon be eclipsed by Katie Worsky's disappearance, Chandler's murder ignited a firestorm. Chandler had water in her lungs, suggesting drowning, but she also suffered more ominous injuries: two head wounds from blunt trauma. The front page of the June 21, 1982 Daily Progress featured a large photograph of a sheriff's deputy pulling on the arm of Chandler's corpse, still partially submerged.
Photographer Jim Carpenter, who took the picture, says the newspaper was criticized for publishing it. "The phones lit up like a Christmas tree," he recalls.
While many callers were horrified at the graphic image, Carpenter remembers one appreciative call from a local father.
"He said, 'I know you're catching holy heck about this picture,'" Carpenter recalls. But then he described his 16-year-old daughter's reaction to the photo: "She looked me right in the eye," the father told Carpenter, "and said, 'Dad, now I know why you want to know where I am all the time.'
"Who knows?" says Carpenter. "It could have saved a life."
The case generated an even larger controversy when a key piece of evidence was disallowed.
Michael Currie, a 19-year-old cook, admitted that Chandler had come back to his apartment where, he claimed, they had watched the comedy classic, Stripes. But he insisted that he had dropped her back at her car at the restaurant around 3am, though he hadn't stayed to watch her leave.
Police immediately suspected Currie, and a search of his apartment revealed a disturbing find: one of Chandler's shoes. The other had been found still on her foot in the reservoir. Authorities moved in on Currie and arrested him at Lupo's, El Cabrito's sister restaurant on Emmet Street across from U-Hall.
Those who knew Currie, though, say that despite the arrest and the shoe, they never believed he was guilty.
"He was just a quiet guy. He said that they were blaming him, but he didn't do it," says Jill Houchens, the only other employee at Lupo's the day Currie was arrested.
Corven Flynn, son of Lupo's and El Cabrito's owner Dave Flynn, agrees that Currie seemed an unlikely killer. Flynn was 18 and managing El Cabrito's when Chandler died. Now 43 and a realtor, he says Albemarle police "closed their eyes to the possibility that Glenn Barker had anything to do with Paula Chandler."
Among Flynn's reasons for suspecting Barker: Chandler, who had a boyfriend, had received a call from another man that evening, someone she may have been planning to meet later that night. Also, Flynn says, the time of her death was based on the autopsy report of food found in her stomach. El Cabrito's employees said she'd eaten dinner at the restaurant the night she disappeared, but Flynn says the food found in her stomach was not offered on El Cabrito's menu.
Barker lived in an apartment on Georgetown Road at the time, just a mile from El Cabrito's, and Chandler lived with her father in the Southwood Trailer Park on Old Lynchburg Road, close to where Katie Worsky disappeared.
Barker denies having known Chandler or having any role in her death.
While Paula Chandler's parents learned their daughter's fate– unlike the Worskys and the Doves– there has never been a conviction. The evidence discovered in Currie's house was ruled inadmissable because police hadn't told Currie he was a suspect when they came to check his apartment and he allowed them to do so without a warrant. Without the shoe as evidence, the case fell apart, and charges were dropped.
Today, Albemarle Police Lieutenant John Teixeira says the department considers the case closed since they believed they had the right person when they arrested Currie but simply couldn't make the charges stick.
Flynn says Currie and his family, who'd lived in Albemarle County for years, moved out of state and that Currie went to mechanics school and sought to put the episode behind him.
"I think, basically, it ruined his life in Charlottesville and Albemarle," Flynn says.
Currie's attorney, Gary Kendall, declined to put the Hook in touch with Currie, and would make no specific comment on the case or his client because charges could still be brought. (Virginia has no statute of limitations on felonies.) Still, Kendall adds of Currie, "I always believed in his innocence."
South River, New Jersey, 1998
The Worsky, Chandler, and Dove disappearances were 15 years in the past by the time Glenn Barker moved to New Jersey in 1997. But because of Cynthia and Heather Johnson's deaths the previous year, Barker remained on police radar.
In South Brunswick, he took jobs in construction and also decided to donate time to a community group. Barker's choice of community group, however, pushed him back into national headlines– and traumatized dozens of parents.
In 1998, it was revealed that after volunteering at the YMCA, he had been hired part-time to coach a girls' basketball team. When police officers reported his history to YMCA officials, Barker was fired and all parents were notified.
"He was an all-around nice guy," one father of a child on Barker's team told a reporter. "Now she's supposed to be afraid of him," he said, adding that he'd told his daughter to "run in the other direction" if she ever saw Barker again.
South Brunswick YMCA executive director Tom Libassi was on the Y's board when the situation arose. Saying the files from that time are now in storage, he declines to offer details on Barker's hiring, but he recalls the firing. "We changed a number of policies and procedures as a result of that," he says.
Published reports indicated that Barker lied on his application, and Barker admits he did not answer one question about previous felony convictions. The former football star says he just wanted a chance to donate his talent and never specifically asked to coach girls. Barker insists he was never alone with any child, and he acknowledges that omitting the information was "stupid."
In 2002, New Jersey officials distributed fliers once again, this time announcing that the convicted child killer, then living in South River and working in Milltown, was known to stop to help female motorists.
As he did in Virginia, Barker again tried to assure his neighbors that he posed no threat. In his own fliers, which he placed on car windshields around his house, Barker wrote, "No one in this community or any other community has anything to fear about me."
Despite warnings from a Middlesex County prosecutor against "vigilante justice," Barker says his car was egged, and once-friendly neighbors stopped speaking. Indeed, Barker says today that he has no friends, and all romantic relationships cease after police tell his girlfriends that he is dangerous. He relates one incident in which police were rebuffed by one girlfriend, so they notified her family, who then pressured her to break up with him.
If police feel a duty to warn people about Barker, it may stem from the fact that he has never been convicted of a sex crime. Therefore, he has no duty to register his whereabouts, and he's free to move from locality to locality, even state to state, without telling anyone.
Barker says he remains close to his mother, with whom he lives, and his brother, Milton L. Barker of Norfolk. He hasn't seen or spoken to his namesake son since the 1983 Worsky conviction, although he says he wrote his son letters for years, all of which were returned. Ten years ago– when Glenn Jr. turned 18– Barker sent his last letter expressing a desire for a relationship, but he says his son has not responded.
Barker says his health is failing– he's a diabetic who has suffered two strokes and three heart attacks– and wishes for the most part to be left alone.
"It has not been a good life," he says, adding that he doesn't blame the public for fearing him, but he does resent what he perceives as unwarranted persecution by police determined to keep warning neighbors, businesses, and potential friends to stay away and pointing to him whenever something terrible happens to a little girl.
Among the cases police have suspected him in: the high-profile kidnapping and murder of Kristin and Kati Lisk, who disappeared from their home in Spotsylvania in May 1996 and were found murdered five days later– less than four months before Cynthia and Heather Johnson's deaths. In 2002, DNA evidence and an automobile trunk palm print showed definitively that Barker wasn't the killer. They implicated Richard Mark Evonitz, who shot himself as officers closed in on him in Florida. That evidence also conclusively linked Evonitz to the murder of 16-year-old Sophia Silva, another Spotsylvania teen killed eight months before the Lisks.
Barker says that speculation about his guilt or innocence is pointless, particularly about the Worsky case. People "don't care," he says. "I was found guilty, bottom line."
As for the subsequent cases and investigations, "There are some people who'd say that my civil rights have been violated," he says.
Barker says that he used to be a person who would offer assistance to anyone who needed it, but the constant harassment has caused him to withdraw. It's "changed me into a person who doesn't care about my fellow man," he says.
As for the unsolved mysteries with his name attached, Barker is philosophical.
"I can't prove that I didn't do it," he says, "just like they can't prove that I did."