Illinois Police Raced To Find A Vicious Serial Killer Before He Could Strike Again

There were already two unsolved deaths in Peoria County, Illinois, when detectives were notified of another body dumped in a field.

April 20, 2023
Photos of Peoria County, Illinois serial killer victims. From top left to top right: Brenda Erving, Laura Lollar, Linda Neal, Sabrina Payne. From bottom left to right: Shaconda Thomas, Shirley Ann Trapp, Tamara Walls, and Barbara Williams.

In 2004, the cat-and-mouse hunt for a serial killer targeting Black females antagonizes investigators in Peoria, Illinois.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death")

A sex worker who reported being strangled by a customer was the tip police needed to figure out who was killing Black women in Peoria County, Illinois, in 2004.

At the beginning of that year, police already had two unsolved homicides on their hands. Both of the women had been dumped in corn fields in various states of undress. It was clear from the scene that the women hadn’t been killed at the same place they were discovered. Some of the officers believed that the women had simply overdosed and been dumped.

One detective, Dave Hoyle, wasn’t buying it. The women had too much in common. They were both Black, both sex workers, and both had been discovered in fields about 25 miles apart. Hoyle was concerned there was a serial killer on the loose, but with no DNA recovered from the bodies, there was little that could be done.

On Sept. 27, 2004, Hoyle realized the victim lying nude in the dirt before him was Linda Neal, a woman he’d met a few weeks prior. Linda, who was also a Black woman and sex worker, had reported that she was sexually assaulted by a john and thrown out of a vehicle on a back road without being paid. It was Hoyle who had been assigned to the case, and he had worked hard to find the man who assaulted Linda to no avail. Now, he would work on finding Linda’s killer.

A task force was formed, and tips poured in as police conducted surveillance on known sex workers to see if they could identify a suspect. Their efforts weren’t enough to stop the killer before he could strike again.

On Oct. 15, 2004, police discovered the body of Brenda Erving facedown on a muddy gravel road. She was nude except for a single sock. After Brenda’s death, the task force investigating the murders got the break they needed: a sex worker named Vickie reported to police that she’d been strangled by a man named Larry Bright.

Bright was cordial when police talked to him at the converted garage apartment he lived in behind his mother’s home, but he declined to provide a DNA sample. In fact, Bright was so concerned with keeping his DNA to himself, he ate the butts of the cigarettes he smoked as he talked to police.

Still, authorities were able to get a water bottle from the property that had Bright’s DNA on it, and it was a match to DNA that had been found on Linda Neal’s body. With Hoyle in custody in January 2005, it didn’t take much prodding for him to begin confessing to his crimes — all the police had to do was threaten to dig up his mother’s landscaping, and Bright cracked.

His killing spree had begun in 2003, and he had killed a total of eight Black women who were working in the sex industry. He reportedly took the victims back to his home where he had sex with them, strangled them, and then washed their bodies in bleach. Some of his victims were dumped along rural roads. Other victims were placed in a large fire pit in his yard where Bright did his best to destroy the bodies. There were dozens of bone fragments in the pit when police began processing the scene.

In May 2006, Bright was sentenced to eight life terms in prison without the possibility of parole. He is housed at the Shawnee Correctional Center in Southern Illinois.

For more on this case, stream this episode of Evil Lives Here: Shadows of Death on discovery+.

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