Shrader’s Reign of Terror
25 January 1974. Shortly after 1 pm. Friday. A bank on Western Blvd was held up by a lone, masked gunman wearing a white tee shirt. Accompanying him was a female. She was not wearing a mask. As quickly as the Read more ...
y entered, they left, carrying a bag loaded with bank money.
A massive search was begun for the pair. It was soon determined that the woman was Ginger Rader. Her abandoned car was found on New Bridge Street, at the post office. It became apparent that she had been kidnapped, and was a likely hostage.
Lawmen combed the area near the bank, including a newly constructed side street. Roadblocks turned up nothing. The search dragged on into the night, but no sign of the robber or Miss Rader turned up.
26 January 1974. Saturday. Shortly after first light, investigators resumed the search. And, in short order, on one of the same new side roads off Western Blvd they searched the day before, deputies discovered the body of Miss Rader. An autopsy revealed she had been shot.
The climate, the mood of Jacksonville was one of stunned disbelief. In a community that was not unfamiliar with murders, an incident of kidnapping, bank robbery and murder was more than most could understand. It brought big city headlines to a small community.
In those days, I wore multiple hats. I was a radio newsman, and a freelance journalist for several television stations, the Associated Press, United Press International, the Raleigh News and Observer…and, I was a reserve police officer. As a cop, I was generally the go-to guy to photograph crime scenes, especially murders and suicides. I was more than proficient with photography gear, and the task quickly fell on me. Neither the Jacksonville Police Department nor the Onslow Sheriff’s Department had dedicated crime scene units in those days.
27 January 1974. It was Sunday. And, a man, unknown to me, had tipped law enforcement that he had found a lot of blood at a trash dump near the Star Hills Golf Course at what is now known as Cape Carteret. A thorough search of that site turned up a .45 caliber projectile, a bullet. It did not take long until it was linked to Miss Rader’s murder.
Law enforcement was hampered in the investigation because the bank, which was relatively new, had no bank cameras. All they could rely on was eyewitness reports and descriptions. And, as cops will tell you, eyewitnesses see events differently, and will provide as many descriptions of the events and the bad guys as there are eyewitnesses.
And, then, the investigation came to a grinding halt. Information came in. Information was checked out. No bank money ever turned up. The trail was cold.
2 August 1974. Another Friday. Jacksonville Police received a report of two overdue teenagers. The girls, each 15, had failed to return home. Such reports, unfortunately, were more routine in those days. A lot of kids, then and now, don’t necessarily do what their parents want them to do. They’re kids, after all.
But, as night approached, police became more anxious. This was no longer just another runaway case. Cindy Howard and Karen Amabile were missing, and the worst was feared. And, those fears were confirmed that evening. The mostly nude bodies of both teens were found a few yards apart, dumped on a dirt road in the Bear Creek community. Autopsies revealed both had been strangled.
As the days passed, leads took investigators nowhere. The case grew colder.
16 August 1974. Shortly after 1 pm. A Friday. Another bank robbery, this one on Onslow Drive Extension. A masked gunman, wearing a white tee shirt, and a female entered the bank. This time, there were cameras. Images showed him clearly ordering the young woman around. His pistol, a .45 auto, was cocked. This man meant business. The woman, witnesses said, was afraid, the fear showing in her eyes. The bandit made another clean getaway.
I was not working that day. But, I was monitoring my police radio. Hearing the holdup call, I got my pistol and a shotgun from my house, and drove towards Western Blvd, to the area where Miss Rader’s body was left eight months earlier. Bad guys, I thought, often repeat their actions. A half hour later, I responded to a service alley behind the A&P Supermarket in the New River Shopping Center. A car was there, and the body of Cheryl Potter-Boyd was behind the wheel. She had been shot in the forehead. An examination recovered a .45 caliber slug.
A host of federal, state and local officers were present, and the crime scene was processed after I finished photographing the car and body.
Unlike the January robbery, the bank had working surveillance cameras, cameras that produced very clear images. Two of us printed dozens of photographs throughout the night into the early hours of Saturday morning. One image was different than the rest. The robber, as was described in the first holdup, was wearing a ski mask, and it was virtually impossible to distinguish any features. Save for one. The one image from the hundreds recorded showed a defect in one eye. It was noticeable only when he turned his eyes in one direction. Photos were posted on every bulletin board we could find, it was published in newspapers, and broadcast on television news programs.
Saturday evening, a Navy corpsman, reporting for duty at the M-P station (which was attached to the Jacksonville Police Department), saw the picture and immediately identified the masked
man as Marcus Shrader III. Shrader, also a corpsman, assigned to the Naval Hospital at Camp Lejeune, had been attacked by a dog when he was a kid, resulting in the eye defect. Finally, the investigation took a positive turn. Shrader’s home in Cedar Point, in Carteret County, was staked out.
There was not enough evidence for a warrant. Not yet. The following day, Sunday, I accompanied FBI Special Agent Dave Manko to Cheryl Potter-Boyd’s funeral, in Lenoir County, as part of a surveillance operation. We photographed every white male between 5-3 and 5-8 because the Bureau’s analysis team said the killer may attend the services.
On our way back to Jacksonville, a highway patrol dispatcher (remember, it was 1974…well before cell phones) relayed to us that the bank robbery suspect had returned home, the home under surveillance at Cedar Point. We informed the dispatcher that we were going to Carteret County as part of the investigation. The dispatcher thought we needed assistance, and state troopers from several counties in eastern North Carolina headed towards Swansboro as “backup”. A lot of troopers. With loud cars. Attracting a lot of attention as they sped through Swansboro, on a lazy Sunday afternoon in August.
A contingent of lawmen from the Onslow and Carteret County Sheriff’s Departments, the FBI, the Jacksonville Police Department and the Highway Patrol converged, on cue, at Shrader’s home. Cops with guns were literally behind every tree. Onslow Detective Bill Woodward, FBI Agent Dave Manko, and JPD Detective Jerry Reed approached the front door. Shrader answered their knock, saw the large…make that HUGE…cavalry of cops, became ill, and began throwing up. Shrader later claimed he was suffering from the flu, and that’s the reason he was upchucking.
He allowed the lawmen to search his house, and in short order, they found a tee shirt in a closet that contained what the experienced cops knew was evidence of a murder. I won’t go into detail about the evidence, but the tee shirt was taken to Onslow County’s medical examiner, Dr. Walter Gable, who confirmed that it contained human remains. Shrader was arrested, without incident. A further, more intensive search, turned up two .45 automatics, two hand grenades, and thousands of dollars in cash wrapped up and stored in the freezer, money from the bank heist two days earlier.
Shrader’s van was seized as evidence. And, it proved to be a treasure trove for investigators.
Arriving at the Sheriff’s Office in downtown Jacksonville just after dark that evening was a site that I not seen before. The word had spread. They have a suspect. The streets were literally littered with cars and bystanders. No pay weekend ever saw more people in the downtown area than 18 August 1974.
The investigation was just beginning. The evidence mounted. And, it did not take long for us to learn something else about this man known as Shrader. Standing just outside the interrogation room where Woodward, Reed and Manko were interviewing Shrader, I heard normally very quiet Woodward raise his voice. He was loud. He was trembling mad. He was angry. No one that night had any doubt that Shrader had robbed two banks and killed two women. We heard the normally mild-mannered Bill Woodward actually shouting at the “suspect”. It went something like this. Shrader, I know you killed Ginger Rader and Cheryl Boyd. And, Shrader, I also know that you killed those girls, Cindy Howard and Karen Amabile. And, I am going to prove it.
Detective Woodward was more forceful than I had ever heard him. Most cops can be aggressive, but I had never heard him raise his voice. Until that Sunday night in August 1974.
Being compulsively nosey, I had to know how Woodward made the connection between Shrader and the teens. There was no physical evidence, none at that time, that linked him to anything other than the robberies and connected murders. Woodward confided in me that while he was talking with Shrader, it came to him. There can’t be more than one man this mean in all of Onslow County. That was what Bill Woodward believed. And, the investigation proved his gut was right.
So, where was Shrader between January 1974 and August 1974? Turns out the corpsman was deployed, on a military cruise. That was why the case grew cold. None of the bank money turned up, and nothing linking anyone to the murder came to light.
Shrader’s van was impounded after his arrest. During a search, the wood paneling was removed, and money from the January bank robbery was found stuffed in the recesses. The van, setting in Shrader’s yard, driven routinely by his stepdaughter, Debra Brown, was loaded with bank loot. All while he was out of the country for more than half a year.
Also recovered from the van were strands of hair, hair that detectives said matched the teen victims of 2 August, Cindy Howard and Karen Amabile. Key pieces of evidence that proved, again, that Woodward’s gut instincts, the instincts of a good cop, were right.
Shrader pleaded guilty in Federal Court to bank robbery, and got a 25 year sentence. He was then tried for one count of murder and kidnapping, the case involving Cheryl Potter-Boyd. It was decided, I was told, that the state could try him for the other crimes at any time, just in case something went wrong, a technicality, with the first trial. Shrader was sentenced to die in the state’s gas chamber. The U.S. Supreme Court, in 1976, ruled that the death penalty, as administered, was not fair. Hundreds of convicted killers on death row at that time had their sentences automatically commuted to life in prison. And, the ruling was retroactive to include any crimes committed prior to 1976, even if the killers had not been arrested or tried at that time.
Nothing, however, was mentioned about life without parole. The fear, for more than 30 years, was that some parole commission would one day grant Shrader his freedom. That opportunity for the killer never happened. He died, of natural causes, at age 65, 33 years after killing four women.
We must not forget Shrader’s stepdaughter. She was pregnant by him, and was charged with kidnapping in the Potter-Boyd kidnapping and murder. She served seven years of a 15 year sentence before being paroled. Evidence suggested she was involved, in one way or another, in the murders of the teens. She has not been charged in those crimes.
Agent Manko left the Bureau to work as a lawyer in private practice. Detective Reed left JPD and became a special agent with the North Carolina division of Alcohol Law Enforcement. Detective Woodward was elected sheriff of Onslow County. All three men have since passed away.