Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Eric Armstrong: The Model Sailor


The brazen young man who stood up to the Dearborn Police was gone. The Detroit authorities confronted Armstrong with an overwhelming pile of evidence and he quickly broke down.

All the years of torment finally broke free and Armstrong's mental state began to collapse, police said.

"He expressed remorse several times and was crying like a baby," said Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler. "Basically, he told us he either killed or tried to kill every prostitute he'd ever had sex with."

Even though the Detroit police had linked Armstrong to the three bodies found in the railroad yard, they had no idea at the time that they might have had the farthest-roaming serial killer in history in custody.

Armstrong was in a cathartic state, authorities said. His confession, which began shortly after he was arrested, was like a litany of horror. Dates, details, events, killings, assaults all came spewing out in a torrent. Armstrong told police about killings in Washington State, in Hong Kong, Thailand, in Hawaii and the Middle East.

In Seattle, he said, he killed a man after an argument. He killed two prostitutes there, as well, according to initial police reports. Another prostitute was murdered in Spokane, he told them. All in all, Armstrong, between his arrest Wednesday and arraignment Friday, shared details about as many as 30 killings.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Armstrong's confessions have revitalized at least one stalled murder investigation.

The body of a 34-year-old woman was found in Norfolk on March 5, 1998, four days after the Nimitz docked in its homeport, Newport News, 12 miles away. Linette Hillig, who had a string of prostitution arrests, was discovered behind a bingo parlor. She may have been sexually assaulted, authorities said. Armstrong reportedly told investigators that he had strangled the woman in Virginia and driven over her body with his Jeep.

"Once he began to talk, he was freely giving very intimate details about the case," said Detective James Hines of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office. "His demeanor was shifting quite often from being calm to irritable to sometimes sad."

Hines also told the Detroit Free Press that Armstrong described in great detail each of the killings, giving details only the killer would know.

"His mood would fluctuate from calm to an appearance of anger. But the anger didn't appear to be sincere," Hines said.


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