Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Westley Allan Dodd

Prowling at the Movies

Westley Dodd was a loner. When he wasn't busy building his ill conceived "torture rack" out of boards and ropes, he sat hunched over at his desk, writing deeply disturbing fantasies in his diary. He sketched out the following plans for his next victim:

Incident 3 will die maybe this way: He'll be tied down as Lee was in Incident 2. Instead of placing a bag over his head as had previously planned, I'll tape his mouth shut with duct tape. Then, when ready, I'll use a clothespin or something to plug his nose. That way I can sit back, take pictures and watch him die instead of concentrating on my hands or the rope tight around his neck — that would also eliminate the rope burns on the neck . . . I can clearly see his face and eyes now...Electrocution also a good means for quick death.

A few nights later Dodd went to the movies, and sat in the back row at the New Liberty Theater in Camas, Washington, near Vancouver. Honey I Shrunk the Kids was playing, but Dodd wasn't there for the film. Instead, he systematically scanned the audience for his next victim. He watched a young boy who walked up the aisle toward the lobby, alone. Dodd casually got out of his seat and followed the child into the restroom. Another boy, six years old, also walked through the lobby to use the bathroom. Dodd, smiling, motioned to the 6 year-old to go first.

"That man was going to hurt me"

The theater employees relaxed in the quiet of the lobby after the film started. But a child's frantic screams pierced the calm. The cries were coming from the men's bathroom. Dodd pushed the door open, carrying the shrieking boy over his shoulder. "The little boy was hysterical," said one of owners to The Oregonian newspaper. "He was screaming so loud you could hear him for three blocks." They watched as a small, youthful-looking man, with dark hair and a thick mustache, walked to the exit, carrying the boy who twisted and writhed, desperately trying to break free. "Calm down, son," he said, patting the boy on the back. "Calm down."

It was not the first time that a child had thrown a temper tantrum in their theater. But the child's persistent cries of "Help me! Help me!" distressed them. They ran after Dodd, who hurried down the dark street, tightening his grip on the tearfully frightened boy. Approaching the car, he fumbled for his keys, breathing hard, looking over his shoulder. But six-year-old James broke free and scrambled away as fast as he could. He ran straight into one of theater owners who was pursuing Dodd, grabbing onto her legs and holding tight. "That man was going to hurt me," James told her. The two went back to the theater to find his mom.

outside the New Liberty Theater, Camas, Washington
outside the New Liberty Theater,
Camas, Washington

Meanwhile, William "Ray" Graves, the boyfriend of James' mother, heard a commotion after the boy left to use the restroom. In the lobby he heard what almost happened, and became furious. "There was fire in my eyes," he later said. "It burned me up. That little guy is pretty close to me. I love him and I love his family." Someone had seen the abductor in a mustard-yellow Pinto station wagon. Graves ran outside into the dark streets, looking for the car — he was determined to chase him down, even if by foot. Astonishingly, the Pinto station wagon was stopped on the street, apparently stalled. This guy was stuck, and Graves cautiously made his move. He approached the Pinto, acting as casually as his racing heart would permit, and asked the driver if he needed help. Dodd nervously glanced at Graves and accepted his offer.

When he had his chance, Graves grabbed Dodd by the neck and dragged him back to the theater. "You have just been detained. We're going to get the cops," he said, resisting the urge to hurt the man who tried to take James. In the theater lobby, Graves tied the young man's hands behind his back with a belt, and sat him down until the police arrived. Dodd stared at the floor and said nothing.

James knew to make a commotion if anyone tried to abduct him. His mother had been worried since the murder of little Lee Iseli and the Neer brothers, and taught her children to scream, kick and bite if anyone tried to take them. "That boy is a real hero," said a lieutenant with the Camas Police Department. The Northwest's most notorious and vicious child killer, Westley Allan Dodd, had terrorized the community — and it was fitting that community action, led by a child, brought Dodd to justice.

Stopped in his tracks

In custody, 28-year-old Dodd denied any involvement in the murder of other boys who had been found in the last 10 weeks. 10-year-old Cole Neer, and his brother, 11-year-old William, were found stabbed to death in a Vancouver park. 4-year-old Lee Iseli had been discovered at Vancouver Lake, less than ten miles away from the park. When Dodd told the police he worked at a paper plant, only a mile away from where Lee was found, authorities pressed him further.

That night in November of 1989, in less than an hour of custody, Dodd confessed. But Dodd's confession was just the beginning of his ruthlessly brutal outpourings. He made the interrogators sick — the more Dodd talked about hurting children, the more he seemed to enjoy himself, as if his confessions were an opportunity to relive the experience. When the police searched his home, they found his torture rack, articles about the crimes, and other solid evidence. The most disturbing evidence was discovered in a briefcase under the bed. Inside this briefcase Dodd kept photos of children, including heartbreaking Polaroids of one of his victims, Lee Iseli. He also kept a diary that would shock and sadden the community. It was bewildering and terrifying — how could someone do this to helpless kids, and enjoy it? Not only had he meticulously recorded all of his crimes against children, he choreographed sadistic torture fantasies for future victims. He had every intention of living out these fantasies, and would not stop until he was caught.

Westley Allan Dodd is perhaps one of the most calculating predators to prowl the playgrounds. Small in stature, and sometimes assuming a baby-voice himself, he did not fit the profile of the dangerous trench-coated "stranger" that children are taught to avoid. (Organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children are working hard to dispel myths of child-molesters as repugnant trolls luring kids with candy — they are usually someone kids trust.) Like many child molesters, Dodd knew how to gain access to his victims — he befriended children with gifts and games, and knew how to coax them into dangerous situations without using force. He was described as being good with kids. Few knew that he was also deadly with them. In the following chapters we will look at Dodd's childhood, and how his deviant behavior escalated from molestation to murder. Along the way there will be many moments when Dodd's rampage could have been abruptly halted by the criminal justice system. But we must also remember that the system did not rape and murder little boys — Westley Dodd did.

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