Late last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Bobby Joe Long’s death warrant. The serial killer behind the murders of nine Tampa Bay women is scheduled to die May 23 at Florida State Prison, wrote Times reporter Dan Sullivan.
It has been 35 years since Long killed these women during a horrifying eight-month period in 1984. During that year, Long was fired from his X-ray technician job at Tampa General Hospital. He was divorced and lived alone. According the archives, he would drive up and down Nebraska Avenue in his 1978 maroon Dodge Magnum. Red fibers from that car were found on several of his victims, linking him to the brutal murders.
We know a lot about Long. But what about the women he abducted, raped and killed?
There was a pattern: They were all young (between their late teens and 28) and short (between 5-foot-2 and 5-foot-6). Most were taken from the same area, around Nebraska Avenue in Tampa. Long kidnapped and killed each before ditching their bodies in orange groves and deserted rural roads.
Here’s what we know about the victims.
Ngeun Thi “Peggy” Long, 19
Sometimes going by Peggy or Lana Long, she was the first in the string of women murdered by Bobby Joe Long. The Southern California woman had come to Tampa in February and worked as a dancer at the Starlite Lounge and Sly Fox Lounge.
Long dreamed of studying art and cinema. She told her old manager at the Sly Fox that the was trying to go back to school.
Her body was found naked and bound with rope on May 13, 1984, by an overpass on East Bay Road.
“There’s no reason why somebody that sweet should have to die,” her friend told the then-St. Petersburg Times.
Michelle Denise Simms, 22
The former beauty contestant from California had worked as a receptionist at a Fort Pierce massage parlor before coming to Tampa in May 1984. Simms was last seen by the bars on W. Kennedy Boulevard.
Police found her body, stabbed and bound, near an Interstate 4 overpass by Plant City on May 27, 1984.
Shortly after in June, Sheriff Walter Heinrich warned that a killer may be targeting young women in Tampa.
Elizabeth Loudenback, 22
Elizabeth Loudenback worked as a solderer at a manufacturing plant in Odessa and lived with her parents and younger siblings at the Village-Tampa Community mobile home park, just a few blocks from the Nebraska Avenue strip where some of the other victims worked.
“Liz was sort of a loner,” the Village Mobile Home Park security guard told the St. Petersburg Times. “Even when she went down by the swimming pool, she would just sit by herself on top of a towel and read a book.”
Loudenback was last seen on the evening of June 8. She had stepped out for a walk near her home.
Police discovered her body east of Brandon on June 24. She was left in an orange grove and had been raped and strangled.
Vicky Marie Elliott, 21
Elliott waited tables overnight at the Ramada Inn coffee shop near the Starlite Lounge.
“She was planning to return to Michigan to study to be a paramedic; investigators found an airline ticket lying on her bed," the Tampa Tribune reported in 1984.
She vanished on Sept. 7. She had asked a neighbor for a ride to work, but by the time the neighbor showed up, Elliott was gone.
“We knew something was wrong instantly,” her boss Mickey Newberger told the St. Petersburg Times. “She was always so punctual. She was never late.”
Elliott used to carry scissors for protection on her mile-long walk to work because men would holler at her as they drove past. When police found her body in a patch of scrub northeast of Tampa on on Nov. 16, the scissors were next to her.
Chanel Devon Williams, 18
She had just moved to Tampa from Winter Haven a month prior. Williams told her parents she was staying with friends. Police said she was working as a prostitute.
She was last seen on a street corner of the Nebraska Avenue strip on the evening of Sept. 30.
Her body was found on Oct. 7. She had been shot in the head and neck.
“We all know that your loved ones have to go sometime, but you never think they’ll go this way,” said her mother Lulu Mae Williams.
Karen Dinsfriend, 28
Karen Dinsfriend grew up in St. Petersburg and had a record of drug use, according to the archives. She was working as a prostitute at the time of her death.
“None of that negates the fact that she was a beautiful, bright little girl and she was loved by her family,” her step-sister, Cher Lowther, told Times reporter Dan Sullivan. “Everybody has the opportunity to turn their life around and my sister never got that chance."
Dinsfriend was found strangled in an orange grove in northeastern Hillsborough, seven hours after she was last seen on the sidewalk of N. Nebraska Avenue.
Her body was discovered just a week after police found Williams. Two days later, the Hillsborough County Sheriff Office issued a news release linking the two murders.
Kimberly Kyle Hopps, 22
Not much is known about Hopps, who had been living in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood in Tampa. She had last been seen walking with a group of prostitutes mid-October near Nebraska. By the time she was found on an isolated portion of U.S. 301 north of Tampa on Halloween, police suspected her death was related to the previous murders.
Virginia Lee Johnson, 18
There also isn’t much information on Virginia Lee Johnson available. The Connecticut-born woman had been in and out of Florida for a few years, according to Times archives. She vanished from the Nebraska Avenue area between Fowler and Fletcher in late October.
She was found Nov. 6 near Morris Bridge Road in Pasco County, but police were unable to identify her body initially. It wasn’t until several days after the arrest of Long that her friends reported her missing.
Lisa McVey, 17 (survived)
By the time police found Johnson, they already had identified Long as a suspect. Seventeen-year-old Lisa McVey is the reason why.
According to a Tampa Tribune story, the teenager was contemplating suicide on the evening that she was abducted. She wrote a note before leaving for her job at Krispy Kreme, and worked an extra shift because she didn’t want to go home. Finally, McVey got on her bike to leave work around 2 a.m.
On her ride home, Long forced her into his car.
“I was deathly afraid that he was going to kill me,” she said in Bio Channel’s I Survived ... series. "Here I was thinking about killing myself, and now I was going to be fighting for my life.”
Long blindfolded her and trapped her in his home for more than 26 hours, raping her multiple times. But she was determined to survive.
McVey told him a story about how she was the sole caregiver to a sick parent to get Long’s sympathy.
It worked. He let her go.
“When he released me and drove off, I took off my blindfold and saw this amazing oak tree. I had wanted to die before and now I wanted to live,” she said during the TV program.
Details she collected during the abduction guided police to Long, according to the archives. McVey told them about his red car and his Fowler Avenue apartment.
Even though she couldn’t see his face through the blindfold, she touched his face to gather details about him like his thin eyebrows and mustache. When she went to the bathroom, she left a trail of fingerprints by touching the walls, mirror, toilet and shower curtain.
McVey’s experience led her to pursue a career in law enforcement. She became a Hillsborough Sheriff’s Deputy.
Kim Marie Swann, 21
Swann had been a regular on the Nebraska Avenue strip since she was a teenager and briefly worked as a dancer at the Sly Fox. Just a few months before her death, Swann had decided she wanted to change her life. She and her 1-year-old son Robbie moved into her parents’ Carrollwood home, and she enrolled in a vocational program to become a medical technician.
Swann was last seen at a convenience store on Nov. 11. The next day, a man who was swapping out a billboard on Orient Road found her body under an overpass. She had been strangled.
Swann was Long’s last victim. Four days after her body was found, detectives ambushed him at a Carrollwood movie theater as he emerged from a showing of the Chuck Norris film Missing in Action.
“If that is him, we’re going to write letters or do whatever it takes to make sure he doesn’t sit on death row for the next 20 years,” Joyce Culbertson, manager of the Ramada Inn coffee shop, told a reporter.
Long admitted to killing eight women and pleaded guilty to rape and murders in Hillsborough County in September 1985.
He has spent 34 years waiting for execution — among the longest amount of time any current Florida inmate has been on death row.