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On eve of execution, survivor of serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. recounts her ordeal

Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. is to be executed at 6 p.m. today for the 1986 murder of Teri Lynn Matthews.
Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. is to be executed at 6 p.m. today for the 1986 murder of Teri Lynn Matthews.
Published Jan. 7, 2016

Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. brutally murdered three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. That much is well known.

Tonight, he is scheduled to be executed for the murder of 26-year-old Teri Lynn Matthews. Her mother and the families of his other two victims, Natalie Blanche Holley, 25, and Stephanie Collins, 17, say they'll be there to watch him take his last breaths.

But when Bolin dies, lingering questions will remain about what is not known: What other crimes might the notorious serial killer have committed while roaming the country as a long-haul truck driver in the 1980s?

After years of investigation, he has been officially linked to only two other crimes, both in 1987. One was the strangulation of a Texas woman for which he was never prosecuted. The other was the rape of an Ohio woman that finally landed him in prison.

"It's not a celebratory thing for me," the woman who survived the Ohio attack told the Tampa Bay Times on the eve of Bolin's execution. "But you won't find me mourning him, either."

• • •

The Times is withholding the name of the woman in the Ohio attack because the newspaper does not identify victims of sexual assault.

She was a 20-year-old truck stop cashier in rural Ohio. It was November 1987. She had just been given a promotion and stayed late one night for training.

She got in her car to leave and saw Bolin. He stood in front of the car. He motioned to her, as if he were rolling a marijuana joint. She shook her head no and moved her elbow toward the door lock.

"The next thing I knew there was a gun pointing at me, and I'm being told to move over," she wrote in an email. "He said he was running from the law and wanted my car.

"Everything inside told me I was in great danger."

She pleaded with Bolin to let her go. He drove her to another area, where two other men waited in a semitrailer truck. She thought the other men were being held captive too, until she heard laughter. Music blared in the truck cab as they rolled down a turnpike.

Bolin assaulted her once at gunpoint. The men kept driving for five hours.

They pulled over beside a field in Pennsylvania. Bolin told her to run.

Later, one of the other men told police what happened, leading to Bolin's arrest.

"He was flat, his eyes were vacant," said the woman, now 48. "When I learned years later that he was a suspected serial killer, nothing inside of me felt surprise."

As he sat in jail, Bolin told another inmate that he was looking to put a hit out on her, she said. They had riffled through her purse and knew her address.

She and her family moved to a different city. Bolin later pleaded guilty to raping her and was sentenced to spend 23 to 75 years in prison.

• • •

Bolin was in an Ohio prison when local authorities linked him to the three Florida murders. Investigators formed a task force to look for connections to any unsolved crimes.

His cousin Douglas Tedrow told detectives that in 1987 he and Bolin kidnapped and raped Deborah Diane Stowe in Greenville, Texas. Bolin choked her to death.

Texas authorities declined to seek an indictment. They let Florida take the lead.

Locally, several homicide cases were scrutinized. They included the April 1985 killings of Lisa Eisman and Kim Vaccaro, 20-year-old college students who were found in the Hillsborough River near Interstate 75. They had hitchhiked to Florida.

Detectives also looked for links to Bolin in the case of Connie Louise Collins Jones, 22, who was found dead in the same spot by the river on Nov. 19, 1984. They did the same for Sharon Joan Hopper, a 25-year-old exotic dancer found dead a year later in Lutz.

Those cases are still unsolved. The Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said no link to Bolin was ever established.

• • •

In the years after the Ohio attack, the woman said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She didn't leave her house for a year.

But she still testified in the penalty phase at four of his retrials in the Florida murders.

"I felt a calling to be the voice for those who could no longer tell what had happened to them," she wrote in an email.

She also befriended the mothers of Bolin's three victims.

"She's all of our daughters now," Matthews' mother, Kathleen Reeves, said in 1999.

Today, the woman refuses to let the 1987 attack define her. She no longer lives in Ohio. She is married to the man who was her boyfriend in 1987. She is working on a blog about her ordeal. She hopes it will help others.

She opposes the death penalty. "It's not who I am," she said.

But she hoped for peace to be brought to the mothers of Bolin's victims:

"My thoughts will be with them on that day, and their girls will forever be in my heart."

• • •

In an interview with WTVT-Ch. 13, Bolin said he is "innocent" of all three 1986 murders. But his guilty plea in the Ohio attack complicates that claim.

In a way, the woman who survived her encounter with Bolin still haunts him, as well.

"Had I not been in prison for the Ohio case, maybe none of this would have happened," he said in the TV interview. "Maybe my credibility would have been different."

Bolin, 53, is set to die at 6 p.m. at Florida State Prison in Starke.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.