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Calif. Town Talking About Suspect

November 7, 1998

ARCATA, Calif. (AP) _ Sandy Box was sitting at the bar at Toby and Jack’s when the TV news aired a report on the truck driver who allegedly confessed to killing four women.

``That’s him, Donna!″ the nurse’s aide told the bartender, pointing at the image of the bearded man in the red jail jumpsuit .

Three weeks ago, on a Monday night, Wayne Adam Ford was sitting at the same bar, telling Box his sad story about how his ex-wife wouldn’t let him see their 3-year-old son. He offered her a ride home as the evening wore on, she said.

Remembering the childhood advice from her mother to never accept rides from strangers, Box chose to walk home.

``I’m glad I didn’t″ accept the ride, said Box, rubbing the goose bumps on her arms. ``I’d of never guessed him being a serial killer. ... Surprise.″

Box isn’t the only woman wondering how close she came to being a victim in the days since the long-haul trucker with the sandy brown hair walked into the sheriff’s office, carrying a woman’s severed breast in a Ziploc bag.

``I thought he was good-looking,″ said Shelley McCuen, who lived in the trailer next to Ford’s. ``I never had time to flirt with him.″

Ford was being held Saturday on $1 million bail after his court-appointed attorney entered an innocent plea to murder. Meanwhile, police from around the West were trying to connect him to other unsolved slayings. A search of one of Ford’s campsites turned up at least five body parts wrapped in plastic and stored in a tree trunk, The Sacramento Bee reported.

``Everyone is taking a look at him because his method of killing matches so many cases,″ said Sgt. Glenn Johnson of the Kern County Sheriff’s Department in Bakersfield.

Ford, 36, lived by himself in a trailer park in Arcata, and hauled lumber and freight through Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington.

The talk in Arcata on Saturday was reminiscent of Ann Rule’s bestseller, ``The Stranger Beside Me,″ about how a young man named Ted Bundy turned out to be the notorious serial killer who murdered 23 women in the 1970s.

How could Ford, who seemed so normal, have allegedly sexually assaulted and killed at least four women, cutting the arms and legs off one and severing a breast from two others?

Box’s encounter with Ford came just a week prior to the discovery of the nude body of 29-year-old Patricia Anne Tamez in the California aqueduct in San Bernardino County. Police described her as a prostitute who worked truck stops.

Authorities said Ford also confessed to killing an unidentified woman whose dismembered body was discovered in October 1997 outside Eureka; 25-year-old Lanett White of Fontana, whose body turned up Sept. 25 in a canal along Interstate 5 near Lodi; and Tina Gibbs of Washington state, whose nude body was found June 2 near Bakersfield.

Born in Petaluma, Ford, 36, served in the Marines and bounced around the West before moving with his wife and son to Las Vegas. Two years ago they broke up and he moved to Arcata, a town of about 16,000 nestled among the redwoods of Northern California.

He first found work driving a cement truck for Arcata Readimix.

``There didn’t seem to be anything too weird about him, which makes it all the more spookier,″ said fellow driver Mike Fletcher, who ate lunch with Ford each day. ``He tried real hard, but apparently he lost it.″

When winter rains cut back construction, Ford was one of the first to be laid off. He found work last April as a long-haul truck driver at Edeline Enterprises, where he impressed co-workers.

Truck dispatcher Mike Peters liked Ford right away, inviting him home to dinner, going to bars with him and bringing him along on family car racing excursions. If he had a sister, he would set them up for a date ``in a heartbeat,″ Peters said.

``How the hell do you trust anybody who does his job that well and he turns out like this?″ said truck boss Dennis Keehn. ``If you went down Eureka or Arcata at night, you would see some characters that might make you wonder about packing a firearm, but this guy, you wouldn’t worry about him.″

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