DeBardeleben was born on March 20, 1940 in Little Rock, Arkansas, but had to move around frequently during his childhood since his father was in the U.S. Navy. He lived in Texas, Kentucky, and Germany. At the age of 16, he physically assaulted his mother Mary Lou. In a short time, he was then arrested for several serious crimes, including theft, sodomy, kidnapping, and attempted murder. When he was 17, he was also arrested for reckless driving and was expelled from high school. He joined the Air Force, but he was court-martialed as soon as the next year for a few violations for which he served two months in prison and received a $155 fine. Just a month after finishing his sentence, he was court-martialed yet again. This time, he was dishonorably discharged and moved back in with his family in Texas. He tried enrolling in high school again but was expelled after only two months.
Soon afterwards, he married a woman named Linda Weir, but separated from her after only three weeks. He also conceived a daughter with another woman, but she was stillborn. At the age of 19, he received five years' probation for armed robbery and a series of car thefts. He later married another woman, Charlotte Grey, and had two children with her, the second of which was given up for adoption. They married three months after she became pregnant the first time, but divorced after roughly a year, not long after the suicide of DeBardeleben's younger brother. In the summer of 1961, he went to two different universities in Texas even though he didn't have a high school diploma. His probation was revoked the following year and he was sent to prison.
After being released, DeBardeleben spent some time living with his parents, where he soon began physically abusing his mother again, whom he called 'Moe.' At various times, he threatened his mother with a letter opener or a hatchet. During this time his health began to deteriorate and he became more aggressive. As a diversion, he read psychology and psychiatry texts. If his parents raised any objections to his lifestyle, he would simply threaten to kill them.
DeBardeleben's parents, fearing that he was capable of following through on his threats, phoned the sheriff and he was sent to Western State Hospital in Staunton, VA for evaluation in March 1964. It was at WSH that DeBardeleben was first diagnosed as "antisocial" and a "sociopath." Clinicians opined that his antisocial personality would render him a poor candidate for psychotherapy and that the safest place for him to be was in jail.
Shortly thereafter, DeBardeleben met Wanda Faye Davis who was six years his junior. He began courting her and the two subsequently married in September 1964. She described him as charming, well dressed and articulate. Gradually he began to persuade Davis into taking nude photographs of her engaged in various sadistic and degrading sexual acts with him. He later used these to blackmail her into being an accomplice in various cons and scams with him.
Crimes, Incarceration, and Death
It was in Davis that DeBardeleben confided his perverse sexual fantasies and spoke openly of his urges to kill women. Davis later told the secret service, "His greatest thing that he could have ever thought about was to abduct a woman, torture her, have various sex-activites go on, strangle her and watch her die or blow her brains out with a gun. Then he would hide her so that if she was ever found there would be no evidence of who had done it and it would be the perfect crime."
DeBardeleben's first confirmed sex offense came in 1966 when he was arrested for kidnapping and sodomy on a young girl, a crime which he carried out with Wanda Davis's cousin. However the charges were dropped when the jury learned that the victim had gotten into the car with the two men willingly.
Davis became pregnant with DeBardeleben's child twice; the first was miscarried when he pushed her down a flight of stairs in a fit of rage. When she gave birth to his daughter, Lindsey, they had already divorced and he had moved on to another vulnerable young woman. His fourth wife, Caryn, was 12 years younger than him when they married. At the time he began to woo her, she was 17 and still in high school. Like Wanda Faye, Caryn was also subjected to the same degredating treatment. Like Davis, she too was groomed as accomplice to numerous scams and criminal activities.
In 1976, DeBardeleben was arrested for counterfeiting for the first time. It was during the search of his home, investigators with the Secret Service located his printing press as well as a collection of dildos, whips, vibrators and a stack of five by seven cards with the names, addresses, measurements and physical characteristics of numerous women. The walls of his home were covered with amateur pornography. It is uncertain whether or not the women photographed were consenting partners.
Evidence found during the search of DeBardeleben's home led to him being convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to the Federal Penitentiary in Danbury, Connecticut. While there, DeBardeleben's IQ was determined to be approximately 127, putting him in the top 4% of the population.
During his imprisonment DeBardeleben wrote; "I feel that I have been unjustly tormented, degraded and shit upon by society (specifically the American Justice System-which is rotten to the core). In order to regain an adequate self-image, I feel compelled to somehow restore my self-respect. If I were to shit upon society for an adequate monetary gain, commensurate with the pan I have suffered and not get caught, it would accomplish my objective."
In 1978, after spending some time at a halfway house, DeBardeleben moved to Arlington, Virginia, where he got a job as a barber. He didn't last long as a barber and took off in a newly purchased '77 Thunderbird to resume his activity of passing out counterfeits and committing rape. At the same time, an unlikely mixup at the Crime Information Center led authorities to conclude that DeBardeleben was dead. He was then free to exact retribution against the society which he believed had unfairly treated him without the authorities inquiring about his whereabouts.
That September, he abducted a 19-year-old nursing student, Lucy Alexander, raping her repeatedly. She was released the next day in Delaware. In the summer of 1979, he met his last wife, Barbara Abbott, who left him after a year and a half. At this time, DeBardeleben was heavily engaged in counterfeiting money. Because he used a lot of it at suburban malls, using fake $20 bills to buy cheap items and getting real change back, the Secret Service nicknamed him "the Mall Passer". The fake bills were used in several states, including Ohio, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma and Milwaukee.
In 1980, he pulled over a woman while posing as a cop, intending to abduct and rape her, but she fought back and escaped. On May 25, 1983, DeBardeleben was arrested for counterfeiting. When the Secret Service searched a storage facility rented in his name looking for his printing press, they found evidence for several violent crimes they had no idea DeBardeleben was responsible for, such as handcuffs, dildos, bloody panties, lubricant and hundreds of photos of women, most of them sexually explicit, and several audio recordings of women being tortured. In 1988, he was sentenced to 375 years in prison for his counterfeiting; the authorities felt they could not get convictions on the sex crimes because of a lack of evidence. He was confined in maximum security for his entire prison sentence. DeBardeleben was also a prime suspect for two murders; that of a realtor in 1982 and that of one of two men he held for ransom in 1983, but wasn't convicted of them. He remained in prison until his death from pneumonia in 2011, aged 70.
During DeBardeleben's known sexual assaults, he would approach his victims using posing as a police officer. When he had them under control, he would rape them repeatedly and brutally, usually with objects since he couldn't maintain an erection. He had a habit of making his victims call him "Daddy" during the assaults and would sometimes record the acts.
DeBardeleben has been described as fitting the pathology of a so-called anger-excitation rapist, the kind of rapist who derives pleasure from the suffering of his victims. Their goals are to dominate and control their victims. He was also profiled as having a weak father and domineering mother. He would have a record of committing previous offenses, which include voyeurism and burglary, and adjustment problems in both school and the military. He had an extreme difficulty with females and believes that his victims desire what he does to them. His fantasies were influenced by sadomasochistic pornography. If he was married, he would have degraded his wife and experimented sexually with her. He was cagey and intelligent, knowledgeable about law enforcement, and may have stalked his victims to relive the experience.
- Unspecified locations:
- Unspecified date in 1956: Mary Lou Edwards DeBardeleben, 47-48 (his mother; assaulted only)
- Unspecified dates: Numerous crimes, including theft, sodomy, kidnapping, and attempted murder
- Unspecified date in c.1957: An unspecified count of reckless driving
- Unspecified date in c.1959: An unspecified count of armed robbery
- Unspecified date(s) in c.1959: Numerous victimless car thefts
- Unspecified date in 1975: Phillipa Voliner (pistol-whipped only)
- September 4-5, 1978: Lucy Alexander, 19 (abducted, raped, and sodomized repeatedly; was released)
- February 4, Fayetteville, North Carolina: Elizabeth Mason, 31 (pistol-whipped, bound, strangled to the point of unconsciousness, and left for dead; survived)
- June 1, unspecified location in Maryland: Laurie Jensen, 20 (raped and sodomized repeatedly only; was released)
- October 10, unspecified location in New Jersey: Unnamed Italian-American woman (assaulted only)
- November 1, unspecified location: Dianne Overton, 25 (attempted to abduct; she escaped)
- November 12, unspecified location: Maria Santini, 27 (robbed and abducted, but not raped; was released)
- Unspecified date in 1966: Unnamed young girl (kidnapped, raped, and assaulted; the charges were dropped)
- April 1971: Terry McDonald
- April 27, 1982, Bossier City, Louisiana: Jean McPhaul (strangled with a ligature and fatally stabbed twice in the heart)
- April 13, 1983, Greece, New York: David Starr and Joe Rapini (both abducted)
- David Starr
- Joe Rapini (held for ransom and shot)
On Criminal Minds
- Season Four
- Wikipedia's article about DeBardeleben
- TruTV Crime Library articles about DeBardeleben
- Summary of DeBardeleben's life by Radford University's Department of Psychology
- Murderpedia's article about DeBardeleben
- All Things Crime Blog article about DeBardeleben
- Find a Grave article about DeBardeleben