Thursday, June 24, 1999

Railroad killings put Tristate on lookout

Leads here haven't panned out

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As nightly trains crawl to a stop in front of Carla Brenner's porchin Carthage, the regular roar of their horns cuts through the silence, rattling her small, frame house.

        But now, it's Ms. Brenner who is shaking. Like many residents and business owners abutting railroad tracks in the Tristate and elsewhere, she fears the arrival of a train-traveling serial killer.

        Rafael Resendez-Ramirez's victims, police say, have been found near rails from Texas to Kentucky — rails much like those outside her home.

        “That worries me now because I work a lot and I'm a single mother,” Ms. Brenner said Wednesday. Though other relatives typically stay with her 15-year-old son when she's not home, she frets about what could happen during the trains' half-hour stops in front of her house.

        “It's enough time for some one to jump off and jump back on” the train, she said. In Greater Cincinnati, railroad police say they are receiving about five possible leads each hour as the national manhunt broadens for Mr. Ramirez.

        Other police agencies are being flooded too, since the FBI placed the deadly drifter on its most-wanted list Monday.

        The 39-year-old Hispanic is about 5 feet 9 inches tall with dark hair and possibly a mus tache. The FBI considers Mr. Ramirez one of the most dangerous and violent criminals in the country because of the ghastly way he bludgeons his victims.

        Within hours of appearing on the FBI's list, Mr. Ramirez sightings began popping up throughout the country. In the Tristate, he has been reported from Warren County to St. Bernard to Northern Kentucky.

        “Oh man, have we had calls,” said a police officer working for Norfolk Southern Railroad in Cincinnati who declined to give his name. “Every third call we get is about Rafael.

        “Most of them are basically the same: Someone says a train stopped near their home, and they see someone jump out and run into the woods. So far it's been nothing. People everywhere are just nervous.”

        Mr. Ramirez seems particularly fond of Union Pacific rail lines. Most of the eight murders connected to him, the latest a June 15 double murder in Gorham, Ill., have been committed on or near UP tracks. That railroad doesn't come through Greater Cincinnati, but local residents remain worried and watchful.

        Across the tracks from Ms. Brenner on Seymour Avenue in Carthage, managers at Estes Express Lines trucking company aren't taking chances. Michael Wilhelm, terminal manager, said Wednesday he planned to warn evening dock workers after seeing the story on the national news Tuesday.

        “I'll tell them to leave in pairs, don't be here alone,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “You never know where he's going to show up.”

        In Hamilton, some people who live near the railroad tracks along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard say they're being extra careful to keep their doors locked and stay inside their houses at night.

        “Just the fact that he's using the railroad scares you right there,” said Annie Bailey, 46, the mother of four children. “There are playgrounds and all kinds of stuff next to railroad tracks.”

        For now, she won't sit on her front porch at night.

        Cincinnati's two main railroad companies, Norfolk Southern and CSX, have told their employees to keep quiet about precautions against Mr. Ramirez. But the officer at Norfolk Southern said they have distributed thousands of pictures of the suspect to employees and depots.

        Every railroad company has state-certified police officers patrolling rail cars after they've stopped. Sometimes, they drive alongside trains.

        The companies are concerned with the safety of employees who travel the rails, as well as nearby residents.

        “You know what they say about a cornered rat — he'll fight his way out,” the officer said. “We're worried employees might get caught in the crossfire.”

        The FBI's Cincinnati office has received about 10 “look-alike” calls since Monday and have stopped two people believed to be Mr. Ramirez. The FBI also stopped two people in both Dayton and Columbus.

        “All these sightings are kind of typical when someone is just added to the Top 10,” said spokesman Ed Boldt. “Everyone's looking for this new face, and Resendez-Ramirez doesn't look unique at all. Anyone with a mustache and a swarthy complexion can be mistaken for him.”

        Union Township police got a call at 9 a.m. Tuesday from a motorist who saw a suspicious person near the tracks in West Chester. Four police officers responded, but found that it was a false alarm.

        A caller told St. Bernard police Monday from a person who believed Mr. Ramirez was working with him at a Cincinnati concrete company. Police stopped the man's truck, but he looked nothing like Mr. Ramirez.

        Kentucky State Police have received an unprecedented number of sightings across Northern Kentucky, from Kenton to Bourbon counties. Sgt. Jim Booth said he has never seen many calls for one man in all his experience.

        The FBI doesn't mind the heightened publicity if it leads to success.

        “Some criminals are on the list for literally a few days, others for years,” Mr. Boldt said. “It all depends on how many people are watching.”

        Saundra Amrhein and Steve Kemme contributed to this report.

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