Hang your head
High on choking porn, a killer was loose and Mary’s girl was missing...
Sicko on the loose
Mary Latimer waved the girls off as they sauntered into the sand dunes. ‘Don’t be long,’ she warned. ‘We’re leaving in half an hour.’
Her daughter Alexis, with braces over her teeth, shouted, ‘We’ll be back, Mom.’
The Latimers had a holiday cottage in the seaside town of Folly Beach, South Carolina, and on that weekend in May 1973, Alexis, 13, had invited Sherri Clark, 14.
A summer of fun lay ahead for the girls, before they started a new school in the autumn.
When they didn’t return, Mary sent Alexis’s brothers out and then called the police.
But they refused to open a missing persons inquiry for a fortnight – rules were rules, they told Mary, and Sherri’s mum Janice.
By the time they did open a case, the trail was cold.
The girls were runaways, police insisted, but their families knew that that wasn’t true.
Nine months later, on Valentine’s Day in 1974, a teenager was abducted at gunpoint by a man who followed her from a supermarket.
He forced her to a lonely wood and tied her up, but ran off after hearing some ramblers.
She gave a good description – Italian-looking, handsome and in his late twenties.
Detectives filed it, but pulled out all the stops a few days later when Earline Bunch, the blonde 16-year-old daughter of the local police chief, disappeared.
Folly Beach was gripped with fear. If the police chief’s daughter wasn’t safe, who was?
On Good Friday in April 1974 Donna Puckett, 16, was walking on the sand dunes with friends.
She bent to pick up a shell and stood up to see her two friends frozen in shock – a man was pointing a gun at them.
He marched them to a deserted beach house on stilts and forced them underneath.
There, he tied them and stuffed rags into their mouths.
All Donna could think was, ‘I’ve bought my prom dress and I’m never going to get to wear it.’
A police patrol car pulled up nearby.
‘Be quiet or I’ll kill you,’ said the man, and fled.
At the police station Donna gave a description – a goodlooking Mediterranean-type man.
A photo-fit was put up around the town.
Then a man came forward. A few days earlier his dog was digging frantically on the beach.
He didn’t think it was anything, but now he wasn’t so sure…
The police got a bulldozer and dug in the sand. As they watched, the bucket rose up and long blonde hair tumbled out…
Earline, the police chief’s daughter, was identified from her dental records. She’d been strangled and hog tied.
Police got loads of worried calls, but one was significant – a 20-year-old woman who said she’d been attacked by an Italianlooking man at a party at the nearby Charleston Naval Base.
He’d tried to tie her up, but she’d got away.
She’d been drinking and didn’t think anyone would believe her.
The suspect was identified as Richard Valenti, 31, a petty officer in the US Navy, married with two children.
When police found bondage porn in his locker at the base, they arrested him at his home.
He confessed. He said he’d abducted Earline with a fake gun while she waited for her dad outside the police headquarters.
He took her to the beach house, where he’d taken Donna and her friends, and strangled her.
Then he told how Alexis and Sherri died.
He’d accosted them on the beach and marched them to the house.
He made them stand on chairs, tied nooses around their necks and slung the ropes around overhead pipes.
He claimed that he just wanted to enjoy his bondage fantasy, but they had struggled and kicked away the chairs. He watched them as they swung…
The girls were found in a shallow grave in the garden.
Officers knew it was them when they saw the braces on Alexis’s teeth.
In June 1974 Valenti was sentenced to two terms of life for their murders. He was never charged with Earline’s murder or the assaults.
He is allowed to appeal for parole every two years. But the families of the two girls have fought him every step of the way.
Just last year, aged 76, his parole was turned down yet again. ‘Please, I implore you,’ Mary had urged the court. ‘Keep Valenti in jail until he dies.’