New York Daily News

Get in car-and die

Sicko raped, killed young girls across Connecticu­t


THE CHOKING began with chickens. As a boy in the 1960s, Michael Ross became the designated strangler of over-the-hill layers on his family’s egg farm in eastern Connecticu­t.

“Let Michael do it,” his mother would say.

When sick sexual compulsion­s began to fester in his teenage mind, the brainy Ross pondered a link to his chicken-choking. He ached to rape women and complete the act of violent domination with bare-handed strangulat­ion, the most tactile of murder methods.

Ross was a tall, sinewy farm boy by the time he went away to study agricultur­e at Cornell in upstate Ithaca in the late 1970s. He was halfway between handsome and homely, with a cleft chin, wavy dark hair and eyeglasses.

He had a face that women trusted, though they shouldn’t have.

Ross spent his college years wrestling with his sexual pathology, and it finally overtook him on May 12, 1981.

While working at Cornell’s Warren Hall, he cast a leering eye on Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25, a petite graduate student who dreamed of returning to her native Vietnam to rebuild from the remains of war.

She disappeare­d that night. Her body was found five days later, hung up on rocks in the Fall Creek gorge that bisects the campus. Her head was dented, and the local authoritie­s mulled whether she had thrown herself into the gorge.

But it wasn’t suicide. It was the curtain-raising work of Michael Ross, serial killer. He would kill seven others over the next three years, employing a simple pickup line: “Want a lift?”

Eight months after Dzung’s murder, Tammy Williams, 17, disappeare­d on Jan. 5, 1982, while walking home from her boyfriend’s place in Brooklyn, Conn., Ross’ hometown, at the eastern end of the state. The body was concealed in a fieldstone wall, where it would lie hidden for several years.

Eight weeks later and 125 miles away, Paula Perrera, 16, of upstate Wallkill, cut out early from Valley Central High School in Orange County and thumbed a ride toward her boyfriend’s house. Her body was found in a marsh on March 20, 1982.

On June 15 that same year, Debra Taylor, 23, was walking near Brooklyn, Conn., when she got in a stranger’s car. Her body turned up four months later.

The remains of Perrera and Taylor each told a forensic story of rape followed by strangulat­ion by someone astride their backs.

On Thanksgivi­ng 1983, Robin Stavinsky, 19, vanished after hitchhikin­g in Norwich, in eastern Connecticu­t. On Easter 1984, friends April Brunais and Leslie Shelley, both 14, were picked up and killed while walking in Griswold, Conn., near Norwich.

The eighth and final victim was Wendy Baribeault, 17, who got into a stranger’s car on June 13, 1984, on a highway west of Griswold.

Stavinsky, Brunais and Baribeault had been raped and then choked from behind. Shelley was throttled but spared sexual assault. THE Baribeault case finally gave cops a break. Witnesses saw her get into a blue Toyota sedan driven by a skinny young white man with dark hair and glasses.

Using Connecticu­t auto registrati­on records, state police Detective Mike Malchik compiled a list of more than 3,500 blue Toyotas. But one name jumped off the page: Michael Bruce Ross, 24, an insurance salesman who fit the descriptio­n of the driver and lived in Jewett City, within 15 minutes of where each of the bodies was found in eastern Connecticu­t.

Malchik knocked at his door on June 28, 1984, and Ross was soon confessing to the six Connecticu­t murders. (For reasons he never explained, Ross delayed owning up to his two New York homicides. He admitted to the Cornell murder in a 1987 chat with a prison shrink and to the Orange County hitchhiker slaying in a 1994 news inter- view.)

Today’s DNA testing might have connected the dots to Ross’ murders more quickly, perhaps saving lives.

But authoritie­s elsewhere missed two chances to lock up the killer during his spree. In September 1981, Ross got off with a fine and probation after Illinois police caught him accosting a teenage girl, and in April 1982 he was jailed briefly and referred for psychiatri­c treatment after attempting to rape a pregnant off-duty cop in her home near Columbus, Ohio.

At two trials in 1987, jurors heard about Ross’ crummy childhood, featuring an abusive, mentally disturbed mother and a child-molester uncle who later committed suicide. Prosecutor­s prevailed by portraying Ross as a cunning sexual sadist. He was convicted of the six murders and condemned to die.

Ross became a Death Row correspond­ent with the New England media as his appeals wended through the courts. “I’m the worst of the worst,” he wrote in 1996.

He gained internatio­nal celeb- rity as a “death penalty volunteer” when he wrote in 1998, “It’s time for me to die.”

Skeptics dismissed this as posing by a killer who hoped to be remembered as a capital punishment martyr.

He survived until May 13, 2005, when comeuppanc­e arrived by lethal injection.

He was the first killer executed in Connecticu­t since 1960.

On April 25, Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a law repealing the death penalty for future crimes. It does not apply to the 11 men waiting anxiously on the state’s Death Row.

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