June 07, 2022
Murderer and suspected serial killer, Gerard John Schaefer Jr., has been named as a potential suspect in the disappearance and murder of teenager Susan Poole, who went missing in 1972.
Schaefer Jr., who was stabbed to death in prison in 1995, was convicted of the murder of two girls in Port St. Lucie, Florida in 1972 and was working as a Sheriff's deputy in Martin County, Florida when he committed the crimes. He became known by his media moniker “The Killer Cop” and although he was convicted in the slaying of two teenagers, it is believed he may have killed a further twenty six victims- including the recently identified Susan Poole.
Fifteen-year-old Susan Poole went missing from Broward County, Florida in December of 1972. She lived in a trailer park with her family in Fort Lauderdale and spent time staying over with a friend who lived the next town over in Wilton Manors, around 3.5 miles via North Andrews Avenue.
Susan had left voluntarily before and often hitched rides to get where she wanted to go, so her family were unsure whether or not she had left of her own volition- but days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years and Susan Poole was never heard from again.
The only possessions the missing girl had left behind were some clothing and her pocketbook which police later discovered at her friend’s home.
It would take over fifty years to piece together what happened to Susan Poole.
On June 16, 1974, a father and son searching for driftwood in Burnt Bridges on Singer Island, a peninsula in Palm Beach County, Florida, South Florida, found something far more sinister.
The father and son stumbled upon the skeletal remains of a female and what remained of her clothing in a mangrove swamp and reported their findings to police.
It was later determined that the Jane Doe had been tied to a tree in the mangrove swamp with wire and that she had been murdered anywhere between eight months to eight weeks of her disappearance.
Singer Island was approximately sixty-three miles from the location of Poole's trailer home in Broward County, around an hour drive by car.
These remains were all that was left of missing Susan Poole, but police were unable to make the link back in 1974 and the girl went unidentified until 2022. In the meantime, the unidentified victim was given the place-holder name “Singer Island Jane Doe.”
Investigators did try to identify the victim, however, and in 2014, the remains were exhumed in order to create a DNA profile which was then uploaded to CODIS, but no match was found. A composite sketch of what the victim may have looked like was generated in 2019 with the hope that someone would recognize the unidentified girl, but no one came forward.
It was not until December 2021 that Susan Poole and the Singer Island Jane Doe were discovered to be one and the same. Genetic genealogists from Othram Inc. worked together with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to finally marry the missing girl and the unidentified victim together and determine that Susan Poole had been murdered after she went missing that winter in 1972.
That summer in 1972, just several months before Susan went missing, two teenage girls, Nancy Trotter, and Paula Wells, were hitchhiking in the Florida area when they were picked up by Gerard John Schaefer Jr. who was an active and on-duty Martin County sheriff’s deputy at the time. In reality, it was not illegal to hitchhike in the area, however, Schaefer called into the station on his radio and asked for permission to drive the girls to their apartment in Stuart, which he was granted. He safely drove them to their destination and dropped them off, gaining their trust, and told the girls he would drive them back to the beach the next morning- to which they agreed. The following morning, however, Schaefer showed up in his personal vehicle and civilian clothing and drove the girls to an abandoned structure on Hutchinson Island. Once there, he handcuffed and gagged them both, tying them to trees and putting a noose around each of their necks. The girls were then left there, presumably to die, as they each balanced precariously on the tree roots below with the possibility of mis-stepping and hanging themselves at any moment.
In a display of the strength of human endurance, both girls managed to escape and survive. Wells managed to run to a road and wave down a truck driver who took her to the nearest police station to report the crime and Trotter, still bound at the wrists, had managed to make her way up a river and was eventually found by a roadside screaming for help and was brought to safety.
When Gerard John Schaefer realized his victims had escaped, he decided to confess to his boss and said it was a lesson-gone-wrong. “You’re going to be mad at me,” he told his superior, before attempting to explain that he was trying to teach the teenage girls about the dangers of hitchhiking but “took it too far.” Despite his attempts to lie his way out of what he had done, Schaefer was charged with aggravated assault and false imprisonment.
By Fall of that same year, Schaefer was out on bail when he picked up his next set of victims, this time leaving no survivors to tell the tale.
On September 27, 1972, Gerard Schaefer, using the pseudonym, Gerry Shepherd, picked up seventeen year old Susan Place and sixteen year old Georgia Jessup from Fort Lauderdale. Susan's mother made a note of the man’s licence plate and after neither of the girls returned, turned the information over to police who traced the vehicle back to Schaefer. Place's mother was able to visually identify Schaefer as the man her daughter had left with before she disappeared.
It took six months for the girls remains to be discovered. A father and son collecting cans on Hutchinson Island found the girls remains.
It was later determined that the girls had been tied to a tree, Gerard Schaefer’s modus operandi.
Schaefer was serving out a sentence for his previous assault and false imprisonment at the time.
Palm Beach County authorities believe that Schaefer could be responsible for Susan Poole’s murder on account of the similarities between her murder and the murder and assaults on his previous victims as well as the timeframe in which Poole's murder was committed. Schaefer was sentenced for his crimes against Place and Jessop on December 22, 1972, but was not formally sentenced to jail time until after the Christmas period on instruction of the judge. Susan Poole went missing just before Christmas and Palm Beach County authorities believe that Schaefer may have kidnapped and killed her around this time.
He was later stabbed to death by fellow inmate, Vincent Faustino Rivera, who was thirty-two at the time and was incarcerated for double murder.
Although police believe they have their suspect, they recently appealed to the public via a Facebook post in search for friends of Poole to help create a more complete story of what happened between the victim leaving her home and the discovery of her remains.
The post reads:
“PBSO - Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office-
A young woman was found tied up in the mangroves of an area known as Burnt Bridges on A1A, in 1974. Almost 50 years later and thanks to the advancements of technology, she has been identified as Susan Poole. Susan’s mother is still alive and all we need is a lead. Who could have committed this heinous crime? Det. Springer is asking to speak to her friends:
- Julie Hunt
- Michelle Williamson
- Greg Anderson
These three could help us find the missing piece and give her family closure. Anyone with information please reach out to Det. Springer or remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-458-TIPS.”
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