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Texas town to try case involving Utah body

Woman’s remains sat in Millard County 13 years

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Robert Ben Rhoades

Robert Ben Rhoades

OZONA, Texas — The ongoing drama in Eldorado and San Angelo, Texas, involving the YFZ Ranch and the FLDS Church has captured the attention of Utah and the nation.

But the legal battle surrounding the polygamist sect isn't the only court case in the Lone Star State with Utah ties.

About 45 minutes outside of Eldorado along I-10 is the town of Ozona. There, prosecutors are preparing their case against alleged serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades, 62, accused of murdering two people 18 years ago. The badly decomposed body of one of those victims, Patricia Candace Walsh, 24, was found by hunters in Millard County months after she had been murdered.

Rhoades' travels are the subject of a book, "Roadside Prey," by Alva Busch.

Rhoades, a former truck driver, is believed to have equipped the cab of his truck as a type of dungeon with handcuffs on the ceiling used to incapacitate his victims. He is accused in the book and by investigators of sexually assaulting and systematically torturing the women he held captive before killing them.

A story in the Tucson Weekly in 1996 quoted officials as saying they believed by early 1990, Rhoades was kidnapping and killing an average of three women a month. He allegedly carried a briefcase of torture items with him on the road, according to the article.

In 1990, Walsh and her husband, Scott Zyskowski, 25, both originally from Seattle, were hitchhiking in Texas when Rhoades allegedly picked the two up. Prosecutors believe he killed Zyskowski and dumped his body in January 1990 in Texas. Utah officials say they believe that for the next seven days, Rhoades held Walsh captive before shooting her multiple times and dumping her body.

Even after the body was found, Walsh went unidentified for 13 years while her remains were kept in the basement of the Millard County Sheriff's Office. But by a set of chance circumstances, Millard County sheriff's detectives were finally able to identify her in 2003.

After identifying Walsh, the next step in the investigation proceeded much more quickly. Police found enough evidence to link Rhoades with the crime. By then, Rhoades was serving a life sentence in Illinois for murder.

A month after Walsh's death, Rhoades picked up 14-year-old Regina Walters and Ricky Lee Jones, two runaways from Texas. He killed Walters in Illinois and was later convicted of that crime. Jones' body has never been found.

Rhoades was caught on April 1, 1990, in Arizona, where police came across Rhoades' semitrailer truck while he was in the process of torturing another woman. He was convicted and sent to prison. Just before he was to be released in Arizona, officials in Illinois filed their case. Rhoades was sent to Illinois where he stood trial and was convicted again.

In 2005, Rhoades was extradited from the Pontiac, Ill., Correctional Center to Utah to stand trial for Walsh's murder. If convicted, prosecutors said they would have sought the death penalty.

But based on the wishes of the families of Walsh and Zyskowski, Utah dropped its case in 2006 and sent Rhoades back to Illinois in anticipation of Texas authorities filing two murder counts and also seeking the death penalty. Under Texas law, prosecutors would be able to put Rhoades on trial for both deaths at once. In Utah, only Walsh's murder could be tried.

The families, not wanting to relive the tragedy twice, asked Utah officials if Texas could handle both cases at the same time.

Rhoades' Texas case, however, is currently delayed. A trial scheduled to begin in September was postponed until 2009 because Rhoades recently got a new defense attorney.

Ozona District Attorney Laurie English said that as far as she knew, Rhoades was still in Illinois and had not yet been extradited to Texas.

English said she has met with the families of the victims, and they are aware of the delays. English declined to talk further about the Rhoades case, saying she could not comment on an open case.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com