Noland still doesn’t know why Long spared her in November 1984. He had abducted her at the peak of his eight-month killing rampage that year, as the bodies of 10 young women piled up all across Tampa seemingly without recourse. Tiny red carpet fibers were the evidence linking many of the 10 deaths together, a peculiar element that stumped police for months. But Long’s decision that November night to release the 17-year-old would be the end of it, as Noland soon shared with authorities every detail she could remember about the 26 hours she spent with a serial killer.
And on Thursday, she watched as he lay on the gurney, awaiting lethal injection.
“I wanted to be the first person he saw,” said Noland, now a 52-year-old deputy at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office — the same agency that arrested her rapist.
Long, one of Florida’s most notorious serial killers, died by lethal injection at 6:55 p.m. Thursday after 34 years on death row. After his arrest in 1984, Long, 65, ultimately confessed to killing 10 women and raping dozens of others in the Tampa area between March and November of that year. He often preyed on sex workers and exotic dancers, or women selling furniture through classified ads in the newspaper, earning him the “Classified Ad Rapist” moniker. Of those he killed, all were between the ages of 18 and 28, all last seen while walking alone late at night or after leaving a bar, club or work.
He pleaded guilty to eight of the deaths. For charges including rape, kidnap and murder, he was sentenced to life 33 times and to death once, for the murder of Michelle Simms, a 22-year-old former beauty pageant contestant from California, working as a receptionist at a massage parlor in Fort Pierce, Fla., at the time of her death.
“If I could have had my way, he would have been executed for every person’s life he took,” said Algalana Douglas, sister of victim Chanel Williams, who was fatally shot in October 1984. She was 18.
Back in 1984, it was tiny red carpet fibers from the floor of a car that alerted police that they had a serial killer on their hands, and it was Nolan who led them to him.
It started in the spring of that year, when police found the body of Ngeun Thi “Peggy” Long, a 19-year-old from Southern California who had just quit her job at a Tampa nightclub to go back to college. Two boys walking in a vacant field near an interstate overpass were the first to find her in May, nude and strangled with a rope around her neck.
“Right at the scene we realized we had a problem,” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Gary Terry told Congress in 1986, explaining how they managed to capture Bobby Joe Long. They decided to take the evidence from the scene to the FBI in Washington, and that’s how authorities detected the fibers that would later become the crucial piece of evidence.
The red fibers, apparently from a carpet, were also found on the next woman’s body. Two weeks later, Simms was found bound by ropes, her throat slashed, again in a field near an overpass. Then came the third body, the fourth and fifth and sixth — with little physical evidence pointing police to a suspect, except for the same red fibers.
But then there was Noland.
She was 17 and working a double shift at the Krispy Kreme on Nov. 3, 1984, the night Long snatched her off her bicycle as she rode past a church parking lot. She had left the doughnut shop around 2 a.m., and she had no plans to return. Noland said she had been molested for three years by her grandmother’s boyfriend and had been planning to end her life. The suicide note she had written the night before was on her mind as she pedaled home, she said at a news conference earlier this month.
But then suddenly, a hand was grabbing her, and the cold tip of a pistol was pressed against her left temple, she said.
She remembers screaming, and then saying, “God, whatever you do, just don’t kill me."
He dragged her to his car, a red Dodge Magnum. He ordered her to undress, bound her, blindfolded her and drove her back to his apartment. There, for hours, he raped her over and over.
At a certain point, Noland said, she asked him, “Why are you doing this to me?”
He told her: “To get back at women.”
An unemployed X-ray technician and 10th-grade dropout from West Virginia, Long had just came to the end of two bad relationships, as his parents would soon reveal to the St. Petersburg Times in 1984. He and his high school sweetheart were divorced, and then he found out his new girlfriend was seeing another man. His mother, Louella Long, remembered the day her son called and said, “I can’t find any decent girls in the world.” Two months later, the bodies started piling up.
Noland said she zeroed in on his bad experiences with women, trying to seem sympathetic to him, compassionate. She had invented a story about being the sole caretaker of a sick parent, so that he would feel sympathetic for her, the Tampa Bay Times reported. She doesn’t know why he let her go, but she guessed the story helped her case. “It saved my life,” she said of her sympathetic facade.
At 4:30 the next morning, he ordered her back into the car, still blindfolded but now clothed, and dropped her on the curb in her neighborhood. Once she made it home, she told her grandma and her grandma’s boyfriend she was kidnapped. The man thought she was lying. Police believed her, she said.
She started from the beginning, revealing only what she could glimpse by peaking underneath her blindfold. She knew she was inside a red car, the Dodge Magnum she had spotted as she pedaled past it that night. She knew the car had a red carpet, virtually the only thing she could see while tied up in the back seat — and immediately police perked up. Like many of the victims, Noland’s clothes also contained the same tiny red fibers.
But as police combed through registration records for hundreds of Dodge Magnums in the area, two other women, Virginia Lee Johnson, 18, and Kim Marie Swann, 21, would disappear and end up dead within the next few days that November. Police knew it was the work of the same man: The red fibers were there again, the Times reported at the time.
When police staked out the area where Noland believed she had been taken, authorities finally saw the red Dodge Magnum they believed they were looking for, beginning a 36-hour surveillance operation. On Nov. 16, 1984, police arrested Long for Simms’s death as he left a movie theater.
He had no explanation for what he had done.
“It was like A, B, C, D. I’ll pull over. They get in. I’d drive a little way. Stop. Pull out a knife, a gun, whatever. Tie ‘em up. Take ‘em out. And that would be it,” he told CBS News in a pretrial interview in 1986. “And the worst thing is I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why.”
Speaking after his execution Thursday, the families of the victims said the pain had dragged on for three decades, as they waited for Long’s execution. Noland said she wished she could have said something to him. She said she wanted to tell him, “Thank you.” From the time he kidnapped her to when he released her, she said, he had given her a reason to fight for her life, and to potentially save the lives of future victims. She later ripped up the suicide note.
“I wanted to look him in the eye,” she said. But she never got the chance. As he lay on the gurney, Bobby Joe Long never opened his eyes. He didn’t say anything.
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