A woman in Charleston, W.Va., may have saved her own life and the lives of many other women, as well, when she shot and killed an alleged attacker in her home last week.
Neal Falls showed up at the woman’s home on July 18 after answering an escort ad she had placed on Backpage.com, according to police. He showed up with a “kill list,” multiple pairs of handcuffs and a Subaru full of weapons and tools, including a shovel, knives, a bulletproof vest, a machete, bleach, trash bags, sledgehammers and axes, according to Fox affiliate KPTV.
In Falls’s pocket, police said, was a list of names of potential future victims, all of whom are sex workers who advertised on Backpage, according to the Daily Dot.
Now investigators are trying to determine whether Falls, 45, was responsible for a string of slayings targeting sex workers in Ohio and Nevada, the station reported.
“We have been able to locate most of them and they were all on a Web site advertising for escort services,” Lt. Steve Cooper of the Charleston Police Department told the Huffington Post on Wednesday. “The stuff that we found is so alarming that we want law enforcement across the country to be aware of it.”
From the moment Falls showed up at the home of his latest alleged victim, a sex worker, he turned violent, the victim — who asked not to be identified — told KPTV.
“I knew he was there to kill me,” she said. “I could tell that he had already done something because he said that he was going to prison for a long time. And that’s when I knew he was gonna kill me.”
The woman told the station that Falls, who was from Springfield, Ore., pulled a gun on her and began strangling her. She said she had a split second in which to take control of the situation.
“When he strangled me he just wouldn’t let me get any air,” she said. ” I grabbed my rake and when he laid the gun down to get the rake out of my hands, I shot him. I just grabbed the gun and shot behind me.”
After the shooting, the woman stood in an alley while a neighbor called police. In a recording of that phone call played by KPTV, the woman’s panicked voice can be heard in the background.
“There’s a lady in the alley here saying that some guy tried to rape her and she had to defend herself and she shot him and he’s in the kitchen,” the neighbor tells the dispatcher. “He pulled a gun on her, she’s got cuts and stuff all over her.”
“Do you know who the guy is?” the dispatcher asked.
“No. I opened the door and he said, ‘Live or die,’ ” the woman informs the dispatcher, crying.
Police said Falls did not have a criminal history, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. They told the paper that Falls worked as a security guard in Oregon and had minor traffic offenses on his driving record in several states.
Steve Cooper, the Charleston Police Department’s chief of detectives, told the Gazette-Mail that Falls’s DNA might be the key to linking him to other crimes.
“We are entering his DNA profile into CODIS, which is a national crime DNA database, to see if it matches any previous submissions from anywhere in the United States,” he said. “If his DNA has been located in any other crimes and his profile was entered into CODIS, there will be a match.”
At least six women have disappeared from the 21,000 person town of Chillicothe, Ohio — about two hours from Charleston — in a little over a year. Four of their bodies have been found, almost all of them dumped in nearby streams and creeks. The victims have similar stories involving sex work and drug addiction, according to police, and some of the women even knew one another from drug rehab.
The killings have rallied local police, several county sheriffs’ offices and state investigators desperate to solve the deepening murder mystery. FBI analysts are assisting with the investigation by compiling a profile of a possible serial killer.
“I don’t want to come out and say ‘yes, we have a serial killer,’ but it’s a small community that we live in … and the number of females who have come up missing, and then the bodies that we’ve found, that’s quite a bit for our community,” Staff Lt. Mike Preston of the Ross County Sheriff’s Department told The Washington Post last month.
“The community is starting to get concerned,” he said. “Everyone just wants answers.”
Whether Falls is linked to the crime or not, police said his intentions during last weekend’s incident were clearly violent.
“He made a deal with the victim to exchange money for her services as an escort,” Cooper said. “He brought no money with him. What he brought with him was a firearm, four sets of handcuffs, and all of the items you have photos of from the trunk of his car. So … clearly his intentions were dark.”