Henry Louis Wallace (born November 4, 1965), also known as "The Taco Bell Strangler", is an American serial killer who killed ten women in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is awaiting execution at Central Prison in Raleigh.
Henry Louis Wallace was born in Barnwell, South Carolina, son of Lottie Mae Wallace and a married schoolteacher who walked out on Lottie when he found out she was pregnant. Wallace grew up with his mother working long hours as a textile worker. She was a harsh disciplinarian, constantly criticizing her son for even the smallest mistakes. He attended Barnwell High School, where he was elected to student council and was a cheerleader. After he graduated in 1983, Wallace became a disc jockey for a Barnwell radio station.
Wallace went to several colleges before joining the U.S. Navy in 1985. He married his high school sweetheart, the former Maretta Brabham, that same year. In 1992, Wallace was honorably discharged from the Navy.
Early criminal career
During his time in the Navy, he began using several drugs, including crack cocaine. In Washington, he was served warrants for several burglaries in and around the Seattle metro area. In January 1988, Wallace was arrested for breaking into a hardware store. That June, he pled guilty to second-degree burglary. A judge sentenced him to two years of supervised probation. According to Probation Officer Patrick Seaburg, Wallace did not show up for most mandatory meetings.
In early 1990, he murdered Tashonda Bethea, then dumped her in a lake in his hometown. It was not until weeks later that her body was discovered. He was questioned by the police regarding her disappearance and death, but was never formally charged in her murder. He was also questioned in connection with the attempted rape of a 16-year-old Barnwell girl, but was never charged for that either. By that time, his marriage had fallen apart, and he was fired from his job as Chemical Operator for Sandoz Chemical Co.
In February 1991, he broke into his old high school and the radio station where he once worked. He stole video and recording equipment and was caught trying to pawn them.
In November 1991, he relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina. He found jobs at several fast-food restaurants in East Charlotte.
In May 1992, he picked up Sharon Nance, a convicted drug dealer and sex worker. When she demanded payment for her services, Wallace beat her to death, then dropped her body by the railroad tracks. She was found a few days later.
In June 1992, he raped and strangled Caroline Love at her apartment, then dumped her body in a wooded area. Love was a friend of Wallace's girlfriend. After he killed her, he and her sister filed a missing person's report at the police station. It would be almost two years (March 1994) before her body was discovered in a wooded area in Charlotte.
On February 19, 1993, Wallace strangled Shawna Hawk at her home after first having sex with her, and later went to her funeral. Hawk worked at Taco Bell where Wallace was her supervisor. In March 1993, Hawk's mother, Dee Sumpter, and her godmother Judy Williams founded Mothers of Murdered Offspring, a Charlotte-based support group for parents of murdered children.
On June 22, he raped and strangled coworker Audrey Spain. Her body was found two days later.
On August 10, 1993, Wallace raped and strangled Valencia M. Jumper -- a friend of his sister's -- then set her on fire to cover up his crime. A few days after her murder, he and his sister went to Valencia's funeral.
A month later, in September 1993, he went to the apartment of Michelle Stinson, a struggling college student and single mother of two sons. Stinson was a friend of his from Taco Bell. He raped her and then some time later strangled and stabbed her in front of her oldest son.
That October, his only child was born.
On February 4, 1994 Wallace was arrested for shoplifting, but police had not made a connection between him and the murders.
On February 20, 1994, Wallace strangled Vanessa Little Mack, one of his employees from Taco Bell, in her apartment. Mack had two daughters, aged seven and four months, at the time of her death.
On March 8, 1994, Wallace robbed and strangled Betty Jean Baucom. Baucom and Wallace's girlfriend were co-workers. Afterwards, he took valuables from the house, then he left the apartment with her car. He pawned everything except the car, which he left at a shopping center.
Wallace went back to the same apartment complex on the night of March 8, 1994, knowing that Berness Woods would be at work so he could murder his girlfriend, Brandi June Henderson. Wallace raped Henderson while she held her baby, and then strangled her. He also strangled her son, but he survived. Afterwards, he took some valuables from the apartment and left.
The police beefed up patrols in east Charlotte after two bodies of young black women were found at The Lake apartment complex. Even so, Wallace sneaked through to rob and strangle Debra Ann Slaughter, who had been a co-worker of his girlfriend, and stabbed her some 38 times in the stomach and chest. Her body was found on March 12, 1994.
Wallace was arrested on March 13, 1994. For 12 hours, he confessed to the murders of 10 women in Charlotte. He then confessed to an 11th murder he committed before moving to Charlotte. He described in detail, the women's appearances, how he raped, robbed and killed the women, and his crack habit.
Aftermath and criticism
Charlotte's police chief congratulated Wallace's arrest, reassuring the community that the women of East Charlotte were safe. However, many in the area's black community criticized the police's conduct during the investigation, accusing them of neglecting the murders of black women. As Shawna Denise Hawk's mother, Dee Sumpter, said:
- "The victims weren't prominent people with social-economic status. They weren't special. And they were black."
Charlotte's police chief, Dennis Nowicki, had said he was not aware of a killer until early March 1994, when three young black women were murdered within four days of each other. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department apologized to its residents for not spotting a link among the murders sooner. However, they said the murder cases varied enough to throw them off Wallace's trail. Until Wallace's murder pace picked up in the early weeks of March 1994, the deaths were sporadic and not entirely similar. It was only in the week of March 9, 1994 that Charlotte Police warned the people in East Charlotte that there was a serial killer on the loose.
One woman stated that the police did not care because they viewed the young female murder victims as "fast girls who hang out a lot". However, the victims were described by both the press and family members as pretty, hardworking, and serious young women. Others believe police did not take the murder cases seriously because the women were both working class and black.
Over the next two years, Wallace's trial was delayed over choice of venue, DNA evidence from murdered victims, and jury selection. His trial began in September 1996. In the opening arguments, prosecutor Marsha Goodnow argued for the death penalty, while defense attorney Isabel Day asked for a life sentence, arguing that Wallace suffered from mental illness, and that the killings were not first-degree murder because they did not result from "premeditation and deliberation".
According to FBI serial murder expert Robert Ressler:
- "If he elected to become a serial killer, he was going about it in the wrong way... Mr. Wallace always seemed to take one step forward and two steps back. He would take items and put them in the stove to destroy them by burning them and then forget to turn the stove on."
In 1994 police had asked the FBI for assistance, but the FBI said that the murders were not the work of a serial killer.
Psychologist Faye Sultan testified during the trial that Wallace was a constant victim of physical and mental abuse from his mother since birth and that he suffered from mental illness at the time of the killings. Sultan argued for life sentence without parole instead of the death penalty.
On January 7, 1997, Wallace was found guilty of nine murders. On January 29, he was sentenced to nine death sentences.
Following his sentencing, Wallace made a statement to his victims' families.
- "None of these women, none of your daughters, mothers, sisters or family members in any way deserved what they got. They did nothing to me that warranted their death."
On death row
On June 5, 1998, Wallace married a former prison nurse, Rebecca Torrijas, in a ceremony next to the execution chamber where he has been sentenced to die. Mecklenburg County public defender Isabel Day served as an official witness and photographer. Also attending was the manager of the Death Row unit at the prison.
Since being sentenced to death in 1997, Wallace has been appealing to the courts to overturn the death sentences, stating that his confessions were coerced and his constitutional rights were violated in the process. The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the death sentences in 2000. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2001 denied his appeal. In 2005, Superior Court Judge Charles Lamm rejected Wallace's latest appeal to overturn his convictions and nine death sentences.