In Charleston, West Virginia, a sex worker killed a man in self-defense, later to discover that he may have been a serial killer.
The 45-year-old man, named Neal Falls, arranged to meet the woman, identified only as Heather, through Backpage.com. When he arrived at the woman's home, he was armed with a gun and allegedly asked ‘Live or die?’ when she opened the door then began choking her.
‘When he strangled me, I grabbed my rake, and when he laid the gun down to get the rake out of my hands, I shot him,’ Heather told CBS News. ‘I grabbed the gun and shot behind me.’
Her bravery and quick response may have saved lives. Authorities told NBC News that a search of Falls' car revealed what they described as a ‘kill kit’: a collection of handcuffs, knives, axes, a sledgehammer, a bulletproof vest, another gun, shovels, bleach and other cleaning supplies. He also had a list of about ten other women from Backpage.com and no money with which to pay for services.
‘Based on the items this man had in his possession, it's hard to imagine this was only going to be a one-time event for him,’ Steve Cooper, the Charleston Police Department's chief of detectives told CBS News. ‘It's likely that Mr. Falls is a serial killer.’
Falls is now suspected in the disappearances and deaths of at least four sex workers in the Las Vegas area, where Falls was living at the time of the disappearances and deaths. Falls was also initially connected to the case of the disappearances of six women in a small town in Ohio, but that link has now been ruled out. In the small town of Chillicothe, Ohio six women went missing within the space of one year. Four of the women’s bodies have been found.
‘I knew he was there to kill me.’ Heather told reporters. ‘I could tell that he had already done something because he said he was going to prison for a long and that's when I knew that he was going to kill me,’
Sex workers have long been targeted by serial killers in the United States, who take advantage of the criminalised nature of their work, which means many violent crimes against sex workers go unreported. When he confessed to murdering at least 49 women, most of them sex workers, Gary Ridgeway, aka the ‘Green River Killer,’ stated that he chose sex workers as his victims ‘because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.’
Ridgeway’s comments led to the marking of December 17th as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.