This story from The Serialholic has a deep connection to several friends and family in the community that I was raised in, in particular April Brunais. As a child of 7 or 8 years old, I was witness to the grief and devastation that was caused by her murder. By no means does this, or any other story I tell, intend to glamorize or glorify the sick actions of a man who took the lives of 8 beautiful young women but is a means for people to hopefully understand what drives someone to commit such horrific acts and to grasp the concept that we live in a world where monsters really do exist. Michael Ross didn’t just take the lives of these women, he destroyed their families, leaving an impact many continue to feel to this day. While I have put forth every effort to remain sensitive to those he affected, the story will reflect the life of Michael Ross as told through articles, interviews and first-person accounts.
Let us begin…
Part 1 – Innocence Lost
Growing up in the Eastern part of Connecticut during the early 1980s was a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. There was an innocence to being a kid during that time. You leave your house after breakfast to play with your friends and you didn’t come home until the street lights came on. We’d build tree forts and teepees in the woods, wade through streams trying to catch bullfrogs and walk to the corner store to buy some candy. It was ok if you didn’t have enough money. Mr. Pappas would give you some gum regardless. Yes, the innocence of youth. Where the worst thing that could happen is you’d scuff your knee jumping a bike ramp you made out of a piece of plywood and a cinder block. That was until early spring 1982. The “Quiet Corner”, as many referred to this area of farms, forests and small town charm, would soon be rocked to its core as a series of young women would go missing and ultimately, found dead. It was rare, being in such a small community, that a person wasn’t affected by this. Whether you knew the families that were affected or you knew someone who knew them, grief didn’t fall far from your doorstep. It would be some time before this mystery was solved and the centerpiece to all of this tragedy, a man who would come to be known as The Roadside Strangler, was none other than the Quiet Corner’s own, Michael Bruce Ross.
Part 2 – Early Childhood Torment
You will find a familiar pattern when it comes to people who take a path as the one Ross followed. As children, some were molested, some were abused physically and emotionally and some seek a love and acceptance from a person who is incapable of it. Michael Ross is believed to have experienced all three. He was brought into this world on July 26th, 1959 under undesirable circumstances. His mother, Pat, still in high school, was essentially forced into marriage with Michael’s father, Daniel. He was raised on an egg farm in Brooklyn, CT and would eventually have 3 younger siblings and his mother, who also had 2 abortions, hated the farm life. With both parents quick with words as well as the belt, Michael felt the turmoil from the start. He took the brunt more so from his mother. I don’t want to make excuses or lessen the evil he will soon come to impose but he lacked the love a child deserves from their mother and instead, received her constant disappointment and blame for the life that she now led. According to his sister, Michael was sexually abused repeatedly by his Uncle, who would eventually kill himself, presumably because of the result of the molestation. Regardless of all the chaos in his young life, Michael found solace in working the family farm, where it was reported that after his Uncle died, one of his duties was to snap the necks of undergrown chickens, at 8 years old. He would come to be efficient at this and he would start finding that he would experience sexual gratification from this task. His mother left the family for another man and moved to North Carolina. When that relationship fell apart, she moved back to Connecticut and was institutionalized resulting from excessive thoughts of suicide. She would speak often of beating and tormenting her children, Michael specifically. A bed wetter into his pre-teens, his mother would hang his soiled sheets out of his window so all who saw would know. Michael would go on to study agriculture at Killingly High School and was said to have a high IQ of 122. It was during this time Michael began to follow unsuspecting women:
ROSS: “When I was younger, I started out with fantasies that were very…well they weren’t violent, I don’t know how normal they were, but they weren’t violent type fantasies. Mainly, the earliest ones I can remember I would just kidnap women and take them to my safe place. Then they would fall in love with me and not want to leave…James Bond, Superman type things.”
Things would progress though, to unimaginable extremes.
Chapter 3 - Dzung Ngoc Tu
After high school, Ross attended Cornell University in NY and studied Agricultural Economics. He was a bright student and eventually began dating a woman who was in the ROTC program. Their bliss didn’t last though. She would become pregnant and decide to have an abortion. She eventually enlisted in the service and their relationship ended. Michael, scorned and upset, began to have more and more violent sexual fantasies and again began to stalk women:
ROSS: “Then when I got to college, somehow the ‘fantasies were more degrading’ (sic). Going into more violent fantasies, that’s when my rape fantasies first started was when I was in college. I started following women home and I would get a thrill by them knowing that I was following them and that they would be scared…that gave me a thrill. And then it got to the point where I actually raped someone at Cornell and then the next person I saw I actually raped and killed.”
In May of 1981, a body was found in Fall Creek Gorge. The victim’s name was Dzung Ngoc Tu, 25, a graduate student in Economics, who came to the US from Vietnam at the age of 10. Many would describe her as bright, smart and a great sense of humor. She was the pride of her family, who would often come by the car loads to celebrate her accomplishments. She shared a night class with Ross and was last seen leaving that very class. At first believed to be a suicide, soon it was discovered that she had been raped and had a fractured skull.
Chapter 4 – Tammy Williams
Things remained quiet for Michael as he lived in fear that his rape and murder would catch up to him. It wasn’t until January 5th, 1982 when the next young woman would go missing. Tammy Williams, 17, of Brooklyn, CT was a normal teenager who liked to hang out with her friends and listen to music. She loved to travel and had lived in the American Samoa and Hawaii with her mother and step-father. Missing her friends, she moved back to Connecticut to be with her father when she was 14. On this day, Michael spotted the young teen walking home from her boyfriend’s house. He pulled his car to the side of the road, kidnapped her and drove to a secluded area. What would now become his M.O., Ross tied her hands behind her back and told her to lay on her stomach with a promise that he would leave. He didn’t. Ross savagely raped her. Tammy knew her attacker and she didn’t live far from Ross. She attended the same high school and would often take short-cuts through his family farm.
Straddling her back, he wrapped his hands around her neck and strangled her to death. Her body was found 2 years later in a swamp off of Route 6 in Brooklyn, CT, under a pile of rocks, an area her family had searched repeatedly.
Chapter 5 – Paula Perrera
March of 1982 found Michael travelling again to Cornell to visit his girlfriend when fate struck 16-year-old Paula Perrera, an adventurous teen who was trusting to a fault. She was loved by many as she was so full of life, carefree and would lend an ear to anyone who needed it. Her adventures would lead her to hitchhiking and she would tell tall tales of all the wonderful people she had met. Concerned, her friends would urge her not to tale such a risk, but as she would say “I wouldn’t take rides from anyone creepy”. Paula and Michael crossed paths as he was heading back to Connecticut. She had called a friend to pick her up from her culinary class, and when they couldn’t, she decided to hitch hike. The petite, 5’ aspiring chef found a ride with Michael Ross and would soon be dragged into a wooded area where he would beat, rape and strangle her with his bare hands. Ross then proceeded onto I-84 back to Connecticut as if nothing happened. Paula was found 2 weeks later along the side of the road.
Chapter 6 – Debra Taylor
23-year-old Debra Taylor of Griswold, CT loved Elvis Pressley and took great pride in being an aunt, as she would often baby-sit and dote on them excessively. She was travelling with her estranged husband when their car ran out of gas near the town of Danielson on June 15th, 1982. An argument ensued and they decided to split in each direction to try and find a gas station. She was last seen by a witness sitting on a park bench. Ross, presumably seeing the vulnerable woman, again pulled to the side of the road and offered her a ride. As with the others, he tied her up and raped her with the promise of letting her go. Her skeletal remains were found 3 months later. Her loved ones still take solace in listening to her old records, as her sister once stated, "Those songs, hearing them, bring her to me."
In August of 1982, Ross has to travel to Ohio to serve a six-month prison term for an assault he committed in April. For the time being, the women of the Quiet Corner are safe. In December of that year, Ross is released and returns to CT. He accepts a job as an insurance agent and according to his co-workers at the time, Ross is young, unassuming and a rising star in the industry.
His thirst for sexual deviance wouldn’t remain dormant for long.
Chapter 7 – Robin Stavinsky
His spree picks up on November 19th, when he picked up 19-year-old Robin Stavinsky, originally from Columbia, CT. She had recently moved to Norwich, CT and was in the process of saving money to go to college. Robin was an athletic woman, excelling in every sport she participated in. According to a story from the Hartford Current, Robin was given the nickname Hulk by her male classmates, in reference to her muscular physique. She was last seen by her co-workers and it is presumed that she had tried to find a ride home by hitchhiking. She was found by a jogger a week later, Thanksgiving Day, covered in leaves, sodomized and strangled on the grounds of the Uncas-On-The-Thames Hospital.
Chapter 8 – April Brunais and Leslie Shelley
14-year-old best friends April Brunais and Leslie Shelley shared a bond stronger than most teenagers do. First meeting when they were 6 years old when April’s family moved in 3 houses down the street. They did everything together and had even drawn up fake adoption letters so they could become sisters. April, being 6 months older, was a Freshman while Leslie was still in 8th grade. That didn’t interfere with their sisterhood, however. They’d still find each other after school and go for walks, play pranks on each other and talk about boys. On Easter Sunday, April 22nd, 1984, after both April and Leslie had attended a church service and baby-sat for Leslie’s younger siblings, they begged their parents to go to the local theater to catch a movie. They agreed. With the movie over, Leslie called her father, as was required by all of the Shelley children, to let him know that they had a ride and would be home soon. For reasons unknown, they chose not to call for another ride and opted to walk the 3 miles back to their house. It was during this walk that Ross seen the two young girls and offer them a ride. While this theory was heavily disputed amongst many investigating this case, the official record states they would soon find themselves just over the border into Rhode Island at a place called Beach Pond:
ROSS: “I picked them up, they wanted me to drop them off, one of them pulled a knife on me, like a kitchen knife type thing. I almost drove off the road I was so surprised. (Laughs) I don’t know what I said but I said something and she gave the knife to me. (Laughs again) I obviously scared her. Anyway, I took them to a place, tied them up with some cloth I had in the back seat. Put the younger girl, Leslie Shelley, into the trunk of the car and I took the other girl out, April Brunais, and I raped her and killed her and then put her in the front seat.”
Ross would later state, as he was raping and strangling April, he could hear Leslie from the trunk of his car offering words of support for her friend, telling her everything would be ok. With his sadistic appetite satisfied, he turned to Leslie. He would apologize to her for what he was about to do and then, in the same fashion as the others, he told her to lay on her stomach and strangled her to death.
ROSS: “Well, the smallest one, Leslie Shelley, has always bothered me more than the others. I think it was because she was so small, I think it was because she was so cooperative, and I think because of the way she was killed was so close to the fantasy. That one was like it was a fantasy.”
Leslie Shelley was the only victim that Ross didn’t rape. Their bodies were placed in a stream in Preston, CT and covered with rocks.
Chapter 9 – Wendy Baribeault
Wendy Baribeault, 17 of Lisbon, CT had a love of movies and music. She would often sit in on jam sessions with a local band. She was loved by all of her classmates at Norwich Free Academy and was described as caring, sensitive and full of life. After leaving a note in the kitchen to let her parents know she was walking to the local convenience store. Wendy was last seen June 13th, 1984 walking along Route 12 in Lisbon. Ross was heading home when he saw Wendy. He pulled to the side of the road and walked with her for a bit, asking her if she would like to attend a company picnic with him. When there was a lull in the amount of traffic that was passing by, Ross made his move.
ROSS: “I was supposed to be working with a colleague that day, he called in sick that afternoon and we were supposed to do cold calls, knocking on doors, sales. He called and said he didn’t want to do it, so I stopped at the printing shop and picked up some supplies. I was on my way home, it was 3:30 in the afternoon on a fairly well driven road. She (Wendy) was walking along the side of the road, I just stopped the car, got out of the car and I raped her and I killed her. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t a nice rape. Not that there is a such thing as a nice rape.”
Ross was to go on and say that when he strangled Wendy, he used so much force that his fingers cramped up. He had to release and stretch his fingers and do it again. When he released again, Wendy was still alive, barely, but she was a fighter. Ross had to attempt a third time in order to complete his evil wrath.
ROSS (bragging): “The medical examiner found bruises around the neck. There were three bruises on each side from the fingers and that’s unusual he said. In his experience, he said he’s never seen that before. In a normal strangulation, because your hands cramp up, you don’t strangle as quickly as they do on TV. On TV, you strangle a guy and 15 seconds later he’s dead. In most strangulations, there’s multiple…where you move your hands around. in this case, there were three. He (medical examiner) made a comment that he’s never seen that before and it was like an insane…I’m pretty sure that was the word he used…an insane strength (laughs). I got a kick out of it because the prosecutor had no idea that was coming. (Laughs harder)”
He dragged Wendy’s lifeless body to the corner of an old stone wall and concealed her within the base of the wall.
The rape and murder of Wendy Baribeault would prove to be his last. Because of the high profile location along Route 12 where he decided to take Wendy, the following days were flooded with witness statements. People claimed to see a slender white male following behind a young woman matching Wendy’s description. Other’s reported seeing a blue Toyota parked on the side of the road. Police, believing that the killer was a local and familiar with the area, began a DMV search for this vehicle. The results came back with 2500 vehicles that fit the description. Eventually, detectives arrived on Ross’ doorstep. After agreeing with the detectives to go with them to the makeshift police command post at the Lisbon Town Hall, Ross admitted to killing Wendy. Over the next 2 days he would lead police to the locations of Tammy Williams, April Brunias and Leslie Shelley. He would admit that he would return to these sites and masturbate. With that, Michael Ross was officially arrested for murder.
Chapter 10 – Conviction, Sentencing and Controversy
To the torment of the victim’s families, the story of Michael Ross would continue another 21 years. He would plead no contest to the murders of Tammy Williams and Debra Taylor and receive the maximum 120 years for each. He was then convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Robin Stavinsky, April Brunais, Leslie Shelley and Wendy Baribeault. He is later convicted and sentenced to 25 years in the State of NY for the rape and murder of Paula Peters. Even though Ross had later confessed to the rape and murder of Dzung Ngoc Tu, Prosecutors in NY never charged him.
His story also involves stalking, sexual assaults and attempted murder Besides Connecticut, His span would reach the states of New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois.
In 1981, while in North Carolina for his first job after Cornell, he came across a young woman and her baby.
ROSS: “I saw this woman walking along the road with a stroller. I pulled off to the side of the road, she came up to the driveway, I walked up the driveway, I was behind the house. She saw me and I grabbed her. I told her that if she didn’t do what I asked her I would smash the baby’s head against the wall of the house. I raped her, strangled her. I left her for dead. The only reason she’s not dead has nothing to do with me.”
After his arrest for the murders in Connecticut in 1984, Ross would be charged for her rape and attempted murder. There was another instance where he was accused of rape in Plainfield, CT in 1983, but police did not have sufficient evidence to arrest him. His accuser, in a strange and Macabre plot twist, would come forward to petition the state to spare his life. While in prison, his sadistic obsessions didn’t subside.
ROSS: “My biggest thrill, sexually, is from thoughts of actually strangling a woman. When I first came up here (death row), I would re-live the murders, the young girls that I killed. I would re-live them multiple times a day, at least two, three times and on bad days, I would materbate many times a day. I would masterbate to these thoughts to the point where I would have sores on myself.”
This case sparked much debate in the State of Connecticut. There were numerous protests concerning the death penalty after he received his sentence. After years of appeals, petitions and stays of execution, Ross decided to wave his rights and proceed with his date with death.
ROSS: “They got me on Death Row like that’s supposed to be some big punishment. For some of us, death isn’t punishment. Living is the most punishment there is."
Shortly after 2am on May 13th 2005, Michael Ross was strapped down and injected with a lethal concoction. The first medication was injected and he went to sleep. The second relaxed his muscles and the third stopped his heart. Laying before the victim’s friends, family and witnesses, Michael Bruce Ross was dead.
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