Smooth Operator

UPDATED 12/04/1995 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 12/04/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

HE WAS, IF NOTHING ELSE, IMPECCABLY put together. Always dressed neatly in pressed jeans and a long-sleeve collared shirt, Glen Rogers wore cowboy boots that matched his belt, which was invariably clasped with a handsome buckle. His beard was perfectly trimmed—the better, it seemed, to set off a pair of piercing green eyes. And it was obvious that he applied generous amounts of spray to his long, blond hair. "You could tell," says Rein Keener, 24, a bartender at McRed's in Van Nuys, Calif., "because when he moved his head, all of his hair moved in the same direction."

Rogers, 33, also spoke with a courtly southern accent. He was a charmer and he knew it. One night, when Rogers was listening to the jukebox, Keener asked him if he liked country music. "Yeah," he said, "and beautiful women." She had to smile. Once, he brought her a bouquet of peach-colored roses.

On Sept. 28, around 10 p.m., Rogers asked Keener if he could have a ride home. He'd walked the mile from his apartment to McRed's, he said, because he didn't like to drink and drive. Keener agreed, since, after all, Rogers had become a regular customer. Flashing a roll of bills, he would often buy rounds of drinks for the house. On this evening, Keener, a student at Pasadena City College, had her car keys in hand and was heading out the door with Rogers when an acquaintance called her over for a last game of darts. Suddenly, standing there playing while Rogers waited for her to finish, she had a feeling that something was wrong. "I'm a petite woman, and he's a really large man," she thought. "Anything could happen." She told Rogers that she was sorry but she had changed her mind about the ride. Furious, he yelled at her and stalked away.

Keener scarcely thought about the incident until a few days later when L.A. homicide detectives visited her and showed her a picture of a woman. It was Sandra Gallagher, 33, who had been at McRed's and who had been found strangled to death in her burning pickup the morning after Keener's blowup with Rogers. In that instant, Keener was sure she knew who was responsible. For the next six weeks, until Rogers was captured following a high-speed car chase through rural Kentucky on Nov. 13, Keener would keep a .38 strapped to her waist for protection. During that time, Rogers would allegedly become if not one of the most prolific serial killers in the nation's history, one of its most insidiously frightening. He is believed to have disarmed his female victims with his charm, then cut them down—four in all—one after another.

To many in Rogers's hometown of Hamilton, Ohio, the bloody turn of events was not entirely surprising. One of at least seven children of Claude Rogers, a paper-company worker, and his wife, Edna, Glen had been raised in the blue-collar town 30 miles north of Cincinnati and lived there until the early '80s. His first real brush with trouble came when he was thrown out of school in ninth grade for reasons that have not been disclosed. Eventually he began to run up an extensive police record, including arrests for forgery and disorderly conduct and dealing in stolen goods. Aside from construction jobs, his only steady employment was as a cab driver. His colleagues at the cab company recall him as a drinker and drug user.

Police in Hamilton acknowledge that Rogers did little jail time for his crimes, partly because he had mastered the art of conning authorities. "He knows how to talk his way out of trouble," says Hamilton police detective Dan Pratt. "He knows the legal system." (Rogers was the first collar Pratt made as a rookie cop, back in 1987, on charges of breaking and entering.) Like any professional criminal, says Pratt, "Rogers never admits he's guilty."

Shortly after Rogers left junior high school, his teenage girlfriend Debi Ann Nix became pregnant. Their first child, Clinton, was born in 1979, and they were married a year later. A second son, Jonathan, was born in 1981. Around that time, Rogers headed to California with the boys, and later Nix, following him. In 1983 he and Nix were divorced; her whereabouts, as well as that of Clinton and Jonathan, are unknown.

After leaving Hamilton, Rogers continued to visit from time to time, sometimes staying with his widowed mother. Though they have never been able to prove it, police strongly suspect that Rogers may also have committed a murder on one of his return trips to town. The victim was Mark Peters, a 71-year-old retired electrician who had once shared a house with Rogers. Peters's badly decomposed body was found in January 1994 at a cabin near Beattyville, Ky., belonging to the Rogers family. Because of the lack of physical evidence linking him to the killing—authorities could not even determine the cause of death—Rogers was never charged. His step-niece Lynn Clontz, for one, doesn't believe he had anything to do with Peters's death—or any other. "Stealing a VCR, for example, is a far cry from being a serial killer," she says. "That's a big line to cross, and I don't see him crossing it."

Police see things differently. Somehow four women Rogers encountered over the course of six weeks ended up brutally murdered. (Police in California and elsewhere are also looking at past unsolved murders to see if he might be a suspect.) Rogers—who had been living in L.A. for about 18 months and supporting himself by doing construction and maintenance jobs—apparently zeroed in on Sandra Gallagher after Keener's rejection. Gallagher, a divorced mother of three, was in the bar to celebrate winning $1,250 in the state lottery. When Rogers first approached her that night, she brushed him off. Later, however, she became more amenable and eventually sat chatting at his table. At 1:30 a.m. she apparently agreed to give him a lift home. A few hours later her burning truck, with her body inside, was found in a nearby parking lot. "I know that was supposed to be me," says Keener. "It was going to be my night."

It took the L.A. police several days to get a lead on Rogers. By that time he had already boarded a Greyhound bus and headed east. Arriving in Jackson, Miss., around Oct. 1, Rogers moved into the local Holiday Inn. On Oct. 14 he was at the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson when he met Linda Price, 34, a single mother of two. For Price, at least, it was love at first sight. "Linda's eyes lit up when she talked about him, like she'd never talked about anybody in her life," her mother, Carol Wingate, later told a reporter. Wingate had no trouble seeing Rogers's appeal. "You don't say a man is beautiful, but he is beautiful," said Wingate. "And charm? That isn't the word. He hugged me and told me, 'You're the prettiest mother and grandmother I've ever seen.' He made me feel so good." A few weeks later, though, Wingate was unable to reach her daughter on the phone. On Nov. 3, Jackson police found Linda dead in an apartment she had just taken with Rogers. She had been stabbed four times in the back and chest, and her throat had been cut.

On Nov. 4, Rogers arrived by Greyhound in Tampa and registered at a local motel. The next afternoon he was sitting in the Showtown bar in the Tampa suburb of Gibsonton, where he had once worked for a carnival, when Tina Cribbs, 34, walked in with four friends. Cribbs, a divorced mother of two, worked three jobs—as a hotel maid, bookkeeper and short-order cook—to make ends meet. Rogers bought her and her friends a round of drinks. Shortly before 4 p.m. he asked if he could get a lift a mile or so to his car. Cribbs, who was planning to meet her mother, Mary Dicke, for a barbecue, agreed. The last thing she said as she walked out of the bar was, "Tell my mom I'll be right back."

Police surmise that once they were in Cribbs's car, Rogers pulled a gun or a knife. Whatever the case, the manager of the motel where Rogers was staying saw him drive off the next morning in Cribbs's Ford Festiva, leaving a Do Not Disturb sign on the door of his room. A day later, a maid found Cribbs's stabbed, fully-clothed corpse slumped in the tub of his room.

At this point, Rogers drove to Bossier City, La., where he hooked up with Andy Sutton, 37, whom he met in a bar called A Touch of Class. Two days later, Sutton's roommate returned to find her stabbed to death on her waterbed. By then, authorities were broadcasting the fact that Rogers was wanted in connection with several killings and that he preyed on women in bars. His face was on every TV screen and in every newspaper.

His cover blown, Rogers was on the run. Obviously it was going to be difficult now to get close to another victim. "That's his way of power over people," says Dan Pratt. "He isn't the type to abduct somebody and then rape and kill them. He likes to lure them in, sweet-talk them and then commit his crimes." Ultimately he was caught on the outskirts of Richmond, Ky., heading, he said, for his hometown of Hamilton. After his capture, Rogers at first said he was responsible for some 70 murders, then denied that he had ever killed anyone. In a jailhouse telephone interview from Richmond, where he is being held pending extradition proceedings, he declared his innocence and dismissed the police questions about his encounters with women in a way that was as chilling as it was blithe. "I've traveled in bars all over the world," he boasted. "A name doesn't mean anything to me. I've known women all over the world...I have no idea who's who."

BILL HEWITT
FANNIE WEINSTEIN in Hamilton, BETTY CORTINA and JOHN HANNAH in Los Angeles, DON SIDER in Tampa and RON RIDENIIOUR in New Orleans

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