Killer on the Road by Ginger Strand
Violence and the American Interstate (Discovering America)

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“Killer on the Road” is a small book that carries a heavy load of unpleasant but important freight.
-NY Times


Starting in the 1950s, Americans eagerly built the planet’s largest public work: the 42,795-mile National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Before the concrete was dry on the new roads, however, a specter began haunting them—the highway killer. He went by many names: the “Hitcher,” the “Freeway Killer,” the “Killer on the Road,” the “I-5 Strangler,” and the “Beltway Sniper.” Some of these criminals were imagined, but many were real. The nation’s murder rate shot up as its expressways were built. America became more violent and more mobile at the same time.

Killer on the Road tells the entwined stories of America’s highways and its highway killers. There’s the hot-rodding juvenile delinquent who led the National Guard on a multistate manhunt; the wannabe highway patrolman who murdered hitchhiking coeds; the record promoter who preyed on “ghetto kids” in a city reshaped by freeways; the nondescript married man who stalked the interstates seeking women with car trouble; and the trucker who delivered death with his cargo. Thudding away behind these grisly crime sprees is the story of the interstates—how they were sold, how they were built, how they reshaped the nation, and how we came to equate them with violence.

Through the stories of highway killers, we see how the “killer on the road,” like the train robber, the gangster, and the mobster, entered the cast of American outlaws, and how the freeway—conceived as a road to utopia—came to be feared as a highway to hell.


About Ginger Strand

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Ginger Strand is the author of Inventing Niagara, a Border’s Original Voices choice, and Flight, a novel. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, including Harper’s, OnEarth, The Believer, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. She grew up mostly in Michigan and now lives in New York City, but spends a lot of time on the road.
Published April 4, 2012 by University of Texas Press. 264 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Professional & Technical, Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Education & Reference, Science & Math. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Killer on the Road
All: 3 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 0

NY Times

Reviewed by Marilyn Stasio on Sep 07 2012

The originality of Strand’s thesis comes from the way she tracks the evolution of these cultural qualms...Each of the chapters in her book concentrates on an infamous highway killer and the particular threat he personified to his generation.

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NY Times

Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Sep 04 2012

“Killer on the Road” is a small book that carries a heavy load of unpleasant but important freight.

Read Full Review of Killer on the Road: Violence ... | See more reviews from NY Times

Los Angeles Review of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Jeremy Lybarger on May 28 2012

Strand is more compelling when she quits the true crime beat to focus instead on the interplay of race and gentrification. "The Cruelest Blow," the book's third chapter, recounts the string of child murders that devastated Atlanta...At least twenty-eight African Americans, ranging in age from seven to twenty-seven, disappeared or were murdered.

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