Paul Ezra Rhoades’ murder spree in 1987 was the end of small-town innocence for the residents of eastern Idaho. It was a shift in attitude and reality that never was reversed.
The news coverage around his execution Friday reminded me of how we learned that Idaho is as vulnerable to criminal killers as anywhere in the world.
I was a reporter for the Idaho Falls Post Register then, and watched how my neighbors and family were afraid to go outside alone.
Rhoades killed Stacy Baldwin near Blackfoot in late February outside a convenience store, and then Idaho Falls convenience store clerk Nolan Haddon.
That started the tension.
But it wasn’t until Susan Michelbacher was abducted outside the Albertsons store near my home that the fear became universal.
The only comparable experience for me was in 2000, after New York flight attendant Lynn Henneman was found dead in the Boise River along the Greenbelt.
That changed the way many of us felt about our idyllic path.
In eastern Idaho in 1987, the immediate fear subsided when Rhoades was arrested in northern Nevada after six days. But the community had been changed.
The next terror campaign came in 1993, when 11-year-old Jeralee Underwood, a Pocatello newspaper carrier, was abducted from a city street by serial killer James Edward Wood as she collected from her customers. The girl later was found dead along the Snake River in Idaho Falls.
From the day of her abduction on June 29 to his arrest July 6, all of eastern Idaho was trapped in Wood’s web of terror.
He was convicted and sentenced to die for the crime. He died in prison in 2004, preventing the spectacle that we have shared around Rhoades’ execution.
Sometimes, the violent crime came disturbingly close to home.
Angie Dodge, a lovely young woman who worked with my wife, Tina, at Barnes & Noble in Idaho Falls, was brutally stabbed to death and raped in 1996.
She was the first person I knew who was murdered. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the last.
Christopher Tapp is serving a life sentence for her murder, but many still think others were involved.
In his final words Friday morning, Rhoades’ claim of no responsibility for the deaths of Baldwin and Haddon was unconvincing to those involved in the investigation and their families.
That’s not going to resurrect the fears of 1987. But it’s a reminder that predators like Rhoades live among us awaiting their opportunities like wolves around a band of sheep.