The Nomad

Date Published 06.15.06
Criminal profilers say that offenders often strike within their comfort zones. They stalk familiar routes for victims. They dump bodies in places they know well -- the woods where they hunted with Dad, or the abandoned farmland owned by the family of an ex-girlfriend. Even the most cold-blooded psychopaths stay close to home.

Investigators rely on this instinct in human nature to catch suspects. Geographic profiling, a relatively new subset of criminal profiling, uses sophisticated software to focus on the probable location of a criminal’s home. In a serial rape case in Ontario, Canada in 1998 investigators had to sort through over 300 suspects. Geographic profilers were able to narrow the probable offender’s residence to an area 0.03 square miles. A DNA match, combined with geographic profiling, resulted in a quick arrest.

But what if a killer has no sense of home? What if he only has a truck and a relentless fever to drive wherever the road takes him? Maps detailing serial crimes will take the shape of a triangle or circle; the points on the nomad’s map are as random as darts on a board.

Jerry Buck Inman was one such nomad. His mother, with whom he occasionally lived, is quoted in South Carolina’s The Greenville News as saying Inman “just takes off and is gone a couple of days.” But it wasn’t old stomping grounds Inman sought on his drives. He didn’t have old stomping grounds. He went to prison at 17 for rape and kidnapping and was released last September, at 35. It wasn’t new sights, either. For Inman the expanse of the open road meant only one thing: more victims to hunt. His only compass was the one that pointed to a pretty girl.

In May, one of Inman’s sudden, random road trips took him from his mother’s house in Dandridge, Tennessee to Central, South Carolina, some 100 miles southeast. He stopped in Central by chance. It was the misfortune of 20 year-old Clemson University student Tiffany Souers that she happened to cross Inman’s line of vision, and he took his foot off the gas and slowed down.

Inman waited hours until he thought Souers was asleep, then crept into her apartment, bound and sexually assaulted her, and strangled her with her bikini top. Profilers and pundits guessed Souers’ murder was a personal crime. She knew her killer, they said. They were wrong. Inman didn’t know Souers. He didn’t even know where he had murdered her. Inman would later tell authorities he hadn’t realized he’d driven as far as South Carolina.

Unfortunately, geographic profiling doesn’t account for killers like Inman. They will never commit crimes that form perfect circles or triangles on a map. They don’t strike close to home because they don’t have a sense of home. They’re the most difficult kind of offenders to track: they have no comfort zones.

DNA caught Inman. He seemed remorseful enough. He confessed to the crime and admitted he was a “sick animal.” But Inman swore the Souers’ murder was his only crime. Authorities weren’t so sure. They asked him about the home invasion and attempted rape of a woman in Rainsville, Alabama on May 23rd, three days before Souers’ murder. In that case, the suspect found a crawl space and cut his into the house through a vent in the floor.

Inman confessed to the crime. But that was it for him, he said, absolutely all he'd done. Okay, but what about the rape of a woman in Sevierville, Tennessee on May 22nd? Inman fit the description perfectly. Faced with mounting evidence, Inman grudgingly confessed. Stunned, authorities were now scrambling for their cold case files. But I've told you everything, Inman promised, there's nothing more. No one believed him.

All of which raises the question: how much driving did Jerry Buck Inman do?

Of particular interest to True Crime Diary is the disappearance of 24-year-old Jennifer Kesse from Orlando, Florida. Kesse vanished on January 24, 2006 from her condominium complex. Her black Chevy Malibu was found about a mile from her home, and police say they have evidence she wasn’t the last one to drive it, though they won’t reveal what that evidence is. Kesse’s condominium complex was undergoing construction at the time, and she specifically mentioned to family and friends she had been made uneasy by some of the laborers working there. The best clue police have is a “person of interest” captured on security tape walking away from Kesse’s car just after it was abandoned in a nearby parking lot. Orlando police appear certain this person has some connection to Kesse’s disappearance. Unfortunately, the frames of security video, despite enhancement from the FBI, are grainy, and the person’s face is obstructed. All authorities know is that he or she is between 5’3” and 5’5” tall.

Why should authorities question Jerry Inman about the disappearance of Jennifer Kesse?

1) Inman was released from a Florida prison on September 1, 2005. He told authorities that he spent the next nine months driving around the Katrina-ravaged south looking for construction jobs.

2) Jennifer Kesse fits Inman’s victim type. Compare her picture to Tiffany Souers.

Jennifer Kesse

Tiffany Souers

3) In the Alabama case Inman stole the woman’s car and then abandoned it nearby.

4) Curiously, on February 28th Inman’s own car was found burned off a county road about 45 miles northwest of Birmingham, Alabama. He told authorities that his car caught fire and he hitchhiked home to his mother’s house. But the car was found off a county road, not an interstate, which suggested he was not just passing through. Did he have evidence he needed to burn?

5) Inman's victims describe a suspect around 5'7" and 160, somewhat taller than the person of interest in the Kesse case, but similarly slight.

6) The person of interest in the Kesse case is widely believed to be wearing a hat or something around his head. Inman was known to wear bandanas wrapped around his bald head.

Inman caught on ATM camera with bandana over his face

Jerry Inman may or may not be responsible for the disappearance of Jennifer Kesse, but he definitely needs to be looked at in her case in addition to other unsolved crimes across the southeast. A man who's captured and then quickly connected to three separate crimes in two states is most likely hiding a slew of other offenses.

From September 1, 2005 until June 7, when he was caught, a self-described "sick animal" roamed the country. He wasn't visiting old neighborhoods or seeking out old friends. He lacked curiousity about the unfolding countryside and quirks of American culture. He wasn't even aware of state lines. Jerry Buck Inman is a subversion of the rugged American exhilirating in the freedom of the open road. He was a nomad without a map, charged by the thrill of the hunt. We know he drove, random, determined drives, now we need to know where he slowed down and stopped, and who he left in his wake.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.