A Woman Turned in Her Neighbour, Turned Out He was a Serial Killer
Joan Rogers and her two daughters were murdered while on vacation in Florida. The key piece of evidence in their cold case was a handwritten direction.
On May 26, 1989, Joan Rogers decided to take her two teenage daughters on a little vacation. Joan, thirty-six, Michelle, seventeen, and Christe, 14, left their dairy farm in Willshire, Ohio, favouring Florida’s sun and warmth. This was the first time Joan had made such a long drive, leaving her home state familiarity in the rearview mirror.
The women took their time, stopping at several tourist destinations such as the Jacksonville Zoo, the Kennedy Space Center, and of course, Disney World.
They had meant to begin the drive back home on June 1, but Joan got lost and decided to tack on an extra day on to the vacation instead of trying to make the drive at night. They stopped at a hotel in Tampa, Florida, checking in at 12:30 pm.
They settled into the hotel room, and witnesses saw them at the hotel’s restaurant at 7:30 pm. After dinner, the women loaded into the family car and left the hotel property.
When the women failed to return home that weekend, Hal Rogers, Joan’s husband and the girl’s father, reported them missing. The subsequent investigation revealed the reason for the impromptu trip. It had become known in the community that Michelle was the victim of abuse at her uncle’s hands. The charges had recently been dropped due to Michelle’s reluctance to testify. Joan had decided a trip was necessary to get away from the gossip.
On June 8, the hotel staff had alerted management that the Rogers family’s room had not been touched since they had checked in. Their beds hadn’t been slept in, but their belongings were still in the room. The manager of the hotel called the police.
Police made a grisly connection. Four days prior, they had retrieved the bodies of three young women from the St. Petersburg pier. The warm Florida waters had accelerated decomposition, so it had been hard to identify the women. The police took fingerprints from the room, and the bodies and police confirmed that someone had murdered Joan, Michelle, and Christe.
All three were naked from the waist down and had been assaulted. Their hands tied behind their backs, and they had ropes tied around their necks with cinder blocks weighing them down. The autopsy revealed they had water in their lungs, meaning they were alive when pushed into the water. Michelle had been able to release one of her hands from the bindings but couldn’t detach herself from the bindings around her neck.
Joan’s car was found by the Courtney Campbell Causeway, untouched, and gave little clues as to what happened to the three. The most significant clue police had was a brochure with handwritten directions on it, in handwriting that was unfamiliar to Hal, and a set of fingerprints that didn’t match any of the women. In Joan’s handwriting, she described a blue and white boat next to the directions.
Investigators concluded that the three had died the same night they checked into the Tampa hotel. Tips flooded the Tampa Police Department. It took years to run down every tip. One prominent lead was a sexual assault victim that had come forward with her story.
Two weeks before the Rogers’ murderers, a twenty-four-year-old woman said that a man offered to give her a sunset tour of the Tampa coastline. The man attacked and assaulted her, then refused to bring her to shore. She told police she was sure he had intended to kill her on the water when she informed him that her friend was waiting for her at the docks. It was only then that he brought her back.
The woman never went to the police. She only came forward when she heard of the murders. She described her attacker and stated the man had introduced himself as Dave Proser. She also said the man had said he was in the aluminum-siding contracting business.
Police took the handwriting sample, the boat description and posted it on billboards in the area in July of 1992. Hoping someone might recognize the handwriting. It didn’t take long for a woman to call with a work order their neighbour had written.
This led investigators to Oba Chandler. A forty-five-year-old man who was a local to the Tampa area. Once identified as a suspect, it didn’t take long for investigators to assemble a damning case. Chandler’s fingerprints had been on the brochure, as well as a full palm print on the hood of the Rogers’ car. Chandler had ties to Ohio and had likely used that to leverage trust with Joan.
Police were able to determine that shortly after the police sketch from the rape victim began circulating, Chandler moved from Tampa. He also sold his blue and white boat. When police interviewed the buyer of that boat, he stated that he remembered seeing a stack of cinder blocks at Chandler’s home. At the time of the Rogers’ murders, he had also worked as an aluminum building contractor.
Chandler had also told his daughter that he couldn’t go back to Florida because he was wanted for murdering three women. His son in law also stated that Chandler boasted about raping and killing women.
On September 24, 1992, police arrested Chandler. He was charged with the rape and murder of the three Rogers’ women and the rape of the surviving victim. Despite the advice of his attorneys, Chandler opted to defend himself in the trial.
Chandler hadn’t been a stranger to the inside of a courtroom. He had been convicted previously with theft, loitering, prowling, burglary, kidnapping and armed robbery. We saw almost this exact progression with the Golden State Killer.
He said that he had met Rogers’ women in his testimony and had offered them directions but didn’t see them afterwards. His defence was that he was stuck on the water all night with a gas line leak. He claimed to have fixed it with duct tape in the early morning hours and could get back to shore unassisted.
A mechanic boat expert who testified on behalf of the prosecution argued that Chandler wouldn’t have been able to fix such a leak with duct tape, as the gasoline would have dissolved the adhesive in the tape. They also sighted that the engine showed no signs of damage or repair.
The evidence was damning, and ultimately Chandler was found guilty and sentenced to death on November 4, 1994. He was executed on November 15, 2011.
Profilers were sure that Chandler had other murder victims. It would take someone with great confidence to abduct and murder three women; Confidence that could only come from practice. In 2014, they got that confirmation when DNA evidence connected him to the 1990 murder of Ivelisse Berrios-Beguerisse, who had been raped and murdered in Coral Springs, Florida.
With a fourth murder, this now confirmed that Oba Chandler was a serial killer. Cold case investigators are currently looking into other cold cases that occurred in areas Chandler resided in.
One of Chandler’s daughters said that her father “was a monster and got what he deserved.” In his seventeen years on death row, he never had one visitor. He was described as the loneliest man on death row.