As always, I’ve been reading books on little-known crime mysteries and serial killers from around the world. In this neverending quest of mine, I came across and excellent book titled The Arkansas Hitchhike Killer – James Waybern “Red” Hall, by Janie Jones.
Hence, this time we travel all the way to beautiful Arkansas, USA, to learn about this fairly little-known, incarnation of evil.
Thank you, Janie, for taking the time to talk to ForenSeek!
Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself!
I was born and raised in Arkansas, and I’m married to a native Arkansan. My husband’s name is Wyatt Jones. He and I met when we were walking our respective dogs, so we share a love of animals. Though I barely remember a time when I didn’t write (poetry, short stories, etc.), I didn’t become a professional writer until I was about 48 years old when I started doing articles for a weekend supplement to our only state-wide newspaper. My first piece was about our little Schnauzer, Sylvie, who was an animal-assisted therapy dog. Dogs and pets in general have been enormously influential in my life. Wyatt and I have written two books together: Hiking Arkansas and Arkansas Curiosities.
In 2006, I began writing true crime articles for AY (About You) Magazine, writing about crimes that, for the most part, took place in Arkansas, though I do wander off occasionally. For example, I wrote about Jack the Ripper because one of the Ripper suspects, Francis Tumblety, once visited Hot Springs, Arkansas.
You’re a writer on the topic of Arkansas. Many of my readers are in Europe and Asia, so in your words: what is the state of Arkansas like? Paint us a little picture, if you will.
Arkansas has a population of a little over 3,000,000 people, and we’re in the part of the United States called the Deep South, where the weather is hot and humid in the summer and mild in the winter. Tourism plays a big part of the state’s economy thanks to its 53,000 square miles of natural splendor. Our two mountain ranges, the Ozarks and the Ouachitas (pronounced Wash-uh-taws), offer lush vegetation, rushing streams, caves, cascading waterfalls, and interesting geological formations.
Bordered by the Mississippi River on the east, the flat Delta region of Arkansas is a land of simple beauty and vast solitude where travelers often see nothing between them and the horizon except crops growing in the rich, fertile soil. Little Rock is the capital, but a favorite resort town is Hot Springs, which is home to the nationally renowned Oaklawn Racetrack, a yearly documentary film festival, a gangster museum, a year-round magic show, many art galleries, two lakes, twenty-six miles of hiking trails, and a row of historical bathhouses that have been restored to their former architectural glory.
How did you first hear about James Waybern Hall?
I was needing a subject to write for AY Magazine, and my friend, Wanda McNinch, suggested I write about Hall, who was better known as “Red” Hall because of his red hair. Wanda grew up in a little town called Enola near Red’s birthplace, and she vaguely remembered hearing about him when she was 10 years old. She could only recall being told that he had killed several people.
I first turned to the Internet for information about him, but his name was nowhere online. Wanda’s cousin, Jackie Anthony, shared his personal remembrances of Red Hall and told me that some old detective magazines had contained articles about the Arkansas murders. I found a man named Patterson Smith who has an extensive collection of books, newspaper articles, and magazine articles about true crime. He provided me with copies of those old detective magazines, and they gave me enough material to write the original 2-part article.
In your words: who was this man?
Red Hall was born in 1921 and was one of ten children born to Samuel Jerome Hall and Eva Lorena Hall. Samuel, a Baptist preacher and farmer, was physically and psychologically abusive toward Red, who started running away from home at an early age. Red hated farming, and the only job he ever liked was driving a taxicab.
He had a habit of taking off and drifting around the United States, even after he married. He could be friendly and likeable, and though he wasn’t well-educated, he was smart in his own way. He was nice looking and smiled a lot. I guess you could say he was disarmingly charming. He married twice, first to a naïve country girl who became the mother of his only child. He was never abusive or violent with her, but his second wife, Fayrene “Fay,” wasn’t as lucky. He beat her to death with his bare hands and told everyone she had left him and gone to California, a story her family didn’t believe. They went to the authorities and reported her missing.
What do you think triggered his killing urge?
No one will ever know, but a head injury at the age of thirteen may have played a part in the development of his dark side. When the head injury happened, he was unconscious for “an hour or so,” according to his father. He was sick for several days and didn’t recover for two or three weeks. People who knew him said he was never the same. He started flying into rages for no apparent reason. He also exhibited physical signs of a neurological problem, such as an unusual way of walking, always leading with his left side.
He didn’t really have a motive to kill. He just seemed compelled to do it. He certainly didn’t murder for money because he rarely came away with more than a few dollars. Red himself couldn’t explain his reasoning. He once tapped his head and said, “Something seemed to snap up here long ago.”
How many victims did he have? Who were the victims?
He confessed to at least twenty-four murders, but he said there were so many, he couldn’t remember them all. He killed 11 in 1938 alone. Many of his victims were motorists who picked him up as he was hitchhiking, hence the title of the book. But those first eleven victims didn’t even own cars. They were a woman he encountered on the streets of Salina, Kansas and ten Mexican migrant farm workers he met on a farm in Arizona where he was employed as a truck driver.
Personally, I think the number of victims is probably closer to 34 than 24 and possibly more than that.
How was he ultimately captured?
After he killed Fayrene, he seemed to unravel. He went on a killing spree across Arkansas beginning in January 1945 when he murdered Carl Hamilton, a barber and bootlegger, in the town of Camden. Red had borrowed a .45 caliber revolver from another taxi driver, Lonnie Blaine, and used that gun to shoot Hamilton. When he returned the gun, Blaine noticed two shots had been fired, and he suspected Red of killing Hamilton, but because he was an ex-con, Blaine was afraid he would be implicated and didn’t say anything. Eventually, one of Blaine’s relatives called the Arkansas State Police and told them about the borrowed gun, and this tip led the cops directly to Hall but not before he killed 3 more motorists.
Do you think the police work on the case was sufficient?
Yes. The Arkansas State Police (ASP) and the Little Rock Police Department (LRPD) did an amazing job and worked well together in a concerted effort to bring Hall’s reign of terror to an end. The ASP worked on the hitchhike-related murders and the LRPD investigated Fay’s disappearance and slaying. Through old-fashioned legwork and forensic evidence, the ASP identified Hall as the killer, but it was a LRPD detective who elicited Red’s confession. Whereas some investigative authorities are territorial when it comes to taking credit for solving a crime, the two law enforcement agencies on the Hall case shared the glory.
Is he still remembered in Arkansas? Is he a kind of “local boogeyman” there still? Also, tell us about your book! Any revelations readers can expect? How did you go about researching and writing it?
About two years after the magazine article, I took a break from writing for AY, and during that time, I decided to write a book about Red Hall. The hardest part of the project was accumulating enough research material. My main sources were old newspaper archives, the transcript from Red’s trial, and interviews with people who had known him personally; they were mostly in their nineties, though one was 100 years old. They were the only people who remembered him.
News coverage of World War II overshadowed his evil deeds and denied him the publicity that most serial killers receive now. Mine is the first book to chronicle his life and crimes. Since the book was released, however, I have heard from a few people who were very young children during Red’s time, and they furnished me with more information, such as the title of a song that was written about Red. It’s called Just Thirteen Steps, and you can listen to it on YouTube. Red is no longer the “boogeyman” he once was.
What are you currently working on?
I would like to write my memoir. I believe in ESP and the paranormal because I have had some strange experiences in my life and the book would include those, as well as touching on my struggles to overcome childhood trauma to get to where I am today.
Where can people keep up with your work?
Anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask about?
I just want to thank you for your interest in my book. I hope readers find it entertaining and informative.
And, finally, my regular questions.
Your top 3 movies?
Only three?! Haha. My husband and I are both movie addicts, and I wish we had a dollar for every movie we’ve seen. But I’ll try. Cat Ballou, The Last of the Mohicans, and any Robert Redford movie (well, almost any).
Your top 3 books?
Peter Ibbetson, The Great Gatsby, and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Your top 3 albums?
It’s hard to choose just 3, but here goes:
#1 is definitely Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee album.
#2 is Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits.
#3 is a tie between two of Leonard Cohen’s albums, I’m Your Man and The Future. I must admit, though, I still enjoy disco, particularly ABBA and Laura Branigan.