Wallace preyed on lower economic-class Black women between 17 and 35 years old. He knew most of his victims, some through his job at Taco Bell, and gained their trust with his friendly demeanor and gentle nature—concealing a monster fueled by drug abuse and rage against women.
A rarity in that he was an African American serial killer, his murderous rampage spurred controversy throughout the city. Community members accused local police of ignoring the murders because of the victims' race. Wallace attended the funerals of many of his victims and offered condolences to families. The ensuing investigation became the largest in North Carolina’s history.
Wallace was eventually found guilty and convicted of nine counts of murder, but he admitted to more killings while incarcerated; he is potentially responsible for anywhere from 20 to 90 deaths of Black women. Wallace continues to appeal and awaits his execution at Central Prison in Raleigh.
BAD HENRY: The Murderous Rampage of ‘The Taco Bell Strangler’ by Ron Chepesiuk offers valuable insight into the psychology of serial killers and sheds light on issues surrounding race and policing.
From the Book
Letter to the Killer
“Dear Killer: I am the mother of Shawna Denise Hawk. I am writing to you because you murdered my only daughter in our home on February 19, 1993, between the hours of 1 pm and 5 pm. It is so hard to believe that an entire year has gone by since that horrible Friday evening when Shawna’s dead body was discovered in the bathtub where you put her. I do not hate you. What purpose would that serve? I do want you to come forth and confess to the horrible atrocity you have committed.” –Dee Sumpter
Shawna Hawk’s Murder
About 5 pm that day, Sumpter phoned Kirkpatrick and asked him if he had talked with Shawna. “Yeah, I talked with her earlier that day,” Kirkpatrick revealed.
“I’m kind of worried,” Sumpter said. “Her car is not here, but her stuff is. Her coat and purse are in a closet. It’s cold outside. She never goes anywhere without her purse. I looked through Shawna’s purse and noticed that her keys were not there. I think some money is missing, too.”
Kirkpatrick felt helpless. He tried to reassure Sumpter. “She’ll be back. Don’t worry.” Sumpter called Kirkpatrick again around 8 pm that night, frantic. Where is Shawna? Sumpter wanted to know. Kirkpatrick told her he would come right over.
When Kirkpatrick came over, they decided to look systematically through each room in the house.” I was kind of worried, but I didn’t let on, ”Kirkpatrick revealed. “I was trying to keep Dee calm. I looked all around the house, even under Shawna’s bed, but found nothing. I really didn’t know what we were looking for. We eventually stopped looking and went into the living room and watched television. Dee was real upset. I felt helpless. I told her we should call the police. Dee agreed. We thought about filing a missing person; report, but when we called the police, they said it hadn’t been twenty-four hours, so there was nothing much they could do. So we were sitting there, nervous, anxious. Then for some reason I got up and walked into the downstairs bathroom. ”
Kirkpatrick looked around. He noticed that the carpeting was soaked, and when he went into the bathroom, he noticed that the shower curtain was not tucked in place. Through the translucency of the curtain, Kirkpatrick thought he could see something or someone crouched behind the wall of the tub.
He pulled the shower curtain back. There was Shawna in the bathtub, curled up and completely submerged in water. “I screamed and ran back to Dee,” Kirkpatrick explained. “All I could say was: “Call the cops! Call the cops! “
Sumpter, called the police. She was hysterical. When the police arrived Sumpter was standing in the yard screaming. Kirkpatrick came out of the house, screaming, “Please hurry. You’ve got to do something. She is in the bathroom. ”
Kirkpatrick led the officer into the house and to the bathroom. The dark blue shower curtain was closed completely. Kirkpatrick pulled back the curtain, so the officer could look inside the tub. Shawna was lying on her right side. Her knees were drawn up. She was in a semi fetal position. Shawna’s head was totally under the water. She was fully clothed: She wore a plain, shirt, black togging type pants and blue tennis shoes.
The fire department arrived and took Shawna out of the tub and laid her out in the hallway. The medics tried CPR on Shawna in desperate effort to save her. Mother Dee cried and prayed that they would save Shawna.
Vanessa Mack’s Murder
Wallace’s crack habit was getting worse, and he needed money to support his habit. Wallace later admitted that he had every intention of robbing and murdering Mack. Wallace wanted to be sure she was home, so he called her, and when she answered, he hung up. When Wallace arrived at her apartment, He made another phone call to Mack. She answered Wallace’s call. Wallace hung up again. He now knew she was home.
Wallace then walked up to her apartment and knocked on the door. Mack did not answer. He went back to the pay phone, and called Vanessa again. She answered.
Wallace asked: “why don’t you answer your door?”
“Is that Henry?” she responded.
Wallace replied, “Yeah.”
Mack told Wallace she would let him in the back door. He said he would be there in a couple of minutes. After letting Wallace in, they chatted for a while, especially about Mack’s youngest daughter. Mack admonished Wallace for not coming by more often. Wallace told her she needed get some security because she was a female living alone. Mack said she might do that, now that she got her tax return back. It was for a sum of two thousand dollars. All the while, as they chatted, Wallace was trying to figure out how he could get her in a position so he could strangle her.
About the Author
Ron Chepesiuk is an author, screenwriter, producer, director, ghost writer and crime show radio host. He is the author of 42 books, thousands of articles and several screenplays, as well as the director of three documentaries. He is a Fulbright Scholar to Indonesia and Bangladesh.