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Worse than Ted Bundy? The case of Paul John Knowles

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

Today’s case is another serial killer case. This particular killer has been compared to much more well known ones and may have been even more dangerous — but most people don’t know his name. Let’s talk about Paul John Knowles.

early life

Paul John Knowles was born on April 25, 1946 in Orlando, Florida, into a family that would ultimately include seven people in three rooms. Knowles would say in a later interview that there was a “lack of caring” in his family and that the worst thing to happen to him was just being born. According to Knowles’s brother Clifton, there was physical abuse in the family and if the family had been around today, all the children would have been taken away. And Paul John Knowles did spend some of his youth in foster care.

At some point, he was sent to the Dozier School for Boys. Also known as Florida State School for Boys, this institution in the Florida panhandle sounds like something straight out of a horror story. Lots of boys were sent there for serious crimes, others for things like smoking at school. Out of about 300 boys sent there, 81 of them died on the grounds. Physical abuse, sometimes leading to death, was often alleged as well.

Knowles was arrested for the first time around 1965 when he was 18 or 19. He’d kidnapped a police officer who stopped him after a traffic violation. After this, he drifted around a lot and was frequently in and out of jail, mostly for theft.

This is likely Angela Covic, but it can't be confirmed.

In 1972, while in jail yet again, he met Angela Covic when they became prison pen pals. He told her he was in prison for a drug offense, but it was actually for burglary. Angela was married at the time, but her marriage was rocky and the two quickly started a romantic relationship. They were even planning on getting married — until Angela called the whole relationship off a few years later, when the two met in person. Knowles had gone to Angela’s home state of California to finally meet up…but upon seeing him she claimed he had an “aura of fear.” She put him on a plane back to his native Florida and started working on repairing her marriage.

After his breakup with Angela Covic, Knowles was once again arrested in Florida after stabbing a bartender. He was sent back to jail but, on July 26, 1974, he escaped. This escape would start the crime spree he’s best known for.

1974 murder spree

Knowles’s first known murder victim was a 65-year-old retired schoolteacher named Alice Curtis. The night he escaped, he entered her home, tied her up and went through her things. She ended up chocking to death on her own dentures. Before leaving, Knowles stole some money from her as well as her car. He drove the stolen car for a few days before realizing he had to ditch it because the police were looking for both of them. Alice Curtis’s body was found the next morning by her son. There were no prints found at the scene.

And his spree continued. Let’s talk about his other known victims in the summer and fall of 1974. There are others that are unconfirmed or suspected, but we’ll talk about those later.

(Note: It was hard to find details on some of these murders from reliable sources. I did the best I could, but feel free to contact me privately with any more evidence you have if you believe I made an error.

This also applies to some of the pictures. There are a few I found that I think are the person mentioned but I’m not 100 % sure. I’ll make it clear when those photos show up. There are also victims whose photos I just couldn’t find.)

Marjorie Howe

August 2: Knowles entered the apartment of 49-year-old Marjorie Howe in Atlantic Beach, Florida. It’s not clear if he broke in or if she, for whatever reason, invited him in. He strangled her with a pair of stockings and stole her TV.

August 23: Knowles broke into the home of Kathie Sue Pierce, where she lived with her 3-year-old son. Kathie was strangled with a telephone cord; her son was left unharmed.

William Bates

September 3: Knowles met 32-year-old William Bates in a hotel bar in Lima, Ohio. The two left the bar together. William’s wife reported him missing soon after, and his car was missing as well.

William’s car was soon found at a hotel, and his body was found in October. He had been stripped naked, strangled and dumped in the nearby woods. Knowles ended up driving William’s car to California.

September 18: Campers Emmett and Lois Johnson are killed in Ely, Nevada. Knowles also steals their credit cards and uses them for awhile.

Charlynn Hicks

September 21: Knowles had traveled all the way to Texas at this point, where he raped and murdered a stranded motorist, 42-year-old Charlynn Hicks. He dragged her body through a barbed wire fence, and I believe it was later found in a field.

This is likely Ann Dawson but, again, it's unconfirmed.

September 23: Knowles meets 49-year-old beautician Ann Dawson in Birmingham, Alabama. They travel together for a few days, and she’s never seen or heard from again after this. Her body has never been found, but Knowles reportedly later confessed to killing her and dumping her body in the Mississippi River.

October 16: Knowles made his way up to Connecticut, where he tied up, raped and strangled Karen Wine and her daughter, Dawn, in the town of Marlborough. He also stole a tape recorder from them. He’s still driving William Bates’s car at this point.

Doris Harvey

October 18 or 19: Knowles knocked on the door of 53-year-old Doris Harvey in Woodford, Virginia. When she answered, he went inside, somehow managed to get his hands on her husband’s shotgun and shot her. He then removed his fingerprints from the gun.

After this murder, he made his way back down to Florida and either picked up or kidnapped a couple in Key West. He was later stopped for a traffic violation and, after this, let the couple go. After this, he went to see his lawyer, Sheldon Yavitz, who suggested that he surrender. But Knowles refused. He knew his capture was inevitable and, due to his crimes so far, he figured he would probably be executed. Apparently he wanted to go out fighting.

the Carr murders

And he didn’t even slow down after this. One of his most talked about and gruesome murders occurred on November 7, 1974 in Milledgeville, Georgia. During the night, Knowles broke into the home of Carswell Carr, who was home with his 15-year-old daughter, Mandy. Carr’s wife was out of the house at the time working a night shift.

Now-retired investigating officer James Josey, who worked on the Carr murders, said it was the bloodiest crime scene he’d ever seen. Carr had been stripped naked and stabbed between 25 and 27 times with a pair of scissors and even ended up bleeding through the mattress. However, it’s not clear if his death was a result of the stab wounds or a heart attack. Mandy Carr was strangled with a pair of stockings, and another pair was found stuffed inside her mouth. Both had their hands tied behind their backs.

The inside of the house was a mess; books, mirrors, photographs and even furniture had been thrown around. A lot of things were also missing from the home, including: Most of Carswell’s clothes, credit cards, his briefcase, shaving kit, keys, and a watch and clock that belonged to Mandy. Carswell Carr’s wife found the scene the next morning when she got home from work. An exact time of death couldn’t be determined; it was only known that the murders happened sometime during the night, when she was gone.

Shortly after the murders, a cashier at a store reported that a young man had bought a tape recorder and blank tapes with stolen credit cards. These cards were later confirmed to belong to Carswell Carr.

Sandy Fawkes

In early November, just after the Carr murders, Knowles was in a hotel bar in Atlanta, Georgia where he met reporter Sandy Fawkes. He introduced himself to her as Daryl Golden. Fawkes described him as a “dreamboat” and “a cross between Robert Redford and Ryan O’ Neal.” Their meeting sparked a three day fling; he gave her the watch that had belonged to Mandy Carr and the pair even drove to Miami together, a distance of over 600 miles.

During their brief time together, he asked her if she’d ever consider writing a book about him. The idea seemed crazy to her at the time, I assume because they’d only known each other for a couple of days. He also told her he thought he was going to die within a year because of “something” he’d done. He said the things he’d done would make international news, though he didn’t specify what they were. When news about the Carswell murders came out, she saw him clipping a newspaper article about it, and he told her he had friends in the area.

After he and Sandy Fawkes parted ways, he became friendly with a couple she knew. He allegedly tried to rape the woman, who went to police — but Knowles once again escaped before anything could be done about this.

In 1977, after Fawkes had learned who her former lover really was, she did publish a book about him; Killing Time, which was later re-released as Natural Born Killer. You can get a copy here or here.

Barbara Tucker/Beverly Mabee

After his fling with Sandy Fawkes, Knowles stayed in Florida, giving a woman a ride and holding her at gunpoint. She managed to escape. He abandoned the car he’d been in, and then arrived at the West Palm Beach home of Beverly Mabee and her sister, Barbara Tucker. Barbara’s son was also in the house at the time; I assume he lived there as well.

(Note: Most sources referred to Barbara as Barbara Tucker, but she gave an interview where she was referred to as Barbara Able and said it was her married name. I’m not sure where the name ‘Tucker’ came from.)

Beverly was the only sister home at the time, and Knowles attempted to gain entry inside by posing as an IRS agent named Bob Williams. Beverly didn’t believe him, so he forced his way in, where he tied up both her and Barbara’s son.

Beverly has cerebral palsy, and has trouble doing some things on her own. When Barbara got home from work, she found her sister — as well as her son, who was still young enough to be in school — tied up. Knowles kidnapped Barbara and drove her, in her own car, over 60 miles north to Fort Pierce. They checked into a hotel and, at Knowles’s insistence, posed as a married couple. Knowles left her in the hotel room, and she managed to get free.

Back in West Palm Beach, Beverly and her nephew also escaped their ties, and the latter went to a neighbor’s house, who contacted police. An alert was put out in the area for an armed and dangerous kidnapper.

By this point, police were already on Knowles’s trail, having tracked the stolen credit cards through 37 states. When they interviewed Barbara Tucker, she was able to identify Knowles through photographs.

Police were also able to locate Sandy Fawkes who, of course, was shocked to find out who her former fling really was. She turned Mandy Carr’s stolen watch over to police.

capture/"kill tapes"

Charles Campbell (left) and James Meyer

But police still couldn’t find Knowles. At first, they thought he may be hiding in Jacksonville with family or friends. Then, on November 16, Florida State Trooper Charles Campbell recognized Barbara and Beverly’s stolen Volkswagen in Perry, Florida and pulled Knowles over. Knowles somehow managed to overpower and kidnap Campbell and took both him and a businessman named James Meyer hostage. From there, he drove north toward Georgia.

The next day, Knowles ran a roadblock in Stockbridge, Georgia. The car was wrecked when he drove it into a tree, and from there he set off on foot, making his way into the nearby woods. None of this went unnoticed, of course, and Knowles was wounded in police pursuit of him but managed to get away. His hostages were not with him at the time, but some items belonging to them were found in the car he’d wrecked.

After this, a team of over 200 men, along with dogs and helicopters, set out to look for him. Knowles initially took refuge in an abandoned farmhouse, where he found a shotgun and a few shells. But he couldn’t stay long. He made his way out and tried to take another hostage, hunter David Clark. But Knowles’s new shotgun didn’t work, and Clark was able to use his own gun to keep Knowles from escaping until police arrived.

Knowles was arrested that day and taken to Macon. He was eventually charged with seven counts of murder, though he was suspected in at least 12. As we’ll learn later, he almost certainly killed even more.

Paul John Knowles had been on the run for five months. He drove over 20,000 miles through 25 states, with victims in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Connecticut and Nevada.

And Knowles wasn’t exactly cooperative or warm after his arrest. Said James D. Josey, who handled the Georgia investigation:

“Knowles had the coldest eyes. He could see right through you. He had no qualms about killing.”

After Knowles was arrested, he gave something to his lawyer that isn’t often involved in these cases — tapes. These tapes, often referred to as his “kill tapes,” had been recorded by Knowles throughout his spree and detailed his confessions of killing 16 people. It reminds me a little bit of the movie The Poughkeepsie Tapes, except I’m pretty sure these were just audio recordings and not videos.

Knowles’s lawyer, Sheldon Yavitz, claimed he didn’t listen to the tapes and had no idea what was on them. Police hoped there was something on the tapes that could help them find the still-missing hostages. Yavitz initially refused to hand over the tapes, citing attorney-client privilege. He was jailed for contempt of court and, for some reason I’m not 100 % sure of, his wife was jailed as well. I don’t know if she was helping him or if there was something else going on. Police were eventually able to get their hands on the tapes, though they were later destroyed in a flood.

Knowles also refused to tell police what had happened to his hostages, seeming to enjoy the attention of media members that had gathered outside the police station. At first, investigators thought Campbell and Meyer could still be alive somewhere. But on November 21, their bodies were found in the woods by a hunter. They’d both been handcuffed to a tree and shot in the head, and had been dead since pretty soon after being taken hostage.

Knowles's death

On December 18, Knowles was scheduled to be transferred to a higher security prison. But first, he promised to show police where he’d buried Charles Campbell’s gun. He was driven out to the area he claimed it was in, understandably in handcuffs. On the way, he managed to get his handcuffs off with a paper clip and took the sheriff’s gun. The car was wrecked in the struggle, but Paul John Knowles was ultimately shot and killed by GBI agent Ron Angel.

Ron Angel

Sheldon Yavitz was skeptical of this story and believed Knowles’s death was a straight up execution by police. But the wrecked car was evidence that the shooting was unplanned, at least by police. There was an investigation and Ron Angel’s shooting of Knowles was determined to be self defense.

So Paul John Knowles was dead at the age of 28. He’d killed at least a dozen people, probably more. Some reports even claim he confessed to killing up to 35 people on his so-called “kill tapes.”

other possible victims

But how many other victims could he have had? One source claims Knowles confessed to killing three people on the night Angela Covic broke up with him, but this has never been confirmed. He’s also suspected in the rape and murder of a Jane Doe in Nevada in September of 1974. I couldn’t find any other details about this one.

Edward HIllard

Knowles also might have been responsible for the deaths of Macon hitchhikers Edward Hillard and Debbie Griffin. Edward’s body was found on November 2, 1974. Debbie has either never been found or was found the next year; different sources said different things. I found very little on these murders as well.

There’s also speculation that Knowles was responsible for the murder of a Jane Doe known as Little Miss Panasoffkee. The woman’s body was found on February 19, 1971 in Lake Panasoffkee, in Sumter County, Florida. She’s never been identified, and her case is really interesting if you want to look into it further.

Ima Jean Sanders

Ima Jean was 13 years old when she ran away from her home in Beaumont, Texas on July 4, 1974. From there, she went to live with her mom, stepdad and younger sister in Warner Robins, Georgia. (map from Beaumont to Warner Robins) On August 1, Ima Jean was babysitting her sister, who reportedly saw her get into a van.

Ima Jean wasn’t seen alive again. Her mom initially thought she ran away; she filed a missing persons report, but forgot which agency she filed it with. No missing persons report was ever found for Ima Jean, and it’s presumed to be lost.

Ima Jean’s skeletal remains were found by hikers in 1976 in Peach County, Georgia. According to Wikipedia, part of Warner Robins is in Peach County and the other is in Houston County. I know Wikipedia isn’t the most reliable source, but I think it’s safe to say Ima Jean was found not far from where she had last been seen.

Her body wasn’t identified until 2011, and investigators thought back to Paul John Knowles. A 1975 letter written by then-U.S. attorney Ronald T. Knight says Knowles confessed to picking up a hitchhiker in August 1974. This hitchhiker was a girl who appeared to be in her teens and gave her name as ‘Alma.’ Knowles confessed on his kill tapes to raping and strangling her and leaving her body in the woods. He came back two weeks later to find her badly decomposed body and buried her jawbone, which has never been found. There was also a rumor that Knowles confessed in his “kill tapes” to killing a teenage girl close to Macon, just down the road from Warner Robins.

Ima Jean falls into this age range and location, and the name ‘Alma’ sounds similar to ‘Ima.’ Although it’s never been confirmed, investigators are “reasonably confident” that Ima Jean Sanders was this teenage hitchhiker killed by Knowles.

the Anderson sisters

But perhaps the most well known potential victims of Knowles are the Anderson sisters. Mylette and Annette Anderson disappeared from their home in Jacksonville on August 1, 1974 — not too long after Alice Curtis, Knowles’s first confirmed victim. 11-year-old Annette and 6-year-old Mylette were home alone that night; their dad was at work and their mom was visiting a relative. The timeline is a little fuzzy from here — one source says their mom called the house at 6:30 and everything was fine, but their dad got home around 7 and they were gone. Another source pushes this back to the mom calling around 7 and the dad arriving home at 7:30 to find them gone. But either way, they were never seen again. There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle, and the only material object missing from the house was one of Annette’s dolls. Some of their neighbors also reportedly spotted either a white car or yellow van in the Anderson’s driveway between 6 and 7 pm, but nothing else unusual.

According to the tapes, Knowles abducted and killed two girls who matched the sisters’ description and buried them at the end of a road. He was also reportedly in the area when they went missing.

Annette and Mylette’s bodies have never been found. You can get more information on their case here.

other missing girls

There are also a few other cases of girls going missing in the same area around the same time. I’ve never seen them being explicitly mentioned along with Knowles, but it has been speculated that they’re connected to the Anderson sisters, so I’ll include a little bit about them here.

Virginia Helm was 12 years old when she disappeared on her way to a store on September 27, 1974. Three days later, a girl matching her description was spotted in a red car similar to the one witnesses had seen during the search. Her body was found in a wooded area in the city on October 25 of that year. She’d been shot in the head and partially buried, wearing only a blouse. Her case remains unsolved.

Rebecca Greene was also 12 years old when she also disappeared walking home from a store on October 16, 1974. Her body wasn’t found until 1977, close to Fort George Island in Jacksonville. (The main article I got this information from listed it as ‘Fort Georgia Island.’) I found very little about her case, so I assume her murder is also unsolved.

There’s also the case of Jean Schoen, who disappeared on July 21, 1974. She also disappeared walking home from a store but, according to The Charley Project, she’s not thought to be connected to the Anderson sisters since they disappeared in different parts of the city. Jean’s body has never been found.

why did Knowles kill?

So Paul John Knowles was clearly pretty prolific. But why did he seem to have such bloodlust? Why did he kill so many people so brutally? And why did he kill so randomly, with victims of all ages and genders — unlike most serial killers?

Based on what I’ve read about Knowles, I think it’s safe to say he thought pretty highly of himself. When he first met Sandy Fawkes in an Atlanta bar, he told her about the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book he loved. I admittedly haven’t it, but the title character at the end supposedly becomes somewhat of a Christ figure. Knowles’s father was a carpenter, just like Jesus and his earthly father, Joseph. Knowles also lied about his age to Sandy Fawkes, saying he was 33 — the age Jesus is generally thought to have been when he was crucified.

There’s also been a lot of speculation that Knowles spared both Sandy Fawkes and Barbara Tucker because they worked in the media — Fawkes was a reporter and Tucker worked at a radio station. If they were spared, he might have thought they could one day tell his story and give him the notoriety hewanted. Knowles enjoyed the attention he got when he was arrested, both from the police and the media, and even said he wanted a book and a movie about his crimes and for the proceeds from those to be split with his mom.

Ironically, despite the prolific and brutal nature of Knowles’s crimes, he’s nowhere near as well known as he probably wanted to be. Few people know about him, and when we think of charming serial killers from the 1970’s, most people go straight to Ted Bundy. James Josey believes Knowles was even “more brutal” and “more vicious” than Ted Bundy. Why he isn’t as famous is a bit of a mystery.


I certainly hope I’m not contributing to the attention Knowles wanted in life merely by talking about him. I do think it’s important to share cases like this because you never know what someone could get from them. For me, personally, this case serves as a reminder to keep your guard up and not judge people by their outward appearance. Just because someone is charming and attractive doesn’t automatically mean they’re any good.

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