The making of a murderer
Evonitz’s upbringing offers insight on crimes he would commit as an adult
By Jim Hall and Kary Pugh – Fredericksburg.com
June 14, 2004
Richard Marc Evonitz forever changed the way area residents view the community. After his crimes, Fredericksburg never seemed as safe.
In September 1996, Sofia Silva, 16, disappeared from her front porch in Spotsylvania County. Her body was found five weeks later in a King George County creek. In May 1997, 15-year-old Kristin Lisk and her 12-year-old sister, Kati, vanished from their front yard in Spotsylvania. Their bodies were found five days later in the South Anna River.
The murders remained unsolved until 2002, when Evonitz abducted and raped a girl in South Carolina. He fled, then committed suicide while surrounded by police in Florida. Later, authorities identified him as the Lisk–Silva killer.
In the two years since his death, federal, state and local investigators have tried to link Evonitz to other crimes, compiling an inch-thick timeline of his life.
Their continuing work has unlocked some of the mystery that surrounds the man: the why behind his crimes, and the nature and extent of his dangerous perversions. Next year, the FBI will invite law enforcement officers from places where Evonitz lived or traveled to be part of an investigators’ working group in Quantico. They will focus on possible links between Evonitz and unsolved crimes.
This four-part series is based on interviews with investigators and members of Evonitz’s family, and a review of public documents from Florida, South Carolina and Virginia. A
A WARNING: Evonitz’s sexual obsessions are key to understanding him. They are recounted here in detail that some may find disturbing. Indeed for the families involved, and for many others in the community, any review of these cases would be painful. But perhaps that pain will be bearable if these newly revealed facts help us to understand how a man capable of performing these misdeeds could live among us. From that knowledge, this community may gain some insight into how such crimes could be prevented in the future. —The Editors
JOHN DOUGLAS, a best-selling author and former FBI profiler, has written that serial killers are made, not born. If so, then Marc Evonitz was made in Columbia.
Evonitz was born in the South Carolina capital in July 1963, the first child and only son of Joseph Evonitz and Tess Ragin Evonitz. The couple would later have two daughters, Kristen and Jennifer.
The Evonitz home was not a happy one. His parents separated when Marc was a baby and again when he was about 12. Joseph and Tess finally divorced in 1985, and both say now it might have been better for everyone if they had divorced sooner.
Joseph Evonitz is originally from New Jersey, where his father left his mother when Joseph was a child. He was stationed at Fort Jackson, just outside Columbia, when he met Tess Ragin, who worked at the Army base.
Joseph worked as a draftsman for sign companies and later as a taxi driver. He also drank heavily. Tess remembers that he would often get drunk and pass out.
“When he got up, he’d be even worse,” she said.
Joseph, 67 and living now in Arlington with his second wife, remembers it differently. He said he drank on weekends but did not pass out and was never an alcoholic. He also said he has stopped drinking.
“I don’t make any excuses. There’s no way to make excuses for what happened to those four girls,” he said.
Joseph admits that he belittled his family, calling them “morons” and “peons.” Marc bore his share of that abuse.
“I had some psychological problems myself, which is what the drinking was about,” Joseph Evonitz said.
Two incidents involving father and son have intrigued police and may shed light on a puzzling aspect of Marc’s crimes–his fascination with water.
In one incident, family members said, Joseph drowned Marc’s dog in front of him. Joseph says that is not true. He says his children were always adopting strays, and he did take one of them to the pound.
Marc also told family members that Joseph tried to drown him when he was 6. Family members differ on the way the incident played out. Some say Joseph Evonitz tried to drown his son in a wading pool after the boy splashed water on the hamburgers during a cookout.
Others say it happened in the bathtub. Joseph described it as a minor incident that his son misinterpreted.
“One time when Marc was little, I gave him a bath,” Joseph said. “He kept yelling about the water going in his eyes so I took a bunch of water and dumped it over his head.”
Marc was frightened and never forgot the experience. Joseph said he wishes he had never done it.
“Why would I try to drown my beautiful 6-year-old?” he asked. “I loved him. I adored him. He could do no wrong. I spoiled the hell out of him. That story is outlandish. It’s just not true.”
Investigators point to these incidents when trying to understand the “why” behind Evonitz’s murders.
They learned that the water in the Lisk sisters’ lungs was bath water, not water from the South Anna River, where they were found. Apparently Evonitz drowned the girls at his home in Spotsylvania County before disposing of their bodies in the river.
Evonitz also hid Sofia Silva’s body underwater in a swamp in King George County. And police learned from Kara that he made her take a bath during her night of confinement.
Were these crimes inspired by Evonitz’s past? Was he seeking control?
Police have been asking these questions for nearly two years. They have no answers.
His widow, Hope Evonitz, said her husband had nightmares about his father.
“They were starting to crop up more and more,” she said.
Tess Ragin, 62, said her son came to her in the weeks before his death. He was crying and wanted to talk about the violence and abuse he had suffered at his father’s hands.
“I told him I didn’t want to hear it,” she said. “It was too painful.”
Two young wives
Those who have studied Evonitz also have been intrigued by his wives. They believe that his marriages offer another view of the turmoil that lived inside him.
Evonitz married two women who were much younger than he was. Both women were dependent, compliant and naïve, police said. For both women, he was their first love.
Evonitz married his first wife, the former Bonnie Lou Gower, when he was 25 and in the Navy. She was 17.
Bonnie had been his neighbor in Columbia and a friend of his sister. He had known her since she was in the sixth grade and she had a crush on him.
Tess Ragin remembers a family picture of the kids dancing in their living room when Bonnie was still in middle school. In the picture there is an arm touching Marc’s arm. Bonnie wanted that picture to remember Marc by, Ragin said. It was her arm.
Soon there would be wedding pictures. Bonnie married Evonitz in Columbia in 1988. The couple lived in California and Maine while he was in the Navy. They moved to Fredericksburg early in 1993, soon after his discharge.
The couple chose Fredericksburg because members of Evonitz’s family lived here, and because Virginia said it would honor Bonnie’s California cosmetology license. South Carolina would not.
The Evonitzes moved first to Stafford County, where Marc’s uncle, Richard Evonitz, lived. Later they lived in apartments in Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.
In 1996, they paid $125,970 for a new home in the South Oaks subdivision near Massaponax. Five months later, Bonnie was preparing to leave her husband.
She had met a man from California on the Internet, she told Evonitz, and she wanted to move there. Her mother and brother also lived in California.
Bonnie visited California in early September 1996. She returned a week later and began packing her things to move there permanently in November.
“Marc was devastated,” recalled his mother. “He talked about getting in a bathtub and cutting his wrist.”
Investigators who have interviewed Bonnie Evonitz in California note that she eventually realized that her husband was not like other men.
“Bonnie grew up,” said Gerard F. Downes, supervisory special agent for the FBI.
Evonitz abducted Sofia Silva while Bonnie was on vacation in California. He abducted the Lisk sisters after the couple separated but before he met Hope Marie Crowley, a Caroline County resident and the woman who would be his second wife.
Evonitz met Crowley in 1999, when she was 17. He was 36.
They met when she waited on him at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House in Massaponax. His mother and sister were with Evonitz for that breakfast. When Marc flirted with Hope, his sister encouraged her to go out with him.
When Hope turned 18, she moved from her parents’ home and lived first in King George County. She later moved in with Evonitz. They married in 1999.
“We just clicked,” said Hope Evonitz, who remained in South Carolina after her husband’s death. “There were a lot of things about him that are very much like me, too.”
Some investigators believe that Evonitz’s choice of wives and his relationship with them may explain the periods in his life when he apparently committed no crimes.
Police are puzzled by these periods, from 1987 to 1996 and from 1997 to 2002. Usually a predator as dangerous as Evonitz does not have such “quiet” periods, they said.
However, during these periods Evonitz may have found what he wanted at home. His wives may have satisfied his sexual fantasies.
He and his wives shaved each other’s private parts, police said, and they also played games in which he bound them or played the “daddy” role.
With Hope, “He’d ask her to dress up like a young girl and then he would actually force his way into their apartment and act like he was raping her,” Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith said.
Hope Evonitz doesn’t see her intimate relationship with her husband as outside the norm, though she admits she was young and inexperienced.
“When the FBI started talking to me about bondage and all that sort of stuff, they acted like it was such atrocious behavior,” she said. “Our sex life was not extreme in any sense of the word. People do that sort of thing all the time.”
According to the police theory, as Evonitz’s wives grew older and more womanly he became restless. His wives told police that he wanted them to look younger and dress younger. He told others he no longer found them attractive.
As he became less interested in them, he grew more dangerous, this theory holds. He hunted outside the home.
Problems at home
Evonitz’s relationships with his wives were complex, as was his relationship with his family.
Investigators have discovered that the former Boy Scout and Little Leaguer began drinking and smoking at age 12 and started using marijuana at 13. He was brilliant, said his father, but he had problems at home and a reputation for a bad temper.
Soon he was violating his curfew and breaking into a neighbor’s home.
“Every time he got in trouble, his mom came and bailed him out,” said Downes, the FBI profiler.
All of this occurred in a household that was sexually charged. His mother and father had affairs that the children were aware of, Downes said. At one point, Joseph Evonitz enlisted his son to deliver messages to a neighbor with whom he was having an affair, the profiler said.
Later, after her divorce from Joseph, Tess Evonitz began a phone relationship with Perry Deveaux. Deveaux was in a South Carolina prison at the time, convicted of murder and rape. Tess Evonitz married Deveaux in prison and divorced him 12 years later. He is still incarcerated.
After graduation from Irmo High School in Columbia in 1980, Evonitz became the manager of a Jiffy Lube. He was 17.
Joseph Evonitz did not like the people his son was hanging out with, calling them “four criminals.” One day the elder Evonitz drove by the Jiffy Lube in the middle of the day to find it closed. Marc Evonitz had shut the store to be with his friends.
Later, Evonitz and one of those friends wrote bad checks for $350 to a local Kmart.
“I had to go to the manager and beg the guy” not to prosecute, Joseph Evonitz said.
Finally, Joseph Evonitz pushed his son to join the Navy. His mother supported the idea.
“I thought it would give him direction,” Tess Ragin said.
Evonitz’s career as a sonar technician did what his family hoped for. He emerged after nine years with skills and discipline. He became a family man with a good job who played the guitar and enjoyed raising a gray-cheek parakeet named Clyde.
“He was a lot of fun to be with,” said Tess Ragin. “He had a great sense of humor. He always did all kinds of practical jokes.”
Evonitz was glib and confident, some would say arrogant. Smith, the Spotsylvania sheriff, said he watched a video made by Walter Grinders, Evonitz’s employer when he lived in Spotsylvania. In the video, Evonitz is making a sales presentation to hundreds of people.
“He was very articulate, a very good speaker,” Smith said.
But Evonitz also was egocentric. Society’s rules did not apply to him.
“Marc was always railing against authority,” his mother recalled. “It’s kind of ironic that he went into the military.”
Ragin once visited her son in Jacksonville. Evonitz didn’t agree with the rule that everyone on the Navy base had to wear seat belts. In protest, Evonitz pulled the belt across his chest but would not fasten it.
“He called it his pseudo-seat belt,” Ragin said.
For much of this time, Evonitz was estranged from his father. Later they socialized when both were living in Fredericksburg and after the elder Evonitz moved to Arlington.
Once, Evonitz spotted a promotion on a travel agency’s Web site touting a vacation package to Washington. Evonitz told his father, then a cab driver in Arlington, and the elder Evonitz made arrangements to shuttle the tour group throughout their stay.
“I made a bundle of money,” Joseph Evonitz said. “This kid knew computers.”
Evonitz allowed his father to visit him in Fredericksburg but told him to leave whenever he would “start in,” Tess Ragin said.
Once when Joseph was having marital troubles, he asked if he could stay with Marc. Evonitz said no, but the elder man drove to Fredericksburg anyway and parked in Evonitz’s driveway. He figured that his son would relent. He didn’t. Joseph spent the night in the driveway.
“Marc said when he left this house, he’d never live under the same roof as his father again,” Ragin said.
Close to his family
Evonitz was much closer to his mother and sisters. When he and his wife-to-be Hope Crowley moved from Virginia to Columbia in 1999, they lived with Evonitz’s sister, Kristen Weyand, and were married in her home.
Later, when Evonitz’s employer in South Carolina transferred him to its Spartanburg office, his mother urged him to move there to avoid the 90-minute commute.
“Not unless you move up there too,” he told her.
Today, Tess Ragin remembers her son with pictures above the fireplace in her Columbia home. More photos line the bookshelf in the living room and the hallway.
Ragin’s devotion was apparent on the day Kara fled, when Weyand called her at Disney World in Florida.
“Marc’s all over the news,” Weyand said. “Police are looking for him. He kidnapped a girl at gunpoint and held her in the apartment.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Ragin told her daughter. “Why are you saying this to me? It can’t be true.”
Weyand repeated her message three times.
Weyand herself had shown her loyalty earlier that day when she met her brother near Orangeburg, as he fled from police.
The next day, police say, one of Evonitz’s relatives called him from the police station in Columbia to warn him that the police were on the way to Orangeburg to arrest him. By the time police arrived at the Days Inn, he was gone.
When police interviewed his widow, Hope Evonitz, she refused to believe them. She blamed Kara for what happened. Even if Marc did it, Hope said, it didn’t matter to her. She still loved him.
“I don’t look at him as a horrible person for what he did,” she said recently. “I think that he just acted out on things that other people think of.”
The family’s devotion to Marc Evonitz did not blind them to something else inside him, however.
“I’d seen glimpses of his dark side,” Hope Evonitz said. “It was really my intuition; I’d wonder if he’d done something. He would get quiet and dark.”
Tess Ragin said she recognized a sense of inadequacy in her son, a feeling of inferiority.
Despite all the bragging he did about how smart he was and his successes at work, Evonitz considered himself a failure, his mother said. The assaults by his father had taken their toll, she said.
His failures seemed to multiply in 1996 and 1997 and may have been the stressors that profilers look for when studying serial killers.
Bonnie Evonitz had met a man in California and was visiting there when Evonitz abducted Sofia Silva. One of the items police found in Evonitz’s secret footlocker in South Carolina was a postcard from his wife, sent from California and postmarked the day that Sofia was abducted.
After Bonnie Evonitz moved out of their new home, Marc Evonitz couldn’t pay his bills. His take-home pay as a parts salesman at Walter Grinders was about $2,100 a month. His monthly mortgage payment of $859, a student loan and other obligations were more than that.
As a result, Evonitz filed for bankruptcy in federal court in April 1997. On May 1, 1997, he had to meet with his creditors in U.S. District Court in Richmond.
The court hearing took place at noon. When it ended, Evonitz climbed into his 1992 Ford Taurus and drove back to Spotsylvania. At 3:20 p.m., he pulled into a driveway on Block House Road. He had scouted the house and was interested in the two girls who lived there, Kristin and Kati Lisk.
Whatever feelings he experienced that day in bankruptcy court–humiliation, inadequacy, anger–were gone when he forced the Lisk girls into his trunk.
Now he was in control.