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Video: A Stranger in the House

By Hoda Kotb Correspondent
Dateline NBC
updated 8/4/2009 11:12:48 AM ET 2009-08-04T15:12:48
transcript

This story first aired on Dateline NBC, Aug. 3, 2009.

They are marvels of engineering.  Vast webs of highways and roadways, spun from human ingenuity and grit.  Connecting distant points, and strangers in the night. Only no one was thinking much about exit and entrance ramps when they found her.

Pat Gerhart: Her eyes were wide open , and she was kinda slumped in the chair.

A beautiful woman attacked in the night - viciously.  It looked ghastly and personal.

Ed Marsico: A lot of stabbing-type crimes or more personal crimes with a knife-- often in-- involve some heat of passion, some type of personal animosity toward another. 

But then another woman was attacked, and then another.

Lauren Berger: Nobody in their right mind would do that to somebody.

People started to wonder: Was a serial killer on the loose?

Diane: It changed the whole chemistry of that town, without a doubt. Video: Hear from victims’ parents

And if so, would police catch him before he killed again?

911 call:

A man came in with a gun and put it to my neck...

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Kevin McDonough: And the mask is what scared me the most, so I just grabbed both wrists and said “knife.”

A horn.  Not from a car or a truck, but a cruise ship.  That's where this story really begins.  Darlene Ewalt was hearing that horn blaring in her head as she sat on her back patio one night in July 2007.  She was dreaming of an upcoming trip to paradise.

Hoda Kotb, Dateline NBC correspondent: Now, she was pumped, wasn't she, to go on this cruise?

Todd Ewalt: Oh, absolutely.

And why not?  Darlene loved adventure, but never really traveled to exotic locales.  She had been a very young bride who had raised two children in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with her husband Todd, a carpenter.  Life had been good, but tough.

Todd Ewalt: Some of it was difficult, you know.  There never was enough money, when you're young and you're startin' a family, especially that young.

Hoda Kotb: Yeah.  Did you have to work long hours?

Todd Ewalt: I worked a lotta hours.

Back then, with little money for lavish vacations, Darlene had to find fun mostly in her own Pennsylvania backyard. It sat just down the road from interstate 81.  Friends and strangers alike, always welcome, says her daughter.

Nicole Ewalt: She would try and just make everybody happy.  She didn't want somebody in a corner by themselves alone, not havin' a good time. 

Hoda Kotb: So, if you were sort of-- not in the mood, she would-- she would try to pick you up and boost you up?

Nicole Ewalt: She would do something that would make you laugh.

Patty and Chet Gerhart will tell you that, too. They became fast friends with the Ewalts when Todd coached their boys in junior football, and Darlene entertained them afterwards in her Video: ‘All I could see was his eyes’ yard.

Pat Gerhart: She liked to be outdoors.  I remember the kids telling me that when they stayed for the week-- they spent the night in a tent down in the yard with Darlene.  It was cold.  It was wet.  And she didn't give up.  You know, it was just-- you know, they had a blast with her.

How do you repay a couple like that for all their kindness, for the coaching, the babysitting?  The answer came to Patty and Chet one summer night.  They were planning a family cruise to the Caribbean when their now teenage boys got into trouble – and were punished.

Pat Gerhart: And we had to make a hard decision and decided to leave them at home. And we decided to offer to Todd and Darlene the two tickets that we would've lost. 

It was July 11, 2007.  The Gerharts and the Ewalts were out for dinner when Chet popped the question: Would Darlene and Todd like to join them on a Caribbean cruise?  The fun would set sail in October, the busiest time of year for Todd, the dedicated football coach.  Darlene didn't care.

Hoda Kotb: Was she over the moon?  She--

Todd Ewalt: Oh, yeah.  She wanted to go.

Hoda Kotb: And how about you?

Todd Ewalt: It was during football season.  I couldn't.

Todd explained his hectic football schedule demanded he be on a sports field, not a ship deck.  He politely turned down the offer.

Pat Gerhart: She wasn't expecting that to come out of his mouth.  She knew that-- you know, it was football season, okay.  But you can miss it just this time, can you miss it?  You know, it's a week.

If Darlene was hurt, she didn't show it.  She made up her mind to go on the cruise without Todd.  She was still thinking about it the next night as she sat on her back patio.  At around 10 o'clock, Todd came out to say goodnight.

Todd Ewalt: I just opened the door and said to her, "Hey, I'm goin' to bed."  And she said, "Oh, I'll be up in a few minutes."  I said, "Yeah, right," (laughs) 'cause I-- she always told me that, and I knew better.

As Todd went upstairs to the couple's bedroom, Darlene was on the phone with Chet Gerhart making arrangements for that trip.  Four hours later, she was still on the patio, still on the line with Chet.  She probably never heard the rustling from behind her chair.  Or saw the flash of the blade.  But Chet heard something.  A startled change in Darlene's voice.

Chet Gerhart: She just said, "Oh, my God," four times, and the phone went dead.

Yet Chet could see the line to Darlene's phone was still active.  He kept trying to get a response.

Chet Gerhart: kept screaming in the phone.  I just kept calling her name.

Just like that, Darlene Ewalt's Caribbean dreams of white beaches and turquoise waters had dipped forever to black.

Part 2

It was just after 2 a.m. in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  A Friday the 13th, to be exact. Chet Gerhart had been chatting with his good friend Darlene Ewalt when her voice suddenly cut out mid-sentence.  Chet raced upstairs to wake his wif, Patty.

Chet Gerhart: Something's happened.  I don't-- I don't know.  Darlene's not responding.  We gotta go now.

The couple sped over to Darlene and her husband Todd’s. When they arrived, all was quiet in the July darkness.  They ran to the backyard.

Chet Gerhart: And the light from the kitchen was shining through the sliding glass doors.  And she was kinda slumped in a chair.

Even in the darkness of the back patio they could see it all.  Darlene's eyes still open.  Her throat slashed.

Chet Gerhart: "Darlene's dead.  What are we gonna do?  We gotta get out of here.  We gotta call 911."  Where's Todd?  Oh, my gosh, where's Todd?"

Were todd and his grown son Nick, who still lived at home, victims too? Minutes later, police arrived, entering the Ewalts’ upstairs bedroom where Todd lay sleeping.

Todd Ewalt: I'm a heavy sleeper.  And the door opened. And then guy started screamin' at me to get my hands in the air. I could just see the figures in the-- the shadows in the doorway 'cause they were pointin' flashlights at me.

Hoda Kotb: What did you think was goin' on?

Todd Ewalt: I thought Nick come home with a couple of his buddies and was just half-drunk, just thought they were pullin' a joke.

But the man yelling was deadly serious.  Moments later, Todd’s son came out of his bedroom.

Nick Ewalt: Uh, guns pointed at me and a guy yellin' and swearin' and tellin' me to get on the ground.

Both men were handcuffed and eventually led into the kitchen.  Toddkept asking the police who were now swarming his house what was happening, and where his wife Darlene was.  The men with badges and guns weren't answering.

Todd Ewalt: After about a half hour, I noticed her purse was sittin' at the table with her car keys and her cell phone.

Hoda Kotb: What did that tell you?

Todd Ewalt: She was there somewhere. She wouldn't leave without her cell phone.  You know, that's-- so I was-- that's when I got worried.

At some point, a detective removed Todd’s handcuffs and led him to another room while another trooper talked to Nick in the kitchen.

Todd Ewalt: And then the one officer told me that Darlene was dead. And then all's I heard was his screaming in the kitchen.  (crying) And everything changed.

Todd’s son called his sister, who lived nearby. She rushed over to the house, now cordoned off by crime scene tape.

Nicole Ewalt: Just threw my car in park and get out.  I realize it's actually true, and I just collapse in the yard.

Hoda Kotb: Were you thinking like, "Who would have ever--

Nicole Ewalt: Right.  I was like--

Hoda Kotb: --"done that?"

Nicole Ewalt: --"Why?

The Ewalt family says at that moment all they could think about was the loss of their wife and mother. They were in shock.  And they were about to get another jolt.

Ed Marsico, district attorney: In this case, we had a husband-- who was in the house, who apparently didn't hear anything-- when his wife was killed on the back patio while she was on the phone-- with another man.

Ed Marsico is the district attorney for Dauphin County. He was at the crime scene that night and says investigators immediately began looking at Todd Ewalt, the victim's husband.

Ed Marsico: So certainly, the police wanted to-- talk to Mr. Ewalt-- and-- get him out of his house-- talk to him back at the police station-- and determine exactly what was going on at that residence.

And they did question Todd hours after the murder. Todd explained to them that he never heard his wife as she was dying on the back patio, even though the upstairs bedroom where he was sleeping was feet away.

Todd Ewalt: There was no screams, according to-- to Chet.  He told me all's she said was, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god."  And he said, "Then the phone went silent."

But police were not satisfied.  The next day they called Todd into the station for more questioning.  Todd says the detectives wanted to know about the sore spots in the couple's marriage. 

Hoda Kotb: They say most arguments in marriages start with money.  Like, that's usually the issue.

Todd Ewalt: Yes.

Hoda Kotb: It was-- and it was-- that was the case for you guys?

Todd Ewalt: Yeah, it'd be over money, bills.

Todd remembers the detectives stating they had checked into the couple's finances. Todd says that's when one of the men made a startling accusation.

Todd Ewalt: They just told me that I killed her because we were having financial difficulties.

Hoda Kotb: How did they say that?

Todd Ewalt: That's how they said it, just--

Hoda Kotb: Flat out?

Todd Ewalt: --like that.  Yeah.  "You killed her because you were having financial problems."

Todd insisted he had a good job, and savings.  No reason to kill his wife. Then he said police changed tactics, telling him that they knew Darlene had been intent on leaving him just before she died.

Hoda Kotb: They were saying to you, "She's-- she wants to divorce you.  You were ticked off."

Todd Ewalt: Right.

Hoda Kotb: "And you killed her."

Todd Ewalt: Yes.

Again, Todd denied murdering his wife. He even took a lie detector test.

Hoda Kotb: Okay, so you took the test.  When you're done with the test, you're confident.

Todd Ewalt: Yeah.

Hoda Kotb: You're fine.

Todd Ewalt: I'm thinkin' now, "They'll get this, they'll figure it out and then they can start lookin' in the right direction." Then they come back in after about 45 and tell me I failed it.

Hoda Kotb: They did?  And what did you say?

Todd Ewalt: I told them, "How could I fail it when I didn't commit the crime?"  And they said, "Well, you tell us."  I said, "I don't have an explanation."

By the end of that day, Todd's family had hired a lawyer for  him.  He wasn't going to be answering any more questions without an attorney present. That only made investigators eager to ask more questions.

Ed Marsico: Well, we're always somewhat suspicious, I think, in law enforcement, when someone asks for an attorney, that they-- they might have something to hide. 

Of course, there was someone with something to hide.  And something left to do. The road from Harrisburg was pointing east.  So many miles to go, so many other people to meet.

Part 3

In New Jersey, just off I-78, sits a little town that time forgot.  Bloomsbury.  The murder of Darlene Ewalt, a hundred miles west in Pennsylvania just two weeks earlier wouldn't have rattled nerves here.  Not in this rural town where evil seldom intrudes.

Lauren Berger: She loved the house, she loved the town that she lived in.  She used to say it was her-- that where she lived was like living in a Norman Rockwell painting.  And she just-- felt safe, and everyone was friendly, she just loved living there.

Monica Massaro, a single 38-year old, felt so good about this street of Victorians and colonials that she did something unusual - maybe unorthodox - for a woman on her own.

Lauren Berger: She never locked her doors.

As comfortable as she felt in her pretty, unlocked house, this beautiful woman was -- in some ways -- an odd fit for a town that was very low-keyed.  Monica was anything but.

Cheryl Tornillo: She was bubbly, and everybody flocked to her.  Everybody flocked to her.  And she could tell a story (laugh) like you were there.

Her best friends say Monica didn't just take in life. She devoured it.

Diane Barry: She would talk to 30 to 40 people a day, and have serious conversations with them, like interact with them.  We can't do that.  She'd stay up till like 4:00 in the morning to chat with them on the internet, talk to them on the phone.  We don't do that, you know, but she would do that.

When not running her house-cleaning business, Monica was pursuing her passions: photography, motorcycles, rock and roll.  Her favorite band, Aerosmith.

Diane Barry: And in the summer, every day was packed.  (laughter) She could go 14 days straight going from concert to concert.  From Maryland, to Vegas, to Atlantic City.  Every day was full of life.  Most of us can't live like that.  We have two kids, or are married.  We have a full-time job.  We lived through Monica. She lived every day like it was her last day.

So it was pretty surprising when Monica -- who lived for summer nights and friends -- announced she would be staying in that last Saturday in July 2007.

Diane Barry: She was like, "I'm tired.  I don't feel like going out tonight.  I do not feel into it."

Lauren Berger: She was supposed to go with-- with a bunch of friends.

Diane Barry: She was supposed to go with a lot of friends.  She canceled at the last minute. Why did she stay home that night, you know? 

The next day, Sunday, came and went with no word from Monica.  When Monday rolled around, and Monica missed a house cleaning appointment, a red flag went up.  Her customer dialed her number -- no answer.  He stopped by her home, saw her parked car and knocked on the door.  Still, no answer.  He called the police.

Oriolo: This inside door was unlocked...

This New Jersey state police detective was among the first to arrive at Monica's home that Monday in July.  He said it didn't appear as though the house had been broken into.  In fact, it seemed nothing much had happened there- until he walked into the bedroom and saw the body of Monica Massaro.

Oriolo: multiple stab wounds up and down her body; it was evident that she had been stabbed inside the bed, her sheets had been tousled a little bit. It appears there was a little bit of a fight.

Later a medical examiner would determine Monica had died when her throat was slashed. In the meantime, New Jersey quickly assigned a team of homicide investigators, which included Detective Geoff Noble.

Hoda Kotb: When you have a crime that seems this personal you're looking for those closest to her.  And what were you finding when you were talking to her friends? 

Geoff Noble: Well, you know, Monica wasn't married.  You know, she-- she was-- actively dating. Certainly we looked very-- very hard at-- who she was involved with. Boyfriends, or somebody. Romantically. 

The list of potential suspects grew as police realized just how many friends Monica had made over the years.

Geoff Noble: She was, of course-- online quite a bit following-- the-- the-- the band-- Aerosmith. And she was very active in that.  There was-- there was a website that was just dedicated to that that she spent a lot of time on.  As well as numerous people that she would e-mail back and forth and-- and other websites that she spent a lot of time on. There was more questions than answers.

They hoped her wake, and the mourners attending it, would yield a few solid leads.  But the detectives' presence only rattled her distraught friends.

Lauren Berger: I remember sitting in the-- the viewing and looking around the room and thinking to myself, could that person really be here who-- who did this to her?  You know, who-- who on earth would want to hurt her?

After all, everyone seemed to love Monica.  Many in town started wondering if she had been killed by a stranger.  Then, one of Monica's friends heard about another case that suggested Monica's murder might not have been an isolated incident.  It had happened just 2 weeks earlier in Pennyslvania.  The victim:  Darlene Ewalt.

Lauren Berger: My husband was doing some research on the internet.  And he started picking up all these words saying-- he was like, "Check this out.  This is like the same thing that happened to Monica.  Check that out."

Could there be a connection between the two murders, two weeks and a hundred miles apart?  Unlikely.  In the Pennsylvania case, investigators were looking at a suspect for the murder of Darlene Ewalt: her husband Todd.  He had no connection to the New Jersey victim Monica Massaro.  Her killing was still a huge mystery.  Then one day, as he stood in front of Monica's house, Detective Noble noticed the truck stop at the end of her block, and the interstate just beyond.  The image troubled him.

Geoff Noble: "Wow, that is-- an area where there's all kinds of people from all-- all over the place frequent this particular truck stop." Boy, that just makes the case so much bigger.  I mean, huge.  It could be anybody now.  I mean now it could be anyone driving down the street, basically. Absolutely.  Absolutely.  That became-- a very-- all-- almost-- almost overwhelming-- avenue of the investigation to start-- to start looking into.

If Monica had been murdered by a stranger, a killer who had simply pulled off the road, he'd likely be long gone by now.  He'd likely be heading along that same highway to who knows where.  All he needed was another exit ramp - and another unlocked door.

Part 4

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey there had been two seemingly unrelated, fatal attacks on women, two weeks apart.  At around the same time, miles away in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Kevin and Jeannie McDonough were going about their daily routines.  They were totally unaware of what had happened to those women.  But they might have been surprised to know they all shared something in common.  It had to do with where they lived, or rather, what they lived near.

Question: So, you can hear the cars and the trucks going by?

All: Uh-huh.

Question: Was that annoying, Jeannie?  Is that how you'd describe that?

Jeannie McDonough: Yeah-- it was annoying over-- initially, when we first moved in, but then you get used to it.

The crease in this otherwise pretty New England postcard is I-495.  It runs just feet behind the McDonough home.  It has never bothered or frightened them, their older son or teenage daughter Shea.

Shea: I would never think of going to bed.  And making sure every single house-- like door in the house is locked.  It's just not something that really ever occurred in my mind.

Locked doors, security alarms... Not something everyone thinks about in this leafy, quaint part of Massachusetts. Not even with a busy highway running through it. 

Safety -- or lack of it -- certainly never dawned on the McDonoughs that last Sunday in July 2007.  Mom and Dad -- Jeannie and Kevin -- turned in around 11 p.m. that night.  Shea came home about an hour later.

Kevin McDonough: Shea came in the back door, and left it unlocked for her brother, not knowing that he was-- had called us, and said, "Hey, I'm sleeping over at my buddy's."

Question: Okay, got it.  But when you guys went to bed.  The only door that was unlocked was the back door?

Jeannie McDonough: Correct.

There was something else Shea didn't know.  Unsettling events playing out throughout her Massachusetts town that night.

Daryl: Actually, right below me, right where I'm standing, right below me.

Blocks away a neighbor was the first to raise the alarm about a strange man below her balcony.

Daryl: Dressed in black clothing had a cap on... almost invisible.

She called the police, who came and found nothing. 

Daryl: I think what he was doing was banging on the wall and the door.

Then at around 2 a.m., another neighbor down the block dialed 911 in a panic.  Something about someone dressed in black trying to break into her home.

Dispatcher: Is he still trying to get in?  Is he still at the front door?

Cathy: I think he's in the house now.  Please get them here now.

Dispatcher: Do you think he's in the house now?

But he wasn't.  The would-be intruder was gone.  Two hours later, it seems the man in black finally found what he was looking for in Massachusetts that night: a door that wasn't bolted shut.  It was the back entrance to the McDonough home.  But little did the intruder realize that the unlocked door was about to become his undoing.

It was around 4 a.m.  Jeannie and Kevin were asleep in their bedroom.  Their daughter Shea in the next room.  The girl remembers feeling something on her neck and waking up.

Shea McDonough: I kind of just assumed that it was a knife.  Because of the blade and everything.  It was just cold, and I could just feel it like being pressed down.

Question: Did you-- did you panic?  Or did you--

Shea McDonough: No.

Question: You didn't?

Shea McDonough: No.  My first instinct was my brother.  And then I was thinking-- I don't even know what I was thinking.  But I heard his voice.  And he spoke to me saying, "If I make any noise, he'll f-ing kill me."

In the darkness she made out the shape of a man wearing a mask, hovering over her.  Even in that moment, Shea felt remarkably calm.  She knew her parents were right next door.

Shea McDonough: I just tried to like make as much noise out of my mouth as I could.  Just like screaming but it didn't sound like screams at all, because of how hard he was pushing down on my mouth.

It was enough to wake both her parents.

Hoda Kotb: What made you decide to get up out of bed and go check?

Kevin McDonough: Something told us to go.

Jeannie McDonough: Yeah.

Kevin McDonough: Thank God.

Jeannie McDonough: Yeah.

They shuffled out of their bedroom, opened the door to Shea's room, and stepped into a twilight zone.

Kevin McDonough: And the first thing I see is a black silhouette bent over her. And I said, "What are you doin'?" And he turned to me. And the mask is what scared me the most, so I just grabbed his, both wrists.  And I said, "Knife." 

For a moment, Kevin toppled the figure. But the man, about four inches taller and some seventy pounds heavier, regained his footing.

Kevin McDonough: And he stood up like a bear.

Still, Kevin hung on.

Kevin McDonough: And instinctively, I said, "Okay."  I let go of the left hand.  I never let go of the knife with the right.  And I just put a choke hold on him and threw myself back and we hit the wall and I choked him out basically.

Hoda Kotb: How did you subdue him?  Where did that come from?

Kevin McDonough: I don't know. Instinct to protect, I guess.

Kevin, his back against the bedroom wall, kept the burly six-foot stranger locked in a chokehold as his wife Jeannie grabbed the knife in the man's hand. Shea jumped into action too.  She called 911. She thought the man had a gun.

911 call:

Shea McDonough: A man came in with a gun and put it to my neck and he hurt both of my parents.

Dispatcher: All right, all right.  Just relax.

Kevin McDonough: Hurry up!

Dispatcher: Is he still there?  All right, hold on.

Dispatcher #2: He's still out there.

Somehow, Kevin managed to hang onto the still-conscious man until police arrived moments later and arrested him.  As it turns out, the stranger didn't have a gun. But he had been well armed.

Detective George Tyros: He had numerous knives, Chinese throwing star, choking wire, a leather mask, a hood.

Local Detective George Tyros couldn't believe all the weapons they pulled off the stranger. 

Detective George Tyros: And we're trying to figure out, What is he doing in there? Why is he doing this? What was he trying to do?

And who was he?  The answer came soon enough:  Adam Leroy Lane, a trucker from North Carolina with no criminal history.  At first, police were convinced Lane had been trying to sexually assault Shea Mcdonough. But they were about to search the trucker's rig, parked near the McDonough house.  That's when they would find it: The one thing that told them what Adam Leroy Lane was really planning to do that last Sunday in July just off Highway 495.

Part 5

At the end of July 2007, police in a little town in Massachusetts had a mystery named Adam Leroy Lane.  They knew only the following about him: He was married with children; a trucker with no criminal history; and he had attacked Shea McDonough.  But then, they searched his truck, parked near the crime scene, and found a DVD player with a disc called “Hunting Humans” still inside it.  The detective charged with the case watched the movie.

George Tyros: It's a story of a serial killer with no real motive other than to just kill people,

The detective had to wonder: Was his trucker a serial killer?  In the meantime, hundreds of miles -- south and west -- in the middle of Pennsylvania, a prosecutor there was dealing with a mystery of his own: the murder Of Darlene Ewalt two weeks earlier.  His main suspect was the woman's husband, Todd.  But the prosecutor did not have a strong case against him.

Ed Marsico: The lack of physical evidence early on was-- was-- was very frustrating.

And likewise, about a hundred miles east in New Jersey, investigators there were trying to solve yet another puzzle: the murder of Monica Massaro.  They were starting to wonder if their case had been a random attack.  After all, the victim -- Monica -- lived down the block from a truck stop and a highway. 

Detective Geoff Noble: Well, the next step was-- to look at the people that were at the truck stop, particularly at the time that we believe that this murder happened-- which again, was looking, like looking for a needle in a haystack.

In other words, the killer they were looking for could have been anyone from anywhere.  The odds of finding their man: Staggering.  Yet New Jersey investigators knew of one tool that might help them: the FBI.  It runs a national criminal database.  New Jersey wanted to know if there were any crimes anywhere in the country that were similar to their homicide: a knife attack near a busy highway.  As luck would have it, the FBI had just received word from Massachusetts about an assault there.

Detective Geoff Noble: They say that there was an assault on a girl-- that involved a knife, which involved a truck driver.  Interstate truck driver. 

That attack in Massachusetts was the one involving young Shea McDonough and it had taken place just one day after police believe Monica Massaro had been killed in New Jersey. But at first the New Jersey detective doubted the Massachusetts case tied into his in any real way.

Detective Geoff Noble: On face value, we were dealin' with somethin' that appeared to be much different.  We were--

Hoda Kotb: Yeah.

Detective Geoff Noble: --dealing with a significantly older victim than their victim.  Our victim was-- of course, murdered. 

Still, Detective Geoff Noble and his colleagues decided to follow up the lead. They called the Massachusetts police department that was handling the case of Adam Leroy Lane arrested for that terrifying attack on Shea McDonough.

On speaker phone, New Jersey investigators rattled off questions for the local detective.  They wanted to know if he had found receipts or anything in lane's truck that put him near their victim in Bloomsbury, the town where Monica Massaro lived and died that last weekend of July 2007.

Detective Geoff Noble: The detective says, "Wait a minute.  Did-- did-- did you say your town up in New Jersey?"  We said, "Yeah."  And he goes, he goes, "Did you say the actual name of the town, Bloomsbury?"  And we said, "Yeah, yeah.  That's-- that's it.  Bloomsbury." 

George Tyros: "I have something here, I have a receipt here that says Bloomsbury."  And at that point they said, "What's the date?"  I gave them the date-- and it was total silence on the other end of the phone.

Detective Geoff Noble: I remember we looked around-- I looked at my colleagues in the room, and at that point-- the focus of the investigation changed, obviously.

There it was: a receipt. A purchase for a radar detector from a truck stop.  Just a scrap of paper.  But it was a very promising lead for New Jersey detectives trying to solve the murder of Monica Massaro.  That receipt was proof that the man who had attacked Shea McDonough in Massachusetts had been in New Jersey one day earlier at a truck stop down the block from Monica's home on the very night police believe she had died.

Hoda Kotb: It sounds like something that when you're watching a-- a-- a CSI or something, that they'd say, "Bloomsbury," and you'd go, "Wow.  I can't believe that"--

Detective Geoff Noble: Right.

Hoda Kotb: But this actually happened. This is like the needle in the haystack.

Detective Geoff Noble: It is, it is.

But while the receipt put lane at a popular truck stop in Monica's town around the time of her death, it did not place him inside the woman's home.  It wasn't proof he had killed her.  The New Jersey detectives needed more. They needed to get their hands on anything else lane might have left in his truck, potential evidence in the Massaro murder case.  But there was a problem. 

Detective Geoff Noble: It's learned that when the owner of the trucking company had responded to Massachusetts to pick up his truck, which was secured at this private lot, he basically threw everything out.  He pulled the truck up next to this big dumpster and he just took all of Adam Lane's personal belongings and effects that had been in the truck and just threw 'em out.

Within hours New Jersey state detectives were suited up and sifting through trash in a Massachusetts dumpster.  They finally found what they were looking for:  pieces of clothing belonging to Lane.

Detective Geoff Noble: And there were stains on it.  However, at the time, you know, we don't, because it was black clothing, it was difficult for us to-- to really tell if it was blood or not.

And something else.

Detective Geoff Noble: There appeared to be-- long, blonde hair, strands of long, blonde hair on a significant amount--

Hoda Kotb: What-- what-- kind of hair did-- did Monica have, your victim?

Detective Geoff Noble: She had blon-- long, blonde hair.

If those hairs linked the trucker with Monica Massaro, the detectives could use the proof to try to coax lane into confessing.  But testing would take time.

Hoda Kotb: So, what did you opt to do?

Detective Geoff Noble: We made a decision at that point, that-- our-- our best course was to interview and interrogate Adam Lane at that time.

The detectives were about to meet face-to-face with a suspect in Massachusetts.  They had almost no reason to expect he would talk. He had every reason not to.  And yet, Adam Leroy Lane was about to spin a chilling yarn about a hot summer night in a little New Jersey town.

Part 6

When New Jersey Detective Geoff Noble sat across from Adam Leroy Lane in a small interrogation room in Massachusetts, he was hoping to win the man's trust.

Detective Geoff Noble: In fact, the first hour of our conversation was-- was nothing more than-- light conversation--

Hoda Kotb: An hour is--

Detective Geoff Noble: --between a couple of guys.

Hoda Kotb: --an hour's a long time.

Detective Geoff Noble: Yeah.  Yeah.

And then Detective Noble got to the point.  He knew Lane had been down the block from Monica Massaro's home in Bloomsbury the weekend she died in July 2007.   

Detective Geoff Noble: And I ask him a point blank question.  I said, "Did you assault somebody in New Jersey?"

Lane grew silent.  At this point the video cuts out. But a separate audiotape captures lane mumbling something.

Lane: "I'm done."

Detective Geoff Noble: And ultimately, he says the word, "I'm done." I interpreted that to mean, "I'm done," meaning, "I'm done with the interview."

Hoda Kotb: And the moment- did you think that you guys were done?  Like-- like, "Oh, we-- we-- we had the chance right there.  And it just sorta slipped right through our fingers"?

Detective Geoff Noble: I did.  I thought he was ready.

Legally, Noble believed he had to end his interrogation.  That's when the suspect surprised the detective with his own questions.  He wanted to know if New Jersey had the death penalty.  The detective told him the state had not executed anyone in years.  Lane continued.

Detective Geoff Noble: "If you were me," meaning if I, the detective was him, the suspect, would I talk.  And at that time, I said, "Absolutely, I would talk."  And during that interaction between he and I, it was at that point that I knew obviously-- for sure that Adam Lane was our-- was our killer, that he had killed Monica Massaro.

And yet the suspect had already ended the formal interrogation.  The New Jersey detective believed that legally he could not ask lane any more questions. With that, Noble and the other investigator left.  Would the trucker have a change of heart and talk to them again? 

Detective Geoff Noble: He was in this little interview room.  And as we were outside, he-- put his head in the window--

Hoda Kotb: Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.

Detective Geoff Noble: --and made eye contact with us.  And then he-- then he nodded--

Hoda Kotb: Nodded.

Detective Geoff Noble: --he went like this.

Hoda Kotb: So, you went back in?

Detective Geoff Noble: And I went back in.

And that's when the investigation into Monica Massaro's murder took its most dramatic turn.  With the camera back on, Lane allowed the detectives to resume the interrogation.  Yes, he told them, he knew all about that woman in New Jersey.

Lane: "I had the knife.  It was on the bed... about that long.  And she rolled against it.  And it cut right here.  There weren't nuthin' to do."

Lane offered his version of that night in New Jersey:  how he went looking to rob and found an unlocked door.  He said the victim fought back and accidentally slit her throat on his knife.  Detectives found the idea of an accident farfetched.  Still, Adam Leroy Lane had confessed to killing Monica Massaro.  And soon he was about to find himself in even more trouble.  Video: Hear from victims’ parents

Weeks after his confession in August 2007, test results came back on the knives confiscated from Adam Leroy Lane.  Investigators say one knife tested positive for the blood of yet another victim -- a woman from Pennsylvania.  Her name was Darlene Ewalt.

Ed Marsico: Now, we finally had the physical evidence that we'd been looking for since the-- minutes after the crime scene investigators-- had arrived at Mrs. Ewalt's home that July.  Now, they had that physical evidence.

The Pennsylvania prosecutor working the Ewalt homicide now had a new suspect: Adam Leroy Lane.  Someone with no connection to the victim, Darlene Ewalt.  A random murder.  To the prosecutor, that went against years of experience.

Ed Marsico: This is the kind of stuff you expect to see on the-- you know, the movie of the week. 

It also meant that Pennsylvania had been looking all along at the wrong man for the killing of Darlene Ewalt.  Her husband Todd, once a suspect, was now in the clear.  Todd Ewalt is still angry, saying investigators assumed too quickly that the spouse was to blame.

Todd Ewalt: I think they could have maybe thought outside the box a little bit, rather than look-- and deal with statistics.

In fact, Pennsylvania authorities say they have also linked Adam Leroy Lane -- through DNA evidence -- with another victim in that state: This woman, who was attacked just days after Darlene's murder.

Patricia Brooks: I sat up swung around and immediately grabbed for my throat cause i felt enormous pain

She had been sleeping in this house, about an hour from the Ewalts, when she felt pressure on her neck, and awoke to see a man dressed in black.

Patricia Brooks: I was grabbing for my throat ‘cause I seen the blood spilling out onto the carpet and I'm looking to see what the person to my right fleeing out the back door.

She screamed as her panicked family called for help.  Later she told police she had never clearly seen the man who had attacked her.  But now, Pennsylvania investigators are convinced they can prove through DNA evidence that that man was Adam Leroy Lane. 

Since his murder confession, the only entrance and exit ramps the former trucker has been taking are the ones into and out of court.

In December of 2007, Adam Leroy Lane pleaded guilty to assaulting Shea McDonough in

Video: ‘Blood was going everywhere’

Massachusetts and received a 25 to 30 year-sentence. Almost a year later, he pleaded guilty again in a New Jersey courtroom to the murder of Monica Massaro.  He listened as the prosecutor described the premeditated attack.  No accident, as Lane first described.

New Jersey gave Lane 50 years in prison. And this past June 2010, Lane made yet another court appearance, this time in Pennsylvania. To avoid a conviction at trial, and a likely death penalty, Lane pleaded guilty to the murder of Darlene Ewalt and attack on Patricia Brooks. He is now serving a life sentence for those crimes.

In the meantime, the relatives of Monica Massaro and Darlene Ewalt are grateful to the detectives who have helped put lane away. But those detectives insist the ones who really deserve the credit here are three people who showed unusual bravery.  The McDonough family's quick reaction to impending horror stopped a killer in his tracks.

Kevin McDonough: I had made a comment that there were angels in the house that night.  And I firmly believe it.

Jeannie McDonough: I-- I definitely believe it.

Hoda Kotb: What kind of angels?

Jeannie McDonough: You know, I think it could have been the spirit of the two women he had just killed, Darlene and Monica.  I-- I just feel the circumstances and the way they played out, and all the things that could have happened that didn't happen, and the things that did happen, there's no other explanation to me.

Kevin McDonough: There was too many circumstances.  So I-- I feel he was sent there by God to be stopped there.  Enough of your antics.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

Explainer: Evidence file

  • See photos of what Massachusetts police found in the possession of convicted killer Adam Leroy Lane after his attack on Chelmsford, Mass. resident Shea McDonough stopped him in his tracks in July 2007.

  • DVD

    A DVD Adam Leroy Lane had in his truck, "Hunting Humans"

  • Hood

    Hood for disguising identity

  • Knife

    Survival knife, also known as a "Rambo knife"

  • More knives

  • Other weapons

  • Mask

    Massachusetts police

    Mask for concealing face

  • Throwing star

    Massachusetts police

    Throwing star

  • Truck

    Massachusetts police

    Lane's truck

  • Choking wire

    Massachusetts police

    Choking wire

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