Having just received his first paycheck from a busboy job at a nearby fast-food restaurant, John Feeny, 17, decided to take his girlfriend, Ranee Gregor, days shy of 16, on a date. He left with her in his family's rusted yellow van. They headed to a remote area of Findlay called lovers' lane. Hours later, on Oct. 22, 1977, the boy was shotgunned to death. The girl was missing.
They became two victims connected -- for years, only by widespread suspicion -- to serial killer Edward Surratt.
Now, almost 30 years later, Mr. Surratt has admitted to six unsolved murders, including the pair of teenagers, Beaver Township, Ohio, Police Chief Carl Frost said yesterday.
Mr. Surratt, currently serving multiple life sentences in Florida, was long suspected by police to have committed at least 18 murders, most of them in Ohio and Pennsylvania. During the fall and winter of 1977-78, Mr. Surratt pulled the region into a panic, most often by entering homes, shooting the male and often raping and killing the female.
Mr. Surratt also admitted, Chief Frost said, to the 1977 murders of David A. Hamilton and his wife, Linda; and John J. Davis and his wife, Mary. Those were the four unsolved cases in Mr. Frost's township.
He received a reminder of that following last year's county fair, when somebody -- he doesn't know who -- wrote the names of the Davis couple atop a photograph, posted at the fair, of the area police department. After a series of phone calls, Chief Frost arranged for two investigators in Florida -- one representing the Bal Harbour, Fla., police and one representing "America's Most Wanted" -- to question Mr. Surratt.
For his cooperation, Mr. Surratt wanted a transfer to a prison in South Carolina, where in 1978 he'd been convicted of killing a man with a baseball bat. He has been told prisons in that state have spring mattresses and air conditioning. Florida is willing to cooperate with the move, Chief Frost said, "because they're interested in getting rid of him anyway. He has been a pain."
Mr. Surratt, 65, a Marine Corps veteran and a former Aliquippa truck driver, agreed to speak only with the "America's Most Wanted" representative, Joe Matthews, a former homicide detective. He told Mr. Matthews that the bodies of both Linda Hamilton and Ranee Gregor, never found, were "unrecoverable."
Other details, Chief Frost said, were vague.
"He didn't sit down and say, 'I went in this door and I shot him when he said this.' He didn't give us the full admissions," Chief Frost said.
Police now want more details about the six murders and admissions to other unsolved cases. Chief Frost plans, perhaps within the next month, to travel to Florida to assist with the process.
After Ranee Gregor's disappearance, her parents kept the girl's room exactly as she'd left it. On the night of his date, John Feeny had been instructed to return the van to his parents by 10 p.m., so his mother -- who worked nights -- could drive to work. Rita Feeny, John's mother, says the loss "is still raw."
"I'd like my son back," she said. "That's not going to happen ... and I have to face that reality. If you have to be blunt, my son bled to death in our car; the fancy medical term is exsanguinate. But ... it's still there. You think about that on birthdays. There's a hole in all of your holidays. In everything. And it comes to the surface every so often, when you think about what would have happened if he'd had a chance to grow up."
Chico Harlan can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1227.