'Casanova Killer': Serial Killer Linked to At Least 18 Murders in 1974 Started Reign of Terror in Jacksonville (2023)

JACKSONVILLE, Florida.- Around the same time, the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy was roaming the country kidnapping and murdering young women. Another suspected serial killer, who some have also described as terrifying and attractive victims, in Florida and Georgia and beyond.

His name was Paul John Knowles. He later became known as the "Casanova Killer".

A journalist who knew her very well called her a "dream ship" and said she looked like a "cross between Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neal". But behind that good looks and courteous demeanor was evil, investigators and the families of the victims said.

Knowles is not as well known as Bundy, whose story rose to fame in 2019 whenNetflix released a popular documentary about his life., but some said his crimes were more heinous and shocking. Unlike other known serial killers, Knowles did not follow a pattern.

Knowles is accused of indiscriminately shooting and strangling men, women, children and the elderly over a seven-month period in 1974. In some cases, the deaths were related to sexual assaults.

"He left a body almost everywhere he went," said a former investigator.

Knowles, who was born in Orlando in 1946, was officially charged with murdering four people in Georgia, two in Florida and one in Ohio.reported the Atlanta Journal Constitution, but it is believed to have killed at least 18 people and perhaps as many as 35. No one is sure of an exact number.

Knowles was never tried for the crimes he was accused of, because he was shot and killed by a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent while allegedly trying to escape custody outside of Atlanta.

Jacksonville Prison Break Starts Murder Spree

According to media reportsKnowles is believed to have started his murder spree in the summer of 1974 after picking a lock and escaping from his jail cell in Jacksonville, where he was serving time for stabbing a bartender. The first known victim of hers is believed to be retired Jacksonville Beach teacher Alice Curtis, 65, who died the night she escaped from prison after being bound and gagged during a robbery.

AAccording to a Florida Times-Union report, five girls, ages 6 to 12, disappeared within three months in 1974.at the time of Curtis's death. Prosecutors ultimately concluded that two girls, Annette Anderson, 11, and her sister Mylette, 6, were abducted from her Oceanway home and killed by Knowles, according to the Times-Union.

Knowles later wrote a letter about some of his victims, claiming that he was responsible for the disappearance and murder of the Anderson sisters.Informes de First Coast News. He said he left their bodies at the end of Commonwealth Avenue, but police searched the area.and i never found it.

But Sgt. Dan Janson of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Homicide Division told FCN he had doubts Knowles was responsible, noting some believed he exaggerated the number of people he had killed to gain notoriety. Knowles' brother, Clifton Knowles, later said that he did not believe his sister had killed the girls.

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Knowles is also believed to be responsible for the death of 49-year-old Marjorie Howie in Atlantic Beach. She was found strangled with her own stockings.

Several of Knowles' alleged victims resided in Georgia.

Knowles is believed to have broken into the Musella home of Kathie Sue Pierce in August 1974.Knowles strangled PierceHowever, she left her 3-year-old son unharmed.

In November of that year, Knowles befriended Carswell Carr in Milledgeville and was invited to Carr's home in an affluent neighborhood. He was thereIt is believed that he stabbed Carr.with scissors at least 27 times and strangled Carr's 15-year-old daughter.

"It was the bloodiest crime scene I've ever seen," said retired detective James Josey.

Kathy Pierce, 24, of Musella in Crawford County, was another of his alleged victims.mar AJC. Knowles is also associated with hitchhikers Edward Hilliard and Debbie Griffin, who were murdered near Milledgeville in early November 1974. Griffin's body has never been found.

Murders on the west coast?

The first series of Knowles murders may have occurred in San Francisco in May 1974."The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers".

Author Michael Newton wrote that Knowles was serving time in Florida State Prison in Starke when he made a connection through letters to a California divorcee. The woman visited Knowles in prison and helped get him released, according to the book, and Knowles later proposed to her.

But after Knowles flew to San Francisco, the woman chickened out and called off the engagement. The woman said Knowles projected an "aura of fear" that startled her.This was reported by the New York Daily News.

The night he was abandoned, Knowles claimed that he went out and killed three random people in the Bay Area according to Newton's book, but these claims have never been verified.

But the trip seemed to fundamentally change him.

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When he returned to Jacksonville, police said the documented killing had begun.

secret tapes

Much of what is known about the Knowles-related murders comes directly from him.

Knowles recorded confessions and spoke in gruesome detail about their alleged murders on secret tapes, which he sent to his Florida attorney, Sheldon Yavitz.

"Wait, I'm a serial killer," Yavitz once told Knowles.according to an in-depth documentary on Knowles produced by Atlanta-based television station 11 Alive.

Knowles told people that he wanted to be famous for his murders and believed that the tapes would help him achieve that.

Yavitz was criticized citing attorney-client privilege and was arrested and held in contempt of court for refusing to release the tapes.

"I said, 'I don't represent the dead,'" Yavitz said in a 2019 interview.

He eventually turned the tapes over to authorities after he and his wife were arrested for contempt of court.

In the images, Knowles described 16 murders in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Connecticut.

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In 2011, a transcript of the tape helped identify the remains of a Texas girl, Ima Jean Sanders, who had been missing since August 1974.

These confession tapes later disappeared.

who escaped

But not everyone who crossed Knowles' path suffered a brutal death that ended up on these tapes. It has been documented that she formed brief connections with two women in particular, and they survived to share her experiences. Some think it was a calculated move to let them survive.

One of the lucky ones was Sandy Fawkes, a British journalist whom Knowles met in an Atlanta hotel bar. Fawkes said the two became lovers, eventually breaking up after a few days. Fawkes wrote a book titled about their encounter."Born Killer: In Love with a Serial Killer"where he talked about "how he charmed her and how she almost became his 19th victim." She later found out that he had killed her just two days before they met.

Another known survivor was a young Florida copywriter named Barbara Mabee Abel. Abel said Knowles abducted her in West Palm Beach and took her north to Fort Pierce, where she repeatedly raped her. Abel was tied up but managed to escape.

"I had no idea how many he had killed," Abel said in an interview many years later. "He kept trying to tell me, and I wasn't listening."

Abel said she believed her life was saved because she was a copywriter, and Knowles told her she wanted to write a book about the murders she committed.

"I wanted to be famous. Famous for what? Murder someone?" Abel said.

After all, Abel wrote a book:"One Survivor: 35 Dead, How I Became the Lone Survivor Kidnapped and Raped by Casanova's (Paul John Knowles) Serial Killer"– but it didn't make Knowles as famous as he'd hoped.

Knowles' brother and lawyer later said they believed Knowles knew he would eventually die or be arrested and was trying to complete a book deal with the proceeds going to his mother.

Capture and death of a murderer.

The beginning of the end began when Knowles was pulled over by Florida Highway Trooper Charles Campbell in Perry, a small town about 70 miles west of Lake City, after Campbell noticed the stolen car he was driving.

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Knowles was able to take Campbell hostagesea ​​fhp, and used the police car's siren to stop a motorist, James Meyer, and take his car. He was accused of handcuffing both men to a tree in Pulaski County, Georgia, and shooting them in the head.

Two days later, Knowles hit the run after running through a roadblock and into a tree in Georgia. A large group of officers and dogs gave chase, but it was finally a hunter with a shotgun who stopped Knowles and held him until he was apprehended.

Knowles did not live much longer.

According to the AJC, in December 1974, Knowles was taken from the Douglas County Jail to a location where he said he left a gun used in one of the murders. On the way, GBI said he picked the lock on his handcuffs and tried to take an agent's gun.

"[GBI Agent Ron Angel] pulled out his five-shooter and shot and killed Knowles, shooting him three times in the chest," said GBI Agent Roy Harris.he told a television station in Macon. “The car went off the road and crashed. Fortunately they didn't get too hurt and that was the end of that race."

Knowles was 28 years old at the time of her death.

But Knowles' attorney said he didn't buy the Georgia law enforcement story.

"I can't believe he tried to escape," Yavitz said.mar AJC.

When Knowles died, so did any hope of learning more about the trail of death she is believed to have left behind.

But investigators across the country are still trying to piece together unsolved homicides that may have ties to the most notorious serial killer you probably haven't heard of—until now.

Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX - All Rights Reserved.

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