My Serial-Killer Barber
In 1996, I re-enlisted in the military, this time for a tour with the U.S. Navy. I was assigned to the crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier, based at the time in Bremerton, Washington. From ’97 to 2000, I worked as an Information Systems 水性潤滑劑 Technician aboard the Nimitz and circumnavigated the globe with (among many others) this man: John Eric Armstrong.
I knew Petty Officer Armstrong from the ship’s barber shop where he periodically took clippers to my head and, on a single occasion, a razor to my throat.
I did not know Armstrong personally, did not run in the same social circles as he. We worked on opposite ends of an enormous war ship. Our exchanges in the barber chair were brief and lively. I liked Armstrong, particularly his penchant for making light of serious subjects – often himself – which suited me just fine. His shipmates called him “Opie” (after the Andy Griffith Show character) for his red hair, freckled complexion and country demeanor.
I doubt Armstrong would remember me, seeing as I was but one of hundreds of customers, nor do I expect he’d recall the occasion I asked him to shave a few stray hairs from my throat. Armstrong obliged, accidentally nicking me above the collar. We joked about a hardship discharge as he wiped away the blood.
In the Spring of ’98, Nimitz reached the port of Newport News, Virginia, and Armstrong, completing his enlistment, was honorably discharged. I never saw him again.
That’s how it goes with most military relationships. One is thrown in with a motley assortment of characters from all corners of the United States. One lives with them, sweats with them, experiences adventures, sometimes fights with them, then each go their separate ways, often never to be heard from again (Facebook has altered this dynamic somewhat). Occasionally, these figures resurface in your life, sometimes in peculiar ways.
Twelve months after the Nimitz reached Virginia, twenty-six-year-old Eric “Opie” Armstrong appeared in the national headlines. The papers reported that he’d settled in Dearborn Heights, Michigan with his wife and daughter. The Detroit police were holding him on three counts of murder and three attempted counts.
Armstrong ultimately was charged with killing five prostitutes in the greater Detroit area. Upon arrest, he confided to police that he was responsible for numerous murders stretching back to before his Navy enlistment. Armstrong confessed to killing women in Washington, Virginia, Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Israel and Thailand. It seemed with every Nimitz port of call Armstrong would find a hooker, have sex with her, then try to kill her.
In March 2001, Armstrong was put on trial for several of the murders. His lawyers attempted an insanity defense, yet the jury did not buy it and found Armstrong guilty. He was sentenced to life in state prison.
I recall interviews with Armstrong’s Detroit neighbors who regarded him as a solid citizen and devoted family man. He even ran errands for the blind woman across the street. You’ve seen these post-tragedy interviews with acquaintances of a serial killer: “He seemed like such a nice man?”. Armstrong was a nice man, to most people. He was also a deeply troubled soul.