They called Paul John Knowles the “Casanova Killer.”
During the troubled summer of 1974, this maniac hit the road, leaving nothing but carnage in his wake so it seemed. He killed in Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Texas and Connecticut.
Knowles was a Florida-born psychopath who grew up in foster homes and juvie. Petty crime came earlier as he climbed the ladder of criminality. In early 1974, he met a divorcee from San Francisco. She paid the lawyers and got him sprung from prison in the Sunshine State.
Back in Jacksonville, Knowles stabbed a bartender then proceeded to escape from jail. It was July 26, 1974. In the free and easy 1970s, armed with a smirk, charm and flowing hair, meeting women was not a problem for Knowles.
By the time his killing spree ended on a dusty Georgia highway, he had murdered 18 people — and he claimed there were still more.
His motive was a desperate desire for fame, so it’s bitterly ironic he never joined the pantheon of homicidal superstars like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and other monsters. And for posterity, he recorded confessions of each of his murders.
Retired detective James Josey described the murder scene of a father and daughter in Georgia as a horror show.
Alice Curtis, 65, was the first victim. Knowles bound and gagged the Jacksonville woman. She was choked to death.
Within hours he kidnapped and strangled family acquaintances, sisters Lillian and Mylette Anderson. They were respectively 11 and 7 years old. Knowles feared they would finger him.
Ima Jean Sanders, 13, a Texas runaway who wasn’t ID’d until 2011, was the next to die. She vanished on Aug. 1, 1974.
More murders in Florida and Georgia.
On Sept. 3, 1974 he murdered Ohio Power Company executive William Bates after meeting him in a Lima watering hole.
On Sept. 18, 1974, he shot and killed two elderly campers in Nevada. He raped and murdered a stranded motorcyclist named Charlynn Hicks east of San Antonio.
He killed a beautician in Alabama, a mother and her teen daughter in Connecticut, a woman in Virginia, a father and his teen daughter in Georgia who had opened their home to him.
There were a couple close calls that fall, but Knowles always slipped through the noose.
And then on Nov. 16, 1974, he kidnapped a Florida State Trooper. He pulled over another car to switch vehicles. He executed both men in a Georgia forest.
Finally, he was captured by citizens.
But before he could face justice, Knowles attempted his final gambit on Dec. 18, 1974.
He tried to grab the gun of one of the cops taking him to a crime scene.
Georgia Bureau of Investigations Agent Ronnie Angel pumped three bullets from his .357 Magnum into Knowles’s chest. He was dead at the scene.