The Spree Killers: A Meth Connection?

Christopher Earl (left) and Jonathan Carpenter (right)

The string of murders was as gruesome and shocking as any in recent Minnesota history. On April 17, an 88-year-old man, William Schwartz, and his disabled daughter, Claudia, were found slaughtered in their northeast Minneapolis home. Eleven days later, the bodies of 49-year-old Holley Chromey and her two teenage children, Katie and Jerrod Zapzalka, were discovered in their residence in the central Minnesota town of Long Prairie.

Despite the 110-mile distance separating the two crime scenes, there were unsettling similarities. Both houses were burglarized late at night as the victims slept. According to Minneapolis police, the Schwartzes died as a result of "complex homicidal violence." Chromey and her kids were said to have been bludgeoned with a hammer and had their throats slit. All the victims seemed to have been selected at random.

After receiving a tip from an informant late last month, police arrested and charged two men with the Long Prairie killings: Jonathan Carpenter, 21, of Minneapolis, and Christopher Earl, 20, of Brooklyn Park. Then last Friday, Hennepin County prosecutors pressed formal charges in the Minneapolis slayings. Carpenter is accused of committing the murders. Earl faces charges of being an accomplice after the fact.

In the days following their arrests, bits of their life stories began to emerge. Both men had had brushes with the law for minor offenses--traffic violations, marijuana possession, and the like--and clearly troubled childhoods. While there was nothing in their criminal records that would explain such a rampage, one tantalizing detail cropped up repeatedly in interviews with people who knew Carpenter: his fondness for methamphetamine.

Police have yet to officially link the crime to meth use. Pressed on that issue, both Minneapolis and Long Prairie police decline comment. But Everett Giles, Carpenter's father, told one newspaper reporter that he got word some time ago his son had been buying crank, a street name for meth. He also said he observed Carpenter acting "hyper."

Two of Carpenter's ex-girlfriends told reporters he had drug problems. One said Carpenter became deeply depressed and suicidal when he tried to abstain--a common experience among meth addicts trying to kick. The other woman said meth was Carpenter's favorite drug, and she described a bizarre visit from Carpenter and Earl that bore the hallmarks of a meth binge. According to the woman, the two men showed up unexpectedly at her house in the early morning after the Chromey murders. They said they hadn't slept for three days, she told a reporter, yet both tried to persuade her to have sex. Later, she said, Carpenter boldly claimed to have killed five people.

Such brazenness, the sustained wakefulness, and a heightened libido are all classic symptoms of meth use.

And then there were the mug shots. Following the arrests, police released pictures of Carpenter and Earl. Both men had peculiar markings on their faces and arms. They could have come from a struggle with police or some other altercation. But among people who deal with meth users, the markings looked an awful lot like crank bugs: the ugly wounds meth users suffer as a result of repetitively scratching and picking at their skin.

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