By Chris Bunton
More appropriately labeled a “Spree Killer”, Raymond Lee Stewart kept Rockford, Illinois in fear during his shooting spree in January of 1981.
Raymond Lee Stewart was born in Burlington, North Carolina. He had a rough up bringing full of poverty, physical and sexual violence. I say this, not as an excuse but as a means of trying to determine what causes or creates killers such as Stewart.
The family moved to Rockford, Illinois where Raymond went to school. He was kicked out of high school for getting into a fight with other kids over politics, according to sources.
He began a life of crime that involved assault and armed robbery. He was eventually caught and served 6 years in prison for robbery.
After his release he went back to North Carolina to live with family. But, he returned to Rockford, when his child was born.
It was some time after this that he went on his killing spree. It seems as though he just snapped, and crossed a line from being a robber to being a murderer.
He was living in a motel on Rockford’s west side. The Westward Motel.
From there, he went down the road and killed Willie Fredd and Albert Pearson at Fredd’s Grocery Store, which was owned by Willie. Raymond killed him because Fredd had testified against him in the robbery case that put Stewart in prison. Stewart claimed that he shot Pearson because he tried to run.
Willie Fredd and Albert Pearson were both African American. This matters because Raymond’s next victims were all white and Raymond said that he murdered them for racial reasons.
He told an interviewer that he was upset because white people had killed JFK, and Martin Luther King Jr.
After killing Fredd, Raymond killed Kevin Kaiser and Kenny Faust both were gas station attendants.
He then went down the road to Beloit, Wisconsin where he murdered Richard Boeck and Donald Rains in a Radio Shack at the Beloit Plaza Mall.
In an interview, Raymond claimed he was on his way to kill his mother’s landlord, when a voice told him to stop killing.
He was captured and sentenced to death by lethal injection, for killing Fredd and Pearson.
He was on trial again for killing Kaiser when he escaped the courthouse and was shot. They found him hiding in an oil drum.
He was put to death on Sept. 18, 1996 at Statesville Prison, in Illinois.
His last words were, “Hello to everyone. May you all have peace because of this. May my victims’ families have peace,”
He asked to have Cardinal Joseph Bernadin of the Archdiocese of Chicago, to pray with him. This caused a stir, because Stewart was not Catholic. His reason was because the Cardinal has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and felt that the Cardinal could really understand the concerns of a condemned man.
I traveled to Rockford recently and investigated this killer.
The city of Rockford has changed a lot since the days when Stewart committed his crime. The Westward Motel no longer exists, and neither does Fredd’s Grocery.
I went down to the West side of Rockford, and it is a low income area, that is per-dominantly African American. There are a few small grocery stores and two old motels, “The Rustic Motel, and the “Gold Star Motel” But, there was no indication of where the Westward motel, or Fredd’s was located.
I asked several longtime Rockford residents about the incident. They remembered the shootings and what went on during the time. But, none of them could place the location of the Westward Motel or Fredd’s Grocery.
The Beloit Plaza Mall, had changed several times, and is now office space, and even Joliet prison where Stewart spent time for robbery has ceased to function as a prison.
The entire place has moved on.
In my opinion, Raymond came back to Rockford, and experienced some break down in relation to his kid. Maybe they would not let him see the child or be a part of the kid’s life. Or he could not find a job, because of his past and couldn’t provide for the child or have a home.
This led Stewart to feel that his life was worth nothing, and decided to go get the man who had sent him to prison. Willie Fredd.
Then, after killing Fredd, and Pearson, Raymond decided that his life was over and that he should go out with a bang or serve some purpose. So, he killed random white people who he felt had created the system that oppressed him. Maybe he was seeking to make himself famous in some way. Like a folk hero, perhaps in his own mind.
If it’s possible to explain the twisted logic of this killer, I think this might have been what happened.
Bio: Chris Bunton is a writer, blogger and poet from Southern Illinois.