S T. L O U I S, Jan. 9, 2003 -- When police in St. Louis searched the home of suspected serial killer Maury Travis last summer, they found a secret torture chamber in the basement, with bondage equipment, a stun gun and clippings about the slayings he was suspected of.
But, most chilling of all, they found a videotape containing footage of his crimes.
The tape, labeled "Your Wedding Day," showed Travis tying women up and torturing and raping them. One scene showed him apparently strangling one of his victims to death.
The scenes on the tape were so disturbing that Police Chief Joe Mokwa ordered psychological counseling for the officers who viewed them. "They'll give you nightmares," he told ABCNEWS' Primetime.
Travis, a 36-year-old hotel waiter, hanged himself in jail before admitting to any of the murders, but St. Louis police believe he killed between 12 and 20 women. They have identified 12 of his victims as drug-addicted prostitutes whose bodies were dumped along city streets and country roads in the St. Louis area between March 2001 and May 2002.
But in a letter Travis sent to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — which helped lead police to him — he boasted of killing 17 women.
"He claims he killed 17 women. We're missing five of them," said Mokwa.
St. Louis police released excerpts from the videotape to ABCNEWS, which are being broadcast nationwide for the first time on Primetime Thursday.
Horrific Scenes on a ‘Wedding’ Tape
Police believe Travis picked up prostitutes along a strip of Broadway just north of St. Louis that is riddled with crack houses and prostitution, then took them to his ranch-style home in Ferguson, a nearby suburb.
They found numerous videotapes in Travis' home showing him giving the prostitutes crack cocaine to smoke, then having consensual sex with them. He apparently let some of the women leave at that point.
The "wedding" tape included similar scenes — including a shot of a woman sitting on Travis' bed after an introductory caption "ANOTHER CRACKHEAD HO." But it showed that in some cases — police are not sure how he chose his victims — Travis would start asking the women to engage in bizarre rituals, such as having them dance in white clothes or wear sunglasses with the lenses blackened so they could not see.
Then he would take them captive, binding them with ropes and handcuffs and covering their eyes with duct tape. He would then begin to torment them, either in the bedroom, or after dragging them downstairs to the basement and shackling them to a wooden post.
The excerpts the police released to Primetime show Travis tormenting the women verbally, taunting them about their fate and haranguing some of them over how they had abandoned their children for crack. One exchange, with an unidentified victim, went as follows:
Travis: You want to say something to your kids?Victim: I'm sorry.Travis: Who's raising your kids?Victim: Me, my mom and dad.Travis: You ain't raising s---, b----. You over here on your back smoking crack. You ain't going home tomorrow. I'm keeping you about a week. Is that all right?
He forced one victim to say to him, "You are the master. It pleases me to serve you." When he didn't like the way she said it, he yelled at her, "Say it clearer!"
When another victim tried to remove the duct tape covering her eyes and knocked his camera out of focus, he told her: "You don't need to see s---.... Lay down on your back. Shut your eyes."
At one point, a woman can be heard gasping in agony as he orders her, "Sit still!"
Tape Shows Apparent Strangulation
With one exception, the excerpts released to Primetime do not show Travis physically torturing the women, but blood splatters are visible on the walls and floor. When they examined the basement after his arrest, police found that the walls had been repainted several times, with layers of paint, then blood, then paint, then blood.
The exception is a scene in which Travis is seen wrapping a belt around a woman's neck and snapping it tight, choking her until her body goes limp. After delivering the blow — which police believe was fatal — Travis leaves the woman's naked body face down on the floor and is heard saying, "This is first kill. Number One. First kill was 19 years old. Name — I don't know. I don't give a f---."
Police who have viewed the entire tape say it shows Travis raping the women and penetrating them with foreign objects.
Letter to Newspaper Trips Him Up
Travis was arrested after sending a letter to a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch taunting him for writing a "sob story" about one of his victims. He attached a computer-generated map to the letter, marked with an X where he said police would find a body. They found a skeleton at the site, and traced the map to Travis' computer.
Read about the cyberhunt.
After his arrest, Travis was locked in a super-maximum security jail cell and put on suicide watch with a guard outside his door. But during a one-hour shower break — the one time of day the guard did not have a clear view of all of his cell — Travis managed to hang himself in the back corner, using a thin rope he had braided from a torn-up sheet. He had also bound his own hands behind his back.
St. Louis police are confident that Travis was the killer who was responsible for the bodies that were turning up through 2001 and 2002. Whether or not his boast of 17 victims was accurate, police believe he probably killed more victims than the 12 they have identified so far.
"Who are these other women and where are they?" said Chief Mokwa. "There's some families out here that have a lost loved one, and they'll always be uncertain of what happened to them."
Detectives in the St. Louis Police Department are looking for any information that could help them find more of Maury Travis' victims. To contact the investigators, call (314) 444-5371.
ABCNEWS is also interested in hearing information you might have for a follow-up. E-mail Primetime.