The Forgotten Serial Killer
Little is known about the Chameleon, Stephen Morin, who is suspected of killing over 30 people, but hardly anyone has heard his name.
Stephen Morin via Wikipedia
Stephen Peter Morin was born on the 19th February 1951 in Providence, Rhode Island. He left school early, quickly developing a drug habit and a penchant for getting into trouble with the law.
At 15 years old, Morin was arrested in Florida for stealing a car, for which he served a two-year sentence. In 1972, he stole another vehicle and was found in possession of LSD. For these crimes, he was sentenced to five years’ probation.
In 1976, he moved to San Francisco, where he constantly changed his identity and found work as a mechanic. This year he was also arrested in San Rafael, California, for possession of a syringe and resisting arrest. However, he only was sentenced to a year of probation because he used a fake identity.
In September of the same year, Morin abducted, raped and tortured a 14-year-old girl. From this point, he was added to the FBI's most-wanted list.
Morin’s next move was to Las Vegas, Nevada, under the alias Robert Ireland. Here, he met his future wife, a schoolteacher named Sylvia. While visiting Sylvia’s family in Connecticut, Morin toured Yale University’s library to search the obituaries for men who were of similar ages and appearance to him. He then obtained a birth certificate for one of these men, Robert Generoso, planning to keep it as a fake identity for a later date.
Shortly after, he was arrested in Pleasanton, California, for pulling a gun on two men during an argument. Morin gave another alias to police and was released from jail on $500 bail, pending trial.
In January 1980, Morin abducted 19-year-old Susan Belote. Her body was found months later in Utah, but she wouldn’t be identified straight away.
In June 1980, Cheryl Daniels was shot dead by Morin. She'd dated him under the alias Andrew Ireland. Her body was found six months later in the Utah desert. However, this time, Morin has dropped a bank card next to her body.
Morin then stalked one of Cheryl’s friends, Sarah Pisan, at her job at a gas station. Because of his countless identities and disguises, Sarah had no idea that the seemingly friendly man she knew as Robert Generoso was the same man her friend was dating when she disappeared.
Sarah began to receive offensive beeper messages from her stalker and eventually went to the police when she found out it was Generoso. The police kept an eye on Stephen Morin, waiting to see what he would do next, meanwhile letting Sarah look through a large mugshot book, so she could point out her stalker. Later, the police told her that all of the photographs were of one person in different disguises; Stephen Morin.
Some of Stephen Morin’s disguises
In December 1980, now estranged from his wife, Sylvia, he called telling her he was leaving Las Vegas. He didn’t tell her where he was going, but it was suspected he was in Hawaii. In the following weeks, Morin continued to call Sylvia and asked about news on the murders, insisting that the police were setting him up.
The timeline is vague from the hereafter. However, at some point, Morin travelled back to mainland America and hitchhiked to Louisiana, where he found work as a machinist. He also travelled to Buffalo, New York, where he met Rita Xavier.
Rita owned an antique shop, which Morin convinced her to sell so they could buy a van to travel across the country. They purchased the van and started their travels, stopping in Denver to visit Rita’s family. The couple decided to stay, and Morin found work as a painter. In the fall of 1981, he killed Sheila Walen, a 23-year-old, in Golden.
The couple left Colorado soon after and headed to Texas. On the way to their destination, Morin disappeared once again and attacked 21-year-old Janna Bruce in Corpus Christi. Her body was found a few months later.
Rita didn’t like how Morin looked at other women and was jealous of the charm he exuded, and she eventually left him. According to Rita’s son’s statement, she knew nothing about the murders, and her son unsuspectingly helped soundproof the van before their trip.
Morin quickly found another companion, 32-year-old Sara Clarke, who knew of his killing spree, and the couple travelled through Texas in Morin’s van. In December 1981, they attempted to abduct 21-year-old Carrie Scott when she caught them trying to steal her car. Although Morin claimed he didn’t want to kill her, he did so anyway, and her body was found in a restaurant car park in San Antonio.
The police were on the couple's trail by this point and were following them from a distance. Finally, the police surrounded the hotel where they were living and stormed the room, where they found an abductee, 23-year-old Pamela Jackson, who had been held hostage for weeks. Sarah Clarke was captured, but Morin evaded arrest and escaped out the back of the hotel.
He then abducted another girl, 14-year-old Margy Mayfield, and held her hostage for hours in his car. During this time, Margy recited bible quotes to him and finally convinced him to let her go. He released Margy in Austin, where he planned to take a bus to Fort Worth. He wanted to try and meet preacher and televangelist Kenneth Copeland, but he was captured at the bus station before boarding his bus. This finally saw the end of the FBI manhunt for the Chameleon.
Morin was convicted in two separate trials for the murders of Carrie Scott and Janna Bruce in Texas. He was also found guilty in Colorado for the murder of Sheila Whalen. The state of Utah was also due to sentence Morin for Cheryl Daniels’ murder, but this was retracted due to the convictions holding in Texas. Despite finding numerous fake identities in the San Antonio hotel, leading police to believe that he had killed more women than they knew about, there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
Stephen Morin became the second man in Texas to plead guilty to capital murder, shocking the legal community.
“Morin’s new-found faith was significant in his decision to plead guilty and withdraw all appeals.” — Pete Torres, defence lawyer.
Whilst in prison, Morin received a degree in biblical teachings. He had become a born-again Christian and led bible study groups for his fellow prisoners. One of his last visitors in prison was preacher Kenneth Copeland, who baptised him.
In March 1985, Stephen Morin was executed by lethal injection at Texas State Prison in Huntsville. It took over 30 minutes to find a usable vein due to his history of drug abuse.
Morin’s last words were a prayer.
“Heavenly Father, I give thanks for this time, for the time that we have been together, the fellowship in your world, the Christian family presented to me (He called the names of the personal witnesses.). Allow your holy spirit to flow as I know your love has been showered upon me. Forgive them for they know not what they do, as I know that you have forgiven me, as I have forgiven them. Lord Jesus, I commit my soul to you, I praise you, and I thank you.”
It’s surprising that so little is known about Stephen Morin and his aliases. He committed multiple, vicious crimes, yet he has little notoriety compared to the likes of Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer.
It could be to do with other events happening at the time. Although 1974 was a notorious time for serial killers, the 1980s were just as poignant.
Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, was active in 1985 and spree-killed 14 people in Los Angeles. Larry Eyler, the Interstate Killer, was believed to have killed between 19 and 23 people from 1982-84 in five states. Doug Clark and Carol Bundy, the Sunset Strip Killers, murdered multiple people in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Jeffrey Dahmer in Wisconsin had killed and eaten his victims in the 1980s and 90s.
It doesn’t appear that there was enough headline space to include all of these serial killers. The articles written about them were soap operas. Newspapers had to ensure that their chosen serial killer was a well-rounded villain who had a backstory. Readers tuned in every day to find out news on the case and what would happen next.
Stephen Morin - the Chameleon - was overlooked because he moved around. He didn’t stay in one place long enough to pique one state’s interest. As a result, no one realised his notoriety until trial, and by then, the media circus was over. He was invisible.