by Mike Roche

On July 31st, 1979, a bank teller in Florence, Kentucky, discovered a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. The bank quickly alerted the U.S. Secret Service, who initiated an investigation. The Secret Service examined the bill and determined that based on its unique characteristics, there was a new printer manufacturing this fake money. By the end of 1980, over $30,000 worth of these particular counterfeit bills had been discovered in 38 states. In 1982, over $130,000 worth of counterfeit bills were tendered across 44 states. The technique used to pass the bills was consistent with many counterfeit operations. The counterfeit bills were used to purchase small items such as candy bars and the passer received genuine cash in return. The U.S. Secret Service labeled the case as the “The Mall Passer” because of the tendency to pass the counterfeit in shopping malls.

amesThe investigation was able to develop a composite sketch from a number of victims who provided a consistent description of a white male described as 5′ 9″ to 5’10” tall and 160 to 170 pounds with black hair wearing dark framed eyeglasses, probably in his early thirties. The sketch was distributed to areas across the country that had previously been victimized in hopes that investigators would receive a break.

ames6On May 25th, 1983, the composite sketch hit pay dirt. The Secret Service had just completed a canvass and distribution of sketches in the Foothill Mall in Maryville, Tennessee, about twenty miles south of Knoxville. Minutes after one of the agents left the Waldenbooks, James Mitchell “Mike” DeBardeleben entered the bookstore and purchased a paperback with a fake $20 bill. The clerk recognized the suspect from the sketch and alerted mall security. The Secret Service agent ran back into the mall and after a foot chase, Maryville Police and the Secret Service were able to apprehend “The Mall Passer.” DeBardeleben was not cooperative and refused to answer any questions.

When agents searched his car, they found items indicating he may have been involved in crimes that were far more serious and diabolical. The search uncovered a number of guns, thousands of dollars in counterfeit money,a substantial amount of pornography, drugs, forged drivers licenses, eighteen stolen license plates, a mail order police badge and dozens of small bags containing small items purchased during the counterfeit scheme.

ames7Back in Washington, D.C., agents began attempting to identify whom the Knoxville agents had arrested. The suspect was carrying identification in the name of Roger Blanchard and driving a car with stolen license plates, that was registered to James Jones of Alexandria, Virginia. Eventually, agents were able to determine Blanchard and Jones were one in the same. They located the Alexandria apartment in the name of Mr. Jones and prepared a search warrant. The agents were disappointed to find a benign bachelor’s apartment with no evidence of wrongdoing. One agent found a piece of paper that appeared to bookmark a page in the telephone book listing storage facilities.

ames9They began inquiring with all the nearby storage facilities. The manager of Landmark Storage told the agents that she had been expecting them after seeing some suspicious contents when Mr. Jones had left the door to his unit unlocked. The storage locker was filled with briefcases, plastic envelopes, overstuffed paper bags, and other containers, including two large footlockers. Some of the items found were handcuffs, twine, a ski mask, a camera used for counterfeiting, $52,760 worth of counterfeit money, a police badge, handwritten notes, phone numbers, and women’s names and addresses. In addition to drug paraphernalia, they found more troubling items including, whips, a dildo, and another bag containing what was described as a “death kit” containing shoelaces, a choker chain, K-Y jelly, and handcuffs. An audio tape found was played. The agents heard the horrific sounds of a female screaming for mercy and pleading to be untied. She pleaded with “Mike” to let her die. The agents were stunned by the tortured screams of the helpless victim.

Additional storage facilities were identified from receipts. In a facility in Manassas, Virginia, they located more pornography, $207,000 in counterfeit money and the printing press used to print the money.

ames10The FBI was contacted, but with no identified crime victims other than those who had received the counterfeit money, they were not willing to investigate. The Secret Service compiled a database of violent crimes in the geographic areas and within the associated time frame that corresponded with counterfeit activity of the Mall Passer. The FBI’s fingerprint identification unit identified the man in custody as a career criminal named James Mitchell DeBardeleben II, known as Mike. His criminal history included arrests for theft, sodomy, kidnapping, attempted murder, and weapons charges. DeBardeleben’s rap sheet also showed that he been arrested by the Secret Service as a counterfeiter in 1976, for passing fake hundred dollar bills. He had spent two years in prison for that crime.

Eventually, a horrific profile was developed indicating that this was not an ordinary counterfeiter. This was a possible serial killer, sexual sadist, and rapist. The exact number of victims may never be known. DeBardeleben refused to provide any insight. The Secret Service believes that his crime spree spanned eighteen years. Some of his heinous acts were identified.

In 1978, in Delaware, DeBardeleben picked up a nursing student named Lucy Alexander, who had just had an argument with her boyfriend and was walking down a deserted road. Posing as a police officer, he handcuffed her and took her to his residence. He repeatedly raped and sodomized her, forced her to perform oral sex on him, and then released her in an isolated area.

ames2A few months later on February 4th, 1979, he kidnapped Fayetteville, North Carolina real estate agent Elizabeth Mason. When he pointed a gun at her, she realized she was about to be raped. Mason went berserk, hitting him and screaming in an attempt to avoid becoming a victim of the attack. She was repeatedly choked and he banged her head on a wall until she lost consciousness, then he left her for dead after stealing her purse.

On June 1st, 1979, DeBardeleben, using the ruse of being a police officer, kidnapped Laurie Jensen who was walking home from work. He took her to his home and for 24 hours, raped and sodomized her. She was compelled to engage in oral sex and to masturbate herself using an oversized dildo. He demanded that she call him “Daddy,” and took pictures and audiotaped her throughout the entire ordeal. She was released a few blocks from her home.

On November 1st, 1980, DeBardeleben, using the ploy of a flashing light and siren, pulled over Dianne Overton near the Capital Beltway. She was suspicious at the start, but nevertheless, before long, she was handcuffed and forced into his car. However, despite being handcuffed, the singularly determined victim managed to fight him off using her feet to kick him and found the door handle of the car and escaped to safety.

ames8On November 12th, 1980, DeBardeleben kidnapped Maria Santini, who was working as a clerk in New Jersey. He first robbed the cash register at gunpoint and then tied her wrists and ankles. He drove her to a residence where he stripped her and tied her hands and feet, then took pictures of her in provocative poses while he was dressed in women’s clothing. Although he groped her, he did not rape her. He then released her in a secluded area.

On April 27th, 1982, DeBardeleben kidnapped real estate agent Jean McPhaul in Bossier City, Louisiana, after posing as Doctor Zack, a perspective client. Her body was later found in an attic of a new home, lashed to a rafter by a belt around her throat. She was fully clothed and had two stab wounds to the chest. The bloody blade was wiped on her white blouse. Her purse was never recovered and the autopsy revealed no sexual assault.

DeBardeleben’s five former wives described horrors similar to those of his victims. Agents believe that he “practiced” his fantasies on his wives, prior to acting them out on the women he kidnapped. DeBardeleben’s third wife, when interviewed in court testified that to him, “all women were whores, sluts, tramps.” His most wicked and perverse fantasies were practiced on his fourth wife, Caryn. A detailed description titled “Script/Scenario” written by DeBardeleben described dialogue he would have ames4with her while torturing her. It was her voice that was heard screaming for mercy on the audio tape found in the storage facility.
By the time investigators were done piecing together the evidence against DeBardeleben, he faced eleven indictments, including two for murder, in nine states. Among these indictments were six charges for counterfeiting in various states; sodomy, robbery and armed criminal action in Missouri; kidnapping charges in Connecticut; and a federal kidnapping charge in Baltimore.
ames3The Secret Service re-printed copies of the photos from the negatives taken from DeBardeleben’s storage unit. DeBardeleben had edited the photographs to remove parts of his body that appeared in the photos. An FBI forensic photographic analyst compared pictures of distinguishing moles and scars on DeBardeleben’s body to those of the male in the photograph and determined they were the same. Handwriting samples were compared to notes and diaries found in his storage unit by a handwriting expert, and again he was determined to be the author. Head and pubic hair samples from the suspect were compared to the samples taken from his known victims during forensic examinations after they had been victimized. From the trace evidence, scientists were able to conclude that the hair samples from the victims matched his.

DeBardeleben was tried and convicted in six separate cases for counterfeiting, kidnapping and assault. He received a total sentencing of 375 years. He never stood trial nor was he convicted of murder. Other states decided to forgo lengthy trials after his lengthy sentence. DeBardeleben refused to acknowledge his crimes and claimed that the Secret Service manufactured their evidence against him in an effort to build their case. The true extent of his crime spree will never be known. He died in prison in 2011, at the age of 74.


Please click here to view Mike Roche’s previous posts:

Family Annihilator Darin Campbell Murders His Family and Torches Lavish Tampa Mansion

Alex Hribal Was Desperate and Said He Wanted Someone to Kill Him

Columbia Mall Shooter Darion Aguilar Followed the Model of Notorious Mass Murderers

Peter Lanza Speaks: The Lethal and Unvarnished Truth about His Son Adam

FHP Officer Jimmy Fulford Fields Pipe Bomb Intended for Young Mother with His Bare Hands and Dies Instantly

Fire Department and California Highway Patrol Go 9 Rounds: Win, Lose or Draw?

The Boston Bombers: A Tale of Two Troubled Brothers

Don’t Text at the Movies, The Life You Lose May Be Your Own!

Killers and the Catcher in the Rye

mikeMike Roche has over three decades of law enforcement experience. He began his career with the Little Rock Police Department, and spent twenty-two years with the U.S. Secret Service. The last fifteen years of his career were focused on conducting behavioral threat assessments of those threatening to engage in targeted violence. He is the author of three novels and two nonfiction works on mass murder and also rapport building. Retired, Mike is currently a security consultant at Protective Threat LLC, and an adjunct instructor at Saint Leo University. He resides in Florida with his family.

Mass Killers: How you Can Identify, Workplace, School, or Public Killers Before They Strike

Face 2 Face: Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide

The Blue Monster

Coins of Death



32 Responses to The Grisly Details of Serial “Mall Killer” Mike DeBardeleben’s Actions Will Never Be Known

  1. liselasalle says:

    Wow the srong and silent type. What a story. Fascinating!

  2. Lori says:

    Drugs, guns, theft, kidnap, torture, rape, possible serial killer AND a counterfeiter?!? Please tell me this is extremely rare for a lone individual to do… I mean it sounds like an organized crime ring. Did any of this case occur while you were with the Secret Service Mike? I’m astonished by the sheer volume of crimes and the fact that he isn’t a household name like Bundy or Gacy. How was he so different that he didn’t seek attention after he was caught? What an enigma….

    Yep, fascinating is the word- Thank you Mike!

    • Mike Roche says:

      Hi Lori, I agree that it is unusual that he never provided any insight into the crime spree, but I believe it was his way of maintaining control and his superiority in a similar fashion to his victims and wives. This case occurred prior to my career, but I did work with several of the agents on the case. Cheers, Mike

  3. Rick says:

    Great post, Mike! What a fascinating story. If not for the serendipity of the sales clerk recognizing the bill passer from a sketch that the Secret Service agent had shown only minutes earlier, this lunatic may never have been caught.

  4. Darcia Helle says:

    Wow. I’d never heard of this guy. He was certainly well-rounded…

  5. Adam says:

    Mike, I consider myself to be a an amateur expert on DeBardeleben. I have cataloged over 100 murders, countless scams, extortions, bank robberies and the likes. I would like to have a correspondence with you if you are open to that (back-channel). Since you were a S2 agent and law enforcement what I know and what you know may be worth cross referencing. I have telephoned many many law enforcement agencies and reached out to families of victims throughout the years.
    DeBardeleben is supposed to be in CODIS but I think he paid a worker to have his blood vile switched. He’s not in CODIS (my hypothesis) which is causing other problems for families left in the lurch…I will explain how I got to this hypothesis when we correspond further…

    • mark says:

      I believe he was also responsible for the unsolved murder in 1981 of real estate agent Virginia Freeman in Texas. Seems like his M.O.

  6. […] The Grisly Details of Serial “Mall Killer” Mike DeBardeleben’s Actions Will Never Be Known […]

  7. […] The Grisly Details of Serial “Mall Killer” Mike DeBardeleben’s Actions Will Never Be Known […]

  8. jennnie says:

    In 1983 I was contacted by the Secret Service because my description and license tag # were found amongst the things in one of his storage lockers. I was interviewed and shown pictures. the Secret Service wanted to know if I had been attacked and not reported it…looking to build a better and bigger case. Thankfully I had not. I did not recall him, but I had worked as a cashier at a drug store in Oakton, VA from 1977, and that is where his notes identified seeing me. through the years I’d completely forgotten about the interview, until last week when I googled “Secret Service, counterfeiting, rape, Fairfax 1980’s” and wow!! look at what you can find on the internet…so thankful I was not one of his victims and that he was caught before anyone else was hurt

    • PatrickHMoore says:


    • Mike Roche says:

      Jennie, Chilling to know you were a potential target of a serial killer. Yes, fortunately you were not and have enjoyed your life. Thank you for sharing your experience. All the best, Mike

      • RJ Riley says:

        Hi Mike- Like Don above- I was wondering if he had been known to have been in Iowa- particularly December 1979. A Girl was murdered in a newly opened mall In Cedar Rapids, it is still an unsolved homicide.

        • Mike Roche says:


          Although he travelled extensively, I don’t know if he was in Iowa. He has not been cooperative with the police in the past. In the pre-digital days, it is more challenging to determine the travel paths of potential suspects. Regards, Mike

  9. BRAD says:


  10. RC Heaton says:

    This guy murdered my neighbor back in 1971 ,I was the 14 yr old paper boy at the time . Terry McDonald murder Barrington,RI. Think she was 51 at the time , she had a very nice family in a nice town , this creep destroyed it , husband died not many years later heart attack. they had I think three kids youngest at that time senior in HS. Terry was a realtor showed a house to this creep. very sad , my family live 2 houses away something you never forget.

  11. Rob says:

    I seen something interesting in the article, shoelaces and ski mask found in his death makes me wonder if he was the golden gate killer he raped women and tied their hands and feet with shoelaces.the rapes and murder stopped suddenly and the cases are still open and unsolved also after raping them he stayed in the house and ate and went through stuff..mike what do you think

  12. Martha says:

    I saw this evil man’s story on Investigation Discovery and was shocked by his M.O., which compelled me to google his name.
    Thank you for providing a bit more details of his victims. I’m so glad some potential victims were spared of the horrors of being in his hands.
    It baffles me that the Army accepts criminals. Fortunately, he was discharged before he could use the army to conceal his crimes. Too bad many creeps made into the army in the past. In past wars, they were provided the perfect ground for their horrifying crimes.
    I am sure buying your book. It sounds quite informative. Thank you!

  13. […] Talk Radio interview with Rusty Arnold, Rachel’s brother.  Rusty mention serial killer James Mitchell DeBardeleben lived close to where the girls went […]

  14. Noelle says:

    This monster also had an IQ of 145 I’m just curious was it his nature or nurture or both that made this monster and he was married 4 times that’s just mind boggling statistics say there are 50 serial killers at any time roaming about.

  15. Shelia Wright says:

    I never heard of this man until tonight but I knew his wife Faye. I am trying to remain non-judgmental but I am both shocked and horrified to learn that she was his accomplice. I spent many afternoons as a teenager in her home. I always thought of her as a kind person. I babysat with his daughter, who was usually a challenge as a child. Faye died a few years ago and nobody ever knew what had happened to her or her daughter. How did she escape prosecution? Why?

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