Daily Egyptian

One professor’s journey from catching a killer to the classroom

Photograph+provided+by+Paul+Echols.
Photograph provided by Paul Echols.

Photograph provided by Paul Echols.

Photograph provided by Paul Echols.

By Francois Gatimu

When Paul Echols began his career at the Carbondale Police Department in 1982, it never crossed his mind that he would one day help capture one of America’s most notorious serial rapists and killers.

His part in the pursuit and capture of Timothy Krajcir culminated in his co-authoring “In Cold Pursuit: My Hunt for Timothy Krajcir,” which was published in 2011.

Krajcir was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2007 after confessing to the murders of nine women between 1977 and 1982.

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In the book, Echols offers a firsthand account of how he brought Krajcir to justice, giving closure to the victims and families involved in Krajcir’s crimes.

Krajcir’s murders crossed state lines, which according to Echols contributed to him being able to evade authorities for nearly three decades.

“He committed crimes essentially in four different states: Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Pennsylvania,” said Echols, who is now an adjunct criminal justice professor at SIU. “In hindsight, it was Deborah Sheppard’s [a 23-year-old SIU student] murder case that was the lynchpin that kind of hooked all the cases together.”

Echols credits his years spent as a criminal investigator for influencing his philosophy as a professor.

“I teach from a reality sense,” Echols said. “I do get into theory but pull from largely from my experiences.”

This, unlike a purely theoretical teaching methodology, “gives the students a chance to apply what they learn,” Echols said.

His students said this makes it easier for them to learn.

“During my criminal behaviour class, he incorporated a lot of his experiences,” said Sydney Ray, a student at Shawnee Community College, where Echols is tenured. “By analyzing Timothy Krajcir, he put a lot of the classroom information in context.”

Ray said Echols’ teaching style constantly incorporated interesting exercises and experiments.

“He encouraged cool class activities,” Ray said. “One time we all anonymously placed our fingerprints on a plate without him watching and he said he figured out who all the prints belonged to.”

His hands-on teaching approach makes long classes feel shorter, said Liana Spokas, a junior studying psychology at SIU who is currently in a two-and-a-half-hour long class with Echols.

“He is very knowledgeable, always applying facts to examples,” Spokas said. “He has something to connect with everything we’re learning … He makes class very interesting and it’s solidified the fact that I want to do criminal justice.”

Echols said he hoped his book would not only provide learning material for crime investigators, but would also act as a lasting memorial to the victims.

“Every penny made by that book earned goes to honor the victims through the Nine Angels Memorial Scholarship,” Echols said of the fund that was created four years ago for SIU students.

Together with the book’s co-author Christine Byers and retired Cape Girardeau Police Chief Carl Kinnison, in October of 2015 Echols celebrated the scholarship with the families of Krajcir’s victims.

“We did it quietly, with no media attention,” Echols said. “Five families of the nine murder victims were present; three families were unable to attend.”

Echols said the book also serves to inform women of the dangers in the region. He said he has received positive feedback from women who have read it regarding the potential hazards of situations “they might take for granted.”

“By providing this information, women would be more careful and conscious of their surroundings,” Echols said. “If it helps protect even just one person from being a victim it was worth writing it.”

Ray said before reading his book, she didn’t realize there had been a serial killer in southern Illinois.

“It made me freak out because southern Illinois is my backyard,” Ray said.

After serving nearly three decades as a criminal investigator in various positions within the Carbondale Police Department, Echols said if he had a chance he would do it all over again.

“I do miss those days,” Echols said. “But I gave my time — now it’s time for the younger guys to come up.”

Staff writer Francois Gatimu can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @frankDE28.

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