John Wayne Strawser Jr.’s mugshot after his arrest in Garrett County, Maryland, a few months after he is accused of killing Timothy Davison of Poland, Maine, on Interstate 81 in Antrim Township, Franklin County, in 2014.
On the night Amy Lou Buckingham was murdered outside her home in Tunnelton, West Virginia, Sharon Pingley retreated into her nearby home afraid.
The metal on wood “ca chunk” of the deadbolt lock provided little comfort that April night in 2015.
Buckingham’s murderer, a man Pingley helped convict of stalking two years earlier, was on the loose only a few miles away, and she was worried she might be next in his crosshairs.
“Fear,” Pingley said, recalling that night. “When we found out he killed that woman in Tunnelton, we didn’t leave the house. We didn’t leave until we heard he’d been caught.”
Buckingham’s murder came after a grim warning Pingley had delivered to prosecutors two years earlier.
“I said, ‘You know there will be another (victim),’” she said. “I hope my words ring in (the prosecutor’s) ears forever more. I said there will be another.”
Buckingham never knew 28-year-old Timothy Davison of Maine. His murder along Interstate 81 near Greencastle in January 2014 triggered a long-fruitless multi-state manhunt.
In life, Buckingham and Davison were separated by nearly 1,000 miles, but in death they appear to be connected by one man — John Wayne Strawser Jr.
Time and time again, Strawser came to the attention of law enforcement, and time and time again, he walked away. With numerous victims and numerous arrests on his record, Strawser bucked the system, serving less than two weeks in jail.
He was not stopped until after he murdered Buckingham, and he now stands accused of killing Davison, who appears to have been at the wrong place at the wrong time that night on I-81.
Two people are dead, one man is implicated in both killings, and the criminal justice system tasked with protecting people appears to have failed them all.
“If (the courts) would have done what they should have done, instead of slapping him on the flippin’ wrist, he’d have been in jail and those two people would probably still be alive,” said Elizabeth Butler, who Strawser was charged with stalking in 2013.
Court hearings in Butler’s case would coincide within days of both deaths.
“The night ... he killed Ms. Buckingham, he was only two miles from my home when he got loose from the cops,” she said. “My dad went through every roadblock, came to my house and got me and my daughter because I wouldn’t take my vehicle out of the driveway. I was scared to death. ... I said ‘Oh my God. He’s headed to my house. I’m next.’ He was that close.”
Strawser grew up in Preston County, West Virginia, a rural area near Pittsburgh that borders Pennsylvania and Maryland. The area is quintessential Appalachia.
Roads bend and wind around the hilly terrain, rather than cutting through it. Homes, at times, appear out of place, as if they had been delicately set on top of the uneven landscape, not firmly secured to a foundation.
“His grandparents lived right above us and his dad is just a gentle soul,” Pingley said.
She reflected on times when Strawser and his siblings came to her home as children to get rhubarb to take to their grandparent’s home nearby to make a pie.
Pingley’s husband served as Strawser’s Boy Scout troop leader.
“They were just normal,” Pingley said. “Maybe it was a little tougher growing up in Terra Alta (West Virginia). I don’t know. I just never would have thought, no, I never would have thought.”
As he transitioned into adulthood something changed in the little boy Pingley described as a “little ornery.”
By the time Treva Cline, the mother of Pingley’s granddaughter, met Strawser in 2012, he was already well into a dark and violent pattern of behavior with his intimate partners. But Cline only knew him as her co-worker.
She didn’t know about his multiple arrests for assault and stalking.
She didn’t know about the women who sought court orders protecting them from him.
She didn’t know one woman told authorities that Strawser threatened to cut her unborn child out of her, or that another accused Strawser of striking her child and pouring bleach over her clothes when she tried to break up with him.
She didn’t know that during one fight Strawser stole a woman’s truck by jamming a pocket knife into the ignition.
She didn’t know, because she said Strawser did not appear to be that kind of man.
Between 2000 and 2001, Strawser was charged with a cluster of offenses, including felony motor vehicle theft. In 2004, he was convicted of misdemeanor second degree assault, which was followed by a nearly four-year absence from the criminal justice system.
Beginning in 2008 there was an increase in the frequency of cases filed against him. Three women sought domestic violence and peace orders against him, and he was charged twice with theft between March 2008 and when Cline met him in 2012.
“When I first met him he was really friendly,” Cline said. “He just seemed like a nice a person. He talked about going places. He talked about going to the beach.”
The two began hanging out and went on a few dates, but that friendly, nice person Cline met at work quickly changed.
“He got really jealous,” she said. “I had just met him, you know. I only knew him two months and he was really jealous and got mad.”
Strawser’s jealousy and anger came to a raging boil one night in August 2012 when Cline was out with Pingley’s son, the father of her child. The two had not been together for some time, but Cline said they continued to co-parent their child.
He began calling and texting. Strawser eventually showed up at her home, but she wasn’t there.
“(Cline) started seeing him less and less and was a little bit less interested in him,” said Pingley, who lives next door. “He starts stalking around. He’s in the area, always in the area. It was getting really annoying.”
Pingley watched every time Strawser drove by the home, turning the outside lights on to let him know she had seen him.
After Pingley put her granddaughter and husband to bed, her dog began barking, alerting her that something outside wasn’t right.
Strawser had tried to ring her door bell, but it didn’t work.
She went to the door, looked outside and yelled to Strawser, who was making his way to Cline’s home.
“When he turned and looked, it was the look. It could have been like that girl from ‘The Exorcist,’” Pingley said. “I knew it wasn’t over, but I didn’t know what he would go on to do.”
She was right.
Strawser returned later that night and thrashed Cline’s car, ramming his pickup truck into it.
“He destroyed my car,” Cline said. “He hit it multiple times with his truck. He took the valve stems out of the tires. He took my spark plug wires. The windshield was broken. He ripped out all the wires from under the steering wheel.”
In total, Strawser did more than $3,500 in damage to the Honda Accord.
Strawser texted Cline telling her that he would call police and say she had hit him and fled the scene.
“U either call me with n The next 2 mins or I will call The cops and have then Set at The church waiting on u 2 go 2 work,” Strawser said in one text that was entered into evidence.
“Fine I will call them say u hit me and left The scene I have ur tag,” he said in another that accompanied a photo of Cline’s license plate.
To help sell the ruse, he even took parts of the car with him that he planned to use as evidence, including a side-view mirror. When Cline didn’t respond he turned to threatening suicide, implying it would be Cline’s fault if he took his own life.
“I so bably need 2 cry is so Unreal,” he wrote in a text sent shortly after midnight. “Where r u @.”
“Would u b the 1 2 come find me ? If I would shoot myself,” he wrote less than an hour later. “Plz my family couldn’t/dnt need that.”
By morning Cline went to the police and filed for an emergency protection order, but not before Strawser made contact a few more times.
“I made u happy and I was the only 1 u was with sense May,” a text at 9:18 a.m. said. “Kinda hate 2 trust women and u just showed me again. Cant trust them. Thanks.”
Cline became one of more than 12,000 people to report a domestic violence incident to police in 2012, according to West Virginia State Police.
On April 15, 2013, Strawser was sentenced in Cline’s case to six months in prison after pleading guilty to misdemeanor stalking.
That sentence was suspended and Strawser was placed on probation for two years.
As part of his probation and the protection from abuse obtained by Cline, Strawser was ordered to not possess or own any firearms. In West Virginia, like Pennsylvania, firearms may be transferred to a family member or another person who does not live with the person required to surrender their firearms.
Answering questions from police after Buckingham’s murder, Strawser said he had handed over numerous firearms to his sister after Cline obtained the protection from abuse in 2012, a process that typically requires the person to go to the sheriff’s office, undergo a background check and fill out a form saying he was handing over the guns. That form was blank in Strawser’s case file.
“He didn’t do any official transfer, it doesn’t work that way in West Virginia,” Preston County Prosecuting Attorney Melvin Snyder said. “If you do it between family, you don’t have to do any paper work. I can walk up and sell an individual in my family a gun for whatever and there’s not paperwork done on that at all.”
So, despite at that time Strawser being a convicted felon since 2002, which made it a misdemeanor for him to own or possess any firearms in the state of West Virginia, Strawser faced no charges.
Snyder appeared unaware of Strawser’s 2002 felony conviction when asked about it in June.
The Sentinel presented case information about the conviction to which Snyder said, “As to the Maryland conviction, if it was a felony, his possession of a firearm in West Virginia would be a misdemeanor crime.”
A National Crime Information Center background check clearly listing the 2002 Maryland conviction was in the case files for the offense against Cline and the murder of Buckingham.
Less than three months after being sentenced in West Virginia, Strawser was charged with nearly identical charges — stalking and malicious destruction of property — only a few miles away in Garrett County, Maryland.
In this case, Butler filed for a protection from abuse order, telling authorities Strawser sexually assaulted her and was told not to come back to her home, court records stated.
He became angry, showing up a day later.
As Butler was drawing her evening bath, Strawser began pounding on the door. She hid inside her bathroom until he left. For hours afterwards, Strawser drove past her home, like a shark circling its prey.
He called and sent text messages. He went to the door and pounded on it again around 1 a.m., according to court records.
Around 2:30 a.m., Butler said she heard a loud bang and the sound of Strawser’s car driving away. He continued to circle for another three hours, Butler told police.
“He tried to deny everything, but I was sitting in my house,” she said. “I saw him do this. ... He texted me the same thing 13 times, ‘Are you going to let me in or do you want me gone?’ Thirteen times he texted me the same thing.”
It was not until the morning that she felt comfortable to go outside. When she did, Butler was greeted by a similar sight Strawser had left for Cline.
Strawser had scratched up her truck and broken out her tail lights, she told police.
Butler only went on one date with Strawser.
“He changed my whole outlook on Facebook and how I post things, because I had made a comment and I was feeling down and he asked if he could take me to lunch,” Butler said. “In three days he done damaged my truck because I wouldn’t sleep with him.”
Butler’s case didn’t lead to a conviction. It was only after Strawser killed Buckingham that prosecutors pushed for the stalking charge, Butler said.
On Dec. 30, 2013 — four days before Strawser is accused of killing Davison — Butler’s case was placed on an indefinite postponement known as STET. In return for halting prosecution in the case, Strawser was to pay Butler $800 in restitution, which he has yet to do.
Strawser did more than $1,200 in damage to the truck, Butler said.
“I wasn’t OK that it was put on STET,” Butler said. “(Prosectutors) said I had to allow him time to come up with the money.”
Butler said she wanted Strawser punished.
She said he continued to harass her even after she filed charges, but she received no relief from authorities.
“He was driving up and down past my house 15 to 20 times a day,” said Butler. “There was nothing I could do about it. I had to deal with it, because I lived on a main road.”
The ordeal with Strawser has changed the way Butler deals with relationships with men, she said.
“From now on I do not care, if I date anybody I’m going to look them up,” Butler said. “I’m going to look them up before I date them.”
A condition of Strawser’s probation in the Cline case was he could not leave West Virginia unless he received approval from the probation department. Prosecutors in Maryland were aware of his conviction in West Virginia and were aware that he was on probation, according to court records.
Strawser made the STET deal with prosecutors the same day a second woman in Garrett County came forward seeking a peace order against him for stalking her since the previous month.
The second victim told authorities Strawser had been stalking her after the two broke up. She said she had ended the relationship because Strawser had become jealous and accused her of cheating on him on multiple occasions.
He showed up at her work, sent her text messages and even interrupted her while she was at the movies with her friend, she told police.
Strawser again threatened suicide “since he knew it would worry me,” she said. This time he sent a photograph of the bullet he planned to use.
Both women stated Strawser owned firearms. Butler — like several women before her — told police he carried at least one firearm inside his vehicle.
Why was a man with a clear pattern of violence and a growing list of alleged victims and charges allowed to remain unchecked?
“Very often domestic violence isn’t taken too seriously,” said Judy King, executive director of the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center. “Or, if someone stalks someone who is a former intimate partner, people don’t take that too seriously. They don’t connect the dots, even if the law says ‘you must connect the dots,’ they don’t.”
Multiple attempts to contact Garrett County State’s Attorney Lisa Thayer-Welch via phone and email for explanation went unanswered.
The Preston County Probation Department refused comment as to why Strawser’s probation was not revoked given the charges, citing that Strawser is currently awaiting sentencing for the Buckingham murder.
There is, however, no doubt what Strawser’s sentence will be. West Virginia law requires Strawser be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“We used to always say the violence escalates over time and happens more frequently over time, and I think that is true,” King said. “Unless there is some kind of intervention, unless the law or someone, kind of pulls them up short and lets them know that’s not OK, it’s working for them. It’s pretty effective to get his partner to do what he wants, so why give it up?”
Snyder said his office was not informed of the Garrett County charges, Strawser’s probation was not revoked, he was not criminally punished for terrorizing either victim, and he again made it through the system largely unscathed.
Having once again avoided prison, 39-year-old John Wayne Strawser Jr., of Terra Alta, West Virginia, remained free to roam the streets in the beginning of 2014.
Up to that point, Strawser had been accused of stalking numerous women but escaped any serious punishment, but he had not been charged with murder.
That was about to change.
Shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 4, 2014, 28-year-old Timothy Davison, of Maine, was shot and killed on Interstate 81 outside of Greencastle in Franklin County.
The bullets that struck and killed the man affectionately known as Asti were fired by Strawser and were intended for another person — Jamie Breese, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
“I’m sorry that anyone had to be a victim that night of his,” Jamie’s wife, Courtney Breese, said while choking back tears. “ ... I’m sorry that (Davison’s) mother lost a son and anybody and everybody that (Davison) was friends with, or was important to, suffered the loss that they did because of John’s actions.
“But, I’m not sorry we weren’t murdered that night.”
Tears began to flow down Courtney’s face when talking about the case with The Sentinel in August.
There is no way Davison could have known what would happen that night as he hopped into his silver Mitsubishi Montero that January day.
He may have thought about getting back to work or reminisced over the time he had just spent with family during the holiday season as he made the 1,500-mile trek from Florida back to his home in Poland, Maine.
He could never have known that trivial decisions like where to stop for gas, when to leave his family’s home in Florida and how fast he should drive would put him on a collision course with Strawser.
Davison made it more than 12 hours into his trip without incident, passing through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. That all changed quickly as he made his way through West Virginia.
As Davison drove, Strawser was on the hunt. He had become obsessed with Courtney, according to the Breeses, who live in Waynesboro.
Strawser and Courtney grew up together and went to school together in Terra Alta. They had lost touch, but reconnected in fall of 2013, just months prior to Davison’s death.
It started out innocently enough, Courtney said. The two exchanged small talk, telling each other about their lives, their family and their children.
Strawser has at least one child to a woman who filed theft charges and sought a court order for protection against him in 2010, according to court records.
Courtney later told police she had a short-lived extramarital relationship with Strawser shortly after they reconnected.
“Jamie knew nothing of John until I brought him into our lives, unwittingly and not knowing what was going to happen,” Courtney said.
The Breeses welcomed Strawser into their home with their two young children. Courtney was excited to reconnect with a friend from her childhood.
“I mistakenly befriended John and allowed him to be close, and I never should have,” Courtney said. “I had known his family even before kindergarten and up and, honestly, he was the most approachable and nicest of all of them.”
Jamie, however, had his apprehensions about Strawser from the start.
“I couldn’t trust him,” Jamie said. “I guess it was from growing up as a kid that you could just see that something just wasn’t there, something wasn’t right. I could pick it out right away. In the beginning, I told my wife ‘stay away from him,’ but she didn’t listen, and I guess that’s what got us where we are now.”
Courtney and Strawser hung out when she would visit her family in West Virginia.
Around the same time the two reconnected, Courtney began receiving text messages from a person she referred to as her stalker. Strawser told Courtney that he would protect her whenever she came down to visit her family, since Jamie usually was not along for the trip.
On one trip, Courtney’s stalker urinated on the family vehicle.
Jamie began to suspect Strawser was Courtney’s stalker. The language Strawser used in texts was similar to that of the stalker, Jamie said.
So Courtney confronted Strawser, but he vehemently denied the allegations. He had excuses for why he could not be the stalker and said he was only trying to be her “protector,” Courtney said.
She believed him.
“But that’s what a stalker does,” Jamie said of the denial.
“I’ve never been stalked before,” Courtney responded.
“They manipulate you,” her husband said.
The friendship continued and Strawser was welcomed into the Breeses’ home more than two hours away from Terra Alta for Thanksgiving in 2013. Courtney said Strawser was alone and had no one to spend the holiday with.
“I felt bad, because he was my friend, and I didn’t want anyone to be alone on the holidays,” Courtney said. “I thought it was the saddest thing ever.”
The two cooked together and Strawser even attended a Christmas party hosted by Jamie’s family. The friendship turned dangerous only a few weeks later.
In the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2013, Courtney and Jamie went on a date to Cloud 9 Night Club in Bunker Hill, West Virginia. It was a night for the Breeses to get out of the house and spend time together without their children.
“We were sitting there and the next thing you know, he comes walking out of the men’s bathroom,” Jamie said.
This came as a shock to the Breeses since Strawser’s home was more than two hours away from the club.
Things became tense as the night progressed.
“He got (mad) at you because you weren’t paying attention to him,” Jamie said.
“Because I was with my husband and not him, which is ridiculous,” Courtney chimed in.
The two left the club, and Strawser began calling and texting them.
Around 1:30 a.m., Strawser showed up at the Breeses’ home demanding that Courtney come outside to talk to him.
“I said ‘You’re not going out there,’” Jamie said.
Strawser finally relented and left after Jamie threatened to call the police.
After that night, the Breeses attempted to sever ties with Strawser.
Roughly a week later, on the night Davison was killed, Strawser contacted the Breeses, attempting to find out where they were. The couple had again made a trip to Cloud 9, but decided to leave early for the night.
Strawser then began calling and texting them, demanding to know where they were. They responded, but did not tell him where they were.
“That’s when I said ‘back the (expletive) off John. She’s not your wife. She’s not your girlfriend,’” Jamie said. “’She’s nothing more to you than a friend from high school.’”
Strawser had his .44 caliber Rossi Ranch Hand in his truck when he started hunting down Jamie, the man he saw as standing in the way of a relationship with Courtney, police said.
Jamie said Strawser began to make what Jamie thought were hollow threats by text and phone messages.
“He said he was going to kill me,” Jamie said.
Jamie and Courtney did not know Strawser had left Terra Alta to pursue them. Strawser began chasing what he thought was the couple’s silver Honda Pilot SUV around Martinsburg, West Virginia, which is about 20 minutes from Cloud 9.
Strawser was following the wrong vehicle. It was actually Davison’s Mitsubishi Montero, an SUV about the same size and color as that of the Breeses’ Pilot.
Davison, heading north on I-81 in West Virginia near Martinsburg, was at the wrong place at the wrong time, stuck in Strawser’s path, according to police. Police said Davison accelerated his SUV to more than 100 mph in Martinsburg, apparently attempting to elude Strawser.
Around 2 a.m., Davison called 911 in Washington County, Maryland, not too far across the border from West Virginia. He told the operator a dark Ford Ranger was chasing him and a person had begun firing shots at his vehicle.
Police were dispatched, but as Davison approached the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania, the call dropped.
Shortly after that, Davison again dialed 911, this time in Pennsylvania.
In February 2014, investigators released a portion of that call made to 911 in Franklin County.
“Were you the one that called about the Ford Ranger?” a Franklin County 911 operator asked Davison.
“Yeah, the one that just hit me,” Davison said.
“What do you mean they hit you? They hit you with the car?” the operator asked.
“Yeah, smashed me with the car and pushed me across the median,” Davison replied.
Those would be some of Davison’s final words.
Less than 2 1/2 minutes after Davison redialed 911, Maryland State Police arrived on scene and found Davison shot multiple times in the arm, leg and head, according to police.
He later died as a result of his injuries.
Gunshots and the sound of tires accelerating away were heard on the call recording, police said. Police said Strawser shot Davison and fled down Interstate 81 south before they arrived on scene.
When Jamie heard the news of the shooting the next morning, he grew suspicious.
Jamie raised concerns to Courtney that Strawser had been involved in the shooting.
“I never once considered the fact that he could hurt anyone,” Courtney said. “I watched him with his son. I watched him back home with his son and my children playing together in the park. … You never think that somebody who could feel those kinds of feelings could do that to anyone.”
Eventually, the Breeses chalked up the angry text and phone calls from Strawser the same night that Davison died as a coincidence and nothing more.
In April 2015, just over 15 months after Davison’s death, Strawser’s former girlfriend, Amy Lou Buckingham, was murdered. Strawser was convicted of that murder in August.
The Breeses went to police with their concerns about Strawser after hearing about Buckingham’s murder.
“All that time, we’re not safe, unbeknownst to us,” Courtney said. “…That is when it hit both of us. Truly, up until that night, at that moment, I never truly considered it.”
Cellphone tower data from around Greencastle placed Strawser near the scene of Davison’s murder, evidence with a partial DNA sample that matched Strawser was found at the scene, and ballistics matched shell casings found at the scene to Strawser’s Rossi Ranch Hand, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
Davison’s death kicked off a manhunt that would span Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia and include help from the FBI.
Despite this, Strawser was able to move in and out of the criminal justice system, again largely unscathed.
Four days after Strawser allegedly killed Davison, he posted a message to Facebook.
“Looks as if my world is going 2 crumble,” he wrote. “The things that I well (sic) miss…”
The post came on the same day he was in court in Garrett County, Maryland, to approve a final protection order filed against him by a former girlfriend.
A little more than four months later Strawser was arrested for reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and DWI in Garrett County, Maryland, some 120 miles away from where Davison died. According to West Virginia motor vehicle records, Strawser was driving the same Ford Ranger Davison described the night of his death.
Just after midnight on April 26, 2014, Strawser was seen by Garrett County Sheriff’s deputies doing doughnuts in his truck in the parking lot of a park when they attempted to stop him. Strawser had two other people in the vehicle.
Strawser led police on a high-speed chase that lasted only a few minutes before he crashed his truck, and then he took off on foot. He was attempting to make it across the nearby border to West Virginia, according to police.
At the time Strawser was on probation and didn’t want to go to jail.
Strawser only made it about 200 feet before he was subdued with a Taser.
“Just shoot me,” Strawser said to police after falling to the ground from the jolt of electricity from the Taser.
Strawser fought with police but was eventually taken into custody. He was released the same day, according to court records.
That arrest in Garrett County triggered a probation violation, causing Strawser to spend one week in jail in September 2014 in Preston County, West Virginia, where he had been convicted of stalking in 2013.
That was the first time Strawser spent any time in jail following a conviction, according to court records.
In October 2014, Strawser pleaded guilty to resisting arrest during the April DWI incident where he had been subdued by a Taser. He spent five days in jail in Garrett County, and all other charges were dropped.
Information about the arrest did not make its way to investigators in Pennsylvania, and according to Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal, Strawser did not become a suspect in Davison’s murder until the Breeses came forward April 2015.
“Please understand that on the date and time of his arrest for DWI, the defendant was not a suspect in any other known case that we had been made aware of by any other agency,” Garrett County Sheriff Rob Corley told The Sentinel in September 2015.
Early in the fall of 2014, Strawser apologized for the initial falling out with the Breeses and Courtney again let him back into her life. She again visited with him when she traveled to her family’s home in West Virginia.
But, Strawser again became jealous and possessive, she said.
The Breeses finally cut ties completely with Strawser in January 2015 following a fight that resulted in Strawser damaging Courtney's mother’s car parked in her parents’ driveway.
Fogal declined to say if anyone other than the Breeses presented Strawser as a possible suspect in Davison’s murder, but when asked if he felt Strawser would have been apprehended without the Breeses, Fogal said, “I can’t speculate about hypotheticals, but I know that (state police) would never have given up their pursuit of Mr. Davison’s killer.”
Della Buckingham kissed her mother, Amy Lou Buckingham, goodnight a little before 10 p.m. on April 16, 2015.
The teenage girl made her way up the stairs, oblivious to what would transpire as she tucked herself into bed. Little did she know that the Boogey man did not hide in the shadows, but something else worse — and very real — was about to take her mother away from her.
Amy’s sister, Elsie Buckingham, her father, mother and all three of her children were at the home as Della headed to bed.
“There was a loud boom,” Elsie said.
A bullet fired by Amy’s ex-boyfriend, John Wayne Strawser Jr., struck Amy in the chest, piercing her heart. Amy dropped to the ground outside the Tunnelton, West Virginia, home.
Strawser, a 39-year-old man from Terra Alta, West Virginia, had been drinking and showed up at the home shortly after 10 p.m., a few minutes before the murder. Amy and Strawser went outside in the rain and were arguing when he fired the shot and drove off, police said.
Amy had broken up with Strawser and was seeing another man, according to police.
“He didn’t have to kill her,” Elsie said. “We all knew within two weeks she would have taken him back. That’s how she was, always seeing the good.”
Elsie described her sister as having an immensely caring heart. As her father, who had rushed outside when he heard the gunshot, held her in his arms, Amy’s heart stopped beating.
“Amy was filled with laughter,” Elsie said. “No matter what, she seen the good in people, always wanting to help.”
The Buckingham’s home would no longer be filled with Amy’s cheerful laughter.
Family members called police and told them that Strawser had shot Amy, police said.
Rain continued to fall as members of the Preston County Sheriff’s Department caught up to the Subaru station wagon Strawser was driving shortly after he murdered Amy. They attempted to conduct a traffic stop.
As the two deputies approached the vehicle, Cpt. James Root drew his shotgun and aimed it at Strawser through the passenger-side window.
“It’s him,” Root was heard saying on his body camera, footage obtained from the Preston County Sheriff’s Department. “I’ve got a shotgun pointed right at you, so don’t do anything stupid.”
“If you move a muscle, I will mess you up,” he added.
Strawser stepped on the gas and took off.
“Bang, click, bang.” Body camera footage shows Root unloading two rounds of buckshot at the fleeing vehicle.
“If I wouldn’t have hesitated, I had a head shot,” Root said later on his body camera as he spoke to another deputy as they searched for Strawser. “I hesitated for a second because I thought ‘He’s not really going to drive off.’”
An investigation report created by West Virginia State Police said Root fired at Strawser because he feared he had a gun and was going to fire on the officers. Root had intimate knowledge of Strawser’s ownership of weapons.
His lack of action two weeks earlier allowed Strawser to remain in possession of the Rossi Ranch Hand gun authorities believe Strawser used to kill Buckingham.
Roughly two weeks prior to Amy’s murder, following up a family member’s request, Root went to Strawser’s home to conduct a welfare check. Strawser’s family had not heard from him in a while and they began to worry, according to Preston County Prosecuting Attorney Melvin Snyder.
“(Root) went to the house and (Strawser’s) father, who actually owned it and had the keys but let him live there, opened the house for him and went through the house,” Snyder said. “(Root) found the Rossi in one room and sort of picked it up.”
Snyder said Root was unable to get the mechanism to work on the gun and left without taking it or alerting any other department of what he had found.
Police later found the gun in a box in a swampy area near Strawser’s home.
“(Strawser) is knowledgeable about guns,” Snyder said. “He’s cleaned it, fixed it, got it working well, because it’s working just fine when we find it out in the place out in the woods not far from (Strawser’s home).”
Strawser was on probation at the time of Root’s visit, having pleaded guilty in 2013 to stalking in Preston County. Snyder said Root, who declined comment on the incident, never reported finding a gun in Strawser’s home at that time. The information only came forward after the investigation began into Buckingham’s murder.
Snyder sighed when asked why Strawser’s probation was not revoked upon discovery of a firearm in his home, which is a direct violation of his probation, the protection from abuse order obtained by an earlier victim and a misdemeanor offense given Strawser’s status as a convicted felon since 2002, when he was convicted of motor vehicle theft in Garrett County, Maryland.
“It should have,” Snyder said. “I think what the problem was, I just don’t think the Sheriff’s Office ever thought to communicate back to probation to say ‘Oh, wait a minute, we checked this guy’s house and he’s got weapons there.’ I just don’t think they ever thought to pass the word.
“I wish they had, because if they had and I had found out, I would have revoked him,” Snyder added. “It just is what it is.”
Root declined comment on the incident, saying it would be inappropriate for him to comment in light of Strawser’s pending case for the 2014 shooting death of Timothy Davison on Interstate 81 in Franklin County.
The Rossi Ranch Hand gun that Root found is also the same weapon authorities believe Strawser used to kill Davison.
Root was promoted from lieutenant to the rank of captain less than nine months after Buckingham’s murder.
He, and other officers, pursued Strawser on that April night in 2015 in the area near Tunnelton until they wrecked, and Root got his truck stuck on uneven ground. This gave Strawser time to get away and ditch the car.
As officers approached the field where Strawser was last seen, they spotted a fire in the distance.
“It’s a brush fire or something,” Root was heard saying on his body camera. “I don’t see where his car went.”
That fire, however, was Strawser’s car. The car’s horn wailed as fire ravaged the interior before the sound slowly tapered off.
“If he’s in it, great, he’ll be in it later,” he said.
Officers and a canine approached the vehicle, still engulfed in flames.
The tires had been destroyed, the upholstery and cushioning on the driver’s side seat were gone — leaving only a metal frame — but Strawser’s body was nowhere to be found.
He had fled the scene.
The vehicle was owned by a woman he was living with at the time of Buckingham’s murder, according to police. Strawser had also been texting the same woman the night he allegedly killed Davison.
Strawser returned home the next morning and was taken into custody for questioning by West Virginia State Police.
“He just didn’t seem to care what was going on at the time,” Sgt. C.W. DeBerry said. “We told him that we were speaking to him about a woman who had been shot and killed and just didn’t seem to really care that she was killed.”
Strawser told police that he knew Amy, but that she was just someone with whom he was having sex.
“She was just a sex toy. She got somebody better,” he told police. “... I’ve got five (sex) buddies. Well, four now.”
Entries from Amy’s diary provided a very different view on the two’s relationship.
The diary, covered in red heart stickers and the words “Amy Loves John,” painted a picture of a woman who cared deeply about Strawser.
She wrote about getting excited when she knew she was going to get to see him and feeling overcome with remorse when she lied or knew she had hurt him. Buckingham scribbled things like “I love John and the kids 4 life 4 ever.”
On one page Amy wrote down Strawser’s name and date of birth, along with the names and dates of birth of her three children. The two went to high school together and had been dating since 2010, after they reconnected through Facebook, Elsie said.
Other diary entries, however, showed Amy’s disappointment by Strawser’s, at times, lack of reciprocation of her feelings.
“I just wish that everything will go alright today, but it didn’t,” Amy wrote in one entry in 2012. “... I was hopen (sic) to see (Strawser) ... I don’t think it is going to happen tonight if he do come down it will be a mircle (sic).”
Amy invited Strawser to visit nearly every day of their five-year relationship, but he typically came up with an excuse, upsetting Amy, Elsie said.
Amy’s 37th birthday on Jan. 4, 2014 was no different. The day typically spent in celebration was filled with tears.
“He never showed up on her birthday,” Elsie said. “She cried all that night.”
Unbeknownst to her, the day that marked Amy’s birth had begun with Davison’s death.
Strawser is accused of chasing down, shooting and killing Davison along Interstate 81 near Greencastle shortly after 2 a.m. Jan. 4, 2014.
Strawser told police that on the night of Amy’s murder, he had gone to see her but left and purchased marijuana in a neighboring town. He said the car he was driving, the one that was found burning, was stolen when he went to buy the drugs.
Strawser told police he heard a gunshot, but Amy was fine when he left the home.
“She did a little sigh that she does when she gets mad and walks away,” he told police.
Officers pressed further.
“She just like when she gets mad, if we argue and she gets mad she’ll go,” Strawser said, pausing to make a sighing noise. “And just walk away. And I know that’s ...”
“She couldn’t walk too far,” an officer interrupted.
“... The end of the conversation,” Strawser finished.
History of violence
But, Strawser was not one to “walk away,” especially when it came to women. Court records are filled with women accusing him of becoming jealous and violent, striking out and destroying property whenever they tried to get away.
Elizabeth Butler had only been on one date with Strawser when she said Strawser destroyed her truck, stalked and harassed her in 2013 in Garrett County, Maryland.
Despite a long history of similar criminal behavior, Strawser was given a deal to essentially drop those charges if he paid Butler $800 to repair the truck. Butler tried for more than a year to collect the money from Strawser.
Multiple court hearings were delayed because Strawser knew how to manipulate the system, Butler said.
Just before Strawser murdered Amy he was brought into court to answer for his failure to pay, but the case was not heard, Butler said.
“They didn’t have time to hear my case, because they had overbooked the docket,” Butler said. “Not my problem, and that’s exactly what I told them. I said ‘This is bull. This is not my problem. He should be going to jail because he hasn’t paid.’”
His next court date was scheduled for three days after he murdered Amy, Butler said.
“I say, if Maryland would have done their job, that woman would still be alive,” she said.
Multiple calls and emails by The Sentinel to Garrett County State’s Attorney Lisa Thayer-Welch were not returned.
In August, Strawser was convicted of first degree murder for killing Amy following a nearly week-long trial filled with emotional testimony from her family.
The only available sentence under West Virginia law for this conviction is life without parole, Snyder said.
“She never deserved to have her life ended this way,” Elsie said.
She said her sister’s main goal was to see her three children graduate from high school, a dream that was snuffed out by one man who was not stopped in time. Amy’s oldest son graduated a little more than year after her death.
“My sister was filled with joy. (She) always had a smile,” Elsie said. “And most of all loved her family. ... Her children was her life.”
The lives of Timothy Davison, a 28-year-old Maine man trying to get home from Florida, and Amy Lou Buckingham, a 38-year-old West Virginia mother of three, were cut short by gunfire.
One man, John Wayne Strawser Jr., 39, of Terra Alta, West Virginia, allegedly squeezed the trigger in both cases.
Strawser has a more than 15-year criminal history of violence and obsessive behavior. Despite that, he served little time in jail prior to being accused of murder.
The criminal justice systems in West Virginia and Maryland had numerous opportunities to rehabilitate or incapacitate Strawser, including times that directly surround both killings.
Not to be lost in the tragedy of the deaths, however, are Strawser’s living victims.
The Sentinel was able to speak with three women who he allegedly stalked and harassed around the time of the two murders. All had complaints with authorities’ handling of their cases.
So, what went wrong?
Strawser’s criminal history is riddled with incidents where he became obsessive and controlling of the women with whom he was in relationships.
As far back as 2001, criminal records alleged Strawser bullied and intimidated women and became increasingly aggressive when those women attempted to leave the relationship.
In one case, he allegedly poured beer on one woman before stealing her truck by jamming his pocket knife into the ignition.
In another, he was accused of threating to cut an unborn child out of the woman.
For Treva Cline and Elizabeth Butler, whose cases were less than a year apart, the patterns were eerily similar.
In both incidents, Strawser was accused of becoming upset when they tried to end the relationship, and he showed up at their homes, destroyed their vehicles and stalked them during the night.
Strawser ended up serving more time in jail—five days—directly following a conviction for resisting arrest stemming from a DWI incident, than he did for terrorizing nearly 10 women.
“Generally speaking (authorities) think of these cases as nuisance cases and they’re annoying because you don’t understand them,” said Judy King, executive director of the Rape and Domestic Violence Information Center. “So, they don’t take them seriously. They treat them like nuisance cases. Look at how much this guy got away with.”
He did not serve any jail time following a conviction until after he allegedly killed Davison – who police say was mistaken for the husband of a woman with whom Strawser had become obsessed.
Domestic violence accounts for roughly 15 percent of all violent crime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and more than 10,000 women were killed by an intimate partner between 2002 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In 2002, Strawser was convicted of felony motor vehicle theft in Garrett County, Maryland, making him a person not to possess or own firearms.
That did not stop him from readily acquiring numerous weapons.
When Strawser was questioned by West Virginia State Police following the murder of Buckingham, he told them he had no idea how many firearms he owned because he had been actively buying, selling and trading weapons for years.
West Virginia does not require background checks for most private sales of firearms.
The Rossi Ranch Hand Strawser allegedly used to kill both Buckingham and Davison was purchased through a private sale sometime after 2012, according to Pennsylvania State Police.
Had Strawser been subject to a background check, his criminal record should have prohibited any sale.
Strawser was not charged as a person not to possess firearms, and was able to hand over numerous weapons to family members during the Cline domestic violence case without being charged or even authorities appearing aware that he was a convicted felon.
A Preston County Sheriff’s deputy found the Rossi inside Strawser’s home two weeks prior to the murder of Buckingham, picked it up and left without seizing the weapon, according to police. Strawser was on probation, had a peace order restricting his access to firearms and was a convicted felon at the time the gun was found.
Strawser’s case is not unique to West Virginia.
More than 100 people were charged with illegally possessing firearms in Cumberland County between 2010 and 2015, according to Cumberland County Insight.
Nearly 30 firearms were found inside Eric Whister’s home in Shippensburg after he was arrested on unrelated charges. Whister, 28, had previously been convicted of a domestic violence incident and was not allowed to own or possess firearms.
In April 2014, Roy Adams shot and killed his ex-wife’s boyfriend before turning the gun on himself near Greencastle in Franklin County. Adams had been released from prison four days prior to the murder/suicide and had been deemed a person not to possess firearms years earlier following a domestic violence incident, according to court records.
Strawser’s case was undoubtedly complex. It spanned multiple years, three states and numerous law enforcement agencies.
However, it appears to have been made even more complex by a lack of information sharing.
In April 2014, a little more than four months after Strawser allegedly shot and killed Davison on Interstate 81 near Greencastle, he was arrested for DWI in a 1997 Ford Ranger in Garrett County, Maryland, by the Garrett County Sheriff’s Department.
The truck was the same one Strawser is believed to have been driving the night of Davison’s murder and is currently residing in a Pennsylvania State Police impound lot, according to West Virginia Department of Motor Vehicle records.
The information about Strawser’s arrest and subsequent incarceration in both Maryland and West Virginia were not passed on to Pennsylvania State Police.
Garrett County Sheriff Rob Corley, in explaining why the information was not shared, said Strawser was not a suspect in any other crimes that his department was aware of at the time of his arrest.
Strawser served one week in jail following his DWI arrest for a probation violation in West Virginia.
Strawser did not become a suspect in Davison’s killing until after he murdered Buckingham almost a year later, according to Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal.
Proceedings against Strawser in Pennsylvania will begin after he is formally sentenced on Oct. 5 in West Virginia, Fogal said.