Heather Saul had never had an easy life but the afternoon a man came to her Charleston, West Virginia home to k*ill her, she had the luck of a lottery winner.
She should not have survived. The man at her door was, to all appearances, a seasoned serial kil*ler who had made every preparation to ki*ll Heather and be able to transport her body away from her home and make her disappear forever.
Neal Falls had contacted Heather via Backpage, a classified ads website that accepts advertisements from se*x workers, and had arranged to meet her at her home. He had also jotted down the names, ages, and phone numbers of six other women from the ads.
When he had arrived in Charleston, West Virginia a few weeks before, Falls had initially tried to approach s*ex workers on the street but they had all seen the same red flags.
“They deal with a lot of weird people and they said this guy really stood out to them. They were frightened off by his behavior.” ~ Lieutenant Steve Cooper — Charleston, West Virginia Police Department.
So he changed his behavior. He contacted women through their ads on Backpage and arranged to meet them. He asked Heather if she lived alone and set a time to come over.
He drove to Heather’s house, parked his gold Subaru in her driveway, and came up to her door. In the trunk of his car, according to Lt. Cooper, Neal Falls had “several axes, a shovel, a bulletproof vest, numerous handcuff keys, a container of bleach, a large cache of trash bags, other cutting instruments — knives and box cutters. A sledgehammer.”
Also inside the car was a Rubbermaid tub that was large enough to hold the body of a woman.
Within seconds of Heather opening her door to him, Neal Falls pulled out his gun and said three simple and terrifying words to her, “Live or die.”
“That was it,” Heather said later. “He started strangulating me out. He was clamped down on my throat so bad that I could — I’ve never been choked like that, and I’ve been through some … a lot of physical abuse. And that was horrible. You could tell from his upper-body strength, you could tell that he’s done this for a long time. He knew how to keep control of me.”
She continued, “I knocked him off of me. I remember my feet even being up, climbing up over, up the door while his hands were around my throat — he knew how to keep ahold of me. He was good. He knew what he was doing. He had done it before. I started screaming. I just said, if he was gonna shoot me, he would’ve shot me — I’m fighting him.”
Heather grabbed for a rake that she kept next to the kitchen door. In her day-to-day life, Heather had used that rake to clean up outside after her small dog, Fancy. That day, she would use the rake to save her life.
Neal Falls saw Heather grab the rake and put his gun down on the kitchen table so he could use both hands to subdue her before she could swing at him. He was behind her.
Heather dropped the rake, picked up the gun, aimed blindly over her shoulder, and shot once. Behind her, Neal Falls died instantly from a gunshot wound to the head.
Heather had broken her back and dislocated her shoulder but she had survived.
The kil*l kit in Neal Falls’ car showed the mind of a practiced monster. He had tools for k*illing and tools for dismembering, a Rubbermaid tub to transport a body, handcuffs, and a bottle of bleach to clean up the scene of his crime.
How many other women had encountered Neal Falls and not shared Heather Saul’s luck?
Neal Falls was born on September 24, 1969, and died on July 18, 2015. He lived all over the U.S., working in many places (Nevada, Oregon, Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas) where there are unsolved m*urders of s*ex workers. Unfortunately, in any area in the U.S. where there are se*x workers (which is everywhere), there are unsolved mur*ders of se*x workers. The women who work in the world’s oldest profession are some of the world’s most vulnerable women.
They meet their clients anonymously in random places so if one of these women is attacked, the trail to find their assailant is instantly cold. Their k*iller will not be on any list of known acquaintances and the illegality of their profession may prevent witnesses from coming forward. In many cases, sex workers are estranged from their families so when they go missing, no one even reports their absence.
The scenario usually unfolds like this: a s*ex worker is murd*ered, no one “official” notices but the women they worked with (who cannot contact the police without risking their own arrest), and months or years later, the body of a Jane Doe is found. The police then spend their time trying to identify the dead woman while her ki*ller moves further and further into the dark where he will never be found.
With today’s technology, it is possible that many of these lost women may finally find justice. Forensic evidence from Jane Does may contain DNA that can be entered into genealogical databases (like Ancestry.com) and matched with relatives of their ki*ller — building a list of suspects that could be narrowed down until the ki*ller is found. I am doubtful though, that our society will spend resources on the mur*ders of women who were not valued by our society when they were alive.
But who among us would not value Heather Saul? There is no way to measure the number of lives that she saved when she took the gun that had been aimed at her and blew away the monster that was Neal Falls, but six women whose names were on the list that was found in the front seat of his car know that they would’ve been next. They know that they are safe from Neal Falls now — but they also know that there is always a predator just like him waiting for them and they know that a Joan of Arc like Heather Saul is as rare as the justice that she delivered.
If you are inspired or moved by the story of Heather Saul, support the legalization of s*ex work in the United States which would allow the police to trace leads without the witnesses being in fear of their own arrest and deprive the predators among us of a ready-made pool of perfectly untraceable victims.