On Sept. 18, 1983, Danny Joe Eberle, 13, picked up his bundle of newspapers, loaded it on his bicycle, and pedaled off on his route delivering the Sunday Omaha World-Herald.
A few hours later, complaints started coming into the newspaper; the “sunrise edition” was late. Only three homes along Danny’s route in Bellevue, Neb., a quiet Omaha suburb, had gotten their delivery.
Danny’s father, Leonard, went out to search and found his son’s bicycle, with the papers, propped up against a fence near the start of his route. “He was proud of that bike,” Leonard Eberle told reporters — there was no way he would have left it, at least not willingly.
Three days later, investigators found Danny’s body, bound ankle and wrist, in a wooded area near the Offutt Air Force Base. There were eight stab wounds, as well as slashes and human bite marks on his body, but no signs of sexual assault.
The hunt for his killer was the most intense the region had ever seen. Local troublemakers — sex offenders and pedophiles — were hauled in as possible suspects, but quickly ruled out. A hypnotist was called to help witnesses retrieve clear memories. A local bank offered a $40,000 reward for information. FBI psychological profiler Robert Ressler provided an analysis of the killer — white, young, and sexually ambivalent.
None of it led to anything in time to prevent another tragedy.
On Dec. 2, Christopher Paul Walden, 12, son of an Air Force officer stationed at Offutt, vanished on his way to school. Hunters found his body on Dec. 5, his throat slashed and body mutilated.
There were no breaks until January, when a church nursery school director noticed a suspicious-looking character in a car hanging around near the school.
As she wrote down his license plate number, he attacked, screaming he was going to kill her. She managed to get away and reported the incident and the license number to police.
The car was a rental that was traced to Air Force radar technician John Joubert, 20, stationed at Offutt.
He fit the profile the FBI had conjured up for the murderer and resembled composite sketches pulled from witness memories.
An unusual kind of rope, containing about 100 different fibers, was found among his belongings. It matched the rope that had been used to bind Danny’s hands and feet. The rope had been manufactured in Korea, and was rarely used in the United States.
When detectives mentioned the rope to him, Joubert quickly confessed. He said he was glad he had been caught because he was certain he would kill again, Ressler wrote in “Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI.”
Joubert’s life appeared to have been one long, simmering rage. He was born in Lawrence, Mass., but moved with his mother to Portland, Maine, after his parents divorced. He had an IQ of 123, was an Eagle Scout, and, like one his victims, had a paper route.
Fantasies of violence and cannibalism erupted when he was very young. At just 6, around the time his parents’ marriage unraveled, he said he had dreamed of strangling his baby-sitter and eating her body. He would later say that these horrific musings were provoked by seeing his father try to strangle his mother.
Violence did not remain trapped in his imagination for long. In December 1979, he stabbed a 6-year-old girl with a pencil as he pedaled past her on his bicycle. Similar attacks started happening in areas near Portland, but the assailant was never caught.
fter the Nebraska murders, investigators looked into unsolved cases in Maine. One bore Joubert’s signature. Ricky Stetson, 11, had gone out jogging on Aug. 22, 1982. He was later found stabbed in the chest. Like Danny, he had been mutilated and bitten, but there was no sign of sexual molestation.
Joubert was tried for the Stetson killing and received a life sentence in Maine. In Nebraska, he pleaded guilty to the two murders and got the death penalty.
During his confession, a detective asked him if he would kill again if he got out of jail. “That’s my big worry,” Joubert said. “It’s scaring me quite a bit, yes.”
For a dozen years on Death Row, Joubert pored over law texts, read Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway and the works of other literary lights, lifted weights, and learned to draw.
Two of his drawings depicted scenes of violence reminiscent of the murders. In Mark Pettit’s book, “A Need to Kill: The Death Row Drawings,” the author said he obtained copies of the artwork in 2014 and asked crime profilers for their opinions. To them, the drawings suggested that Joubert would find his murderous impulses impossible to resist, and would likely kill other kids.
As his execution date neared, Joubert insisted he was a changed man. He said he had even found a first love, a woman in Ireland who had been corresponding with him as a pen pal.
In his appeals, he argued that the electric chair was cruel and unusual punishment. Capt. Jeff Davis of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s department told the Associated Press, “No matter what they do to him, nothing is going to take away the horror and terror those children felt, let alone what their parents will go through all their lives.”
Pleas for clemency went to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in the end, Joubert kept his date with the electric chair on July 17, 1996.