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African American serial killers

Little known, but always there

William Covington | 9/25/2014, midnight
Author’s note: As a fourth grader, wanting to be accepted by older guys as “cool” is an important milestone in ...
Cover Design By Andrew Nunez

Author’s note: As a fourth grader, wanting to be accepted by older guys as “cool” is an important milestone in any culture. In my old neighborhood, a small part of socially fitting-in with the older teenagers was the ability to endure scary stories.

These stories were told to us on summer nights by what I could only describe as “demented” teenagers. The younger kids on the block were corralled and seated on my best friend Edward Clay’s porch. Once the teens, who were being led by my friend’s older brother, Raymond Clay, were satisfied with the headcount of innocents, the porch light was turned off and the storytelling began. Thankfully, I can only remember 20 minutes of the nightmarish torture.

Afterwards, we were told that Junior (Edward) could not have any more company and we were forced to walk home in the dark. Although I lived across the street, that trek seemed like a mile.

The scariest story I can remember them telling us was about an inner city serial killer known as the “Bouncing Ball Man.” He was an African American male who would walk around the community known then as South Central Los Angeles bouncing a ball and asking Black kids to play with him. The scary part of the story was the description of the sound of the ball striking the pavement—it created a distant thump that became louder as he approached your street. According to our storytellers, the bouncing noise throughout the neighborhood meant death.

Raymond went on describing how bedroom windows were always open on hot summer nights to keep the interior cool and that worked to the advantage of the “Bouncing Ball Man.” An open window allowed the clean-cut Black man an opportunity to invite kids to come out and play ball. Some kids recognized the sound of a bouncing ball and looked out their open windows. The kids who agreed to play would climb out of their bedroom window, follow the culprit away and supposedly were strangled to death. After hearing that story, my friends and I avoided all strangers in our community for a very long time, especially the ones bouncing balls.

In researching this article, I discovered that there actually was a serial killer known as the “Bouncing Ball Killer.” He was eventually arrested in 1960 for strangling seven women.

As expected, Raymond Clay and his gang of teenage cohorts embellished a lot of the story to scare the crap out of us.

The killer’s name was Raymond W. Clemmons, and he was a 36-year-old African American San Quentin parolee and door-to-door Bible salesman.

I believe my friends and I were told the story of the “Bouncing Ball Man” in 1967, and I would not hear of another African American serial killer until June 1981, when Wayne Williams was accused in the Atlanta child murders.

Even today, the only other African American serial killers that come to mind are John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, AKA “The D.C. Sniper,” and Lonnie Franklin Jr., Los Angeles’ “Grim Sleeper.”