Lisa Noland said she was 17 when she wrote a suicide note, planning to end her life after years of being raped by her grandmother’s boyfriend. A day later, she found herself fighting for her life while being raped by a man now set to be executed in Florida after a killing spree that left 10 women dead over an eight-month rampage in 1984.
The man set to die at Florida State Prison on Thursday is Bobby Joe Long. Noland was the victim he let go, someone who knew the mind of a rapist and played it while gathering — and leaving — evidence that would lead to his capture. Her abduction and rape saved her own life.
“At the time he put the gun to my head, it was nothing new to me,” she said while packing a suitcase to leave for Long’s execution.
She said she knew from her past abuse that if she fought, it would further enrage her attacker.
“I had to study this guy,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I had to learn who he was, what made him tick. If I did the wrong move, could it end my life? So literally, the night before I wrote a suicide note out, and now I was in a position where I had to save my life.”
Investigators were horrified and baffled by the trail of bodies Long left in the Tampa Bay area. Artiss Ann Wick was the first woman killed, in March 1984.
Nine more victims followed.
Most were strangled. Some had their throats slit. Others were bludgeoned. Law enforcement had few clues until Noland was set free and told her story. Long later confessed to the crimes, receiving 28 life sentences and one death sentence for the murder of 22-year-old Michelle Simms.
Noland plans to sit in the front row in the room where witnesses will watch Long die. Long will get to say his final words, and she will hear them. She won’t be able to say anything back.
But if she could, it would be this: “I would say ‘Thank you for choosing me and not another 17-year-old girl.'”
“Another 17-year-old girl probably wouldn’t have been able to handle it the way that I have. I truly believe that all the abuse I’d been through in my life helped me get out of that situation,” Noland said.
Long moved from West Virginia to the Miami area as a child and was raised by his mother, a cocktail waitress. After high school, he married his childhood sweetheart, but the relationship became violent. Cindy Brown recalls fearing for her life as the attacks grew worse, including a day he choked her and knocked her unconscious.
Long admitted after his arrest to being “The Classified Ad Rapist,” the moniker investigators gave while trying to solve dozens of rapes. Long would go through classified ads and make appointments to see items for sale. If a woman answered the door and was alone, he’d rape her.
In the AP interview Wednesday, Noland described her attack in excruciating detail: the church where Long abducted her, the gun he pressed against her head, the bright light she could see on the car’s dashboard beneath the edge of her blindfold. It said Magnum, as in Dodge Magnum.
She was menstruating, and she made sure she left blood evidence on the backseat of his car. She could tell the direction they were driving and when they were on Interstate 275 north of Tampa. When she was brought to the killer’s apartment, she counted the steps up to the second floor. When he let her use the bathroom, she made sure she left fingerprints everywhere.
She knew she couldn’t make him angry. She appealed to a glimmer of kindness he showed while he washed her hair after raping her repeatedly. She asked what made him do what he did. He said he had suffered a bad breakup and hated women. She told him he seemed nice and that maybe she could be his girlfriend. She wouldn’t tell anyone.
Long later got Noland dressed. He let her loose and told her not to take the blindfold off for five minutes. She got out of the car and tripped on the curb. Long caught her before she fell. Terrified, she waited for what seemed like an eternity and pulled off the blindfold. She was in front of a tree in another churchyard.
To this day, she claims that tree as hers, and included it in the design of a T-shirt she made to mark Long’s execution.
And she’s joined the ranks of the law enforcement officers who captured Long. She’s a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the same department she helped lead to Long’s arrest.