The story of a notorious gunman who almost killed two deputies
On May 4, 2009, Victor Walker shot at and nearly killed two deputies. But that day wasn't the beginning of his crime spree; it was the end.
Published: Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 8:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.
MARION COUNTY - Victor Walker wanted to shoot the cop. Allen Butler and Katy Radney didn't.
About the story
On May 4, 2009, Victor Walker shot at and nearly killed two Marion County Sheriff's deputies. Who was this man? Where did he come from? Why did a routine traffic stop escalate into this near-fatal attack? Star-Banner staff writer Fred Hiers has spent the past 1¾ years answering these questions. He and staff photographer Doug Engle visited the Marion Oaks shooting site with both deputies. Hiers interviewed Walker and accomplice Katy Radney at the Marion County Jail. The journalists traveled to Mansfield and Shelby, Ohio, to interview a victim. This two-part story, “Almost Fatal,” is based on that reporting, as well as other interviews, legal documents, videotaped interviews conducted by investigators and various records from the Marion County Sheriff's Office and the federal court system. Walker, Radney and Allen Butler have pleaded guilty to a host of federal charges and are now in prison.
Walker, outvoted, simmered. The deputy had pulled them over for running a stop sign. Walker gave him three false names. He was buying time. It didn't work long. The deputy had already called for backup.
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Walker fled, speeding north on a crumbling, deserted road in Marion Oaks. The deputy chased with lights and sirens blaring, the backup unit just behind. Walker stopped five times in a chase that spanned less than a mile: The first time was to let out a screaming Butler and Radney and their baby on the side of the street. The last was on a sandy bend of Southwest 79th Avenue Road.
There, Walker flung open his door, swung an assault weapon to his shoulder and unleashed a barrage of bullets at two suddenly vulnerable deputies. The rounds sheared the two car frames, engines and interiors as the men threw themselves behind the only barrier available: their plastic dashboards. Sprays of bullets washed over them, a metal-on-metal screech filling the otherwise quiet air.
When the shooting stopped, deputies Matt Nasworth and Roderic Marques peeked from under their cover. Walker was gone. A bullet had grazed the side of Nasworth's head. There was blood. Marques didn't have a scratch.
“We were lucky,” Marques said. “We were really lucky that day.”
Investigators wouldn't know it for some time, but Victor Walker's crime spree began long before that moment. The more they learned after his arrest, the more chilling the picture became: the meticulous plans, the increasing violence, the lack of remorse, the baffled police in two states.
What panicked Walker that day wasn't just the warrant for his arrest, which he knew the deputy would uncover. The car contained a cache of evidence that would put him away for life.
So Walker, only 22 years old, turned to what he knew best: cold violence.
At 4:30 p.m. on May 4, 2009, the high school dropout, one-time horse groom and former pancake restaurant worker came within a fraction of a centimeter of killing two deputies and becoming one of Marion County's most notorious gunmen.
Walker makes no apologies for his behavior. The violence, the intimidation, the robberies — it was all part of his craft, and he embraced it.
“It's my job as a criminal,” he told investigators at the Marion County Sheriff's Office a few hours after the shooting.
A videotape of that interview shows a soft-spoken Walker. He was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds. Sometimes he was demure. But he confessed to nothing.
Most people who try to make a life of crime get caught early. The pizza delivery man identifies them; the store's video recorder captures their faces; their relatives turn them in for the reward money.
Walker was no different — at first. He got caught shortly after robbing a Radio Shack in 2003 when he was 17.
He wouldn't be caught again until the day of the shooting.
Victor John Walker was born on Aug. 2, 1986, in New York City. His mother, Bobbie Benjamin, said that when she and her husband divorced, he took custody of 3-year-old Victor. A year later, Walker's father died of liver disease.
Walker's grandmother raised him for the next 10 years, but he had frequent contact with his mother and four siblings.
When Walker was 14 his grandmother handed him back to his mother and stepfather, saying she couldn't handle him anymore.
Although Benjamin says Walker was never any trouble, the few court records that address his youth tell a different story. Walker was already undergoing psychological counseling by that time and having problems.
In jailhouse interviews, Walker said that since he was a teenager he's been able to communicate telepathically and has heard voices in his head. With enough concentration, he believed he could walk through walls.
Dr. Erik Gooch was the court-appointed psychiatrist who examined Walker in Marion County and ultimately determined he was mentally competent to understand the charges against him.
His interview with Walker was confidential, and Gooch wouldn't discuss Walker's case specifically. But in general terms, he did talk about Walker's motives and some of his behavior.
He described an antisocial criminal with no commitment to friends or family. A man who would shoot police without remorse because he didn't know what remorse was. A gang member at an early age who believed it was foolish to work for a living when you could take what you wanted.
He said that people with antisocial behavior often fail to make emotional connections with others.
“They're good at acting … so it might feel like there's a connection [with family members] when there isn't,” Gooch said.
“They don't get any happiness from connections with other people. To them … people are a vehicle to get to something else.”
Walker fit the profile.
Despite his mother describing Walker as an obedient child, Gooch said his interview with Walker led him to conclude there were early signs of trouble as a youth and indications of violent behavior.
“They are very good at putting on a calm demeanor and turning on and off a personality that's adaptable to the situation,” Gooch said.
After Gooch's interview, the psychiatrist said Walker's performance was contrived for the occasion and unbelievable. Because people with antisocial behavior lack the normal range of emotions, they often seek out “high excitement” to feel much of anything, Gooch said, including turning to crime.
For Walker, the criminal behavior began soon after he and his family moved to Louisville, Ky., where his stepfather was working.
Walker was attending Liberty High School, which serves trouble students. He was two grades behind the other children his age.
But if Walker was a disinterested student, he was showing real promise as a criminal.
At 9:21 a.m. on a December day in 2003, the then 17-year-old Walker entered the Radio Shack on New Cut Road in Louisville. Armed with a handgun, he took the store's cash and taped the clerk to a chair. He scooped up a Nintendo Game Boy and some electronics games and left.
He wore a ski mask and gloves. His getaway vehicle: a motor scooter.
He was caught when police tracked the fresh scooter tracks in the snow.
He pleaded guilty and in June 2004 was sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was sent to Adair Youth Treatment Center, the highest security juvenile facility in Kentucky.
In January 2005 the court reconsidered his sentence. He was then an adult.
His counselor at the juvenile prison pleaded for lenience, saying Walker was a changed young man and model prisoner. He was trying to get his GED, attending group therapy and working odd jobs at the prison. The counselor even said Walker was making progress on identifying with crime victims, including his own.
The court released him on probation.
In 2004, Walker's mother and stepfather, Dalton Nedrick, moved to Marion County. Victor came along.
Nedrick got him a job at a local horse farm as a groom. At nights Walker worked at the International House of Pancakes off State Road 200 in southwest Marion. He lived with his parents and siblings in Marion Oaks, free of charge.
But when the farm downsized two years later, Walker was fired. In late 2007, Nedrick said, Walker lost his job at IHOP.
Nedrick told Walker to be patient. The farm would get more horses and he would be rehired. But by then he had met Katy Radney, then 21, and Allen Butler, then 24.
Benjamin blames those two for her son's troubles.
“He was pushed into the [expletive],” she said. “If he hadn't met the [expletives] at the IHOP, he wouldn't have done any of it.”
Radney had been on probation for shoplifting. Butler had been arrested for possession of marijuana and driving without a license.
Soon after Walker lost his IHOP job, Radney and Butler moved to Mansfield, Ohio, where Butler once lived with his family. The couple wanted a fresh start.
Walker stayed in Ocala, but kept in touch by telephone with Butler.
By mid 2008, Walker went to Ohio with his 33-year-old cousin, Rae Ross, in tow. They visited Butler and Radney, who lived together in a small apartment.
Pretty soon, Walker, Ross, Ross' girlfriend, Butler and Radney all settled into a rented house in a neglected Mansfield neighborhood. The now-pregnant Radney was the only one working.
Before long, the armed robberies started.
The group had acquired a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol for Walker in Ohio. Before leaving Marion Oaks, Walker had Butler buy him a civilian version of the AK-47 with two magazines holding 40 rounds of ammunition.
To make sure the guns couldn't be traced, they scratched and drilled away the serial numbers. To enjoy the firepower, they took turns shooting the weapon in an open field one night. They fired until the magazines emptied and the barrel smoked hot, the orange powder flash providing the only light.
The group also bought black gloves, duct tape, plastic zip ties, masks, a bulletproof vest and a stun gun.
At 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 17, 2008, police say, Walker, Butler and Ross parked at the Aaron's Shopping Center, next to a Burger King in Mansfield.
The men walked to the back of the restaurant and waited.
When they heard the click of the door being unlocked by manager Tammy Taylor, they rushed in. The manager and Rontrell Rucker were the only two employees in the store.
The robbery took only minutes. Walker led Taylor into the restaurant's office and forced her to open the safe. Ross stuffed money into a brown bag.
Then he went into the kitchen and forced Rucker to the floor. Butler tied his hands behind his back using the plastic ties.
The men forced Taylor onto her office chair. Butler tied her hands behind her back.
The three men, wearing gloves and masks, took $1,100.
They didn't choose the restaurant by chance. Radney worked there and tried to get on the early shift to learn the procedures for opening the store. The information was invaluable to the robbers.
Walker and his crew never got caught on this job or any other. That's how meticulous the planning was, Radney said.
“He would always know in advance the layout of the building. Where everyone was seated. Where everyone could be,” she said while in the Marion County Jail awaiting sentencing. “He paid great attention to detail.”
He knew every exit of the store and every entrance. He had a Plan A, a Plan B and a Plan C.
The Burger King money didn't last long. The group had bills to pay, and Radney was still the only one working with a regular income.
So on Dec. 2, 2008, Walker with his Smith & Wesson, and Ross with the assault weapon, and Butler with a stun gun, pulled off a similar robbery at a Hollywood Video Store in Mansfield.
Again, the planning was precise. Radney had gone inside the store before and counted the surveillance cameras. The team knew the closing procedures.
Butler tied the store's two employees with plastic ties while Ross and Walker went to the safe for the money. Butler retrieved the store's surveillance tapes.
The three men, all wearing masks and gloves, left with $910 and as many video systems and games as they could carry. The robbery lasted just minutes.
Eleven days after that robbery, police say Walker and Ross robbed the Domino's Pizza just blocks from where they lived.
But this time they didn't just carry guns. They used them.
When police arrived, they found Patrick Osborne left for dead in the restaurant's walk-in cooler, a bullet through his bloody neck.
“It was a Saturday. We made a lot of pizzas that night,” Osborne recalled as he sat in a reclining chair in the living room of his home.
At 11:30 p.m., the 42-year-old Osborne heard the front door of the pizza shop open.
He was the manager. He thought the noise was his delivery man, who had left just moments before.
When he looked up, he saw two masked men.
“When I first saw Victor, I noticed he had the butt of the gun sticking out,” Osborne said. “They told me to go to the back of the store.”
Osborne did as instructed but told the two men there wasn't any money in the back. They didn't care.
The two men — police say it was Walker and Ross — walked the manager toward the back of the store.
On the way, one man hit him hard in the mouth, knocking out teeth and sending Osborne's glasses to the floor.
Then they led him to the front of the store and demanded he open the safe. He complied and they took the few hundred dollars inside. They once again led him to the back of the store.
“That's when one of them said for me to get in the walk-in [cooler,]” Osborne said.
Osborne thought they were going to leave him in there while they escaped, and that would be the end of it. He would have a good story to tell co-workers and family when he got back home.
“I was walking into the walk-in and turned around to see what was going on, and that's when I heard the gun go off,” he said.
“I felt my arm start to go numb and I [watched] the blood [that] was shooting out of my neck, and that's when I realized I better sit down before I fall down.”
With each heartbeat more blood gushed out.
The bullet traveled through Osborne's neck, shoulder, chest and arm,.
Osborne had worked for the store's owner for eight years and had never been robbed before.
Investigators later matched the bullet to Walker's pistol.
Osborne always carried the store's mobile phone in his pocket. It saved his life. He called police and paramedics, who flew him by helicopter to a hospital for surgery.
More than two years later, Osborne's arm remains numb and swells. The father of one child, he and his wife had hoped to open their own pizza store, but that's no longer a plan.
“My pizza days are over,” he said. “I don't want to be there anymore.”
Osborne mostly stays at home, fixing neighbors' cars. He hasn't been back to the Dominos and stays away from people.
Unlike the first two cases, Radney and Butler told police they weren't involved in this robbery. On Dec. 7, just six days earlier, Radney had given birth to their son, Andrew.
Two days later, police say, Walker, Butler and Ross robbed another Burger King — this time in nearby Shelby, Ohio.
At 6 a.m. the three men walked inside the store with Walker in the lead. A female employee saw the three masked men coming and ran toward the back of the store and out to the rear parking lot.
Walker chased after her, jumping over the counter and firing his pistol. He missed.
They left the store empty handed.
But Ohio law enforcement was coming up empty too in trying to solve the crimes Walker and his crew were behind. Police were looking for a transient group of thieves, not someone like the crime family Walker, Butler, Ross and Radney had become.
But Radney said the escalating violence began to frighten her. She and Butler were working on plans to get away from Walker and Ross.
She said the living arrangements with Walker became more strained. The point of contention was often Butler, especially when he resisted participating in robberies.
“He [Walker] would come to me and say, ‘You need to talk to him [Butler],' ” Radney said.
“He always played with my son when he wanted me to talk to Allen. He had a way of threatening someone without threatening them. You just knew there was a threat in it.”
When he wasn't with Ross or Butler, Walker spent hours alone in his room making silencers and designing pipe bombs.
By 2009, Radney was getting homesick for Florida. She and Butler also wanted to shake loose from Walker and Ross.
Walker had enough of Ohio, too, and agreed to get them to Ocala. Ross opted to go to South Carolina.
On April 1, Walker stole a Nissan Altima from Wieder Motors in Mansfield. Four days later, with Walker at the wheel, the trio — plus young Andrew — set out for Ocala.
Coming Monday: The crime spree continues, and Walker turns his gun on two deputies.