Whatever Happened to "Radar" O'Reilly?

A DA-7 hardship discharge brought Radar right back to where he started in life: Ottumwa, Iowa. In less than a month he knew he had made a terrible mistake.  Radar had neither the inclination nor the tenacity necessary to run a working farm, and soon he and his mother were even closer to bankruptcy than ever before.  After a long talk, Radar finally persuaded his ailing mother to go live with her sister in a neighboring town.

The night before the wedding: Mulcahy, Potter, and Klinger
Somehow during this difficult period of transition, Radar became engaged to be married.  But after announcing his intention to sell the farm and all the livestock, Radar's bride-to-be began acting strangely--or so it seemed to Radar.  The night before the wedding, a panicked O'Reilly arrived unannounced on the doorstep of his surrogate father, Colonel Sherman T. Potter (who had taken a position shortly after the Armistice supervising the V.A. hospital in River Bend, Missouri, just a few hours south of Ottumwa).  As it so happened, Radar burst into the house just as Potter was about to head north with Max Klinger and Father Mulcahy to attend the O'Reilly wedding.  Radar was hysterical, convinced that his fiancee was already cheating on him.  Potter and Klinger dismissed Radar's concerns as nothing more than pre-wedding "jitters," and calmed him down enough so that the wedding could proceed as scheduled the following morning.  But in the end, Radar was right to be suspicious.  After only 18 hours of holy matrimony, Radar's bride abandoned him during their honeymoon in St. Louis, running off with a traveling salesman she met at 3 in the morning in the hotel bar. She didn't even bother to pack.

The next day, a despondent O'Reilly wandered into a nearby pharmacy determined to purchase the items necessary to commit suicide that night in his now abandoned honeymoon suite.  He would later say his life was saved that day by an ebullient cashier who, suspicious of O'Reilly's purchases, got the troubled young man to confess his worries and to promise that he wouldn't do anything "foolish."

O'Reilly ended up staying in St. Louis for just over a year, moving in with his cousin Wendell Micklejohn and taking a job, somewhat unexpectedly, as a beat cop for the St. Louis police.  While O'Reilly's soft-spoken manner proved valuable in defusing some early domestic disputes, it soon became clear that Radar--who now preferred to be called by his given name, Walter--was simply not up to the task of patrolling the more rough and tumble working-class neighborhoods of the River City.  When a drunk dockworker broke Walter's hand for issuing him a littering violation, O'Reilly and his sergeant agreed it would be best for the young man to find another line of work. 

An encouraging phone call from Potter inspired O'Reilly, a former high school drop out, to continue his education through the G.I. Bill.  Potter challenged O'Reilly to determine what he was good at, what he loved doing the most, and to then follow that passion come hell or high water.  Pondering these questions, Radar remembered how as a kid in Ottumwa he had once designed and built a doghouse for the widow Hanley.  It was one of his fondest childhood memories, and he remembered also that he had enjoyed drawing up the plans for the doghouse even more than the actual construction.  Maybe that was his "aptitude," he thought.  And so it was that Walter O'Reilly enrolled for two courses in technical drawing set to begin in the fall of 1956. 

The Sunday before classes were to start, Walter walked over to a large "five and dime" store near the Illinois border.  There he bought all the supplies he thought he would need to be a good student of "technical drawing"--compass, protractor, ruler, and a beautiful set of hard and soft-leaded pencils coated in dark-green enamel.  He carried his kit back to the apartment and laid all the items out on the kitchen table, imagining the various projects they might one day bring to life.  For a moment he thought he might even sharpen one of the pencils and start practicing by drawing something--another doghouse, perhaps. But in the end he thought it best to wait for official instructions in the morning's first class.

That's when he got the phone call.  Sherman T. Potter was dead.  There had been an accident of some kind at the Kiwanis Labor Day picnic.  His old friend Klinger had all the details.  Some kids were horsing around with some lighter fluid.  There was an explosion and fire.  Potter had apparently survived the blast itself, but suffered a heart attack while en route to the hospital.  There would be a funeral in a couple of days.  Klinger and Mulcahy hoped Radar might say a few words.

But O'Reilly was no longer listening.  He silently hung up the phone and then spent the rest of the night sitting in the kitchen alone, staring blankly at the neat rows of green pencils still fanned out on the table. 

St Louis Greyhound Depot
The next morning, his cousin Wendall found that O'Reilly had packed up and left before dawn. There was no note, only a crumpled $50 bill left by the toaster to cover his last month's rent.  O'Reilly had taken a cab to the Greyhound depot downtown and caught the first bus north to Iowa.  By noon, he was in Davenport.

There he looked up his one remaining friend from high school, Johnny McDougall.  McDougall's "flat feet" kept him out of Korea, and he had spent the war years opening three hamburger joints in the Quad Cities.  O'Reilly had remembered that McDougall once extended an open invitation to come visit when he got back stateside, and now seemed as good a time as any.

Luckily for O'Reilly, a trucking company in Kansas City had just rerouted its Chicago shipments to cross the river at Davenport.  With the extra traffic moving through town, McDougall thought he might keep the location by the bridge open 24-hours.  To make it work, though, he would have to keep costs at a bare minimum.  In short, McDougall needed a trustworthy jack-of-all-trades and O'Reilly needed a job.  The timing couldn't have been better, and so on October 3rd, 1956, Walter O'Reilly became the lone waiter, cook, and janitor for the graveyard shift at "McDougall's Butter Burger #2." McDougall even bought a new wood-burning furnace for the two-room shack at the back of the property, and reconnected the water line so Radar could live rent-free only 50 yards from his new job.

It was during this period that O'Reilly's celebrated powers of ESP began to return, so much so that he once again allowed himself to go by his wartime moniker of "Radar."   Much like in Korea, Radar developed an uncanny knack to anticipate when regular customers were just about ten to fifteen minutes away on the state highway.  Truckers on the K.C./Chicago run often pulled into McDougall's only to find their specific order already waiting for them on the counter, cooked to order and piping hot.  Jim McTallins, a flatbed driver working out of Sioux City,  swore that on one trip Radar not only had his usual double cheeseburger waiting for him when he pulled into the lot at 2 am, but that Radar had even skipped his usual side-order of fried onions--somehow intuiting that McTallins' doctor had told him the week before to cut them out of his diet!  "I just had a hunch," O'Reilly told the astonished rig jockey. 

By all appearances, O'Reilly led a fairly stable life for the next five years.  He pulled his six shifts at McDougall's each week, where the organizational skills he learned in Korean allowed him to introduce a number of cost-saving measures for his boss.  McDougall was so impressed, in fact, that he offered to promote O'Reilly to the manager position at Butter Burger #1--the flagship "family style" location on Main Street.  O'Reilly took the bump in pay, but he had no interest in returning to the day shift or in supervising the rowdy high school kids that typically staffed the downtown location. In truth, the local high-school crew scared him, reminding him of his life-long feelings of inferiority and isolation.  So Radar kept his midnight to 8am routine, Monday thru Saturday.  Sundays he could be seen at Johnson's drugs near the town square, reading the new comic books and eating a burger someone else had cooked for a change.  Most everyone in town recognized Radar as the McDougall's guy, even if few actually ever spoke to him in person.

Radar in slightly happier times.
The first body was discovered in November of 1961.  Mary Louise Kolpalski, a full-time carhop and part-time prostitute working in Dubuque, was found washed up on a sandbar just south of East Moline.  In retrospect, it is somewhat remarkable authorities did not link O'Reilly to the killing immediately.  Though the actual murder had occurred a good 100 miles up the river, Kolpalski's body ended up ashore only a few miles from Radar's shack.  But the police would only put the case to rest after the Carlson double-homicide in 1965.

O'Reilly's involvement with Kolpalski had begun early in the summer of 1961.  By then O'Reilly had for the most part given up on the idea of ever finding female companionship. Though he had lost his virginity in Korea, Radar remained painfully shy around women, an anxiety only made worse by the desertion of his first and only wife during the honeymoon in St. Louis.  Moreover, his late shift at McDougall's made meeting women difficult, and his reputation as the "spooky" guy who could predict truck arrivals didn't help much either.

In May of '61, however, some of Radar's regular trucker pals began talking about a carhop in Dubuque who gave hand jobs behind the dumpster for ten bucks.  "Just ask for the 'dirty bird" special," they told him.  While the date of O'Reilly's first encounter with Kolpalski remains unknown, police later estimated that Radar had ordered the "dirty bird" at least ten times that summer.

But on the evening of September 23rd, something went horribly wrong.  Still essentially a naive farm boy from Ottumwa, Radar had apparently come to mistake Kolpalski's paid ministrations for a form of romantic courtship.  On the evening in question, the lovestruck young man purchased a teddy bear at the Dubuque Woolworths and later presented it to Kolpalski as an "anniversary gift."  When this gesture elicited peels of derisive laughter from Kolpalski, a humiliated O'Reilly fled in shame.  Halfway back to Davenport, however, something snapped and O'Reilly turned the car around.  He parked opposite the drive-in and waited for Kolpalski's shift to end at eight.  The coroner's report would list the cause of the death as blunt-force trauma to the head, although for his part, O'Reilly would later claim not to remember the exact details of the fatal encounter. 

Moline's "Hound Dog Lenny:" fired for a tasteless joke.
The next three victims were all young women from the Quad cities: Marjorie Williams, 24, a cashier abducted from a gas station on the outskirts of Moline; Velma Morgan, 29, perhaps Rock Island's most notorious drunk and a suspected prostitute; and Kathy Flavinson, 34, a secretary for a Moline seed dealer.  All of them appeared to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Authorities did their best to conceal certain key details linking the three cases, but by the summer of 1962, it was common knowledge that each body had been fished out of the Mississippi with a child's teddy bear tied snugly to the abdomen with electrical wiring, positioned almost as if a fetus.  Thus did the summer of '62 become, along the banks of the Central Mississippi anyway, the summer of the "teddy bear killer"  (in an interesting historical side note, Moline's biggest rock 'n' roll deejay, Hound-dog Lenny, lost his job that summer after dedicating a spin of Elvis Presley's "(Just Wanna Be Your) Teddy Bear" to the killer-- a tasteless joke that ended up inspiring a night of full-on panic as rumors spread the killer had just been spotted in town).

Radar's killing spree might have gone on indefinitely if not for the night of October 3rd, 1962.  At approximately three in the morning, Amy Carlson--a popular cheerleader and senior at Davenport High--came into McDougall's to use the payphone.  She called her father and told him she'd be back home in about a half hour.  It remains unclear what happened next, but soon after Carlson hung up the phone, O'Reilly bludgeoned her from behind with the kitchen's fire extinguisher. 

Dragging the body back toward his shack, O'Reilly noticed another person in the back seat of Amy's sedan.  It was her twin brother Wayne, passed out drunk from a kegger party held earlier that evening in Clinton.  Mr. Carlson had in fact dispatched his daughter to pick up Wayne earlier in the evening, not wanting his son to drive home drunk along the winding river highway.  In a panic, Radar decided he would also have to kill Wayne.  Dropping Amy to the ground, he went to his shack to retrieve his .38 caliber hand-gun and then returned to execute Wayne with a single shot to the back of the head.

The Carlsons' '57 Chevy at the Davenport Police Impound
Only then did O'Reilly realize the magnitude of the situation.  Both Carlsons were dead and Amy's car was still parked in the lot.  Even worse, a phone call to Mr. Carlson had placed Amy at the Butter Burger within the last half hour.  A desperate O'Reilly realized he needed to concoct a scenario that would allow him to fake his own death and skip town.  First he siphoned the gas out of the Carlsons' Chevy and combined it with some kerosene stored in the shed.  He then emptied the cash register to make it look like a violent robbery had taken place. Finally, he doused the kitchen with the gasoline.  Radar was about to light a match and burn the place to the ground when, shortly after 4 am, a worried Mr. Carlson pulled up in his pick-up in search of Amy and Wayne.  By 4:15 am, Walter "Radar" O'Reilly was in the Davenport jail.

Facing the gas chamber for the murder of the Carlson twins, O'Reilly pleaded down to life without parole in exchange for his confessions to the three "Teddy Bear" murders that summer. Later, he confessed also to the killing of Mary Louise Kolpalski.

On June 16th, 1963, Radar O'Reilly began his life term at the Iowa State Pen in Fort Madison.  But he did not stay in prison long.  He was shanked by a fellow murderer on August 19th, 1966 and died the next morning.  Walter "Radar" O'Reilly was 33 years old. 

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