Jim Cruz, aka James Robert Cruz, an Ohio truck driver who raped and strangled a teen in Pennsylvania in 1993, will be the next topic to air on Investigation Discovery’s Evil Lives Here. The story of James Robert Cruz (Jim Cruz) will be told through the experiences of Sheila Janutolo — his former wife. Cruz was convicted and sentenced to life in a Pennsylvania prison for the murder of 17-year-old Dawn Marie Birnbaum. ID’s Evil Lives Here is a different kind of crime documentary, which tells the side of the family members who were linked to the killer. In some cases, it may be a spouse or a child. More than 20 years ago, Sheila Janutolo was married and raising a family with Jim Cruz, who worked as a truck driver in his home town. She had no idea that during his night trips, he was targeting females to rape and kill.
Jim Cruz, aka James Robert Cruz, And The Sad Tale of Teen Dawn
The story of Dawn Marie Birnbaum is a tragic one. Her case was once the subject of the documentary series FBI Files: “Stranger In Town.” According to her memorial site, Dawn was originally from Gary, Indiana, but was living in Maine at a boarding school for wayward teens. Her body was found in Pennsylvania. Dawn had many problems in her life, and it appeared that she did not get along with her mother. Bouncing from several foster homes, she was eventually sent to the Elan school in Maine, where she made friends and even confided in one of the counselors at the school. In fact, it was one of the counselors who had reported her missing. The following is a short account of how the case unfolded.
It was March of 1993, when a man found the body of Dawn Marie Birnbaum while driving down a quiet road on a cold morning. When police arrived on the scene, a white female, who appeared to be in her teens, was lying on her back with her arms raised above her head. The hands were bound, and there was a rope around her neck. There was no identification or a purse found near the body. One thing was for sure, whoever had done this to her, they had thrown her out like a piece of trash — a fact that bothered the detectives and the residents of the town. The detectives had become so attached to the case that they made it their business to find out who had done this to her.
The area where the body was found was Spring Township, an area near Interstate 80 known as “Happy Valley.” Spring Township was a peaceful community, where people raised their families. It was the type of place that didn’t have many homicides. An autopsy report revealed that Dawn Marie Birnbaum had been raped and strangled. She also had a phone number scribbled on her hand. That number was eventually traced an Elan School counselor, who told police that they reported her missing after Dawn left a group of friends at the movie theater on foot and never returned.
She Was Looking For Her Lover, Instead She Found A Killer
In speaking with one of Dawn’s close friends, police investigators learned that she was seeing a truck driver named John, and that she was going to hitch a ride with another trucker to find him. John had first met Dawn months earlier when he saw her hitchhiking on another occasion. The two became lovers and were looking forward to building a life together. Those dreams were destroyed after cops found Dawn Marie Birnbaum in John’s truck after receiving the first runaway report from the school in Maine. They immediately snatched her away and sent her back to the school’s custody. They didn’t know it at the time, but John and Dawn would never see each other again.
When Dawn left the movie theater in March, 1993, she was anxious and desperate to reconnect with John. With this information, detectives believed that John may have been the key to unlocking the case. Sadly, they learned from John’s grandmother that six months before Dawn’s body was found, John had also gone missing, and his car was found riddled with bullets. They never found his body. This was the reason that Dawn could not find him.
At some point after leaving the theater, Dawn Birnbaum came in contact with killer James Robert Cruz at a truck stop. Cruz had seen the teen girl on the phone trying to make arrangements to get back home. Authorities believe that he offered her a ride, and then raped and strangled her in his truck. Blood, DNA, and hair matched the evidence obtained from the scene. Cruz was arrested for her murder and sent to prison. It is believed that Jim Cruz is responsible for multiple murders of women that have been found dead along the highways.
In a strange turn of events, District Attorney Ray Gricar, the one who appears in the FBI Files documentary, vanished in 2005, and he hasn’t been heard from since, according to Penn Live. His case was profiled on Dateline NBC and Investigation Discovery’s show Disappeared a few years back.
For more details on the case of Jim Cruz and his former wife, Sheila, tune in for Evil Lives Here on Investigation Discovery this Sunday night. Check local listings for times.
[Image via YouTube]