Michael Bruce Ross: Staring Death in the Face
Those in Orange County, New York who knew 16-year-old Paula Perrera couldn't help but like her. She was a bubbly, confident, carefree girl who performed well in school, enjoyed the company of her tight-knit group of friends as much as a good book and was active in the church youth group. According to a November 2000 article in The Times Herald-Record by Oliver Mackson, Paula "never complained" even though she was known to have had an unhappy home life.
Despite her normally cheerful demeanor, Paula's problems at home peaked in 1981 leading to her unsuccessful attempt at suicide by overdosing on pills, Mackson reported. From that moment on, while on the bus on route to school the kids mockingly called Paula "Tylenol" but she refused to let the comments get to her. On many occasions she chose to bypass the school bus altogether and instead hitchhiked to classes. Mackson said that even though Paula's boyfriend begged her not to hitchhike because of the inherent dangers, she ignored his pleas claiming that, "only nice people pick me up."
Then on March 1, 1982 Paula thumbed a ride one last time. That day, she was feeling sick and left Valley Central High School early to go rest at her boyfriend's house. She hitched a ride from a Cornell University student driving home from spring break. She was never seen alive again.
Eighteen days later, Paula's battered remains were found in a barren stretch of ground off Route 211 in Wallkill, New York. She had been brutally raped, sodomized and strangled before being tossed into the marshy area off the side of the road. Even though police frantically tried to find her murderer, the case remained unsolved for almost two decades.
Then in 1994 the first break in the case occurred during a televised BBC interview in which convicted serial killer Michael Ross claimed responsibility for two unsolved New York murders. Michael suggested that one of the women he killed he disposed of in the area of Wallkill, New York. Police followed up on the case and determined that the woman Michael was referring to was, in fact, Paula. To support their conjecture they obtained DNA samples from Michael, which were analyzed and compared with preserved evidence taken from Paula's clothes. The DNA samples were a match and Michael was formally charged with her murder in the fall of 2000.
According to Mackson's August 2001 article in The Times Herald-Record, Michael Ross was later quoted saying to police during an interview "as soon as I saw her (Paula), she was dead." Paula was not Michael's first victim, nor would she be his last. In fact, before his capture in 1983 he would claim responsibility for the murders of 8 young women.