Born and raised in Florida, Paul John Knowles spent about half of his brief life in prison for burglary and other relatively minor crimes. When released from yet another stint in 1974 he traveled to San Francisco to marry a woman he had corresponded with but his potential bride called off the wedding when it became apparent that Knowles was a little odd to be the marrying type. Highly agitated at this rejection, Knowles traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, and was soon arrested after a bar scuffle and jailed. He avoided a quick trip back to prison by escaping and then proceeded to launch a frightening killing spree.
On July 26, 1974, just hours after his jail escape, Knowles robbed the home of elderly Alive Curtis, killing her when a gag he had jammed into her mouth suffocated her. Police were soon looking for Knowles in connection with the crime and before leaving town a few days later he kidnapped and murdered Lillian Anderson, 11, and her sister Mylette, 7, because he claimed that the girls knew him and therefore might be able to turn him in. Knowles dumped their bodies in a rural area and headed to Atlantic Beach, Florida, where he strangled Marjorie Howe in her home. Two days after that he picked up a hitch hiker, who has never been identified, raping and strangling the woman.
Knowles, who had now committed five murders in a little more than a week, laid low until August 23 when he broke into a Mosella, Florida, home and strangled Katherine Pierce to death while her two-year-old son watched. Knowles suprisingly allowed the little boy to live. Leaving Florida, the rampaging slayer struck next in Lima, Ohio, where he killed a man he had met in a bar and dumped the body into some woods. Drifting out west again, Knowles shot an old couple dead at a campground in Ely, Nevada, on September 18, and killed a stranded female motorist in Seguin, Texas, three days later.
Ending up in Brimingham, Alabama, Knowles met Ann Dawson and tagged along with her for days before slaying her on September 29. Moving on to Woodford, Virginia, he shot Doris Hovey, 53, dead and was primed to dispatch of a pair of hitchhikers in Florida when he was pulled over by a patrol officer. Inexplicably, the officer allowed Knowles to drive off with the pair even though the vehicle was stolen. Sufficiently rattled, Knowles let the two go and called his lawyer and arranged a meeting during which the killer taped a confession of his crimes to date. He refused his attorney's pleas to turn himself in and soon resumed his murder spree.
Next came a man named Carswell Carr, who Knowles had met in a Macon, Georgia, bar. Invited to Carr's home he soon stabbed the unsuspecting man to death and then turned on his 15-year-old daughter, strangling and raping the girl. In Atlanta on November 8 Knowles met British journalist Sandy Fawkes and spent the next few days with her before moving on, leaving the writer unharmed. Fawkes would eventually write a book about the serial killer and her time with him. Meanwhile, luck was finally running out on Knowles. He was soon forced into two seperate confrontations with law enforcement officers, the first ending with no bloodshed but the second with both the officer and another hostage being shot in the head outside of Pulaski, Georgia.
By now the subject of a massive manhunt, Knowles was finally put into custody after crashing his stolen car while trying to avoid a roadblock shortly after the double murder in Pulaski. Knowles belatedly laid claim to over thirty murders almost immediately after being arrested, but the true total will never be known for sure. The next day, November 18, he was shot and killed by an FBI agent after picking his handcuffs and going for an officers gun while being transferred to a maximum security facility.