ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Raymond Lee Stewart may not have been born in Rockford, but he’s infamously remembered as one of the most notorious and violent criminals in the city’s history.
Technically classified as a spree killer, Stewart fatally shot six people between Jan. 27, 1981, and Feb. 2, 1981. He killed four men in Rockford and two in Beloit, Wisconsin.
Born Jan. 21, 1952, in Burlington, North Carolina, Stewart relocated to Rockford with his family in the early 1970s.
After being expelled from school, he took to a life crime, holding up a string of gas stations before he was caught and ordered to do a five- to 15-year stretch in the Illinois Department of Corrections.
What triggered him to kill is often debated. Some say he became enraged when he discovered his girlfriend secretly had her tubes tied after giving birth to his daughter.
Others believe he was seeking revenge on those who implicated him in the gas station holdups and that some of his victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, the men Stewart shot did nothing to provoke the attacks. Years later, he said the killings were racially charged.
Raymond Lee Stewart began his rampage with the execution-style shootings of 54-year-old Willie Fredd and his nephew, 20-year-old Albert Pearson, inside Fredd’s Groceries, a small store Fredd owned on Rockford’s west side.
It’s been speculated that Fredd had been a witness in a robbery Stewart was convicted of years earlier. Pearson had no known connection to the killer.
Between Jan. 28 and Jan. 29, Stewart gunned down Rockford gas station attendants, 18-year-old Kevin Kaisser, and Kenny Foust, 35.
He then laid low for four days, only to re-emerge on Feb. 2, 1981, in Beloit, where he carried out another execution-style double homicide. He led 26-year-old Donald Rains and 21-year-old Richard Boeck to the back of a RadioShack store and shot them in the head.
Stewart received two life sentences in Wisconsin and the death penalty in Illinois. He was executed by lethal injection on Sept. 18, 1996, at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill.
Days before he was executed, Stewart, who was Black, said in an audio recording that he committed the murders to avenge the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, two prominent figures killed by white gunmen in the 1960s.
“I was there to get back at Caucasians for what they had done,” Stewart said in the recording. “The victims had not done anything to me. … I want to apologize.”