Police hunt for serial killer
Shirley Hawkins | 8/27/2008, 5 p.m.
A special LAPD task force is working around the clock to apprehend a serial killer who has committed multiple murders during a 23 year period.
Police believe that the serial killer, described as a male black, committed the murders between 1985 and 2007 in South Los Angeles. The suspect's description was supplied by one of the victims who survived the killer's attack in 1988.
Police say that the suspect picked up women, sexually abused them, shot them and then dumped their bodies in a corridor along Western Avenue in South Los Angeles. Many were shot in the chest with a .25 caliber gun. The LAPD ballistics unit discovered that the same gun was used in each case.
The first known killing was in 1985, when 29-year-old Debra Jackson was shot three times in the chest. Her body was dumped in an alley near West Gage Avenue.
Police have been baffled by the murders because there were long stretches of time when no murders occurred, stalling investigations. But recently developed technology matched DNA from one victim to a preserved DNA sample taken from the body of another one of the killer's earlier victims. The DNA indicated that there were similarities to samples found on the body of a 35-year-old woman killed in 2003 and on 14-year-old Princess Berthomieux, who was found strangled and beaten in an Inglewood alley in March 2002.
"The day those tests came in, we realized we had a serial killer on our hands who has been active for 23 years," LAPD Detective Dennis Kilcoyne told news sources, who is heading the task force.
Police are calling the elusive suspect the most enduring serial killer in California history and the longest-operating serial killer west of the Mississippi.
Police got their first break in the case in late 1988, when the killer shot a victim in the chest, sexually assaulted her and "left her for dead." She survived and gave police a description of an African American man in his mid-30s who was driving an orange Ford Pinto. Although police launched an exhaustive search, the killer did not strike again for the next 13 years.
The latest victim, 25-year-old Janecia Peters, was found by a homeless man in January 2007 who discovered her body wrapped tightly with a twist tie near a discarded Christmas tree. Peters was nude except for a gold heart pendant around her neck.
Many South Los Angeles residents have criticized the Los Angeles Police Department for failing to inform residents of the killings. Some expressed anger that no press conference was held by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or Chief Bratton to inform the community of the killings.
"The reason why these cases are not made public is because we are following investigative avenues where the details of what the police know aren't known to the suspect," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, a spokesperson for the task force heading up the investigation.
Police have theorized that the assailant may have been in prison between 1988 and 2002, a period when no murders occurred. The killings resumed in 2002.
"We are looking at a number of people who have been in prison who don't have DNA samples on file," said Beck. "Possibly this suspect is in prison or possibly he's out of state."
Police are also seeking to compare the serial killer's DNA with samples in the criminal database in search of one of his close relatives, but needs the permission of Attorney General Jerry Brown. Critics have called the action an invasion of privacy. Brown has yet to approve a familial search on the case.
Police have traced cold leads and are collaborating with state officials on a search of prison records.
Serial killer's murdered victims
The killings mostly occured in South Los Angeles. Below is a list of victims:
Aug. 10, 1985
Debra Jackson, 29
Aug. 12, 1986
Henrietta Wright, 35
Aug. 14, 1986
Thomas Steele, 36
Jan. 10, 1987
Barbara Ware, 23
April 15, 1987
Bernita Sparks, 25
Nov. 1, 1987
Mary Lowe, 26
Jan. 30, 1988
Lachrica Jefferson, 22
Sept. 11, 1988
Alicia "Monique" Alexander, 18
March 19, 2002
Princess Berthomieux, 14
July 11, 2003
Valerie McCorvey, 35
Jan. 1, 2007
Janecia Peters, 25