#serialkiller faces charges in five California cases

This from the Associated Press:

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SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A former U.S. Marine who was convicted of
three murders in Illinois will be returned to California to be tried in
five other murder cases, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Andrew
Urdiales, 47, will arrive Thursday to be prosecuted in killings
committed in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties from 1986 to 1995,
the Orange County district attorney said.

Urdiales was convicted in 2002 in Illinois for killing two women and again in 2004 for killing a third.

He
is accused of killing four of the Southern California women while
stationed at various military facilities in the three-county region and
of killing the fifth while on vacation in Palm Springs in 1995.

Among the alleged victims: Robbin Brandley, a Saddleback College student killed in 1986.

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South Carolina serial killer possibly shot and killed

This from CNN:


Police in Gaston County, North Carolina, shot and killed a robbery suspect early Monday, and then called in police from South Carolina who have been chasing a serial killer.


There was “evidence in regard to the man that was shot,” said Capt. Joe Ramey of the Gaston County Police Department.


Ramey did not give specifics, and said he could not state for certain whether the suspect had a link to the serial killer case.


“We saw evidence they needed to know about,” Ramey said.

Gaston County is about 33 miles northeast of Gaffney, South Carolina. Police say a serial killer in the Gaffney area has killed five people since late June.


Police in Cherokee County, which includes Gaffney, had a basic description of the killer and the car he may be driving, which authorities said may be a Ford Explorer from the early 1990s.

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John Floyd Thomas Jr. and the hunt for the Grim Sleeper

From find.thegrimsleeper.com:

Until his April 2 arrest, John Floyd Thomas Jr was a Los Angeles insurance adjuster. Police now call him the “Southland Strangler” — named for the geographical section of Los Angeles County where they suspect he killed at least 30 women and raped many more. Thomas is also in the frame for a spate of crimes police say were committed by the “Westside Rapist”.

On first glance this suspect doesn’t fit the profile of the Grim Sleeper. Reports suggest he targets much older females who live alone and are white. This is a direct opposite of the Grim Sleeper’s known victims – young and black. However there are some striking similarities that are worth mentioning.

Many of Thomas’ victims were strangled and beaten and at least one victim was killed in a location other than her home which suggests Thomas’ MO is markedly varied. The LA times is quoted as saying “On the 17 who were killed, he placed pillows or blankets over their faces.” This is also a signature of the Grim Sleeper who is known to have placed items over the faces of some of his victims.

.Perhaps one of the most startling similarities is the time span and ‘gaps’ that separate Thomas’ crimes. The first wave of slayings took place in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s. There followed a decade of ‘Sleep?’ until 1983 when Thomas was released from prison. He committed rape and murder over the next 6 years until 1989.

The site also has an interesting map, developed with the help of a profiler who notes that

“the Grim Sleeper attacks women within one mile from his home, and works to blend into the neighborhood.”

Here’s the map:

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Details from LAPD’s John Floyd Thomas investigation begin to emerge

This from the LAPD

 

Los Angeles:  Los Angeles Police Department Robbery Homicide Detectives have announced the arrest of a 72-year-old man who has been positively linked to two LAPD Cold Case homicides.  The suspect, John Floyd Thomas Jr., is also linked by DNA evidence to murders being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and Los County Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, he is suspected in as many as thirty murders and scores of rapes occurring in the Southland during the 1970′s and 1980′s.

 

During November 2001, under the guidance of Robbery-Homicide Division the Los Angeles Police Department created a Cold Case Homicide Unit.  Over the years, detectives assigned to this unit have been responsible for reviewing unsolved murder cases, assessing evidence from those cases, and identifying the potential for application of new forensic techniques, which includes, but is not limited to DNA testing. 

 

As part of the review process, detectives screened the unsolved murder of Ethel Sokoloff.  At the time of her tragic death in 1972, Sokoloff was 68 years old.  She was found in her home, beaten and strangled.  The apparent motive of the murder appeared to have been of a sexual nature.  The cold case detectives’ review of this case revealed that there was biological evidence within the victim’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, and that this evidence had never been analyzed for the presence of foreign DNA.  Subsequently, a request was made to Scientific Investigation Division.

 

Detectives also identified the unsolved murder of Elizabeth McKeown who was killed in 1976.  At the time of her death, McKeown was 67 years old.  A review of the investigative materials revealed that McKeown was attacked after parking her vehicle at her home.  She too had been brutally beaten and strangled.  Again, the apparent motive of this murder appeared to be of a sexual nature.  Similar to the Sokoloff case, it was believed that by using DNA analysis on the biological evidence obtained from within McKeown’s Sexual Assault Evidence Kit, it would potentially provide a direct lead to the suspect responsible for committing this senseless crime.  Detectives requested that Scientific Investigation Division examine the evidence for the presence of DNA.

 

A male DNA profile was developed in each of these independent cases and was uploaded into the California CODIS databank.  During 2004, a case-to-case DNA match was made linking the male DNA profile from the Sokoloff case to the male DNA profile identified in the McKeown murder.  Although the DNA profiles matched one another, the name of the offender was not identified in the database.

 

Between 2004 and 2009, cold case detectives worked diligently in an effort to identify this potential murder suspect.  While continuing their investigation, detectives frequently compared a potential suspects DNA profile to that recovered from the Sokoloff and McKeown sexual assault evidence kits.  Approximately 14 DNA profiles were compared and eliminated, they were not connected.

 

In September 2004, detectives were notified that DNA case-to-case matches had been made to three unsolved murders that occurred between 1976 and 1986 in the City of Inglewood and Los Angeles County. 

 

On March 27, 2009, the California Department of Justice notified the Los Angeles Police Department that a CODIS DNA match had been made and the killer identified in the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and the victims in the cases being investigated by the Inglewood Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

 

The offender has been identified as John Floyd Thomas.  He is now 72 years old and a resident of Los Angeles.  A review of Thomas’s criminal history revealed that he was arrested a number of times between 1955 and 1978.  His criminal convictions consist of multiple burglaries, many of which involved sexual assaults of his victims.  Other than an arrest for prostitution in 1993, Thomas has not had any other known law enforcement contact during recent years.

 

On March 31, 2009, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department arrested John Floyd Thomas for the murders of Ethel Sokoloff and Elizabeth McKeown, and his bail was set at one million dollars.

 

Cold Case detectives will focus on connecting Thomas to additional cases during those years when he was not in custody for other crimes.  Detectives will begin in the mid-1950s when his criminal history began in the Los Angeles area.  The review will likely include cases occurring through the decade of the 1980s.  During that approximate 35-year span, Thomas was in custody for a total of roughly twelve years.      

 

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John Floyd Thomas Jr: “Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer” *

From the Associated Press:

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LOS ANGELES – Police believe a 72-year-old man charged with two cold-case murders is tied to two decades-old waves of Southern California serial killings and as many as 25 victims.

DNA matching former insurance adjuster John Floyd Thomas Jr. was found at five crime scenes spanning the killing-and-rape rampages in west Los Angeles in the 1970s and Claremont in the 1980s, said LAPD Robbery-Homicide Cold Case Detective Richard Bengston.

“When all is said and done, Mr. Thomas stands to be Los Angeles’ most prolific serial killer,” Bengston told the Los Angeles Times.

Police planned to reveal details of the case at a Thursday news conference.

In the first wave of killings in Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, a man police dubbed “The Westside Rapist” entered the homes of elderly women who lived alone, raped them and choked them until they passed out or died. The 17 who were killed were found with pillows or blankets over their faces.

A decade later and 40 miles to the east, five elderly women in Claremont were found raped and killed, also with blankets or pillows over their faces.

Despite some 20 survivors of similar attacks, detectives said they didn’t solve either set of cases nor connect the two. They blamed conflicting descriptions from victims, lack of communication between agencies and a past absence of DNA technology.

LA Times map of Westside crime spree.

*LAPD press release on the jump

Continue reading

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Serial killer bargains for his life

A man convicted of slaying two coeds in Rowland Heights back in the 1980s bought his way off Death Row by confessing to the killing of a seven-year-old Northern California girl in the early part of that decade.

Wayne Harvey Smith, 61, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Here’s a link to Brian Day’s story (and the top portion):

ROWLAND HEIGHTS – A serial killer convicted of two Rowland Heights murders in the 1980s avoided the death penalty after he confessed to slaying a seven-year-old Northern California girl, officials and family members said Friday.

In order to avoid execution for the 1983 shooting death of 18-year-old Stacy Belcher of Rowland Heights, Wayne Harvey Smith, 61, cooperated with investigators and admitted to killing a 7-year-old girl in Weaverville in 1980, Trinity County sheriff’s Detective Bryan Ward said. He will not be prosecuted in that case.

“I’d rather have seen the death penalty,” Stacy Belcher’s father, Charles Belcher, said, “but the fact that this other family has closure, that makes it worthwhile.”

 

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Search for serial killer victim suspended

This comes from City News service, and appears in the Contra Costa Times:

MOORPARK – Authorities today planned to call off the search for the body of a 16-year-old San Fernando Valley boy missing since 1968 who was believed to have been buried next to a Ventura County freeway.

Unless there is “some compelling evidence,” the search for the remains of Roger Dale Madison will be called off and a memorial service for the teen will be held at the site starting at 11 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Police Department. His sister was expected to be on hand, police said.

The search had been concentrated along the 23 Freeway at the Tierra Rejada Road offramp, where a 12-foot-deep pit was excavated.

Digging began there Monday, as cold-case investigators from a half-dozen jurisdictions, most of them volunteers working on their days off, searched for the remains of the boy, who was last seen just before Christmas 1968.

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