By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
nglewood homicide detective Jeffrey Steinhoff was stumped by the March 2002 killing of a girl named Princess: Only 14 years old, the runaway from Hawthorne had been in and out of foster homes and was working as a prostitute when she was murdered. Her nude body was dumped in bushes in an alley.
The trail for her killer had gone cold. But in December 2004, Steinhoff learned of a possible breakthrough: The sheriff’s crime lab found traces of the same DNA on her body and two other slain women. In 2005, another match was made, suggesting that four victims could have been killed by the same person. Further, Princess Berthomieux and one of the women had been strangled; the other two had been shot with a .25-caliber handgun. Ballistics tests linked those two cases with six other handgun killings.
Suddenly, the mystery of Princess’ death triggered more frightening questions: Was a single serial killer responsible for the murders of at least 10 victims in L.A. County? And was this person still on the loose? The DNA didn’t match any names in police databases so there was little the detective could do with the new information. Then, last summer, on August 3, he got a phone call from a Fresno County District Attorney’s Office investigator. A jail inmate named Roger Hausmann, accused of kidnapping two teenaged girls, had allegedly made some troubling statements about killing prostitutes in Los Angeles. Was this guy connected to the murders of Princess and nine others?
The victims, killed between 1985 and 2003, included seven prostitutes, a pimp, a cocktail waitress and a woman who lived at home with her parents. All but one had been dumped and covered with mattresses, blankets or trash. All were African-American.
A DNA test was ordered for Hausmann, but Steinhoff never got the results. When he learned last month that the sample had been lost, Steinhoff went to the Fresno jail to obtain a second saliva sample for the DNA test. Now the detective must wait again. It could be months before the findings are in.
In a wide-ranging series of jailhouse interviews conducted over the past several weeks by the L.A. Weekly, Hausmann insists he is innocent. For two decades, he says, Fresno cops have been getting it all wrong about him. He says he was acting in self-defense in 1991 when he hit a prostitute over the head with a steam iron. He has no idea why she says he told her, “You’re harder to kill than the other ones.” He rejects as pure fiction the idea that he kidnapped two teenage girls in January 2005 and threatened to kill one of them before she jumped out of his moving car.
The 65-year-old Hausmann talks fast as he tries to expose holes in the latest case to land him in trouble. The 5-foot-7 repo man with a broken-tooth smile and long, thinning hair accuses the Fresno police of having a vendetta against him because, as he puts it, he’s a Christian Jew who is fond of black women. Divorced at least three times, Hausmann speaks coarsely about women, calling his ex-girlfriends “hos,” and says one was nicknamed Peanut Butter because “she spread so easy.” By his reckoning, Hausmann figures his most serious run-ins with the law started about 15 years ago, when the Fresno police suspected him in an epidemic of mostly prostitution-related killings. “They accused me of murdering a bunch of black females,” says Hausmann. “I don’t know anything about the murders. They have a personal vendetta against me.”
Hausmann’s crusade to clear his name probably would be confined to the Central Valley, but for one thing: The girls who accused him of kidnapping them told police that he claimed to have made trips to L.A. and would pick up prostitutes and kill them. Hausmann denies ever saying it, but word of the boast soon went out to law enforcement agencies in Southern California.
Hausmann is confident that his DNA will not match that found on any of the victims. “I didn’t do anything,” he says a few hours after providing the test sample. “I don’t play like that. All I know is they [Fresno police] have sold wolf tickets to people down there. We don’t mistreat women, and we don’t hit women. We open the door for ladies.”
Last month, Steinhoff, in a court affidavit seeking a judge’s permission to take the DNA sample, said he expects Hausmann’s DNA to match what was found on the victims. “There is a link between each of the homicides,” he wrote. “Based on my training and experience, I believe that Hausmann is a suspect in these homicides. Hausmann admitted that he has killed people and wrapped them in carpet in the Los Angeles area. One victim was covered with a carpet, one covered with a blanket, one covered with a trash bag, and three were covered with debris.” Hausmann also was cited for a traffic violation in Inglewood three months before Princess’ death.
For now, Hausmann’s most immediate problem is dealing with the kidnapping case. Here’s the police account: Hausmann was driving a 17-year-old acquaintance and her friend, who was 16, around Fresno in search of cars to repossess; the older girl told detectives that she had dated Hausmann’s son Dana. After taking the girls to a McDonald’s, Hausmann announced that he would drop the older girl off first. The 16-year-old didn’t feel comfortable with Hausmann and demanded to be taken home first. Hausmann flew into a rage and punched the younger girl in the face. He told the girls he was going to drive to the highway and kill both of them. The 17-year-old unlocked her door and escaped. She tried to help her friend, but Hausmann pulled the younger girl back into the van by her hair and drove off. She was able to jump out of the van, which was traveling at more than 30 mph. She suffered cuts and bruises.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city