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Silent Wraith: Chester Turner 

By slaying troubled black women, LA's worst serial killer operated invisibly for years

Wednesday, May 2 2007
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UPDATE: On May 15, 2007 Chester Turner was sentenced to death. Click here to read Christine Pelisek's story of the sentencing.

One Spring day in 1993, Jerri Johnson held a “repast dinner” for her 29-year-old murdered daughter, Andrea Tripplett. It was the end of a day marked by two burials: Andrea’s, and that of her 5-and-a-half-month-old fetus, poignantly laid to rest at her mother’s feet.

Close by — filling her home and backyard, bringing food and eating together — were family and friends, including a quiet and familiar neighborhood man, Chester Turner.

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Turner joined other mourners “in the backyard, eating my food,” Johnson says. Widely known for his violent temper, he hung around the nearby liquor store on Figueroa and 76th streets and earned the nickname “Cisco” for a wine cooler he favored. Standing around, says Johnson — “that is what [Turner] was known for.”

He also used to walk the streets near his home with a buddy named Elliott, hang out with the local prostitutes on Figueroa, and get in brawls with neighborhood kids. “He was known in the neighborhood as someone who was off his rocker when he got mad,” says a close friend who has always known Turner — but refused to be identified.

(from left, Natalie Price, Desarae Jones, Andrea Tripplett – Photos courtesy LAPD)As Turner awaits sentencing on 11 murder convictions for slaying one fetus and 10 young and middle-aged women in downtown and South L.A. over an incredible 11 years, a tale has emerged of a silent wraith who lived where he killed — and killed with impunity.

Police believe Turner, an often unemployed father of four with a history of violent relationships, so seamlessly fit into the troubled streets of L.A. that he even killed while he worked “security” at the old Midnight Mission, where he lived for a time. So brazen was he that he showed up — and chowed down — at the funeral dinner held for his pregnant victim Andrea Tripplett.

Said by police to be the most prolific serial killer in Los Angeles city history, with 13 dead women and two fetuses linked to his DNA, Turner was charged with killing 10 of those women and one fetus, all found within 20 blocks of his various homes and flophouses. The murder sites create a horrific map of sorts — with Turner’s address always close to the mayhem.

He was such a successful chameleon that the cops spent years looking for entirely different suspects. Harriet Evans, a friend of victims Tripplett and Desarae Jones, tells L.A. Weekly that Turner “didn’t look suspicious because we saw him all the time. . . . He played us — he knew that area.” Police blamed big, brooding Chester’s murders on a composite dubbed the South Side Slayer, possibly with a Caribbean accent, possibly a pockmarked face. Those dozens of murders turned out to be the work of several men, including Turner.

TV and print media barely noticed his killings of mostly black women such as Tripplett with promiscuous lives, “strawberries” who traded casual sex for drugs — who nevertheless didn’t deserve to die. But there’s little argument that those 15 deaths would have been global news had the women been from Santa Monica or Silver Lake.

Dr. Jeff Victoroff, associate professor of clinical neurology and psychiatry at the University of Southern California, says, “Society tends to focus on dramatic explosions of violence against people with whom they identify,” so when drug-using minority women die, “it usually fails to stimulate much public outrage... There might even be in some people’s minds some kind of moral difference drawn.”

Turner seemed to mine this truism about the mean streets. Truc Do, one of two prosecutors during Turner’s five-week trial, says, “Their addiction made them an invisible class... On the fringes of society.”

In the end, it took an extremely unusual act by a troubled victim, who broke through her own indifference bred of street life and drugs, to report Turner’s brutal rape to police. Thanks to the guts of Maria Martinez, Turner is widely expected to get the death penalty.

“I never thought that he was that kind of person,” says the longtime friend who never suspected a thing. While Turner’s mother could be too tough on him as a teen, “locking the food up” and making him wait outside until she got home from work, “You have to deal with those things. I knew he had problems — but I never thought he would go out and kill people.”

How did Chester Turner, who the relatives of one victim say was dubbed by his classmates in school “Chester the Molester,” fall so utterly through the cracks? Looking back, it seems obvious.

The 1980s were a violent time, with a crack epidemic, a PCP epidemic — and the city still reeling from mass murders and serial killings that began in 1969 when Charles Manson and his followers committed the sensational Tate-LaBianca murders.

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