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
Even so, Ross was fired from his job by Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block for allegedly abusing alcohol and drugs and soliciting a prostitute. In 1989, Ross filed a $400 million federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that ballistics tests of his gun “were deliberately falsified” by LAPD, but a federal jury ruled against him. He reached a private settlement with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department over his firing.
When he died in 2003, Deputy Ross was still under a cloud. Until recently, the retired Haro was convinced that Ross was the elusive killer in South L.A. “After he was arrested, it stopped — there weren’t any killings anymore,” Haro recently told the Weekly.
Had Haro only known what the LAPD was about to unearth, stored for years in its evidence rooms at Piper Technological Center downtown, Ross might have died a vindicated man. Under Chief Bernard Parks and Mayor James Hahn, a cold-case unit had been created to investigate more than 9,000 unsolved killings dating to 1960. It was a formidable task, made tougher because much of the trace evidence kept at overcrowded “Piper Tech” had been pointlessly destroyed thanks to bureaucratic buffoonery. Even so, in 2001, cold-case detectives began sifting through homicide “books” — filled with arrest reports, witness interviews, investigative leads and possible suspects — to see if physical evidence had survived from the eight killings committed by the perpetrator that Haro and others believed to be Rickey Ross.
Laboriously digging through homicide books, Detective Cliff Shepard discovered that some physical evidence had indeed survived, awaiting the day the outside world would develop the know-how to test minute scraps of DNA. Shepard asked the police lab to compare the surviving saliva samples and other DNA to samples from more recent crimes.
"You would think that somebody involved in those activities would have been arrested and had a [DNA] sample taken,” Shepard says.
In 2004, his efforts resulted in a stunning, positive hit. Saliva found on 1987 victim Mary Lowe matched DNA found on the two women murdered in 2002 and 2003. The long-accused Rickey Ross had died a month before the 2003 murder, and he clearly wasn’t killing from the grave.
The cops’ hunches had been wrong, the spectacular Rickey Ross story line of 1989 a red herring.
The real murderer of seven women and one man was still out there — and now had killed twice more. His first victim after his 13-year hiatus was a habitual teenage runaway turned prostitute, 14-year-old Princess Berthomieux. Reported missing by her foster-care mother on December 21, 2001, her body was found four months later in an alley in Inglewood. Fifteen months later, in July 2003, a month after the wrongfully accused Ross died, a crossing guard discovered the body of 35-year-old Valerie McCorvey in an alley.
LAPD’s Kilcoyne says there could be “100 different reasons” why the Grim Sleeper took a 13-year break from 1988 to 2002. “It could be we aren’t connecting the cases.... I am sure we don’t have a lab report for everything he has done. There [could be] other cases that he has done that could drastically eliminate the gap,” and perhaps solve more murders.
Former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary says serial killers who take long breaks from carnage are “the exception to the rule,” and that makes L.A.’s sociopath tougher to figure out. Authors David Canter and Laurence Alison in their 1997 book, Criminal Detection and the Psychology of Crime, studied 101 American serial murderers and found that the average “offending period” lasts 3.75 years. A “significant percentage” spent about a year killing. The longest active period was 17 years.
Since that book was published, Altemio Sanchez, dubbed the “Bike Path Killer,” a family man loved by his neighbors, has shattered that record. Sanchez took long breaks during 25 years of raping and killing before being captured in 2006. During his breaks, he hung out with prostitutes. “They liked the guy,” McCrary says.
Los Angeles serial killer Chester Turner, who was given the death penalty in May 2007, killed women after he got into fights with his girlfriends, who remained relatively safe — and unaware. Says McCrary, “The stress can be a motivator. A bad day at work, or a fight with your wife.”
The fact that a long-lived serial killer is operating in Los Angeles got its only headlines in 2006, when L.A. Weekly broke the news that Inglewood Detective Jeffrey Steinhoff was hot on the trail of a man he thought had killed teenage runaway Princess Berthomieux. Steinhoff believed the killer of the then-10 victims was Roger Hausmann, a repo man from Fresno. But Hausmann was white. The LAPD’s sole survivor and eyewitness, Victim No. 9, said she had been shot by a black man with short hair, driving an orange car.
Even so, Detective Steinhoff discovered that Hausmann had been picked up for kidnapping two black teens, who told Fresno detectives Hausmann had bragged about killing prostitutes in L.A. Steinhoff also learned that Hausmann was the sole suspect in a series of prostitute murders in Fresno, and one prostitute told detectives that while beating her, he had exclaimed, “You’re harder to kill than the other ones!”
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