DNA links inmate to 12 women's deaths

Killings occurred in L.A. over more than a decade

man is suspected in others

October 24, 2004|By Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - A one-time pizza deliveryman in prison for rape is suspected of being one of the most prolific serial killers in Los Angeles history after police used DNA to link him to the killings of 12 women over more than a decade.

Los Angeles police allege that Chester Dwayne Turner, 37, preyed mostly on women he encountered along Figueroa Street in South-Central Los Angeles, raping and strangling them, and then dumping their bodies.

Some of the women were homeless, living on the streets where they were attacked. At least two had prostitution convictions. Others were passers-by.

Until Turner's identification, a mentally disabled janitor spent almost nine years in prison, wrongly convicted of three of the murders.

Turner is expected to be charged next week with 10 of the killings, capping the first phase of a continuing investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department's cold-case homicide unit. He is a suspect in at least a dozen other Los Angeles killings, detectives say.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Steve Cooley, declined to comment on the case before it is filed.

The killings took place between 1987 and 1998, mostly in a 30-block stretch of motels and apartments that runs along Figueroa Street - an area notorious for prostitution, drug crime and violence.

Many of the cases had languished unsolved for years, buried among hundreds of open homicide cases that have backed up in the area.

David Allen Jones was wrongly convicted in 1995 of three of the murders, according to police and court records. Jones, 44, served nearly nine years in prison before he was released in March after DNA tests exonerated him in two of the cases and implicated Turner. In the third, no DNA evidence had been preserved.

Turner, a high school dropout who was born in Arkansas, has been in and out of prison for years on various convictions, including theft and drug possession. He is serving an eight-year sentence in the Sierra Conservation Center state prison for a rape in 2002.

During the span in which the killings occurred, Turner moved often, bouncing between prison, Skid Row missions, girlfriends' apartments and the home of his mother and grandfather, a few blocks from Figueroa Street.

The victims ranged in age from early 20s to late 40s, but most were about 30. Some were prostitutes, and several had struggled with drug addiction and lived on the streets.

Unsolved homicides

Their deaths drew virtually no attention when they happened, and the paperwork might easily have remained filed in archives among hundreds of other old, unsolved homicides.

Then Paula Vance of Alexandria, Va., was killed Feb. 3, 1998.

A security guard found Vance's partly naked body in the back of a downtown Los Angeles business. The 41-year-old had been raped and then strangled, the killing recorded on a grainy surveillance videotape.

Police Detective Cliff Shepard played the tape, but the killer's form remained indistinct - a dark shadow and little more.

The images stayed with Shepard. When he transferred to the newly formed cold-case homicide unit in 2001, he took Vance's case with him.

For a while, there were no new leads. But last year, he and partner Detective Jose Ramirez finally got the department's backlogged crime lab to test microscopic extractions from Vance's body. The samples were entered into a state DNA database.

Two matches eventually came back.

One was with samples taken in an unsolved 1996 homicide in South Los Angeles. Mildred Beasley, 45, had been found dead on a chilly November just east of Figueroa Street. Partly nude, Beasley had been raped and strangled.

Another match was with evidence from a rape in March 2002 behind a carnitas stand about a block from where Vance died.

The victim was a petite 47-year-old woman who sold cigarettes outside the Los Angeles Mission. She was attacked by a man with a crack pipe who had asked her for a light, according to court records. He then dragged her to a parking lot and assaulted her for two hours.

The woman escaped and later led police to her attacker. They found him hiding fully clothed in the showers at the Midnight Mission a few blocks away.

The man was Turner. He pleaded no contest and as a condition of his sentencing, submitted a DNA sample to state and local databases.

It was a breakthrough for police detectives, who then began investigating whether Turner might have been linked to other cases.

They pieced together his history and began reviewing unsolved cases that resembled the Vance and Beasley killings.

Over the past year, the detectives kept submitting DNA samples from various cases to the police lab. Nearly once a month, Shepard said, they got hits.

"The number kept on growing," he said. "We hit five, and thought, `Where are we going to end?'"

Eventually, DNA analysis linked Turner to 10 other killings.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.