Police seek clues in neighborhood killings

Authorities, residents worry whether two mother-daughter homicides in Prince George's are work of a serial killer

March 19, 2009|By Aaron C. Davis, Avis Thomas-Lester and William Wan | Aaron C. Davis, Avis Thomas-Lester and William Wan,The Washington Post

Inside Prince George's County police headquarters yesterday, a squad of homicide detectives and nearly a dozen other senior investigators moved into a separate office and began poring over two recent cases that were suddenly the department's top priority.

Not far away, in a quiet neighborhood near FedEx Field, all anyone talked about was the possibility that the cases - two double homicides - were connected, that someone is killing mothers and their daughters.

The Loftons, Karen and Karissa, were the first, shot in late January in their Largo home. Then on Monday, less than a half mile away, the bodies of Deloris and Ebony Dewitt were found in a burning car, one in the trunk, the other in the back seat.

"To me, the feeling is there's just got to be some kind of connection," said Michael Jeter, 45, a neighbor of the Dewitts.

Near where the Dewitts lived, in an aging subdivision of modest homes and carefully tended lawns, many residents left their porch lights on all night. Neighbors who were little more than strangers exchanged phone numbers and pledged to look out for each other. One man tried to break into his own home, just to see whether it could be done.

"Everybody in this neighborhood is in fear right now," said William Mackall, 62, who lives several blocks from the Dewitt home. "I have kids, but thank God, just boys, no girls."

At a news conference Tuesday night, police said they could not rule out the possibility that a serial killer was responsible for the slayings. No physical evidence linked the killings, but police said the parallels were disturbing and went beyond proximity: In each case, the mothers were in their 40s and the daughters were teenagers. They were found dead early in the morning, on a Monday.

One other commonality that emerged yesterday - Karen Lofton, 45, and Deloris Dewitt, 43, were both nurses - appeared to be mere coincidence, police said. Lofton had just finished her first day of orientation to be a school nurse in Largo. Dewitt had worked at a nursing home in Clinton for the past nine years.

But detectives were searching for possible connections between the homicides and a string of burglaries in the area. In all, police said, more than 10 homes have been burglarized there since last fall.

Police questioned teenage suspects in those cases yesterday, according to sources, who like others quoted in this article spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Detectives are also investigating the theft of the vehicle in which the Dewitts' bodies were found, and a burglary at the home of the car's owner, in the 10800 block of Woodlawn Blvd. Police said they think the car key was the only item stolen in the Feb. 28 burglary.

Police think the burglar returned Monday and took the car.

According to sources, the resident called police from her driveway Monday at 3:39 a.m., reporting that she and her boyfriend had returned home to find her Nissan Maxima missing. Ten minutes later, as the woman spoke to a 911 operator, she shrieked. According to two sources who have heard a tape of the conversation, she said someone was speeding by her house - in her car.

Nine minutes later, less than three blocks away, firefighters and police found her car ablaze in the driveway of a vacant home in a nearby cul-de-sac. A four-hour search of nearby woods and homes turned up no suspects.

Investigators think the last time the Dewitts were seen alive was nearly 24 hours earlier, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Sunday, when a neighbor saw Ebony Dewitt return home, said Maj. Andy Ellis, chief spokesman for the county Police Department.

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