Criminal Cases

Criminal Cases

Clinton residents arrested in connection with murdered child

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Two people have been arrested and face charges relating to the death of a Laurens County 2-year-old. William Ryan Looper and Jessica Blake Smith were arrested Saturday after deputies responded to a call about an unresponsive child on the 100 block of Country Lane in Clinton.

Sheriff Reynolds of the Laurens County Sheriff’s Department called it “one of the worst I’ve ever seen” in his time with the department. The Solicitor’s Office, in conjunction with Laurens County investigators, are formalizing the case against the pair for the murder of Smith’s infant son. “We are on a path to ensure that things are followed and done in a matter that this child will get his justice,” said Sheriff Reynolds.

It was discovered the child was molested and beaten before his death, according to Sheriff Reynolds. “These animals, who are possessed with pure evil, have no place in our society. There is no rehabilitation for people this evil” he said to local press. “I’m sure God has a place for these broken individuals, as he does for these precious children.”

Neighbors told reporters that the victim lived at home with two other children, ages 6 and 7, and never noticed anything out of the ordinary before Smith and Looper’s arrests. Tommy Kitchens, who lived near the pair, said the toddler’s death was a shock. “You don’t ever thing that something like that is going to happen next door to you and then you wonder if there was something that you could have said or done, that could have kept it from happening.” Kitchens said.

The Sheriff’s Office has offered psychological and counseling services for investigators involved with the brutal case. “Unfortunately I have had to work many homicide cases over the years, some of which involved children, however this is by far the worst thing I’ve ever seen. This incident brought tears to the eyes of our investigators and what these individuals did to this child is unimaginable!” Captain Rober Wilkie said in a press release.

Looper is facing charges of first degree murder, two counts of unlawful conduct towards a minor, and criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Smith is charged with homicide by child abuse and two counts of unlawful conduct towards a minor. Sheriff Reynolds notes that Looper has been previously convicted of larceny, burglary, breaking and entering, and fraud. The investigation against Looper and Smith is ongoing.

Texas sheriff’s deputy accused of sexually abusing child and threatening to deport her mother

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A sheriff’s deputy in San Antonio is accused of sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl and threatening the child’s mother, who is undocumented, that she would be deported if she told authorities about the abuse. Jose Nunez, 47, who was employed by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, faces a charge of super aggravated sexual assault of a child. Nunez faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted, according to Leslie Garza of the Bexar County district attorney’s office.

The victim is related to the suspect, according to Sheriff Javier Salazar, but details of their relationship has not been made public. Salazar noted that investigators believe there may be more victims, and that the abuse against the known victim may have taken place over a period of months or years.

“The details of this are quite frankly heartbreaking, disturbing, disgusting and infuriating all at the same time,” Salazar said.

A case of ‘super aggravated sexual assault of a child’ occurs if the victim is less than six years old, or if a victim is less than fourteen years old in combination with other factors, like the use of a deadly weapon, during the assault.

William Chumbley, who is representing Nunez, did not respond to requests for comments by Monday morning.

Authorities became aware of the case after the victim’s mother fled to a fire station at night, according to Salazar. Nunez was arrested before sunrise on Sunday, while he was off duty. He was arrested by his former colleagues of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department.

Authorities are planning to give the victim’s mother protected status, Salazar said. “I would urge anybody that may be undocumented that is a victim of a crime or a witness to a crime to please come forward and report it”.

UCF’s Delta Sigma Phi sued over revenge porn claims

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A student from Arizona has sued the University of Central Florida chapter of Delta Sigma Phi, as well as several of its members, claiming that some DSPhi members shared explicit photos and videos of her and other women in a private Facebook group without their permission.

The complaint, filed in a Florida district court Wednesday, the plaintiff was involved in a long-distance relationship with a Delta Sigma Phi brother at UCF in Orlando. The suit alleges that, in October, he shared explicit photos and videos of her that he received during their relationship on a secret Facebook page called the “Dog Pound”. The secret page is where “fraternity brothers routinely posted electronic video and images of their sexual ‘conquests”, according to the lawsuit.

The New York Times discovered that the national organization governing Delta Sigma Phi suspended the chapter at UCF. It is unclear how long the suspension will last. “While we cannot comment on specific allegations made in the lawsuit, these claims are disturbing and antithetical to our organization’s values and mission,” the fraternity said to the Times.

Content posted to the secret group were allegedly obtained through first-person sexual encounters, and many of the photos and videos posted were of “unsuspecting woman” according to the complaint. Kathryn Novak, the plaintiff in the case, is represented by Michael Avenatti, who has recently become known as the attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Novak alleges that she engaged in consensual sex with her former partner, Brandon Simpson, while being recorded by Simpson without her knowledge. Avenatti said there’s “a number of women victimized by this and many videos posted.” Four other fraternity brothers have been named in the suit, and it is believed they viewed the content Simpson took of Novak.

Novak is seeking an injunction to stop the spread of the content online, and $75,000 in compensatory, punitive, and statutory damages.

The University of Central Florida, through a press release, said “These allegations are contrary to our core values. Although UCF is not a party to the suit, we are gathering information. If anyone believes they may have been impacted in this case, UCF wants to hear from you. Visit www.LetsBeClear.ucf.edu to learn about options for filing a report and seeking assistance.”

The lawsuit alleges UCF failed to address the culture that permitted the offenses against Novak to occur, but UCF is not named in the suit. Delta Sigma Phi’s national organization and their UCF chapter have not responded to inquiries lodged by the press.

The use of private digital platforms to spread stolen and non-consensual photos and videos – commonly called “revenge porn” – is a modern phenomenon. These types of crimes have become more common in recent years, including notable cases at Penn State University and the Marine Corps revenge porn scandal.

Facebook has been trying to stop the spread of revenge porn, but the platform’s ability to create and manage secret groups has made it a difficult task. The company has banned nudity on their platform, as well as removing non-consensual images routinely. However, monitoring the content of millions of weekly has become an issue in itself.

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, over twelve percent of Americans have been a target of non-consensual pornography.

2-year-old, father dead in murder-suicide

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A father suspected of abducting his 2-year-old son and fleeing Long Island for Virginia have been found dead in a murder-suicide following a bitter custody fight. During the ordeal, authorities refused to issue an Amber Alert and waited over six hours to inform the public and solicit their help.

The bodies, identified by Rockbridge County sheriff’s deputies, match the identities of John and Jovani Ligurgo. They were found in a Jeep Grand Cherokee that had been set alight behind a residence. Suffolk County police have not confirmed the identity or either Jovani or his father John.

Ligurgo, 43, took Jovani and fled Long Island Tuesday after starting a fire in the bedroom of his condo, according to police. Maria Busone, Jovani’s mother, alerted police when Ligurgo did not show up to return Jovani to her home as required by a court-ordered visitation order. Four hours later, Ligurgo’s Jeep was seen crossing the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey.

The pair were discovered in Raphine, central Virginia, around 8:45 a.m. local time Wednesday. Firefighters were alerted to a burning vehicle, and sheriff’s deputies ran the license plate through a recognition database, which was matched to an advisory sent to local law enforcement. Ligurgo did not have any apparently connections in Raphine or the area in general. “It’s like a nightmare. It’s heartbreaking.

This poor baby hasn’t even gotten a chance to live.” said Jovani’s aunt, Jackie Pulizzi, to press at the scene. She described how Jovani was just starting to talk, and what kind of cartoons he liked. “PJ Masks” and “Wallykazam” were his favorites, when he wasn’t playing with his cousins or his 26-year-old half-brother, who cried when the bodies were discovered.

Pulizzi, Busone’s sister, said Busone was in the process of petitioning for full custody of Jovani. She wanted Ligurgo to be drug tested and undergo a psychological exam as conditions of his visitation. A hearing was scheduled only a day after Ligurgo killed Jovani and himself. Busone filed the petition when deciding to end the “toxic” relationship between her and Ligurgo after three years.

Ligurgo was recently fired from his job for smoking marijuana at work, and was described as selfish, abusive, and controlling towards Busone. Her family feared for their safety. “He was not interested in working anything out,” Pulizzi said. “His thought process was, ‘If I can’t have him, nobody can.’ No man of rational thinking does that.”

Suffolk County police requested that state authorities issue an Amber Alert after Jovani’s abduction, but a state police spokesperson said information provided at the time failed to meet the criteria for an alert. Amber Alerts are only issued if a child is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, and Ligurgo’s clean record and lack of documented history of violence failed to meet that threshold. Jovani’s family said Ligurgo’s unstable behavior should have been reason enough.

Instead, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the department issued an advisory including descriptions of Jovani, Ligurgo, and the Jeep to a national alert system. Police began investigating the case as a missing person’s inquiry after they had connected Jovani’s disappearance to the fire, and waited a day later to inform the public. “We were gathering the facts of the case, we were reaching out to our law enforcement partners and then the determination was made to reach out to the media,” Hart said.

“The totality of the circumstances indicated this could be serious,” Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante told the press. “He could have turned up in a hotel room and drove back today, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

Weinstein Indicted on Rape Charges, More to Follow

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A grand jury in New York voted Wednesday to indict disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein on charges of rape, stemming from evidence that Weinstein forced a woman to perform oral sex on him in his office, and that he raped a second woman at a hotel, according to the Manhattan district attorney. The indictment has been expected by the public since dozens of allegations of sexual misconduct against Weinstein surfaced last year, and several months of investigative work by prosecutors and police concluded with the arrest and indictment of Weinstein this week.

“This indictment brings the defendant another step closer to accountability for the crimes of violence with which he is now charged,” Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.

Mr. Weinstein surrendered to police Friday and was charged with first-degree rape and other offenses. District attorney Vance Jr. was required to obtain a grand jury indictment on these charges within six months of an arrest, but prosecutors moved rapidly after Weinstein declared he would refuse to testify in his own defense before a grand jury.

The criminal indictment charges Weinstein with first-degree and third-degree rape, and a first-degree criminal sexual act. The highest charges carry a potential of five to 25 years behind bars, if convicted. Weinstein was released Friday after surrendering his passport and posting $1 million bail.

The superstar producer, known for making award-winning films, has become an international symbol of sexual misconduct and the catalyst for the global #MeToo movement. Lucia Evans, who told The New Yorker that Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex acts during what she believed was a casting opportunity at Weinstein’s TriBeCa office in 2004, co-operated with the district attorney’s office in the investigation. Her testimony resulted in the charge of first-degree criminal sexual acts against Weinstein.

The identity of the rape victim in the charges against Weinstein is not known at this time, but prosecutors said she was attached by Weinstein on March 18, 2013. “This defendant used his position, money and power to lure young women into situations where he was able to violate them sexually,” the lead prosecutor, Joan Illuzzi, said at Mr. Weinstein’s arraignment. Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said both encounter were consensual, arguing Evans did not report the attack for over a decade, and that the second woman continued a romantic relationship with Weinstein for years after the alleged attack.

The district attorney said attempts by Weinstein’s legal team to discredit the legitimacy of the accusers fit his past behavior of manipulation to discredit women’s complaints and keep them silent. “The defendant’s recent assault on the integrity of the survivors and the legal process is predictable,” Vance said in the statement. Brafman said Weinstein would plead not guilty and “vigorously defend against these unsupported allegations that he strongly denies.”

“If this case actually proceeds to trial, we expect Mr. Weinstein to be acquitted,” he said.

Weinstein notified prosecutors that he was willing to provide his narrative to a grand jury, but his legal team later notified prosecutors they had insufficient time to prepare testimony after learning more details about his accusers on Friday. Brafman said the district attorney denied requests to postpone convening a grand jury to accommodate Weinstein’s legal team.

“Regardless of how compelling Mr. Weinstein’s personal testimony might be, an indictment was inevitable due to the unfair political pressure being placed on Cy Vance to secure a conviction of Mr. Weinstein.” Brafman told reporters.

District attorney Vance has faced previous criticism from law enforcement and women’s groups for his choice not to prosecute Weinstein in 2015, when a model accused him of sexual battery during an interview. Vance has defended his decision, saying prosecutors could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Grand Forks Woman Kills Family With Gun Purchased Weeks Before

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Astra Volk seemed like an average with her son customer at Grand Forks’ Super Pawn, recounts store manager Michael Stamper, who saw Volk in early May. She wanted to purchase a handgun for personal and home defense, prompted by a series of recent break-ins around town. Stamper noted that Volk did not seem upset or acted in any way but normal, and her background check returned within minutes with an all-clear to buy the gun.

“She was in here with her son, and they were kind of joking back and forth,” Stamper said. “While she was filling it out (the paperwork), I was kind of chatting with her kid, kind of joking back and forth. They were talking about going to CherryBerry afterwards, and he actually invited me.”

Volk decided on purchasing a SIG Sauer Mosquito, a small .22 LR pistol popular with women. Stamper said he demonstrated how to properly handle the firearm, including how to load and unload the magazine and which specifications of ammunition were used with the gun.

Volk used the handgun no more than a day after purchase to kill her children – Arianna Talmage, 6, Aidan Talmage, 10, and Tyler Talmage, 14 – before committing suicide, according to Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel. Their bodies were discovered on May 3rd following a welfare check at their home in Grand Forks. The Grand Forks Police Department has ruled the case a triple-murder suicide, but the case remains under current investigation. The handgun sold to Volk is the only weapons recovered from the crime scene, Lt. Brett Johnson said. It is not apparent if Volk owned other firearms.

Volk previously discussed her struggles with mental illness before her death, and family members disclosed that she previously attempted suicide. However, there were no legal barriers to Volk obtaining a firearm, Zimmel said. Super Pawn conducted a proper background check with the FBI and cleared the gun purchase, according to police. “Every indication was that was completed legally and to standard,” Zimmel said.

Volk had most recently attempted suicide earlier this year, according to her mother. In 2014, police intervened when Volk’s ex-husband reported she was planning to commit suicide, according to an incident report from the Grand Forks Police Department. A week before the killings, Volk solicited financial help through the donor website GoFundMe to cover medical expenses related to her mental illness.

Anyone looking to purchase a gun in North Dakota must present a state ID, like a driver’s license, be at least 21 years old, and undergo a federal background check. Federal law requires firearm vendors to conduct national background checks, but North Dakota does not pose any addition restrictions or requirements during the purchasing process. Pawnshops must follow the same regulations if they sell firearms, according to Seth Dye, owner of Pawn Pros in Fargo. “If a customer comes to retrieve a gun after pawning it, another background check must be conducted to make sure he is eligible to receive the firearm.” he said.

The background check includes a short form to determine eligibility to own a gun, like whether the person is a convicted felon, using illegal drugs, or if a court has ruled a buyer “mentally defective”. This information is sent to the FBI, who cross-references the customer’s record with a federal database. These checks take several minutes to complete if a buyer’s record is clear and has proper ID, although delays can occur if a buyer has a common name or an unobtainable criminal history.

Arrest Made in Death of 1-Year Old Boy in Southeast DC

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Brian Jamal Wooden, 28, was arrested Sunday and is facing charges including felony first-degree murder. Officers responded to an apartment on the 3700 block of Benning Road Southeast Wednesday night after a 911 call reporting an unconscious child. When officers arrived, 1-year old Carter Sanders was unresponsive in the home. He was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Wooden is the boyfriend of Carter Sanders’ mother, according to police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal.

Sanders’ mother reportedly told police that Carter was unharmed and physically fine when she left for work that morning. She said Wooden dropped her off at the Gallery Place metro station, leaving Carter in Wooden’s care for the day. According to investigators, Wooden told Sanders’ mother that Carter suffered a head injury while playing with Wooden’s own child and his brother’s children during the day. However, Wooden then told investigators he left Carter with his uncle and brother during the day to attend a domestic violence training class, and said Carter did not suffer any falls or injuries.

Wooden then told police that he took Carter to a hotel pool and bought him McDonalds before the pair returned home. Wooden claimed they both fell asleep on a sofa, and when he woke up, the room smelled foul and Carter was unresponsive. Wooden performed CPR until emergency services arrived.

The mother of Wooden’s child told authorities that their child was in daycare for the entire day, contradicting Wooden’s statements to his girlfriend. Police believe Wooden lied to Carter’s mother to explain the head injury. Furthermore, a neighbor that spoke to NBC 4 anonymously said that Wooden took Carter out of his SUV around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Carter was then unresponsive, with Wooden saying “The baby ain’t breathing; the baby won’t wake up”. Police were not called for another six hours.

An autopsy concluded Carter died from multiple blunt force trauma injuries occurring under two hours before his death. His death has been officially ruled a homicide, and spokeswoman  Bilal said more information would be available during Wooden’s court appearance.

Keizer Sex Offender Caught After 48 Hours on the Run

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A convicted sex offender who led California state police on a 100-mile chase is held on $1 million bail after being charged with over a dozen crimes including spousal abuse and kidnapping.

Stephen Houk, 46, was placed on the Marion County Sherriff’s Office most-wanted offenders list for violating his parole, which stemmed from a 2002 child sex abuse case. He was arraigned Monday in Los Angeles on one count each of assault with a firearm, criminal threats, fleeing police, illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and fugitive from justice, and two counts each of kidnapping, child abuse, injuring a spouse, and child detention.

California parole board officials noted that Houk would not return to Oregon to face parole-related supervision violations until the resolution of charges originating in California. The warrant for Houk will remain active in Oregon. He was arrested Thursday in the Mohave Desert after witnesses discovered him hiding in a rail car. Houk’s arrest came two days after he led police on a nearly four-hour chase from Hollywood to Bakersfield.

According to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, a domestic dispute between Houk and Houk’s spouse in the family’s RV escalated when he pointed a firearm at his wife. The couple’s two children, a 3-year-old boy and an 11-month-old daughter, were present during the argument. Houk then forced his wife out of the RV and sped off, leaving his wife to seek help from passersby.

Houk fled from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, where he drove erratically through the freeway, city, and busy parking lots with his children in the vehicle. Entering a rural area, Houk eventually stopped the RV while officers surrounded him. 45 minutes later, his son exited the RV, but Houk was nowhere to be found.

In the 48 hours that followed, Houk shaved his beard to mask his identity, slept outside of a public library, ate at a homeless shelter, and hopped onto a freight train destined for Arizona.

Houk’s conviction in Oregon stemmed from charges of sodomizing a minor in Lincoln County, south of Portland. He surrendered to police in this case, and pled guilty to felony sodomy after a deal was struck that resulted in dropped charges of sex abuse. Houk served eight years in prison.

Two Suspects Dressed as Women Attack Teenage Boy

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Two suspects sexually assaulted a teenage boy in Fort Lauderdale while wearing wigs and women’s clothes, threatening him with weapons during the ordeal. Javoris Quentin Phillips, 36, was arrested Wednesday in Orange County, more than a week after an arrest warrant was issued in Broward County. Phillips and another accomplice used a gun and knife to intimidate the teenager as they tied his wrists together, dragging him behind a house near Sistrunk Boulevard. One of the two suspects then sexually assaulted the boy while another watched – it is not clear if Phillips or the other unknown suspect assaulted the teenager.

Phillips, now in custody in Broward County, is held without bond on kidnapping charges. He is also charged with performing lewd and lascivious battery on a teenager. Phillips was apprehended after an anonymous tip and DNA evidence led police to his apprehension. He’s known to have used different aliases in previous crimes, and is known to the Broward County court for previous charges of loitering and prowling, trespassing, prostitution, weapons charges, battery on a law enforcement officer, and carjacking,

“Regardless of the state’s recognition of the suspect as a male, the suspect committed [the] aforementioned acts dressed as a female,” a report provided by Broward County police read. “Photographs taken of Javoris often change. Javoris has various different looks including female.”

The victim told police he had seen both suspects, dressed as women, in the same car used to flee the assault. Both suspects tried to approach the victim to talk, but he ran, according to the police report. The crime itself happened on the morning of August 6th on the 1600 block of Northwest 5th St. between Sistrunk Boulevard and Interstate 95. “He described that he knew the suspects were males because when they talked they sounded like males,” the report said.

The suspects struck the boy on the head and dragged him behind a house, saying that if he tried to call for help, they would kill him. One suspect wore a long wig, a black shirt, and a bra, while the other wore a short wig and a yellow shirt; the suspect with the black shirt allegedly assaulted the boy while the suspect in the yellow shirt watched. They both fled in a tan or gray four-door sedan, possibly a Kia or Jaguar brand vehicle.

When police were at the crime scene, a relative of the victim directed an officer to an anonymous tip, directing them to Aceianna Phillips’ Facebook page. The third party said they were propositioned by Phillips before. “He also stated that it is the male’s M.O. to proposition young boys in the manner of that of the victim child,” the police report said. A records searched showed that Aceianna Phillips and Javoris Q. Phillips were the same person, and that Phillips had a grey Hyundai sedan registered in his name. DNA evidence obtained from the crime scene also matched Phillips, police said.

Ex-Cop Arrested in Golden State Killer Case

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The hunt for a masked gunman dubbed the ‘Golden State Killer’ who terrorized California during the 1970s and 80s is over after a hunt that spanned decades, police said Wednesday.

Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer, was arrested overnight in his home outside Sacramento and is being held without bail in the Sacramento County jail, officials said. The 72-year-old DeAngelo was arrested on a warrant originating from Ventura County, California, on two murder charges. However, police believe DeAngelo killed up to a dozen people, burglarized 120 homes, and committed 45 rapes during a 12-year era of terror.

“We all knew as part of this team that we were looking for a needle in a haystack, but we also all knew that the needle was there,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at a news conference with Sheriff Scott Jones. “We found the needle in the haystack and it was here in Sacramento.”

Jones said that “discarded DNA” was used to confirm DeAngelo as their prime suspect and arrested him at his home in Citrus Heights. Jones did not explain what he meant by “discarded DNA” but noted that DeAngelo had been monitored for nearly a week and caught him by surprise during the arrest. “This was a true convergence of emerging technology and dogged determination by detectives,” Jones said. “In this case justice was delayed. It wasn’t swift but it will be sure.”

The first charges filed against DeAngelo will be two murder charges in the March 1980 killings of Lyman and Charlene Smith. These charges include special circumstances of murder during the commission of a rape, murder during the commission of a burglary, and multiple murder circumstance. Few details were released about DeAngelo, a Navy veteran and a police officer in Exeter, California and Auburn, California, during the 1970s. DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department for shoplifting; Jones said that investigators have not determined whether DeAngelo raped or killed anyone while on duty. “We are trying to fill a lot of gaps in his life,” the sheriff said. “We don’t have a full picture yet.”

DeAngelo’s adult children are cooperating with the investigation, Jones added. “We have interviewed some family members,” Jones said. “This was certainly a shock to them.”

Bruce Harrington was also present at the news conference, whose brother Keith Harrington and sister-in-law Patrice Harrington were killed in their Dana Point home in 1980. Following their deaths, Bruce Harrington advocated for an initiative passed by California voters in 2004 that mandated the collection of DNA samples from people arrested in felony cases.

DeAngelo was also dubbed the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, who was blamed for a spree of crimes across California from 1974 to 1986. His victims ranged from young teenagers to the early 40s. His crimes spanned from Los Angeles suburbs to Sacramento, where a masked gunman raped woman at home alone or with their children, and killed couples, police said. After the killer went underground, police kept looking – even offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Contra Costa County cold-case investigator Paul Holes told NBC’s Megyn Kelly that the killer followed news accounts of his crimes, keeping steps ahead of investigators by changing how he targeted victims. “He covered his trail very well,” Holes said. “What he didn’t account for was DNA technology.”