Sunday, February 16, 2014

Death always follows a serial killer: African Americans who commit multiple murders

When I think of serial killers I think of White males. During my research of African American serial killers I discovered that police viewed these killings as unrelated murders or killing sprees. Neither the media nor police departments connected the murders to Black killers, who, in the past, did not fit a profiler’s definition of serial killer. The mass murderers that I researched had a number of character traits in common: they were homeless, friendly, likable, manipulative, worked at odd jobs or full-times jobs. They did not draw unnecessary attention to themselves, and committed murders and rapes within their neighborhoods. Like chameleons, they blended into their surroundings. Some had criminal pasts, some did not.

The FBI describes spree killing as: “The general definition of spree murder is two or more murders committed by an offender or offenders, without a cooling-off period. According to the definition, the lack of a cooling-off period marks the difference between a spree murder and a serial murder”.

USLegal contends that, “Serial killer is a term describing a type of killer who kills a number of people over a long period of time. They are generally male and motivated by a variety of psychological urges, primarily power. The United States Bureau of Justice Statistics defines a serial killing as: "[involving] the killing of several victims in three or more separate events." They are distinguished from spree killers in that they have rest periods between killings”.

African American serial killers tended to select victims that were not part of a family structure. The majority of their victims were drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless and prostitutes, whose families did not know where they were; did not know if they are dead or alive. Because victims of mass murderers usually indulge in high risk behavior and activities, police departments do not vigorously investigate their deaths. During the time these serial killers were killing and raping, DNA testing was not available to police departments. However, when DNA was created in the 1980s it helped resolve hundreds of cold cases nationwide.

Keying in the question: “Who was the first African American serial killer?” The answer was: “Due to the fact that accurate records were not kept for Black serial killers, the earliest found was Sydney James, who was hung on June 25, 1915. Jake Bird killed at least 44 women between 1920 and 1947”. (

Over 80 African American males have been prosecuted and listed as serial killers. Because the serial killers I have written about in this article had many news stories written about them, I had to abbreviate their profiles. I choose to write about several killers as opposed to one. In the future I will write about more African American serial killers, focusing on one at a time, allowing for more details and fuller profiles. 

Anthony Edward Sowell

A recent serial killer that attracted media and public attention was Anthony Edward Sowell, 50, who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. Sowell’s two-story white house was called the “Cleveland House of Horrors”; “The Cleveland Strangler” and “The Imperial Avenue Murderer”. In this horrific house Sowell raped and strangled to death 11 women, all of whom he lured to his den of demise and burial ground with promises of free alcohol and drugs.

On September 22, 2009 Sowell invited a woman to his house for drinks. At some point he got angry,  attacked the woman, choked and raped her as she fell into unconsciousness. She survived the ordeal and reported him to police. They went to his house a month later, armed with search warrants for his arrest and to search his house.  

Police “crawled beneath the front porch and removed bricks and other debris. One day earlier, agents worked at a house next door to Sowell's, doing thermal imaging, X-rays and other tests. Police discovered the first two bodies and a freshly dug grave after officers came to investigate a woman's report that she had been raped there. Sowell had fled the home and was arrested two days later.” (CBS News)

Police found decomposed bodies in the upstairs living room. They found a skull in a basket in the basement, along with other bodies. Sowell’s victims were African American women who were homeless, prostitutes, addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol. They ranged in ages from 25 to early 50s. Nine of the women were identified through DNA and dental records. The Cuyahoga County coroner determined that six victims died of strangulation, but could not tell how five other women were killed due to decomposition. Neighbors said they caught a whiff of the sickening smell coming out of Sowell’s house. They had no idea what it was. A neighbor said it smelled like something rotting, like a dead dog.

“The three-story house with neat white siding is in a crowded inner-city neighborhood of mostly older houses, some boarded up, and small corner stores. The windows on the third floor, where the first two bodies were found, were wide open Sunday as a slight breeze blew. Some neighbors said a bad smell came from the house several months ago, but they thought then that it might be natural gas.” (CBS News)

Born August 19, 1959, Sowell had a prison record prior to becoming a serial killer. “In 1989, a woman who was three months pregnant went to Sowell’s home voluntarily. When she tried to leave, he bound her hands and feet with a tie and belt, then gagged her with a rag. The victim told police: ‘He choked me real hard because my body started tingling. I thought I was going to die.’ Sowell was charged with kidnapping and attempted murder. He eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of attempted rape, and as a result he served 15 years in prison. He was released in 2005.” (Wikipedia)

According to a niece who testified at his trial, Sowell began raping her when he was 11 years old. She said his mother was very abusive, and did nothing to stop him raping her. Released from prison in 2005, Sowell returned to live in the three-story house owned by two relatives who did not live with him. His prolific killing binge began in 2007, lasting until 2009.

Sowell was intimately involved with a woman named Lori Frazier, a niece of Cleveland’s mayor. “Frazier moved in with Sowell a month after he emerged from a 15-year prison sentence for attempted rape. She moved out last year. The mayor's niece said she used drugs with the convict, and that she was an addict.

“Frazier said that she noticed the foul smell of decaying bodies in the home, but the alleged serial killer told her the odor was from the sausage shop next door and his stepmother downstairs. The stench around the home returned stronger than ever Wednesday as police searched the house next door for more bodies and carried out bags of evidence.” (CBS News)

When Sowell was finally arrested in 2009 he was charged with 11 counts of rape, kidnapping and murder. At his trial Sowell, a former Marine, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. On July 22, 2011 two addition rapes and murders were credited to him, but were dropped due to a lack of evidence. In August a jury recommended he get the death penalty. Sowell is currently appealing his death sentence, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to commute his sentence to life in prison. 

Carol "Coral" Eugene Watts

Carl "Coral" Eugene Watts aka Carl Eugene Watts, murdered women in Houston, Texas and in Michigan. Unlike other serial

killers, he did not rape his victims. Coral was raised by his mother after his parents divorced. Watts was born November 7, 1953 in Killeen, Texas. His father was a private first class; his mother was a kindergarten teacher. They moved from Texas to Virginia to Inkster, Michigan. His mother remarried, but he did not like his stepfather. Watts developed meningitis at age 8. His fever was so high the doctor thought he would have brain damage if he pulled through.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan three young women were murdered in 1980 by a faceless killer the media called “The Sunday Slasher.” Watts was questioned by the police, but they had no evidence connecting him to the triple murders. Paul Bunten, chief of police in Michigan, put a tail on Watts, watching his every move. When he moved to Texas in 1981, Bunten alerted Houston police that suspected killer was coming to his state.

“We put this very large packet of information including fingerprints, photographs, photographs of his car, highlights of our reports. And I called Houston homicide and talked with the detective down there, and told him, 'I'm mailing this down. This is guy is a predator. You need to watch him.

“It was the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer. Houston was the murder capital of the United States that year, with more than 700 homicides. Police were underpaid, understaffed and overwhelmed. So when Watts began killing young women, no one suspected that it might be the work of one man.” (CBS News)

Watts’ penchant for violence started when he was a 15-year-old having violent dreams. He did not fight the urge to act on his dreams. His first victim, 26-year old Joan Gave, lived in  on his paper route. One day she answered a knock at her door, and there stood Watts. He pushed his way inside, beat her and left, continuing his paper route. She called the police. He was arrested. The judge ordered him to undergo psychiatric treatment in Detroit at the Lafayette Clinic.

On October 30 Gloria Stelle opened her door to see a young Black male standing there. He pushed his way into her apartment, stabbed her 33 times, killing her. Police could not place Watts at the scene.

“Coral was arrested that December for assault and battery after two surviving women identified him in a police line-up. During questioning, Coral confessed to attacking at least a dozen more women, yet he never admitted to the murder of Gloria Steele. He was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation at Kalamazoo State Hospital before his court hearing.” (Crime Library)

Watts’ modus operandi was stalking, drowning, strangulation and beating. His victim’s ages varied  from 13 to 34, and were predominately White. One of his victims was drowned in a swimming pool in Austin, Texas.

Watts cut a deal with prosecutors—immunity from prosecution—if he confessed to two counts of attempted murder and burglary in 1982. Asked by Houston detectives about the murder of Steele, Watts repeated that he did not kill her. He had been arrested for breaking into the apartments of two women. The plea deal was supposed to keep Watts in prison for 60 years. A model prisoner, he was locked up for only 24 years. He was released in 2006.
Watts was eventually sentenced to life in prison December 7, 2006 for the Michigan murders of Helen Dutcher, 36 and Gloria Stelle. Watts died of prostate cancer September 7, in a Jackson, Michigan hospital. He was 53 years old. 

Wayne Bertam Williams

Wayne Bertram Williams, a native of Atlanta, Georgia could very well be labeled the most prolific African American serial killer of all time. When the Atlanta child murders are mentioned, Williams’ name immediately comes to mind. The only child of working parents, he was a freelance photographer and music promoter. Some acquaintances said he was a known lair, prone to exaggerating his accomplishments.

Williams was convicted and found guilty of killing 29  boys and two adults, both of whom were older than the 23-year-old. Victims ranged in ages from 7 to 27, all African American males. The murders began in Atlanta in 1979, lasting through 1981. The majority of the victims were strangled.

Lots of doubt was cast on Williams guilt as well as his innocence. In 1992 his attorneys Bobby Lee Cook and William Kuntler, asked for a new trial, linking the KKK to 20 of the murders. Billy Joe Whitaker, a police informant for 18 years, was asked to wear a “body bug” to tape phone calls between himself and KKK member Charles Sanders, who had vowed “to kill 14-year-old Lubie Geter two weeks before the child’s death. Geter disappeared January 1981. His decomposed body was discovered by a man walking his dog in the woods. The medical examiner said Geter died from manual strangulation.

“Charles Sanders, the younger brother of an alleged KKK officer, told a Georgia Bureau of Investigation informant that "the killer had wiped out a thousand future generations of niggers, which would inevitably create an uprising among Blacks, that they were killing the children, that they are going to do one each month until things blow up." In his article, Webber stated that the informant also "told police that Sanders had threatened to strangle one of the children, Lubie Geter, because Geter ran into Sanders' car with a go-cart." (Crime Library)

When his trial started Williams’ whereabouts at specific times was knocked out the window by witnesses. “Gino Jordon, who ran the San Souci club, was asked if Wayne Williams had been at his club before the bridge incident, as Williams had told authorities he had been. Jordon said it was not that night of the bridge incident, but the following night that Williams came by the club to pick up his tape recorder. The club cashier confirmed Jordon's statement.

“When the man in charge of the Ben Hill Recreation Center was asked if Wayne Williams was playing basketball the evening of the bridge incident as Williams had claimed, the answer again was no. These two testimonies reflected that Wayne Williams was lying about what he did before the incident on the bridge. This lack of an alibi played right into the prosecution's theory that Williams was with Cater that evening and dropped his body off the bridge.” (The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race by Bernard Headley)

Williams was tagged a suspect May 22, 1981 when he was seen on the Chattahooche River around 3 a.m. A policeman, who happened to be on the bridge, stopped Williams as he got into his station wagon. He was question and let go. Two days later the body of Nathaniel Carter, 27, was discovered in the river. The officer testified that he heard a splash prior to stopping Williams. The medical examiner could not say exactly how Carter was killed, but he surmised that Carter may have died of “probable asphyxia.”

According to a story in The Gadsden Times, “The sound expert, Mark Oviatt, testified for the defense that Campbell should have heard Williams’ car cross a mental expansion joint on the bridge before hearing the splash—unless he was asleep.

“Campbell testified last month that the expansion joint usually warned him of approaching traffic, but he did not hear or see Williams’ car before hearing the splash. He denied being asleep, and prosecutors contend Williams sneaked onto the bridge with his lights off to avoid detection.”

Williams failed a polygraph test regarding his involvement with the Atlanta child murders. Before his arrest he held a press conference at his parents home to state his innocence. His trial started on January 6, 1982, lasting two months. Although he was given two life sentences, not everyone believed he committed all of the murders. To this day Williams claims that he is innocent. Now in his mid-50s, he is still appealing his sentence.

Chester DeWayne Turner

A high school dropout, Chester DeWayne Turner, morphed from a Domino Pizza deliveryman and cook to a 20-year-old mass murderer. In the end, Turner's downfall was his DNA. A prolific killer, Turner snuffed out the lives13 women in South Central Los Angeles from 1987 to 1998. He raped and strangled the woman, all African Americans, aged 21 to 45. One of his victims was schizophrenic and six months pregnant. The remains of Regina Washington, 27, was found in a garage behind a vacant house.

A native of Arkansas, Turner was born November 5, 1966. He and his mother moved to Los Angeles after his parents separated when he was five. His mother eventually moved to Utah, leaving Turner homeless, living in shelters and missions. He killed his first and youngest victim, 21-year-ol Diane Johnson, March 9, 1987. He dumped her partially nude body on a construction site. She had been strangled.

Turner "not only took pleasure in torturing and killing the women, but he apparently got pleasure from seeing the pain he caused their families to endure when he went to dinners held in the homes of the victims' families after the funerals," according the report filed by probation officer Leon Alberts.” (Los Angeles Times)

Had it not been for the rape and murder of Paula Vance, additional murders committed by Turner might have gone unsolved. A security guard found Vance’s partially nude body behind a business in downtown L. A. The crime was caught on a surveillance camera, but it was too grainy to identify the killer. Detectives searched the video for clues to no avail. It shows Turner (then unidentified) throwing Vance to the ground, raping and choking her to death. Detectives described the assailant as a “husky, muscular man.” Turner was 6’1, weighing 200 pounds.

Ten of the murders took place in a four block wide corridor spanning either side of Figueroa between Gage Avenue and 108th Street. Two murders were committed close to downtown Los Angeles.

“He joins the roster of Los Angeles' most prolific serial killers, including Charles Manson, "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez and "Freeway Killer" William Bonin. Since the early 1980s, at least five serial killers, and possibly more, were active in the South Los Angeles area. These killers targeted mostly young African American women, dumping their bodies in alleys, vacant buildings or parks.” (Los Angeles Times)
Detectives were so anxious to arrest someone for the first three murders, they arrested David Allen Jones, 28, who was mentally retarded, illiterate and a part-time janitor at an elementary school. He spent 11 years in prison until DNA proved that he was not the serial killer.
“On September 8, 2003, Cold Case Detectives Cliff Shepard and Jose Ramirez were notified of a match between the DNA recovered from Paula Vance and a known offender, Chester Turner. At that time, Turner was serving an eight-year sentence at a California State Prison for a rape conviction.

“Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 47 year-old woman on March 16, 2002, on a Los Angeles Street between 6th Street and 7th Street at 11:30 p.m. Turner assaulted the victim for approximately two hours. Afterward, Turner threatened to kill the victim if she told the police. The victim did report the crime and Turner was arrested and convicted. As a result, Turner was required to provide a DNA reference sample for inclusion in CODIS. It was this reference sample that ultimately led to the identification of Turner as Paula Vance’s killer.” ( Crime/Punishment) Turner, 44, was sentenced to death by lethal injection July 10, 2007. 

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo

John Allen Muhammad, 38 and Lee Boyd Malvo, 17, could have been father and son. Instead they had a kinship of mass murder and terrorism. Together, the snipers killed 10 people, seriously injuring three. Muhammad modified the rear his blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice to accommodate their killings by cutting a hole above the license plate. The pair used a high powered rifle to erase individuals at random.

For 20 days starting in October 2002, Muhammad and Malvo were the reigning captains of terror in Washington, D. C., Maryland and Prince County, Virginia. The ages of the victims ranged from 25 to 72 years.

Born February 18, 1985, Malvo, was a native of Kingston, Jamaica. He migrated to America in 2001with his mother when he was a young child. They lived in Miami for a while, then moved to Washington. Given they had entered the U.S. illegally, Malvo and his mother were ultimately arrested by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. They were release a month later, pending a deportation hearing. While living at a homeless shelter in Bellingham, Washington, Malvo met Muhammad, who instantly became a father figure to him. Malvo’s mother was dating, and was not paying attention to her son. 

Taking the teenager under his wings, John Allen Muhammad, a former military man and mechanic, taught Malvo how to be a sharp shooter.  “He and Malvo worked as a team in the shootings with one man firing the rifle, while the other watched the victims. They often targeted people doing simple, everyday tasks such as pumping gas or leaving a store.” (  

John Allen, born December 31, 1960 in Louisiana, changed his last name in 1985 after he separated from his first wife. He also joined the Nation of Islam, the reason for his last name change.

When Muhammad joined the Army he was stationed in Washington State, where he remarried. While deployed in Germany, and the Middle East during the Gulf War, he became a marksman. When he and his second wife separated, Muhammad kidnapped their three children and left America. When he returned to the U.S. she got full custody of the children. This enraged Muhammad. His wife got a restraining order because he threatened to kill her. She feared for her life. 

Starting in October 2002 the deadly duo's sniping was nonstop. Muhammad had a plan to kidnap his three children again, then move to Canada, taking Malvo with him. The shootings were supposed to be a distraction to take suspicions off Muhammad, leaving him clear to kidnap his children. This is what Malvo testified to during their separate trials. 

After several killings Muhammad and Malvo commenced taunting the police. They left a note on a tarot card that read: "Mister policeman, I am God" after one shooting. The police were stumped as there seemed to be no motive or pattern to the attacks. Then the snipers demanded $10 million to stop the shootings. A break in the case came from phone calls to a tip line, and to two priests from someone claiming to be the sniper. The stranger pointed them in the direction of an earlier Alabama shooting. At the scene of that crime, Malvo dropped a brochure that had a fingerprint on it. It matched the one on file with the immigration records. It led authorities to Malvo. 

October 24, 2002 Muhammad and Malvo were apprehended as they slept in their car. The two killers rolled on each other, each accusing the other of being the actual triggerman in the first six shootings. The first trial took place Maryland. On December 2003 Malvo was found guilty in the shooting death of Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst. Trials in other states got Malvo several life sentences for his participation in the self-indulgent killing spree. Being a teenager saved him from the death penalty. He currently in a maximum security prison in Virginia.
Muhammad was sentenced to die by lethal injection for the shooting death of Dean Harold Meyers, a 72-year old engineer in Manassas, Virginia. Myers was shot in the head as he filled his car with gas. Muhammad was executed November 2009 in Virginia. News reports said he showed no emotions as he lay on the gurney. He did not make a last statement.

Harrison Graham 

Harrison Graham, born October 9, 1958, was "mildly retarded", the oldest of five children, and a drug addict. Despite of his mental condition, Graham could function and live on his own unsupervised. He was friendly and well known in his low rent neighborhood, where everyone called him “Marty", his preferred nickname. Neighbors did not know that he had a big secret: Harrison "Marty" Graham was serial killer who kept decaying bodies inside his small apartment. His killing rampage lasted a year, from 1986 to 1987 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Though police once came to his apartment when his ex-girlfriend reported Graham had a corpse on the adjoining rooftop, his corpse collection went undetected--despite the overpowering death stench--until he killed two women within four days last August.” (

Graham strangler. He was described as six feet tall, medium brown complexion, average build, large  shoulders and big hands. Neighbors knew him because he worked as a handyman around the community. He was quiet and friendly. He allowed drug addicts to use his apartment as a shooting gallery. One day his landlord asked him to move due to the stifling stench coming from the apartment he had rented for four years. Neighbors were complaining about the smell.

“The day he moved out he put a lock on one of the bedroom doors and stated that he would be back to retrieve the rest of his items in a few days. Upon inspecting the apartment, one of the men peeked into the keyhole of the locked door at which time, he saw a woman lying there. He immediately called the police who would come in and break down the door to the room.

“The whole apartment was nasty. There were maggots, moldy dog feces, nasty left over food, and stacks of newspaper. Upon opening the door they found the body of a woman who had been dead for a few days. In this 10x 12 room, they would by the end of the day discover 5 more bodies, one more in the closet, and another one on the roof on the outside of the bedroom window. The police went on a manhunt but Marty continually eluded the police. However, his mother urged him to turn himself in and on August 17, 1987, he did just that.” (Serial Killer Series: Article 6)

“The fifth body was found around 5:30, pulled out of another area of debris, but the peculiar detail about this one was that he or she (they couldn't tell) had been sandwiched between two mattresses and clearly had been there a long time. The searchers wondered if the evicted tenant had actually slept on the top mattress with the victim underneath.” (

At the police station detectives vigorously interrogated Graham. He confessed to the murders, saying he was high off drugs. He wrote a long confession, telling how he killed the women while having sex. “During breaks, Graham would sketch the faces of women. The detectives were surprised to find that Graham was articulate, was a talented artist, and was not, as they'd assumed, illiterate. He apparently read the Bible avidly.

“In the end, the detectives had Graham's 10-page statement, which included details about each murder, and his feelings about what he'd done. He insisted many times that he hadn't meant to kill anyone, and to him, the deaths were accidental. They were due to his sexual technique: He'd held them around the neck and had probably pressed too hard.” (Crime Libray)

At his trial December 2003, Graham’s court appointed attorney said he was too incompetent to be executed for his crimes. As reported in local papers, Graham pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. "Judge Charles Durham asked him if he understood the proceedings, and Graham just said, 'Nope.' He banged his fingers on the bar, mumbled to himself and swayed on his feet. He also claimed he didn't know where he was. His attorney reiterated that Graham was not competent to continue. Graham just said he wanted to go home.

"Do you know why you're here?" Durham asked.
"I have no idea."
"Can you understand?"
"Nope." (  

The district attorney did not fall for the “I’m crazy as a loon” bit, and neither did the judge who sentenced the 29-year- old killer to life in prison with no possibility of parole.