Four or more men may be responsible for the murders of dozens of women in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s, in what became known as the "Southside Slayer" killings, police and prosecutors say.
Prosecutors have charged a convicted murderer already serving life in prison, Michael Hughes, with four new killings that took place in South Los Angeles between 1986 and 1993. Hughes, 52, pleaded not guilty Wednesday. His attorney, Michael Kallen, declined to comment on the case.
The killings occurred during a crime wave linked to the crack cocaine epidemic that swept through the city. Police initially believed many of the victims, often poor, drug-addicted women, were targets of a serial killer known as the Southside Slayer.
Using DNA evidence, detectives reinvestigating unsolved cases from that era now believe that many of the killings attributed to the Southside Slayer were in fact the work of several men who were stalking the same area during the same time.
"I don't think there's ever been anything similar to this where you have multiple people targeting the same type of victim in the same manner of killing," said Deputy District Attorney Bobby Grace.
"It was assumed that one guy was doing the whole thing. If you think about sheer number of women being killed, it would have been very hard for one person to kill all of them and not ever be caught at the scene," he said.
At least two other men have been convicted in the killings, which prosecutors say claimed the lives of as many as 80 women, many of them prostitutes.
Chester Turner, a pizza deliveryman, was sentenced to death last year for killing 10 women and one victim's unborn child. Louis Craine died in prison in 1989 after being convicted of strangling four prostitutes.
"The girls, they're vulnerable. A lot of them were prostitutes and into crack cocaine back then," said Los Angeles Police Department Det. Paul Coulter, who worked on the Hughes case with Det. Cliff Shepard. "He lures them off into an area, has sex with them wherever -- vacant houses, vehicles -- then strangles them."
Hughes was convicted in 1998 of murdering four women during the early 1990s. Based on a DNA match, he was accused in a recent criminal complaint of raping and murdering Yvonne Coleman, 15, Verna Williams, 36, Deanna Wilson, 30, and Deborah Jackson, 32.
Grace said he believed there were other serial killers at work in L.A. during that time, but that because of the passage of time and destruction of evidence many cases will never be solved. The Associated Press contributed to this report