11 Women Dead, Police Left Guessing

Some were stabbed, some were strangled, some were bludgeoned to death. In all, the bodies of 11 women have been found in one Detroit neighborhood, and police fear they have a serial killer on their hands.

Three of the 11 have been tied to the same killer by DNA testing, and a fourth has been linked because of where the body was found and how the woman was killed, but investigators are looking at all the killings, trying to get a break.

Sgt. Odell Godbold of the Detroit Police Department's Homicide Cold Case Squad said so far the only common threads linking all 11 victims is that they are all women, all prostitutes and all black.

A joint task force has been formed with agents from the FBI and the state police, and an FBI profiler is being brought in to try to develop an understanding of who the suspect might be, Godbold said.

In the meantime, he said, police are hoping for a lead from the public.

"Until we get a lead or a suspect, all we can do is work with what we have," he said.

But the longer the killings go on, the more the residents of Detroit's Mack neighborhood, where the slayings took place, say they worry the cases won't be solved.

The bodies began turning up in 1999, and the most recent was found in December. The cause of death wasn't always the same, but all of the victims were prostitutes, and many in the community believe they are linked.

"I don't think it's coincidental," said Chaunci Wyche, the executive director of Mack Alive, a nonprofit group working to redevelop the neighborhood. "I think to some degree they are linked — where they are happening, how the women are killed."

Police are not so sure.

The four that are being investigated as the work of one killer were found between August 2001 and November 2002, but unless new evidence comes up to tie the other seven deaths together, they are being treated as the work of other people, even if one or more of those other people are copycats.

When community leaders went public last week with a call for help, and a nudge aimed at police, they said they hoped the investigation had not been put on the back burner because of what the victims did for a living.

"We're talking about someone's mother, someone's child," Wyche said. "These women were part of the community, whatever lifestyle they chose."

She said that since the recent publicity — including a news conference with members of the state's black caucus, a group of pastors and police last week — she has been happy with the response from law enforcement.

"Because of the pressure that's been put on, they've been very responsive," she said. "But it shouldn't have gotten this far. This issue should have been given more attention. If this had been a suburban community, I don't think we'd be counting 11."

State Rep. Artina Tinsley-Hardman said her goal in attending the news conference was not to point a finger at police but to try to get law enforcement and the community working together.

"This was not about putting blame on someone for why something wasn't done," she said. "It was just about making sure that we now do something."

Police had never disregarded any of the deaths, Godbold said, but he pointed out the difficulty of solving murders involving prostitutes.

"They get into a vehicle not knowing the person and become a victim," Godbold said. "The individual that picked up these people might be nomadic, and there is no connection between them."

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