Tiny Fibers Helped FBI Nab Serial Killer

ByABC News via logo
May 20, 2003, 7:59 PM

May 21 -- On the day she was abducted, 16-year-old Sofia Silva was sitting on her front porch in Spotsylvania, Va., doing homework. It was Sept. 9, 1996.

Five weeks later, investigators found her body in a nearby creek.

Eight months later, it happened again, in the same town, just 70 miles south of Washington, D.C. After getting off separate school buses near their home, Kati and Kristin Lisk disappeared. The bodies of the 12- and 15-year-old sisters were found five days later, floating in a river.

In both Spotsylvania cases, there were no witnesses and almost no evidence left behind. The only clues were a few tiny fibers and a couple of strands of hair.

Special Agent Doug Deedrick, an FBI trace evidence expert who was the lead forensic agent in the case, had a hunch all three slayings were linked. But the question was whether he could prove it.

One of the clues was some pink fibers found on Kati Lisk's body.

"I said, 'Pink fibers, I think they look like a bath rug of some type.' Everyone was looking for this pink bath rug for me," Deedrick said. "With Sofia, for instance, I had some dark blue acrylic fibers that I was looking for because I found the same types on Kati and Kristin. And when I turned Sofia's shirt inside out, I actually pulled off eight or nine blue fibers."

Serial Killer on the Loose

There was no doubt: There was a serial killer loose in Spotsylvania.

A task force consisting of the FBI, Spotsylvania County and state police chased more than 12,000 leads. Investigators compared evidence against items from more than 45,000 unsolved cases and checked DNA samples against 1.2 million genetic profiles. The FBI performed more than 10,000 examinations on the three hairs and 190 fibers recovered from the bodies.

But it would take authorities five years to find the killer.

The break came in June 2002, when a 15-year-old girl watering flowers in her front yard was abducted at gunpoint, in broad daylight, in Columbia, S.C. The kidnapper forced her to climb into a container, which he put into the trunk of a car.

He drove her to an apartment, where he handcuffed the girl and repeatedly raped her over 18 hours.

But while her captor was asleep, the girl managed to escape and lead police back to the apartment. The suspect, identified as 38-year-old Richard Marc Evonitz, was gone.

Police caught up to Evonitz two days later, on June 27, in Sarasota, Fla., where he was trapped after a brief, high-speed police chase. He shot himself in the head, leaving investigators to wonder: Was he the Spotsylvania serial killer?

News Clippings and Small Fingerprints

Police learned Evonitz had once lived in Spotsylvania. In his apartment, they found a 1997 newspaper clipping about the abduction of the Lisk sisters.

Deedrick, a 30-year veteran of the FBI, knew he had to go to South Carolina.

"In searching the apartment, I was keying in on items that might have been blue, dark blue, red," he said. Investigators dusted for fingerprints inside the trunk of one of Evonitz's cars.

"And I saw four fingerprints, it looked like four fingers, small," Deedrick said. "And they were in a position that indicated that probably somebody had been in the trunk."

Deedrick raced back to the FBI lab to examine the 600 pieces of evidence.

There were some forensic matches. The pink bath rug that Deedrick had been looking for for five years ago was among the discoveries. Police found it in the bottom of a box in Evonitz's linen closet.

Furry Handcuffs Provide Clue

"I [took] the fibers off and looked at them under a microscope [they were] the same fibers that I found on Kati," Deedrick said.

Another key clue was the pair of handcuffs the South Carolina girl had been wearing when she escaped.

"Handcuffs by themselves didn't strike an interest to me, until you open the bag and you realize that they're furry handcuffs and there's fibers on them," Deedrick said. "And it looked black, but when you hold it up to the light, you can see that there's a real dark blue coloration to them."

The same dark blue as the fibers found on all three Virginia girls.

The Right Stuff

Finally, there were the fingerprints found on the trunk lid. They matched those of Kristin Lisk.

"Fingerprints were really the icing on the cake in this," Deedrick said.

Evonitz's DNA matched that of a head hair found in Kati Lisk's sock and two other hairs found on the two other slain girls.

In mid-August, police and the FBI announced that the Silva and Lisk murders had been solved. They were able to tell the families of the Spotsylvania victims that they now knew for sure that Evonitz was the killer.

"Early on, when I was talking with Patti Lisk, the mother of Kristin and Kati, I told her that when I get the right person, I'll know," Deedrick recalled. "And she reminded me of that some time later. And when I got the right stuff, I knew."