PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – 35 years after the terrible fact, Nancy Kehoe of Pinellas Park still wonders and grieves over the abduction and murder of her 19-year-old daughter Cynthia.
“She had a lot of plans, a lot going on at that time,” says Kehoe, struggling to finish the sentence.
As a new employee at the Lil’ General convenience store on 54th Avenue in Pinellas park, 19-year-old Cynthia Clements was working the overnight shift alone. Pinellas County detectives believe that on that Labor Day in 1980, she was forced into a car and driven away.
“No evidence at the store. No sign of any struggle. Her purse was still left behind,” said Pinellas County Sheriffs Detective Mike Bailey.
When Cynthia’s decomposed and apparently strangled body was found six weeks later in the woods off Bryan Dairy road, there was still no suspect. Today her murder remains one of 39 cold cases for the Pinellas County Sheriffs Office.
“These are the cases I bring home with me and I sit for hours in the middle of the night and read these cases,” says Detective Bailey.
Bailey believes the brazen yet apparently calculated abduction of Cynthia Clements suggests the work of a serial killer.
“I think they’re a little more common than people realize”.
Florida has it’s notorious roster of serial psychopaths- Danny Rollins, Aileen Wuornos, even Ted Bundy carried out his vicious work in Florida. ( See a photo slideshow of Florida’s serial killers .)
But an in-depth Scripps Howard investigation found the Bay Area has clusters of unsolved murders that could also be the work of serial killers.
Single mother Linda Slaten was found strangled in her Lakeland home in 1981.
In 1982, the body of 16-year-old Leandra Hogan was found in a wooded lot off West Hillsborough Avenue.
It’s difficult for local law enforcement to link their unsolved murders to serial killers because they can’t always see the big picture.
Crime analysts say serial killers often travel from state to state leaving behind bodies, but no witnesses.
“We don’t look at every homicide. We just look at the random, motiveless homicides that are most likely to be serial”.
Special Agent Michael Harrigan heads up the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. VICAP, as it’s known, maintains a database of serial killers and crimes they make available to local agencies at no cost. VICAP also tracks the victims of serial killers, 70% of whom are women.
The VICAP program also provides FBI expertise on profiling killers and identifying suspects. FBI Special Agent Mark Hilts says sexual assault in some form is a hallmark of serial killers. The killer either simply wants to eliminate the witness after committing a sexual crime, or the murder itself provides the sexual component.
Sexual assault was suspected in Cynthia Clement’s 1980 murder. A known serial killer, James Winkles, admitted to the abduction murder of another 19-year-old girl, Elizabeth Graham, just 9 days afterward.
“There were a lot of girls who came up missing and murdered. And it seemed like it just kept happening,” remembers Cynthia’s mother, Nancy Kehoe.
Detective Bailey says Winkles, who died in prison, (see below) is just one of several potential suspects. But even if the case was solved today, Nancy Kehoe says her life as she knew it is gone for good.
“It destroyed us. He may have well killed all of us because it destroyed us.”
James Delano Winkles, who was on death row for murdering two Pinellas County women, died Thursday of what appeared to be natural causes, the Florida Department of Corrections said.
Winkles, 69, was convicted of the 1980 murder of Elizabeth Graham, a 19-year-old dog groomer, and the 1981 murder of Margo Delimon, 39, a Clearwater real estate agent.
Winkles, who lived in Pinellas Park at the time of the murders, abducted the women and raped them over several days before killing them.
The murders went unsolved for almost two decades, until Winkles confessed. Serving a life sentence for the 1982 kidnapping of a woman in Sanford, Winkles contacted Pinellas sheriff’s detectives in 1998 and offered to provide information about the two murdered women.
He pleaded guilty to both killings. His lawyers asked for a life sentence instead of the death penalty, arguing that he was in poor health and would soon die in prison.
Winkles had boasted that he abducted, raped and killed 62 women, including 41 in Pinellas, information that detectives were never able to corroborate.
In interviews with the St. Petersburg Times in 1998, Winkles said he contacted detectives about the Graham and Delimon deaths because he was feeling guilty.
“I got away with stuff for so long,” he said. “Things I’ve done make Ted Bundy look like a choirboy.”
The families of the murdered women could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Lt. Michael Madden, who was a homicide detective at the time, said Winkles continued to contact detectives even after the Graham and Delimon cases were over.
“He would tell us that he was ready to talk. We’d go visit,” Madden said. “He would put us off and say he wasn’t ready.”
That went on for years.
Note from me: It is a game that so many killers play. It keeps them in control. It allows them to relive the killings to get attention and to get attention. It is NOT a sign of remorse or guilt.
“There’s still an amount of frustration because we believe that he was involved in other homicides that we still have questions about that he would never answer,” Madden said.
Winkles bragged about his killings but asked for mercy for himself when it came time for a judge to decide if he should be executed for the murders of Graham and Delimon.
He told the judge in 2003 that he wasn’t the same person and didn’t expect to live long anyway because he was suffering from heart problems and high blood pressure.
“I’ve grown morally,” he said. “I wish I could turn back time and undo what I have done.”
Winkles, who was imprisoned at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, died at 6:25 a.m. Thursday, said Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections. A medical examiner will determine the cause of death, she said.
No one had claimed his body by Friday, she said. If Winkles’ body is unclaimed, he would be buried in the inmate cemetery at the correctional facility.
Another note from me. He does seem to be a strong possible killer for Cynthia Clements.
Kidnapper linked to old slayings
By MARCIA CRAWLEY and STEVEN DEGREGORIO
ST. PETERSBURG – Pinellas investigators are trying to separate fact from fiction in the case of a Florida prison inmate who claims to have kidnapped and murdered 26 people from 1967 to 1982.
<img src="” alt=”James Winkles” />
Much of James Winkles’ story appears fabricated – there’s little to indicate the supposed victims existed. But in at least two unsolved murders, authorities believe Winkles is telling the truth. And Pinellas County sheriff’s Detective Marty Hart says his office will seek murder indictments in January.
Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Graham of St. Petersburg disappeared Sept. 9, 1980. A year later, Clearwater real estate saleswoman Margo Delimon, 39, vanished. Winkles, now 58, later became a suspect in the cases. But there was no direct evidence, and no charges were filed.
Winkles was arrested Jan. 7, 1982, near downtown Orlando after kidnapping a Sanford real estate saleswoman. He pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, armed robbery, kidnapping and grand theft auto. He has been in prison ever since and is not eligible for parole until 2013.
Now, he’s talking. In extensive interviews with authorities as well as WFLA reporters, Winkles has given new information about the two slayings.
He told Pinellas detectives that a skull found in 1981 and turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was that of Graham. Recent DNA tests confirm his story, detectives say.
Winkles came forward after 18 years of silence, he says, because he fears that he won’t live out his prison sentence. He says he has high blood pressure and heart disease.
(Note from me: He just wanted his 5 seconds of fame, attention and to be able to relive his murders before his death. Again, it was not remorse or guilt that led to his confessions.)
When he decided to talk, he was moved to the Pinellas County Jail. Now he is in the Polk Correctional Institute in Polk City.
Friday, WFLA reporters told Pinellas officials that Winkles claims to have buried a metal box containing pictures of some of his victims. Investigators dug Friday night at the location Winkles identified but found nothing.
Pinellas officials also plan to subpoena copies of taped interviews WFLA reporters conducted with Winkles. WFLA plans to cooperate.
Winkles gives these accounts of the two slayings:
When Graham disappeared, she was working as a dog groomer, going to customers’ homes. Winkles made an appointment by phone and put a gun to her head when she arrived.
“I handcuffed her hands behind her back,” he said in a recent interview. “I blindfolded her. I put her in the back floorboard of my vehicle.”
Graham wasn’t his intended victim, Winkles says.
“The actual abduction was supposed to be somebody I’d seen a couple of weeks before and really took a shine to,” Winkles said. “But she got sick or something the day I was supposed to get her and Graham showed up. Graham was actually a victim of circumstance.”
Winkles took Graham to the Clearwater home on 63rd Street North he shared with his grandmother, he says.
“When I went in I took her straight to my bedroom and told her stay there and remain quiet and I went in there and told my grandmother and my aunt who was there at the time that I had a guest,” he said. He said he later fired his gun twice inside the house to show Graham he was serious.
Winkles held Graham hostage for four days, forcing her to dress up in women’s outfits he kept at the house. He says he repeatedly raped her, but assured her that she would not be killed.
Later, he decided she would be able to identify him if he released her, so he gave her a “heavy dose” of sleeping pills and then shot her in the head three times. He buried the body in woods near the Pinellas County landfill and Gandy Boulevard. Later, he returned to the grave and removed the head, taking it to Lafayette County in the Florida Panhandle. There, he says, he dumped the head in a river. Divers found it a year later.
Winkles recently took a team of forensic experts to where he says he buried the body. They dug and found nothing.
He says he kidnapped Delimon in much the same way: He made a Saturday morning appointment with her to discuss real estate, then drove her to the same woods off 49th Street, saying he wanted to build a cabin there.
He told her he was “really attracted” to her and that she was being kidnapped. He handcuffed her and took her to his cousin’s house.
Over the next four days, while Delimon’s family frantically searched for her, Winkles repeatedly raped her, he says.
He also drove her around in his car, watching her closely.
“I terminated her, obviously, because we had been all over the damn place and she knew exactly where that safe house was at,” Winkles said.
“I overdosed her with sleeping pills and it took her a long time to die.”
He says he first buried her body in woods near the St. Petersburg Clearwater Airport. Two weeks later, he moved the body to Citrus county and buried it on the bank of the Withlacoochee River.
About a week later, a couple who were fishing found parts of the body. It took another two years to identify the remains as those of Delimon.