Archive for January 21st, 2012

Computer Analyst Identifies Serial Killer Cluster

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A computer analyst turned amateur detective used old FBI crime files to identify a cluster of unsolved murders of young women in upstate New York that police agree was the work of a little-known serial killer active in the early 1990s.

Kevin Fallon, 38, an information technology analyst from Buffalo, N.Y., has proven it’s possible to spot serial murders by carefully studying FBI records of America’s 190,000 unsolved homicides committed since 1980. About a third of all homicides go unsolved each year in the United States.

Fallon, who has taken graduate classes in computer forensics, used the federal crime database — called the Supplementary Homicide Report — that Scripps Howard News Service posted online more than a year ago in an ongoing national reporting project examining unsolved murders. Fallon contacted wire service reporters about his discovery.

“I was just playing around,” Fallon said. “I was searching for unsolved murders involving knives, strangulations and cases in which the cause of death was undetermined.”

Fallon found an unusual bulge of unsolved strangulations in the Rochester area.

“If that wasn’t a pattern, well, then I don’t know what a pattern looks like,” he said. “It was just so obvious.”

New York authorities, asked about Fallon’s discovery, are talking for the first time about the extraordinary efforts they made to solve a string of killings of women in the Rochester area that occurred in the shadow of the much-heralded arrest of “Genesee River Killer” Arthur Shawcross. He died in prison in 2008 after confessing to 11 murders.

Fallon detected a second group of strangulations of women, whom police say were mostly prostitutes, killed after Shawcross was apprehended.

“Yes, we did have a second serial killer,” said Capt. Lynde Johnston of the Rochester Police Department’s homicide division. “I think we all agreed that he had killed seven. Some of us think eight.”

Retired FBI supervisory special agent Gregg McCrary, who worked as a profiler in the Shawcross cases, remembers the second series of killings vividly.

“What are the chances of having two of these guys in the same city?” McCrary asked. “The focus was on the Genesee River Killer. But we had an unsettling feeling that something else might be going on.”

The problem for police was that, statistically, too many women were dying, especially prostitutes and drug users. Although women account for 22 percent of all murders nationally, they were 34 percent of the 343 homicides reported to the FBI from the Rochester metro area from 1986 to 1992.

That elevated rate of female homicides did not neatly end with Shawcross’ capture in early January 1990. Authorities became convinced they had a second serial killer when five bodies were discovered near the Lake Ontario State Parkway from May through November of 1992.

“The timeline for us started with a woman named Alenda Height. She was found naked in a creek. A prostitute and a drug user,” recalled Neil Flood, former captain of detectives for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, which headed up the ensuing task force investigation.

Four more women were found in the coming months, prompting debate among investigators about how many unsolved cases in upstate New York should be linked to a possible new serial killer.

“There were 19 — mostly prostitutes — I’m sure of that,” recalled former Monroe County Sheriff Andrew Meloni. “They all died in a 2 1/2-year period.”

One of the victims was last seen getting into a red pickup truck driven by an unknown black man, a fact that Monroe County authorities made known among law enforcement agencies. A break came by chance in 1993.

“A New York State police officer patrolling the parkway comes across a red pickup late at night, midnight or so,” recalls Flood. “Out of the woods comes a male driver. The man says he was going to the bathroom in the woods.”

The owner and driver of the truck was John White, 47, a family man of deep religious convictions who lived in the nearby suburb of Gates, N.Y. He did not have an extensive police record and did not seem a likely candidate for serial murder.

Investigators had found two other prostitutes who survived encounters with the driver of a red pickup truck. One of them, saying the driver tried to tie her up and threatened her with a box cutter before she fled, recalled that the cab of the truck contained religious objects including a Bible.

“They described the interior of this truck,” Flood said. “So we go over to the (White’s) house and we do a kind of knock-and-talk, a very casual encounter. We see indications of property that the women described.”

Monroe County sheriff’s deputies put White under surveillance.

“We had some pretty specific instruction on what to do if he ever picked someone up,” Flood said. “He did drive around on some occasions, but he never stopped and picked anyone up.”

Since it had no hard evidence, the investigative team decided to try a high-stakes confrontation with White.

New York State criminal profiler Edward Grant, who was advising Rochester police in the case, recommended that detectives construct a large detective squad room filled with busy workers and lots of photographs of the women White was suspected of killing.

Monroe County’s actual interview room was deemed too unimpressive.

“It was a real ‘Playhouse 90’ affair,” Meloni recalled. “A dear friend of mine owned a building and gave us the largest room he had. It took us two or three weeks to get the furniture moved in and all the cigarette smoke going. It was quite a scene.”

Deputies detained White, took him to the staged interview area, and spent many hours interviewing him.

“We certainly didn’t waterboard him or do anything physical. But we spent a tremendous amount of time with him,” Flood said. “He never said: ‘I didn’t do it.’ He wouldn’t deny it. But he just wouldn’t admit to it.”

Several teams of investigators took turns with White during the daylong interview.

“My best investigators were with him for hours and hours,” Meloni said. “We prayed with him. We cajoled. But we never yelled or screamed at him because White was a very passive kind of guy.”

White’s Bible had passages about prostitution underlined, Meloni said.

“We were just sure that he would break. But he didn’t,” Meloni said. “I’ll tell you, I had tears in my eyes when we left.”

Without a confession, White was freed.

The suspect suffered a massive coronary a few weeks later on Sept. 18, 1994. Investigators rushed to the hospital, hoping to get a deathbed confession. But White died before they could conduct one last interview.

White’s death made front-page news in upstate New York, although the total coverage given to him and his victims was only a fraction of the attention paid to Shawcross and his 11 victims.

“Talk to anybody in the Rochester area about serial killers, they will think of Shawcross,” McCrary said. “But nobody thinks of White or his victims because he wasn’t arrested and there wasn’t much publicity. It just wasn’t as hot.”

FBI analysts have said there are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of unsolved murder series committed since the creation of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program in 1985. Many of these suspected series have never been made public, criminologists agree.

“Sometimes the pattern isn’t recognized,” said Hickey. “We call it ‘linkage blindness.’ Serial killers are able to operate for a fair amount of time. Those are the ones to worry about.”

Was White guilty? Family members, when contacted for this story, declined to talk about the case and asked to be left alone.

White’s attorney, Roy Wheatley King, was astonished to learn the details of the lengths police went to during their 14-hour questioning, conducted before White hired him.

“The case was largely circumstantial. But he never said or did anything to make me believe he was a violent person,” said King, now a retired municipal court judge.

“It would be nice if police could work these cold cases and bring closure. John White has gone to his grave with this stain on him and his family. It would be nice if we could have closure for his family and for the families of the victims.”

The database Fallon used can be accessed at: 


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