By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 3/23/2006 2:27:48 PM ET 2006-03-23T19:27:48
COMMENTARY

Since Christmas 2005 an unknown serial killer has murdered three women in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area.  The media and the police speculate that he may kill again this month, noting that he killed in December, January, and February.  He may, unfortunately, feel the need to meet this terrible expectation.  The believed interval between the three known murders is 19 and 41 days, or an average of just over three weeks between homicides.  If this is any kind of pattern for the killer, he could be expected to strike again as soon as this week.

The three known victims are local women, who worked along Ridgewood Avenue. They may have abused drugs and worked as prostitutes or otherwise raised their victim profiles to put them at high risk.

The body of Laquetta Gunther, age 45, was discovered December 26, 2005, in a narrow alley between two buildings off Beach Street. Found in a fetal position, partially clothed, she had been shot in the head. Julie Green, 34, was found January 14, 2006, lying facedown in a ditch at a construction site off LPGA Boulevard.  Investigators have not revealed whether Green, like Gunther, was partially clothed. She had been shot. And, on the afternoon of February 24, shortly after 1 p.m., police were tipped by a man, calling from a pay phone, as to the whereabouts of the body of Iwana Patton.  Patton, 35, was found on a dirt road just off Williamson Boulevard. She, too, had been shot. Having identified the mystery caller who led investigators to the body, police no longer consider him a suspect.

Many questions arise about the unknown serial killer who has murdered these three women. But most vacationers and students arriving here for spring break , seeking the beautiful sand and sun of Daytona’s beaches, have no idea that this murderer may be out looking for his next victim. Will the killer strike again, and if so, will he seek his next victim from the ranks of crack addicts and streetwalkers? Or will he look for a new type of victim? Because at least two of his three known victims abused drugs and were prostitutes, other women with similar backgrounds would be an obvious choice for this killer. But, will he continue to seek victims living and functioning on the edge of society? They are easy victims for him. Or will he change his MO to frustrate police efforts to identify him?  These are just a few of the questions that profilers and investigators are racing to answer, before another woman is killed by this cold, faceless, relentless killer.

Many prostitutes choose to work on the street rather than as call girls. Some say this gives them the opportunity to meet and otherwise consider their “client” before they go off on a “date.” Others choose to work on the street because they can set their own hours or simply because they are so addicted to drugs or so sick that they cannot find employment with an escort service. One report theorizes that over 1,000,000 American women (and, we know, men and children, as well) have worked as prostitutes. While streetwalkers are believed to represent only 20% of the “working” prostitutes in this country, 70% report that they have been physically and sexually assaulted, some reporting such assaults on a weekly basis. At least 50,000 prostitutes are believed to be HIV positive, with some cities reporting that over half of all prostitutes test positive for HIV.

The person who murdered the three known victims is likely male, and probably older vs. younger. All three victims are believed to have met their killer on or near Ridgewood Avenue, a thoroughfare well known to local prostitutes and the “johns” that drive along the avenue looking for a date. The killer is acting out rage and anger, but he can control or otherwise hide his rage, at least until he gets control of his victim. He has shot all three women to death, at least two of whom were killed with an execution-like head shot. The killer's choice of weapons, probably a handgun, suggests that he needs such a threatening weapon to gain and maintain control of his female victims. He is probably not someone known to get into fistfights with men. These murders have gotten a lot of local media coverage and the killer likely feels empowered by this level of attention. As the media and the police speculate that he may kill again this month -- noting that he killed in December, January, and February -- he may, unfortunately, feel the need to meet this terrible expectation. 

We know that the bodies of the three known victims were found in the same part of town. Evidently the killer made no significant attempt to conceal the bodies.  This suggests that he simply wanted to separate himself from his victims, with no well thought-out or previously identified body disposal site that he could use to make identification of the victims more difficult for the authorities. As all three victims were shot, it would appear that the killer felt safe in discharging a firearm, perhaps multiple times, into the victims without being seen or heard. This further suggests that he could have killed the victims in a location different from where their bodies were found.

Various relations and levels of contact or commonality existed between the three known victims, suggesting that perhaps the killer may have encountered one or more of the victims before the day he murdered them.  Some reports indicate that there is no evidence that the victims were initially taken against their will.  Working as prostitutes, they may have willingly accompanied their killer.  Authorities will attempt to determine the link, other than drugs and prostitution, that might tie the three victims together and might somehow have led them across the path and into the gun sights of their believed killer. Police will look for similarities and differences in the lives of the victims. Interviews with local prostitutes will be conducted. It is likely that one or more streetwalkers may have previously encountered the unknown killer, but, for whatever reason, he did not murder them.

Forensically police will try to link the murders by the weapon used to shoot the victims. Was it the same caliber of weapon? Can they match the markings on the bullets (if recovered) that were fired into the three victims? This would suggest the rounds came from the same gun. Has this same weapon has been used in any other known crime? DNA could be important were the victims to have had sex, willingly or unwillingly, with their killer prior to their death. However, if the victims had other sexual partners within 48 hours of their deaths, the DNA from the various "Johns" or contributors could be mixed and, therefore, of limited value. Hairs and fibers on the victims and on their clothing will be sought. The killer would have needed some type of vehicle to pick up his victims and transport them to an area where he could shoot them. He would then need to drive to a different site, to dump the body.  Local prostitutes have started to write down license plate numbers of their “clients,” something that may serve to reduce the number of men that are out trolling for a quick date, but may help locate this murderer more quickly.

The killer will be someone who could be out (probably at night) to have contact with the victims without needing to explain his whereabouts to anyone such as his wife or significant other. Prostitutes normally have a pretty good "6th sense" about the men who pick them up, but they are engaged in a high-risk occupation that finds many victims in its ranks. Should a prostitute also be a crack user, their innate sense of self-preservation could be adversely affected by their drug use.  As one local prostitute said, "When you get (high), anything can happen." As an FBI Agent in New York, my fellow agents and I would find ourselves on the streets into the early morning hours looking for bank robbers and other federal fugitives. We’d cruise neighborhoods in plain clothes and even plainer cars, trying to get a lead on the robber or murderer we were seeking. Many times we’d approach a local “hooker” and show her the picture of the person we sought.  There’s a different kind of crowd on the streets between midnight and sun up, and the local prostitutes knew many who chose to hide or otherwise work in the night. 

Profilers will tell you that statistically such a killer is angry with women in general.  He uses easy victims, such as prostitutes, to act out his anger and rage against women. The prostitute may function as a substitute for who he is really angry with. Where he was before his first known murder in December 2005 is unknown. But he would have had anger management problems prior to his first known murder victim. Although under unusual stress in his life, the killer will be closely following the investigation to determine if the police have any leads as to his identity. And, of course, there could be other victims.  The reality is prostitutes many times are not accountable to others and may not be missed for some time.

Media reports suggest that local area prostitutes are arming themselves with weapons such as switchblade knives, actively seeking the killer of their three known "sisters of the streets." A knife is not very effective against a gun, and may give a false sense of security or even bravado to the otherwise frightened women. They believe themselves to be potential victims, yet they return to the streets each night to make a living. While most people understand that it is not safe to travel alone in many cities at night, this is the way for prostitutes and they may not be quick to change their habits, even when faced with a serial killer.  After all, their purpose is a one-on-one relationship with their "client," if only for a few minutes. Most street walkers will be interviewed by police as a crackdown takes place concerning local prostitution, this as police attempt to limit the number of potential victims on the street while at the same time trying to identify the killer. Normally uncooperative women are now more than happy to talk to police, even if it means the number of potential "customers" has been reduced due to increased police patrols. 

As indicated, the believed interval between the three known murders about 25 days between homicides.  If this is any kind of pattern for the killer, he could be expected to strike again as soon as this week, and he will likely kill again. He has no apparent reason to stop, and as a serial killer (someone who has killed three or more people with an emotional cooling off period in between murders), he will likely get the urge to kill again. There are enough women of the night to insure that he does not have to be a serious stalker. He need simply drive slowly down one or two well known streets, like Ridgewood Avenue, at night and the potential victims will, unfortunately, come to him like the moth to the flame.  "Hey.  Looking for a date?"


Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."


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