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A break in the Phoenix crime wave

Despite Friday’s news of the arrest of two 'Serial Sniper' suspects, many residents aren’t ready to drop their guard . Dateline's Hoda Kotb reports.

The monsoon thunderstorms here can break the sweltering heat, at least for a few hours.

But Phoenix-area police, riding through the eerily quiet streets had been looking for a different type of break.  Because along with the annual summer heat wave, there’d been a crime wave here that had shown no sign of abating.

There had been not just one killer on the roam after the sun set here, but two… or more.

One series of crimes, police say, has been the deadly work of a serial killer who also sexually assaults his victims.  And authorities say another serial killer or killers had been shooting residents, at random, on the street.

But tonight, police say, that storm of killing known as the “serial shooter” case is over. 

Two men were arrested early Friday and charged with that series of random shootings. Phoenix police Chief Jack Harris says a task force of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies worked together on tips from the public and other sources.

Residents still on alert
Despite Friday’s news, many residents aren’t ready to drop their guard. Some residents have been  arming themselves and learning to shoot. Guardian Angel volunteers have started patrols and local news has covered the story every night.

It might be too soon for that type of fear to dissipate. Even if the two arrested Friday are proven to have acted as the serial shooter, there’s still another killer on the loose and police are afraid he will strike again.

In this entire metropolitan area, people are frightened and on alert. A chill runs through the hot August night. Former FBI profiler takes a look at the fear the dual crime wave has caused:

NBC News analyst and former FBI profiler Clint van Zandt: It seems that two or more shooters have declared a war on citizens of Phoenix themselves.

And in that war, this Phoenix intersection may have been the front line, a crossroads, for the murderers known as the “baseline killer” and the “serial shooter.” 

Hoda Kotb, Dateline correspondent: It was a spot that has been central to both of these killers, right? Sgt. Andy Hill: Absolutely we had a double homicide here. George Chow,  Liliana Cabrero left work,  they were abducted at gunpoint, found murdered about a mile apart from each other;  and then just another block over here there was a young man walking his bicycle and he was shot by the “serial shooter” and left and found here. 

Until Friday, the “serial shooter” had been seen as phantom-like.  Police said he was the person or persons responsible for more than 30 random shootings that killed at least six people, and wounded 17 -- a  crime spree that began in May of last year. 

Another killer — the baseline killer
The “baseline killer,” who police say is still on the loose,  is a sexual predator named after the thoroughfare where several attacks occurred. So far, police say, he’s been responsible for 23 different violent crimes, including eight murders.

His latest victim, a 37-year-old mother of two, was kidnapped at a service station car wash in the early evening hours of June 29th, then killed.  Unfortunately, the composite sketch is not considered very reliable because it may be based on a disguise:

Sgt. Andy Hill: He’s an adult male about 25 to 30, a person of color.  We don’t want to limit because there are many backgrounds that he can be.  No description on the way that he speaks.

The “baseline killer” began his rampage a year ago this weekend. But as is usual with these types of cases, it took police several months to determine there was a pattern.

Sgt. Hill: We are able to tie the Baseline Killer cases together. We have some of the cases in the serial shooters case together. So  on one, we have a definitive serial killer and the other one we have a series of shooting that may be the same suspect.

Whoever’s responsible, the mayor of Phoenix has his own name for them:

Mayor Phil  Gordon: A monster. 

Full force

Kotb: You are right in the eye of the storm here in Phoenix. What are you doing to protect the people of the city? Mayor Gordon: First and foremost our police officers, 3,000 together with the federal partners, ATF, FBI, and our community partners in other cities in the suburbs are working 24/7 -- over 200 dedicated officers full time.

Despite the arrests, heightened patrols cruise up and down the streets every night looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything suspicious.  

More than 8,000 callers have contacted Phoenix detectives on the “Silent Witness” Crimestoppers hotline.

Yet when darkness descends on the nation’s sixth-largest city, fear does, too, as investigators try to come up with answers.

Former FBI  profiler Clint van Zandt: That’s the challenge for law enforcement, what’s precipitating this, what’s going on in the head of these shooters that allows them to step out on a daily, nightly basis and say tonight’s the night, tonight’s the night that I take another person.

All summer long, as dusk descended on the Phoenix area, so too did  a veil of fear. Mayor Phil Gordon knew it would be difficult for police to catch either of the serial killers terrorizing the area.

Phil Gordon,  Mayor, Phoenix:  We are 500 square miles, we are over 50 miles north to south.  We are a million and a half people in the city itself; and another three million in the valley and again these murders and attacks have not just occurred in Phoenix, but in the surrounding area.

In fact, in the last two weeks, there had also been shootings in the neighboring city of Mesa. And, it now seems, Mesa may have been a key location in the case. Police say the killer or killers known as the “serial shooter” shot and wounded a man riding a bike in mesa on July 22nd.   Last Sunday night,  police say, the serial shooter killed a 22-year-old Mesa woman walking alone at around 11 pm.

A break in the case
By Monday night, at an overflow town meeting, residents of Mesa looked for answers. Friday, they may have gotten some.

Bill Lewis, Phoenix Police Department (at news conference): At this point, it would be  premature to talk about specific evidence, but I assure you these are the right guys.

In the serial shooter case, the biggest problem that had faced investigators was there had been no eyewitness sightings at all.  46-year-old army veteran Tony Long was a case in point. It was the early morning hours of June 20th:

Tony Long, serial shooter's victim: I’m like leaning up against the bus stop. It’s got a little cage around it and I’m leaning up against it. And the next thing I know I hear a bang!  And I said ‘I’m shot!’ and I run off the curb of the street and try to get some cover. Kotb: Was there a point, Tony, where you were looking at that blood and thinking, “Oh my God, this is it for me?”

Long: Yeah, cause all I could think about was mostly the last person I heard was shot, they died.  And “I’m thinking oh Lord, I’m gonna die.”

He never got a glimpse of who shot at him. But in Mesa early Friday, local, state and federal authorities moved in on this apartment complex and arrested the two suspects.  They are identified as Dale Hausner and Samuel Dieteman. They are charged with several counts of murder and aggravated assault.

At the apartment complex, police seized a car and other evidence.

Kevin Robinson, Phoenix Assistant Police Chief: We identified these folks, Monday, late Monday evening, from that point we continued on; we knew about them prior to that.

Authorites also say they are looking into a connection between the suspects and fires at Wal-mart stores.

Bill Newell, ATF Special Agent in Charge: There is a link in that the suspects we developed in that fire are in fact the serial killers.

Hunt still on
Former FBI profiler and now-NBC news analyst Clint Van Zandt developed a theory about a link between the serial shooters and the baseline killer.

Clint Van Zandt, former FBI profiler: Law enforcement has to consider the possibility that there is some level of competition between these killers, that there is some kind of one-upsmanship that could be going on.

Police won’t speculate whether there was a competition, but they say there is no connection between the two sets of crimes.

There is still anxiety about the next few days and that’s because the 'baseline killer,' still on the loose, seems to work in 30-day cycles.

Kotb: So has he been killing and raping about every month? Has that been his pattern? Sgt. Hill: If you look at the timeline, that’s pretty close.  It’s been pretty similar.  Sometimes there have been more frequent attacks, but when you look at the most recent attacks ... 5 out of the last 6 incidents have been homicides.

For now, authorities’ biggest hope is that more public tips will help them solve the Baseline case.

Commander Kim Humphrey, Phoenix Police Department: Every time that phone rings you never know when you pick it up if that’s going to be that one bit of information that’s going to put our detective on the trail and get this individual off the street.

With at least one killer still on the loose, the Phoenix area remains on high alert. Residents just hope that lightning will strike twice in the form of another break in the case— before anyone else is killed.