Death in the Afternoon
Canyon Ridge Apartment Complex
Tiffany Schultz was spotted sunbathing in a bikini one morning just inside the door of her apartment on the second floor of the Canyon Ridge complex. It was January 12, 1990, and the 21-year-old was in a position to see the recreation center, shared with the residents of the Buena Vista Gardens apartment complex across the street. She called a friend and spoke on the phone for half an hour.
Just as she ended that call, an African-American man approached the Canyon Ridge manager, Dorothy Curtiss, to request a hanger. He needed it, he said, to unlock his car, parked out on the street. She gave him the hanger but then watched him walk toward the complex rather than back to the street. This concerned her.
Canyon Ridge Complex Aerial View
Residents who lived below Tiffany would later report that between 11:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M. they’d heard loud noises from the apartment overhead. They also reported the sound of running water and what they believed was someone being beaten.
Tiffany didn’t leave her apartment that anyone saw, but she did not pick up the phone when a friend called her around 12:30 that afternoon. Her roommate arrived home later in the day and found Tiffany’s lifeless body in her bedroom, lying face-up, clad only in bikini bottoms. Her left leg was extended under the bed and her right leg was posed at a 60-degree angle. There was blood on her crotch and torso, especially around her left chest area. A pathologist would later count 47 separate stab wounds, nearly half of which clustered around her breast. There were punctures going so deep they went all the way through the body. The other two areas that had sustained an attack were her neck and upper right thigh. From bruises, it was evident that the perpetrator had also smacked her across the face with something, as if to beat her into submission.
The police who arrived found no sign of forced entry, although there was blood on the doorknobs, and despite a seemingly erotic frenzy of stabbing, the victim was not sexually assaulted. The officers surmised that the intruder had left by way of the balcony, leaping from the second floor to the ground. On Tiffany’s hand they’d found hair strands and managed to lift some skin samples for genetic testing.
The first obvious suspect was Tiffany’s boyfriend, so he was arrested and interrogated. However, with no evidence to hold him, within days of his arrest he was released. Nothing else turned up to implicate him, so he was eventually dropped as a viable suspect. Since Tiffany worked part-time as an exotic dancer, investigators thought perhaps someone had followed her home. No one yet realized that this was the first of several such assaults in the area. The next one occurred about a month later.
Buena Vista Gardens Apartment Complex Aerial View
Janene Weinhold also rented a second-floor apartment, residing at the Buena Vista Gardens apartment complex. She and her female roommate were students at the University of California, San Diego. On February 16, Janene drove her roommate to work around 9 A.M., arranging to pick her up later that afternoon. But she did not show up. She had said she was returning to the apartment and had mentioned no plans to go elsewhere, so it seemed strange that she not only did not show up but also failed to answer the phone when the roommate called. Such behavior was uncharacteristic of her.
A neighbor who lived below Janene saw a black man on the stairs around 11:30 that morning. He was just sitting there, his face in his hands, and she thought he looked quite unhappy. Not long afterward, she heard loud noises in Janene’s apartment overhead. But when the noises stopped, she went back to what she was doing.
It was not until evening, around 8:00 P.M., that Janene’s roommate finally came home. Having heard nothing from Janene all day, she was worried. She soon learned she had good reason to be. The front door was locked, so she let herself in. Then she found Janene’s body.
The dead woman lay on the floor of her bedroom, naked except for her bra. It appeared that her clothing had been stripped off her and it lay nearby, inside out. One leg was spread and there were multiple stab wounds to her chest. Over the right breast was a small cluster of deep wounds. The roommate immediately called the police.
When they searched the apartment, they found what looked like a small honeycomb pattern left in blood on the door handle. They also discovered a bloodstained knife in the kitchen sink, with the tip bent. Although it was clearly the murder weapon, it belonged to the occupants. With no sign of forced entry, investigators assumed that Janene had either invited her attacker in or he had knocked and then pushed his way in when she answered the door, although no one reported hearing her scream. The woman who lived below her described the loud noises she’d heard, which helped the police to place the attack around noon, and the condition of her body supported that estimate.
Janene had been sexually assaulted, so a semen sample was sent to the lab for a DNA analysis. This technology had only been in use for the past three years, and was both time-consuming and expensive, but as the case progressed, an analysis was clearly merited. Semen was also collected from Janene’s jogging outfit, the bedspread, and the carpet.
No one who knew the victim could think of anyone who might wish to harm her, so the attack appeared to have been a stranger assault. The black man on the stairs seemed to be a crucial piece to the puzzle, but no one knew who he was or why he’d been there. Residents in this complex remained alert, but that didn’t stop other attacks.
A month passed and another woman reported a disturbing incident in the same apartment complex. Anna Cotalessa-Ritchie also lived on the second floor. Around noon on March 25, she left her apartment to walk to a nearby store. On her way there, she saw a black man standing at a bus stop, but as she returned, she noticed he was no longer there. Assuming a bus had come by and picked him up, she returned home.
But then she saw him again, coming toward her. He passed her and she hurried home. As she rushed up the steps and inserted her key into her apartment door, she heard a noise at the bottom of the steps. When she stepped over to look, she realized the man from the bus stop had followed her.
He stared up at her and then bent down to tie his shoe. She saw that he was feigning, because his shoes were both already tied, so she went into her apartment and locked the door. Certain she had barely escaped something evil, she listened for a while. Nothing happened and she believed he’d left.
She would have cause to remember him later. She was the lucky one. The following month, this same man again followed a woman home…and this time he succeeded with his fatal agenda. Clearly, he stalked his victims, watching for the opportune moment.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
Eighteen-year-old Holly Tarr lived in Michigan, but she was visiting her brother at the Buena Vista Gardens apartment complex that April with her friend, Tammy. They were seniors in high school and Holly, a talented violinist, had been accepted at the University of Michigan for college on a music scholarship. It was her spring break and she and Tammy had decided to spend it in California.
The Pool at Buena Vista Gardens
Late on the morning of April 3, they played tennis in the recreation area, and then went to lie out at the pool. Through a window, they saw an African-American man wearing a red T-shirt and lifting weights. He looked to be in his late twenties. He apparently saw them as well and kept an eye on their movements.
Around noon, Holly returned alone to the apartment to take a shower. Tammy stayed in the pool for ten more minutes and then went to the apartment. She thought she heard Holly scream inside, but when she tried to open the door, she found it locked. Inside, a telephone rang, but no one answered. Knocking hard, she called out, “Holly!” Concerned when there was no answer, she kept knocking. Finally Tammy went to a neighbor to ask for help, and that person called for a member of the maintenance staff, who arrived to open the door.
He used a master key, but found the chain on, so he exerted enough force to break it. Tammy ran in just as the man they’d seen working out emerged from a bedroom. He held a white cloth over his face and had a long knife in his hand. He stumbled and fell onto the couch, but then jumped up and fled. Tammy entered the bedroom and found Holly, still alive and gasping. She had been stabbed once through the chest, a wound so severe that she died before help arrived. Tammy noticed that an opal ring that Holly had worn that morning was gone from her finger.
Holly had been attacked and left on the floor, apparently with the intent of a sexual assault, as her legs were spread. She wore panties and a bra, and a towel she’d used after her shower lay on top of her. Her clothing was bloody, and the knife had been thrust deep into her heart. The police were called at once.
Collection of Clues
Officers arrived to close off the crime scene and they quickly located several key pieces of evidence. A shoeprint near the door was clearly that of a male athletic shoe — a Nike Air Jordan — and it did not match any from Holly’s brother’s closet. A bloody impression from a knife was lifted from the doorjamb, and a T-shirt and blood-stained knife were found dumped in a parking lot outside. The knife had come from the apartment and blood on the shirt would prove to be from Holly.
Nike Air Jordan Shoe, Similar
In response to Tammy’s description of what she had witnessed, detectives checked the sign-in sheet of the weight room. Both girls’ names were on it, as was Holly’s brother and one more name: C. Prince. They soon learned the full name: Cleophus Prince, Jr.
Cleophus Prince, Jr.
Within a day, the police had located Prince and asked him about his presence at the apartment complex. He said that he’d worked out until around noon and then went back to his apartment to get ready for work. He left at ten minutes to two in the afternoon. He refused to be fingerprinted, and since there was no definite evidence against him, the police could not arrest him.
At this time, Prince shared an apartment with Robert and Robin Romo. That April, he told them that he’d been on a date with a woman, adding that he had raped her afterward. He’d made her cry and had then raped her again. When Robin told him about the recent murder at the Buena Vista Gardens complex, he said he had seen the victim at the pool that morning. Prince’s friends did not realize he’d done more than see her. Shortly thereafter, Prince moved out. After that, no one was killed in the Buena Vista Gardens complex. But the attacks did not stop; they just changed location.
In the early afternoon of May 2, a woman named Leslie H. was out on the beach near a home she was visiting. She walked back to the house and saw an African-American man standing at the door. She asked what he wanted and he told her he’d once lived in the house. Then he walked away. She went inside and to her surprise, that same man pushed his way in after her. He placed a hand over her mouth as they struggled, but she managed to get away from him. She ran from the house, screaming, and he followed her. When he saw he couldn’t catch her, he ran another way.
Less than three weeks later, this same man took greater care to make sure he completed his attack. This time he entered the home of Elissa Keller, 38, who lived with her eighteen-year-old daughter at the Top of the Hill apartment complex. The daughter was away, but she spoke with her mother on the evening of May 20. However, Elissa did not go to work the next morning, or answer the phone, so her daughter went to see if she was all right. She discovered her mother on the bedroom floor, under a blanket. The daughter called the police.
The coroner found that Elissa had been dead between six and twelve hours. She had been stabbed, and there was a cluster of wounds on her chest, nine in all. She had also been beaten in the face, as well as choked, and there was evidence on her hands of defensive wounds. Her blood-stained underwear lay next to her body, turned inside out.
Investigators believed that the intruder had entered through a window left partially open, leaving scuff marks there and a shoe print on the floor nearby. Bloody marks on the bathroom counter bore a peculiar pattern as well, which might serve to help make a match if a suspect were developed. It was the same honeycomb pattern that they had encountered at several earlier murder scenes. The daughter let them know that her mother had worn a ring adorned with a gold nugget that was now missing from her hand. Police put out the word to pawn shops, hoping it would turn up.
Later that summer, at the same apartment complex, an apartment was burglarized, and money was taken, both in the form of American and Italian currency. However, before that occurred, there was another murder, this time in a private home.
On September 13, Pamela Clarkson, 42, left home around 8:00 A.M. to go to the Family Fitness Center on Miramar Road. Her husband left shortly thereafter, but their daughter, eighteen-year-old Amber, was still in bed. Their home was in University City, a neighborhood of San Diego.
Around mid-morning, a neighbor heard Amber having words with someone inside the home, and then heard a male voice. Amber cried out, but there was nothing more, so there seemed little reason to be alarmed. Pamela drove in around 11:00.
But later that day she failed to show up for work. A phone call to the home was not answered, so a colleague decided to go over to find out if Pamela was all right. It was this woman who came across her body in the entryway of the home. Pamela was on her back, nude, with her arms spread out at 90-degree angles to her body. She had been repeatedly stabbed, with eleven deep wounds to the upper left chest area. From blood trails on the floor, it appeared that she had been stabbed elsewhere and dragged to this location. Near her head lay a bloody knife.
The woman called the police, and they discovered the second victim — Amber. She lay on the floor in a bedroom. While she wore clothing, her breasts had been exposed, and she, too, had exactly eleven deep wounds in a cluster to her upper chest. However, blood from her wounds had been smeared onto her torso. Apparently she was killed first and Pamela second. Another knife lay on the bathroom floor.
A search inside Pamela’s purse revealed that money had been taken, although robbery hardly seemed like motive for this double homicide; it was more like an afterthought. Her wedding ring was gone as well. Looking for a point of entry, police found a screen removed from a dining room window. The sliding door also had marks on it that appeared to have been made by a tool. There were shoeprints from a male athletic shoe under the dining room window.
San Diego Police Patch
While not initially linked to the other murders, it would not take long before detectives were certain they had a serial killer with a stabbing fetish in the San Diego area. Reporters clamored for an arrest and residents were terrified by this latest set of intruder homicides.
At the height of the investigation, the task force consisted of twenty-seven detectives, five sergeants, one lieutenant, and a police captain. A city councilman whose district included Clairemont told reporters he was fielding some 300 to 400 calls a day from concerned citizens. He went to meet with some people and found that they were in a state of terror. Home entry was an unusual method for a serial killer, although Richard Ramirez had done something similar in Los Angeles and San Francisco less than a decade before. America’s Most Wanted ran a show about the string of murders, asking anyone with information to come forward.
America’s Most Wanted logo
A truck driver was detained for a while, as was a black man who fit the description, but neither panned out. Strangely enough, the killer had given plenty of clues to people who knew him, but none of them provided information to help with an arrest. In fact, the police already knew him.
Cleophus Prince Jr.
Around this time, Cleophus Prince told friends he was dating an older white woman, a massage therapist. He had a wedding ring he said was hers, and he added that he was having sex with the woman’s daughter as well. He told the same story to the foreman at the job where he was working, Nacomm Communications, where he installed underground cable. Prince even offered the foreman several pieces of jewelry. He made the same offer to a coworker and reiterated that he was dating a mother/daughter combination and that the mother, who worked out, had a great body.
At this time, he was committing burglaries in the area, taking a sixteen-year-old boy with him. His MO was to put socks on his hands so he would not leave fingerprints and he tripped the door locks with credit cards. Then he would select a knife from the kitchen in case he needed to use it.
He often followed women from the gym where he had a membership and thus learned where they lived. Then he’d watch their homes for the chance to enter and take something. His burglary partner did not know about his other activities, but his girlfriend was apparently the recipient of several pieces of stolen jewelry.
Similar Chevrolet Cavalier
A number of people witnessed Prince driving away from apartments that had been burglarized, driving an older model bluish-gray vehicle with a noisy muffler. The police soon traced it to someone who came to the Family Fitness Center on Miramar Road. They asked employees to inform them the next time they spotted a car of this description. They hit pay dirt on February 4, 1991, when an employee called to say a man had just driven a 1982 Chevy Cavalier through the parking lot. The driver, Prince, was sitting there in his car when officers arrived fifteen minutes later. He gave a reason for his presence there that failed to check out, so they placed him under arrest. Bringing this killer to ground, however, was not going to be easy.
Officers searched his car and found black leather gloves and wool gloves, along with a knife with an eight-inch blade, a steak knife, and two folding knives of different sizes. He had once been listed as a member of the fitness center but had canceled his membership. He had no business being in the parking lot, although people at the club said they had seen him there multiple times. That made him look suspicious.
Police took fingerprints and a blood sample, questioned Prince, and released him. It would take several weeks to get results, and they had nothing with which to detain him. Prince quickly left the state, supposedly to go visit his mother in Birmingham, Alabama. He would soon get himself into trouble there, fortunately for the task force.
Cellmark Diagnostic Aerial View
Prince’s biological samples were sent to Cellmark Diagnostic, a DNA analysis center in Maryland. Along with them went samples and items from some of the crime scenes. Three weeks later, the police learned that there was a match between Prince and the semen samples from the Weinhold rape/murder. It was time to make an arrest.
But when officers went to Prince’s last known address, which turned out to be next door to building where the fourth victim was killed, they learned he was gone. Nevertheless, they searched the apartment, turning up an opal ring that matched the description of the one removed from Holly Tarr when she was stabbed. They learned that only 63 such rings had been manufactured and none had been distributed in California. That was good evidence against Prince. They got a tip on where he’d gone and alerted the police in that jurisdiction.
Prince was up to his usual tricks, according to the Union-Tribune. He’d just been arrested on March 1 for a burglary — he allegedly took money from a cash register at a dance club — and had been released on bond. Three hours later, the Birmingham police learned about San Diego’s interest in him. They contacted Prince’s bondsman to find out where he was. They then alerted Prince to turn himself in. Surprisingly, he came in, accompanied by his parents. They gave statements to reporters that his cooperation was clear evidence that he was innocent.
He was detained for extradition to California. At this time, the police had only linked five murders to him. A background check indicated that he had lived at the Buena Vista garden apartments during the times of those murders and that was dating a woman who lived near Universal City at the times of those two murders. Shoes that Prince owned matched several of the footprint impressions found at the scenes. Then searches turned up another item that had belonged to a victim: a unique ring that matched the one missing from Elissa Keller. She was added to the victim list.
However, DNA evidence was lacking in some of the cases, so a linkage analysis was in order. Several participants on the task force met with profilers at Quantico and they went over the evidence in all six cases. They were clear on the Weinhold case, because semen matched Prince, but if the prosecutor could prove the “special circumstance” of six murders, getting the death penalty for this ruthless killer would be much easier. In fact, the FBI had been involved quite early in this case analysis.
FBI profiler John Douglas
FBI profiler John Douglas, then the chief of the Behavioral Sciences Unit, was asked to assist with providing proof with evidence and psychology that the six cases were related. He wrote about his involvement in Journey into Darkness, in a section about the difference between an offender’s method of operation and his signature. Douglas says that Former Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty, with whom he’d worked on another case, had recommended him to the San Diego police. Special Agent Larry Ankrom, also in the unit, had geographical jurisdiction, so they entered the case together.
Special Agent Larry Ankrom
At this time, there had been only three murders the ones at the Buena Vista Gardens apartment complex. The profilers viewed these crimes as high risk for the offender, since they were perpetrated during the middle of the day when other residents could have spotted him. Thus, they expected that he was familiar with the apartment complex and perhaps lived there. He knew how to go about entering apartments and slipping out without being seen (although with the Holly Tarr murder he’d misjudged and had been accosted while still in the apartment), so he might have a record for breaking and entering. They expected to learn that other woman had been approached or accosted in this same area, prior to the start of the murders.
From what the profilers had learned from interviewing offenders around the country, they expected that this first murder, performed in an area familiar to the offender, probably occurred as the result of a stressful incident in his life. Whatever it was, it would have triggered a desire to punish someone a woman. His victim would be a stand-in for the person he really wanted to punish. He’d probably hold women accountable for whatever annoyed him, and he would be abusive with his wife or girlfriend as well. He probably gave the items taken from the victims to his wife or girlfriend, secretly delighting in the fact that he’d picked them off a person he’d killed. Doing this would inspire an added sense of control. He might also live in a dependent relationship with a woman, which would make him angry, and he’d have a spotty employment history and issues with authority.
Douglas and Ankrom told the task force that they should publicize the list of traits, along with the probability that the offender’s behavior would have changed somewhat since the first murder, evident in activities such as greater substance abuse or secrecy. People who knew him might recognize his involvement from behavioral clues and his absence during the times of the murders, and provide helpful information. Since he’d been spotted at this apartment complex, Douglas suggested he’d move on and find victims elsewhere.
The Next Stage
What Douglas anticipated during the first few months of the murder spree proved to have been correct, as three more victims turned up in the next several months at two separate scenes. While it was unfortunate that the killer had succeeded three more times, it provided more of a basis for analysis. (At first the profilers had only five crime scenes, but a sixth would turn up as well.)
The victims all fit a similar type: white, attractive, and physically fit. Most had been brunette and five had been between 18 and 21. (The 42-year-old mother looked much younger, and might also have come into a scene already happening.) The killer had entered each residence via an unlocked door or window, all of them had been stabbed, and five were killed around the same time of day. All were left face-up on the floor of their homes, nude or mostly nude. Three lived in the same apartment complex and three used the same fitness center. Jewelry was removed from three of the victims, but most telling was the way the deepest stab wounds had been concentrated in the chest area, revealing a focused and controlled rage. Only Holly Tarr had a single wound, but that crime had been interrupted. In five of the cases, the knife used was from the residence.
The profilers utilized the FBI’s unique VICAP computer matching database, entering information about the race of the victims, their geographic location, the MO of entering their homes, the use of a knife, the time at which the murders generally occurred, and specifically the signature — the tight circle of puncture wounds left on the chest area. The results of the analysis indicated that there were no other crimes, aside from these six, anywhere near this area, and none around the country with this particular type of wounding pattern.
Douglas explained to a reporter that his method relied on intuitive guesses about a killer’s age, educational background, occupation, type of vehicle driven, type of residence, and the possibility of a military background or a psychiatric incarceration. There are both offsite and onsite procedures for profiling, he said. Onsite analysis involves going to the crime scene. Offsite requires detailed photographs and reports. Both require data from the crime scene, such as physical evidence, location, accessibility, body position, patterns of evidence, and whether or not a weapon was taken or left at the scene.
There are also significant factors that must be established from the crime scene such as time of the crime, duration, weather conditions (if outside), whether the body was moved, and the social environment around the crime scene. Certain critical factors in a crime scene help to clarify how the offender thinks and thus how he directs his behavior. The type of wounds made and evidence of sexual behavior—especially deviant—offer many clues. This includes lab reports from processing evidence, such as toxicology and serology analysis, and autopsy details on cause of death and sequence of wounds. This also includes police reports, witness statements, and any other avenue of information gathered beyond the actual crime scene.
From elements of the crime scene, a profiler can determine some aspects of the offender’s behavior that could inspire crime: whether he has been snubbed or under stress; is unemployed or might be separated from a significant person; abuses drugs or alcohol; has access to firearms; is physically strong; and possibly served in the military. Did he use surveillance? Did he try to blend in? They studied each aspect of the crime to determine how the offender was thinking about the crime.
The profiler was looking for evidence of whether the offender approached the victims with cunning and manipulation, via mere opportunity, or with a blitz-type of attack. After getting a victim subdued, the offender’s method of keeping her under control was instructive: Did he bind her, kill her right away, allow her to see him, use a drug, or rely on corrective force? Did he use only what force was necessary or more? In this case, the offender had used overkill, an indication of sexual stimulation from the act of stabbing.
An offender’s method of perpetrating a crime is indicative of certain aspects of his personality; what he may leave behind as a personal stamp — a behavior that was not necessary to accomplishing the crime — shows others. An MO may change as the offender learns and perfects his crimes, but his signature tends to remain static. The MO is learned behavior, while the signature arises from personality traits and deviant compulsions.
“When I start analyzing research into the minds and motivations of serial killers,” said Douglas in an interview, “I would look for the one element or set of elements that made the crime and criminal stand out, that represented what he was.”
Considering the differences in the Clairemont-area series, the only victim stabbed only once had been followed and subdued via the same MO as in the other crimes. The assault had been interrupted so it was not clear whether the perpetrator might have continued. In every other way — victim type, time of day, weapon used — it was similar. Only one victim had been sexually assaulted, while only one had been covered after the attack. One victim — the dancer — was higher risk than the others. However, taken all together to determine the links, the similarities outweighed the differences.
“There is simply no way,” said Douglas, “of coming up with a numerical value for each piece of information. It can be properly evaluated only by running it though the brain of an experienced profiler.” Ankrom and Douglas decided that the motive for all six murders had been controlled sexual rage. They weren’t alone in this interpretation.
Former Investigator Robert R. Keppel
Former investigator Robert R. Keppel included this series of murders in his book, Signature Killers, because the offender left such a distinct behavioral signature at five of the murder scenes. “Almost all sex offenders, especially signature killers,” Keppel states, “need to demonstrate a degree of total control over the victim, whether she’s living or dead. They have to; anger drives them to do it.”
Book Cover: Signature Killers
Although Prince had explained to one of his accomplices in burglary that a stab to the heart was the surest way to kill, Keppel saw the multitude of stab wounds as a form of deviant sexual behavior known as piquerism. That is, Prince enjoyed stabbing and gouging with a sharp implement. In particular, he aimed at the heart and left breast, stabbing deeply many times — more than was necessary to kill. Keppel’s signature analysis, which noted both the overkill and the ritual involved, indicated that he was angry and felt a need to control his victims. It was also sexual.
He was stimulated by violence and since only one victim had been raped, Keppel suggests that the knife was a substitute for penile penetration. Keppel believed that Prince was a sadist, having sunk the knife in slowly, with satisfaction. In fact, he’d stabbed to the depth of an erect penis. “The killer was obsessed with the stimulation of penetrating the victims,” Keppel adds. Prince left the knife behind at three scenes to “show” the police his prowess. Keppel indicates that Prince’s primary pleasure came from seeing blood flow from a woman’s breast.
But how did Prince actually measure up?
It’s unusual to have a black serial killer, let alone one who crosses racial lines to murder white women. Those who knew Prince well said that he seemed to be obsessed with sex and often bragged about his relationships with white women. Yet there was no evidence that he’d had an altercation with a white woman that might have made him angry enough to kill. In fact, there was no indication from anything in his entire life history that he’d become a killer. As such, staff writers at the San Diego Union-Tribune penned a long article about how Prince did not fit the psychological profile offered by the FBI when they’d examined the crime scenes.
Miramar Naval Patch
As investigators learned more about Prince, they heard many acquaintances say that he was a polite young man and that despite growing up in a rough neighborhood in Alabama, the oldest of eight children, he’d never had a brush with the law and had stayed away from gangs. He’d been an average student who enjoyed sports, had completed high school, and had joined the Navy in 1987, being stationed at the Miramar Naval Air Station. There, he’d run into trouble when he stole a postal money order. He received a sentence of nearly a month in the brig, was fined $466, and was eventually discharged in October 1989. But as far as anyone could tell, that had been the extent of his issues with the law. But that was only because he’d managed to operate surreptitiously. In fact, once he moved to San Diego, he’d been quite busy with thefts and burglaries.
His father, Cleophus Prince, Sr., also had a criminal record. He’d served time in prison for second-degree murder (which he told reporters had been done in self-defense), and had been arrested after he got out for rape, later reduced to assault. Thus, Prince had a role model.
However, both of his parents insisted that the police had the wrong man. Their son, they said, was not capable of murder, let alone serial murder. They were certain he was being framed. In fact, he had shown no anxiety at all, the police had admitted, during the hour and a half he’d been questioned upon his initial arrest.
“That [crime spree] is the work of a psycho person,” Prince Sr. was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “someone who has no mind to think.” He couldn’t imagine that his son could do such things. The boy had always been polite and obedient, he insisted. There had to be some mistake. “I imagine he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Prince’s attorney, Roger Appell, claimed that Prince looked nothing like the composite drawing made from a woman who’d been accosted by a man police believed was also the killer. But the claim that he was the first known serial killer to have crossed racial lines, in the hope to show the improbability of the situation, was not true.
Apparently in California, Prince had gotten a job but was soon laid off, so he’d turned to burglary, which he found easy to accomplish. He enlisted some accomplices, and they donned socks to go in and rob homes without leaving fingerprints. Yet the socks were similar in pattern to the bloody honeycomb marks left on doorknobs where murders took place. A history of burglary is often a precursor to rape and murder.
In the end, it was physical evidence in one incident and profiling in the others that formed the prosecution’s case.
When prosecutor Dan Lamborn requested that both Douglas and Ankrom participate in the trial, the court conducted a lengthy pre-trial hearing concerning their qualifications. Douglas was going to take the stand to provide background about the profiling analysis, while Ankrom would specifically address the series of Clairemont-area crimes. The defense attorneys protested that they were not psychologists and should not be allowed to make any psychological assessments.
The court concluded that the witnesses’ experience and training failed to qualify them to express an opinion about the perpetrator’s probable state of mind, so that aspect of their testimony was excluded. However, the court accepted that they had sufficient training and experience in crime scene investigation to testify about analyzing the scenes. It was also deemed probable that the jury would not have the requisite knowledge to understand such concepts as “signature analysis” and linking similar crime scenes, so using an expert to explain it was acceptable; however, because it bordered on psychological motive, they were not allowed to actually use the word, “signature.” The prosecution elected to use only Ankrom, since he had been more extensively involved in the case.
The trial, taking place in the summer of 1993, brought out several interesting items, one of which was a biological quirk that had stalled the investigation. Apparently, Prince was a non-secretor, meaning he failed to secrete in his biological fluids a blood enzyme present in 75% of the population. Since the tests did not pick it up, the semen analysis from the Weinhold murder erroneously indicated that the offender’s blood type was O. Prince’s was type A. It took a year to discover and rectify this mistake, which was partially responsible for not initially linking Prince to that incident after his first arrest. Investigators had concentrated on offenders with type O blood, and only later did the DNA analysis help them match Prince definitively to the crime. An expert testified that there was only one chance in 120,000 of a random match.
Prince’s roommate testified about a night when Prince came back, with fresh blood on his jeans, to the apartment they shared. He gave a story that he’d gotten into a fight with his girlfriend. However, he’d often bragged about his burglaries and said he’d stabbed some people to death. He recalled Prince talking about stabbing them in the heart. They had lived next door to the building where Elissa Keller was murdered. This person had even been involved in some of the burglaries, and he testified about wearing socks on their hands. He also recalled woman’s jewelry that Prince had in his possession.
When Special Agent Ankrom took the stand, he testified that all six victims had been slain by the same person; his judgment was based on the commonality of the wound pattern and his experience with other such series of crimes. He’d been involved in the case since the second murder, he said, and provided a full history. This included recounting the particular details that linked the cases. Under cross-examination by Prince’s attorney, Barton Sheela III, Ankrom admitted that he did not get information involving knife attacks on area women who had survived. He also did not get information on murders in other neighborhoods. In fact, there was an unsolved homicide of a white woman stabbed in her home in the San Diego area, committed after Prince was arrested, and Ankrom had not examined it. However, Judge Charles Hayes limited this discussion and called for a closed session, since allowing details to be made public could adversely affect that particular investigation.
Judge Charles Hayes
In closing, Deputy DA Lamborn made the case that Prince was a sexual pervert who enjoyed watching blood flow from women’s breasts, and Lamborn emphasized the brutal similarities among the crimes. Sheela pointed out the eyewitnesses who could not identify Prince as the man they’d seen in the vicinity of the murders. In most of the cases, he said, there was no physical evidence against his client. He described the many differences among the crimes, insisting that they could not be viewed as a whole. Then it went to the jury.
The jurors deliberated nine days before they returned a verdict on July 13, 1993. Prince was found guilty for all six counts of murder, as well as twenty burglaries and a few other charges. One reporter said that a member of his team had to coach him to react to this verdict, so as not to break his mother’s heart. She continued to insist to the press that her son was not the killer.
San Quentin Prison
The special circumstance of multiple murder was sufficient grounds for giving him the death penalty. The same jury made this decision, recommending execution in the gas chamber or by lethal injection at San Quentin. Prince stood in court to face the victim’s families and said, “I did not kill any of your daughters.” He talked about how he’d seen pictures of the crime scenes and he’d cried over them, insisting again and again that he was innocent. Judge Hayes affirmed the sentence, and Prince joined fourteen other men on California’s death row at San Quentin. But now the appeals would begin, and the first one was heard over a decade later.
In May 2007, the California Supreme Court upheld the death sentence for Prince, in a 159-page unanimous ruling that dismissed basically all of the legal beefs Prince’s attorneys presented.
The California Supreme Court
As to his claim about pre-trial publicity, the court found that the majority of the articles published prior to the trial had been “framed in neutral terms.” The judge had taken pains to keep Prince’s picture out of the papers, so there was little basis for Prince’s claim of unfair prejudice.
Chief Justice Ronald George
The brunt of the complaint was against the use of Special Agent Larry Ankrom, the profiler. Essentially, Prince stated that jury members did not need an expert to help them see the linkage at the scene and having the expert in that role prejudiced them against him. Chief Justice Ronald George concluded that the testimony had not been improper because Ankrom had only described the process of linkage analysis performed by the FBI to indicate that it was likely the same person had committed all six murders, but had not concluded that Prince had committed any of the murders. His testimony had been restricted to a method, which was appropriate. He had provided a context for meaning.
Four other points of contention were also dismissed, including admitting statements that Prince had made to friends who testified, admitting evidence about premeditation, and complaints about a limited closure of the courtroom during the FBI agent’s testimony about an unrelated murder.
However, this is just the first of his appeals, coming 14 years after his conviction. He can appeal this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Then he can pursue other claims at the level of the state court. After that, he can file new appeals in federal court. Thus, he could be in prison for another decade or longer.