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Classification: Spree killer
Characteristics: Drug user - Enraged at his ex-girlfriend for reporting him for violating the restraining order - Robberies
Number of victims: 7
Date of murders: June 17-21, 1995
Date of birth: 1961
Victims profile: His former girlfriend, April Gates, 30, and her mother, Shirley Gates, 51 / William Dawson, 41 / Jose Gabriel Escarpetta, 38 / Jeffrey Roork, 26, and David Roth, 54 / Emmanuel Malan
Method of murder: Shooting (.22-caliber revolver)
Location: New Jersey / New York, USA
Status: Killed during a shoot-out with the police on June 21, 1995

Ex-Convict's Murder Odyssey: 7 People are slain in 2 States

By N. R. Kleinfeld - The New York Times

June 22, 1995

In five days of cold-blooded mayhem, an ex-convict from Atlantic City killed seven people and injured three others, two critically, before being shot and killed yesterday morning by the police under a highway bridge in Nutley, N.J., the authorities said.

In a meandering odyssey through New Jersey and New York, Darnell Collins, 33 years old, who was on parole, killed three people on Saturday in New Jersey, three more on Tuesday in the Chelsea section of Manhattan and a seventh early yesterday in Harlem, officials said.

Mr. Collins's own end came at the culmination of a half-hour high-speed car chase and foot race through suburban yards. As groggy commuters were heading to work, the killer fell in a furious shootout with more than a dozen police officers beneath a bridge fording a creek. "It was a quick ending to an extraordinarily violent episode," said the New York City Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton.

During his chilling rampage, Mr. Collins made his way from city to city, and in each one he left behind blood. His victims were acquaintances and strangers, united only in that they crossed Mr. Collins's path at the wrong time. They included Mr. Collins's ex-girlfriend and her mother, targets of robberies and innocent bystanders.

Mr. Collins, who also went by the name Mwanza Kamau, was born in New York and spent most of his life in New Jersey. The police and acquaintances depicted him as a drug user whose personality would turn diabolical when he was under the influence. Acquaintances said Mr. Collins was unemployed, and picked up money by buying decorative pictures in New York and reselling them on the streets of Atlantic City.

The police said he was arrested six or seven times in New Jersey. In 1984, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for armed robbery and burglary. After 10 years, he was released on parole on Jan. 11, 1994.

Last September, he was arrested for violating parole after testing positive for drug use and spent two weeks in the Atlantic County jail, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections. But officials decided not to revoke his parole.

Law-enforcement authorities said they believed that a domestic squabble first ignited Mr. Collins's fury. But it also appeared that Mr. Collins was on drugs during much of the crime spree. One of his victims was a man who the police said was a drug dealer. Another victim, a woman who survived, told the police that she had smoked crack with him on Tuesday night.

What is clear is that beginning on Saturday afternoon, Darnell Collins seemed to want to kill nearly everyone he met.

From evidence they have collected so far, the police and prosecutors offered this rendering of Mr. Collins's five days of carnage and the events leading up to it:

About a year ago, Mr. Collins began dating April Gates, a 30-year-old blackjack dealer at the Trump Castle Casino Resort who lived with her young son at her mother's house in Atlantic City. The couple broke up about six months ago.

But Mr. Collins stalked her. Earlier this month, she sought a temporary restraining order barring Mr. Collins from any contact with her. It became final last Thursday. On Friday, when he showed up at her house, Ms. Gates went to the police, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Shortly before 3 A.M. Saturday, Mr. Collins rode a bicycle to Ms. Gates's home on North Virginia Avenue. She was not there. Her mother, Shirley Gates, 51, opened the door.

Mr. Collins tied up the mother and shot her once above the ear and once below with a .22-caliber six-shot Smith & Wesson revolver. It is unclear how he got the gun, but a friend of the family said it belonged to Mrs. Gates. After killing her, he took her van and drove three blocks to Maryland Avenue to the house of Alicia Chappell, a friend of April Gates. A birthday party was in full swing.

Mr. Collins walked in Ms. Gates was sitting down. When she saw him, she called out his name. He shot her once near her ear. She stood, and he shot her twice more in the stomach. He shouted, "Why'd you tell?" But she was dead.

Ms. Chappell said that Mr. Collins was enraged at Ms. Gates for reporting him for violating the restraining order.

Mark Cotton, 23, a barber who said he saw the killing, said that Mr. Collins had threatened Ms. Gates before with a gun and broken her car windows. He said that Mr. Collins told Ms. Chappell earlier that day that he would kill Ms. Gates within three days for reporting him.

"He just started losing it," Mr. Cotton said. "He was always doing drugs -- cocaine -- and he was real abusive when he was doing it." Mr. Cotton said Mr. Collins often bragged about a violent streak, including stabbing to death a fellow inmate in the shower with a sharpened toothbrush -- a tale prison officials said was untrue.

Slipping into Ms. Gates's gold Saturn, Mr. Collins drove about 30 miles west to Williamstown and stopped at the Star Motel on Black Horse Pike.

For the last week, William Dawson, whom the police identified as a 41-year-old drug dealer, had been living in Room 7 with a 27-year-old woman named Stacey Smith and her 4-year-old son. The police said that Mr. Collins's name was in Mr. Dawson's address book.

Mr. Collins burst into Mr. Dawson's room. He shot Mr. Dawson to death with a bullet in the chest, and shot Ms. Smith in the neck, critically wounding her. She was in intensive care at Cooper Hospital-University Medical Center in Camden. Drugs were found in the motel room, the police said.

Abandoning Ms. Gates' car, Mr. Collins drove off in Mr. Dawson's rented 1995 Geo Prizm.

The next sighting came at 2 P.M. Sunday. Detective Robert M. Saunders of the Haddon Township police gave this account:

Mr. Collins pulled into a Shell gas station on Route 130 and Nicholson Road. He was wearing a white T-shirt and shorts, and had on a sun visor. After he got $10 worth of gas, he went into the minimart section of the station and picked out a bottle of orange juice, some chips and a Chunky candy bar.

When he put the items on the counter, he pulled his revolver from beneath his T-shirt, stuck it against the attendant, Badri Awsi, 60, and demanded money.

"He said, 'Give me your money,' " Mr. Awsi said. "I had 80 or a hundred dollars in my pocket. I gave that to him. He pushed me with his gun in my back. Then I said, 'No money in the cash register.' I pushed his gun, and he hit me in my head and my face."

Mr. Collins made off with a total of $854.

By then, police forces along the East Coast had been alerted. On Monday, the Geo Prizm Mr. Collins had been driving was discovered by the police further north in Camden. But there was no trace of Mr. Collins. New Jersey officials notified the New York police that he might be in New York City. They were asked to check his aunt's house in Harlem. He was not there. The apartments of a brother and sister in Harlem were also staked out, to no avail.

Mr. Collins surfaced again just before 2 P.M. Tuesday. Presumably indifferent to the hour and crowds, he approached an attendant at a parking lot at West 26th Street near the Avenue of the Americas and demanded money.

The attendant, Jose Gabriel Escarpetta, 38, apparently resisted the robbery. Mr. Collins put three bullets into his arm and shoulder, killing him. (Although police investigators on Tuesday said they were investigating whether the death of Mr. Escarpetta was connected to the drug-related killing of his brother last January, they said yesterday that it was clear that it was a robbery.)

After Mr. Escarpetta was killed, Mr. Collins fled on foot to a building at 138 West 25th Street. He went to the ninth floor and stepped into the elevator, where he encountered two men who worked in the building, Jeffrey Roork, 26, a computer graphics designer, and David Roth, 54, an architect. As the elevator descended, Mr. Collins shot both men in the head. Mr. Roork died instantly. Mr. Roth was pronounced dead yesterday at St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center.

On the third floor, the elevator opened into a display advertising business. Several people gaped in terror at the site of two bleeding victims and a gunman standing over them. Brandishing his gun, Mr. Collins tried to yank a man into the elevator with him, but he resisted.

Getting off, Mr. Collins pointed his gun at the man and demanded, "How do I get out of here?" He was guided to the freight elevator. Alone, he took it to the ground floor and fled onto West 25th Street. The police said they believed that at the time Mr. Collins got off on the third floor, his gun was empty or else he would have shot his guide.

Mr. Collins's thirst for blood was not yet quenched. In the evening, he turned up at a garbage-strewn apartment that the police suspect is a crack house in a brownstone on East 126th Street in Harlem. About 10 P.M., he shot a woman in the apartment, Norma Acosta, once in the head. A woman who lives on the third floor of the building, who gave her name only as Tootsie, said Ms. Acosta banged on her door and yelled: "Help me! Help me!" Then, she said, the bleeding woman stumbled downstairs, banged into some garbage cans and left.

Ms. Acosta, 39, told the police she had met Mr. Collins on the street earlier in the day. They went to the apartment, where they ate dinner and then smoked crack. She told the police that Mr. Collins had "got paranoid" and shot her.

Less than an hour later, at 11:20, Mr. Collins was at 119th Street and Third Avenue. He happened on the Rev. Robert Gethers, 46, a pastor at the Canaan Land Christian Church of Christ, and Joseph Johnson, a deacon. They were in front of the church, and should have been long gone. But the engine in Mr. Gethers's balky car, a 1985 Chrysler LeBaron, would not turn over, and they had just finished jump-starting it.

Mr. Collins demanded their money. When Mr. Johnson said he had none, Mr. Collins asked three times for Mr. Gethers's wallet. "He said, 'Give me your money or I'll shoot you,' " the pastor said. "I just pulled it out and gave it to him." The wallet contained about $350, some credit cards and a phone card.

Mr. Gethers said that Mr. Collins hopped into the car and told him he would leave it several blocks uptown. "But then I saw the taillights keep going," he said.

At 2:45 A.M. yesterday, Mr. Collins hailed a livery driver at his taxi company on Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street. A dispatcher said there was a dispute over the fare for a trip to 101st Street. The cab company wanted $6 and Mr. Collins felt $5 was enough. Finally, Mr. Collins gave in.

On the way uptown, Mr. Collins shot the driver, Emmanuel Malan, in the back of the head. His body was found at 177 East 101st Street. The police found Mr. Gethers's telephone card next to the body. Mr. Collins went off in Mr. Malan's white 1980 Oldsmobile Delta 88.

The last half-hour of Darnell Collins's life went quickly.

About 6:30 yesterday morning, a woman called the Newark police in the city's North Ward to report that three people with a gun were in front of her house on Broad Street, bothering a woman.

This time, it was Mr. Collins who was in the wrong place. According to the police, he was not with the three men with the gun. But he happened to be parked nearby.

When the police arrived, they spotted Mr. Collins in the white Oldsmobile. He hurriedly drove away, scraping one of the police cars.

The Newark police pursued Mr. Collins through the North Ward for 20 minutes. They lost him in Belleville, the next town to the north, but the Belleville police quickly picked up the scent.

Mr. Collins fired a shot through his rear window, striking the bumper of the trailing police car. Then he fired several more shots.

He sped north into Nutley, where the Nutley police joined the chase. Twice more, he fired at his pursuers.

Hurtling along Washington Avenue, he tried to turn onto Kingsland Street, near the Clifton border, and struck an embankment. He careered into the yard of a house at 147 Kingsland, before hurtling into the neighboring yard at 151 Kingsland, where the car settled on the sidewalk.

Mr. Collins leapt from his crumpled car and eluded officers as he weaved through well-kept yards. In a combat stance, he hunkered behind a retaining wall of a house. As officers approached, he stood and began firing. The police fired back.

Hearing a dog barking, Arlene Kraus peered out of her bathroom window to see Mr. Collins crouched in her neighbors' driveway. "He started shooting and the cops were shooting at him, and I'm screaming to my family to stay down," she said. "I was in horror."

No one was hit in that exchange, but the windows were shot out of the neighbors' Acura. Mr. Collins sprinted onto Walnut Street and desperately rammed his shoulder against the side door of a house. It did not yield. He turned and ran.

Soon, the police spotted him. At Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive, he fired two more shots. He missed. He darted through a park, then scampered down the bank of the Third River and beneath the Kingsland Street Bridge. He lay on his back in the shallow river and reloaded his gun.

As officers neared, Mr. Collins resumed shooting. But it was the officers' bullets that found their target.

Darnell Collins was pronounced dead at 10:13 A.M. at University Hospital in Newark. There were 14 gunshot wounds in his head, torso, legs and arms.


Before Deadly Odyssey, a Parolee Slipped Through the Cracks

By Robert Hanley - The New York Times

June 23, 1995

On Friday afternoon just hours before the murder spree began, there were two fresh arrest warrants out for Darnell Collins for violating protection orders, when he called his parole officer to say he was changing his address.

But apparently the parole officer, John Goodman, was unaware of either warrant or that the Atlantic City police were searching for Mr. Collins or that a court order had been issued the day before that barred Mr. Collins from having any contact with his girlfriend, April Gates.

Patricia Mulcahy, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections, which oversees monitoring of parolees, said no mechanisms exist requiring court officials to notify parole officials of fresh restraining orders in cases of domestic violence.

It was one of many indications that the oversight of Mr. Collins, a 33-year-old parolee -- who the police said was responsible for killing seven people in a five-day spree before being shot to death himself -- was flawed since his release from prison in January 1994.

Less than 12 hours after his telephone conversation with his parole officer, Mr. Collins, an ex-convict whose life of crime began with being sent to a juvenile detention center at age 9, killed his 30-year-old former girlfriend and her mother, the police said, and began what the authorities say was a cocaine-laced odyssey of murder across New Jersey and Manhattan, ending when he was gunned down in Nutley, N.J., on Wednesday morning.

Many aspects of the state's supervision of Mr. Collins were still unclear yesterday because several key law enforcement officials were not taking calls. Victor D'Ilio, the chief of the State Bureau of Parole, declined to take phone calls seeking an explanation about any coordination between parole officials and the police during execution of warrants.

Jeffrey S. Blitz, the Atlantic County Prosecutor, directed questions about any requirements for the police to notify parole officials of the existence of warrants and to seek their help in serving them on parolees to the Parole Bureau. And corrections officials would not permit Mr. Goodman to speak to reporters.

For his part, Robert M. Egles, executive director of the State Parole Board, said: "When I look to see who messed up in this case, the only one was Darnell Collins. I know that won't sound right for the families of his victims, but everything in this case got according-to-Hoyle treatment."

But it is clear that the view of parole officials about Mr. Collins's drug use was far different from those who knew him in Atlantic City.

Ms. Mulcahy, the corrections spokeswoman, said they had no indication of recent drug use. A random urine test administered on May 17 showed no trace of drug use. Earlier urine tests on Jan. 19 and last Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 were also negative for drug use, officials said.

But to people who knew Mr. Collins, he was a man who had been using cocaine and heroin heavily in recent months, often making him angry and violent. "I think he was high every day," said Alicia T. Chappell, a close friend of Mr. Collins's slain girlfriend. "He had an expensive habit and he had to do it. He needed it to get by."

Mark Cotton, who knew both Mr. Collins and Ms. Gates, said the deterioration in recent months was obvious. "They used to go to movies together; they used to go up the road to bars. After a while, he didn't go out. He just wanted drugs, so he didn't want to go any more."

Friends say he was a regular visitor to a park near Bacarat Boulevard that was a popular hangout for a couple of dozen drug dealers and alcoholics.

Michael Costens, 44, who frequents the park, said at one point that Mr. Collins had sought drug rehabilitation at a local center but was turned down. As for Mr. Collins's drug use, Mr. Costens said:

"Everybody knew it. He would go from Dr. Jekyl to Mr. Hyde. One time, he gave a guy a problem for $4." He said the two went away to shoot up cocaine. "One minute, he was just sitting talking to him, and the next, he took out the pistol and whacked him. It scared everybody."

Anthony Black, a friend of Darnell Collins's brother, said friends told him that on the night that April Gates was murdered, Mr. Collins was "high as a bat and was pouring with sweat because he had been smoking and shooting his way through a quarter ounce of coke" through the night.

"He told April to turn away and then he shot up," Mr. Black said. "As soon as the coke hit, he got all paranoid and he started moving around and grabbing at a gun he had. I think she got real scared."

Keith L. Cundiff, said that he rode by Mr. Collins earlier the night of the first two murders on a bicycle and that he was "high."

"I was riding past him and he didn't recognize me," Mr. Cundiff said. "You could look right in his face and it was frightening. He was sweating bullets. When you do coke like that, it makes you paranoid."

Mr. Collins was released from prison in January 1994 after serving 10 years of a 20-year term for armed robbery. He had not been a model prisoner. His original 15-year prison sentence was extended after he was found guilty of stabbing a fellow inmate. His first detention came at the age of 9 for assault, shoplifting, larceny, attempted arson and "incorrigibility," according to corrections records.

In 1975, when he was 13, he was sent to a correctional center for a second time for assault.

Reviewing Mr. Collins's record for a reporter yesterday, Mr. Egles, director of the state parole board, said that "he certainly in his lifetime had numerous violent offenses." Corrections officials would not permit a reporter to review the file directly, but the police have said he was arrested six or seven times.

In January 1994, he was released after serving the 10 years for armed robbery and placed on intensive supervision. That typically involves meeting with a parole officer three to five times a week, corrections officials said. That parole status was changed in August 1994 to regular parole, which can mean meeting with a parole officer as little as once a month.

A few weeks later, Mr. Collins tested positive for drugs and was jailed for two weeks at the Atlantic City jail for a parole violation. But a parole hearing officer decided not to revoke his parole and Mr. Collins was released with a regular parole status again. In October, the parole board chairwoman, Mary Keating DiSabato, upheld the hearing officer's decision not to revoke parole.

Asked why Mr. Collins's parole was not revoked when he tested for drugs, Mr. Egles said this was not unusual. Parole officials "are not appalled when a drug addict slips occasionally," Mr. Egles said.

Yesterday, at a ceremony at the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Yardville, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman signed a "three strikes and you're in" bill. It mandates that if someone is convicted of three serious violent crimes, the person must serve at least 35 years and reach the age of 70 before seeking parole.

Mr. Egles said that reviewing Mr. Collins's record "tells me he's the exact kind of guy the three-strikes legislation was made for."



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