The life of homeless vagrants in Los Angeles has never been an easy one. Despite the pleasant climate, poverty and hunger take their toll, and random violence is a daily fact of life along "Skid Row."
Since 1974, the drifter's plight has been further complicated by a succession of serial killers, preying on vagrants as the ideal "targets of opportunity." Easily reached and seldom missed in death, L.A.'s homeless rank low on the average homicide detective's list of priority victims. The appearance of another "Skid Row Slayer," in September 1986, provided Angelenos with an opportunity to act concerned while risking nothing of themselves.
The first to die, ironically, was not a transient. Visiting L.A. from San Diego, 54-year-old Rudolfo Roque was killed on the street by a gunman who stepped up behind him, firing a .22-caliber slug through the back of his head.
The same weapon was used to kill 66-year-old Rick Stamps, a few days later, and the hunter claimed two victims on September 13: 31-year-old Rojello Sirven was killed outright, by a shot to the head, while a second victim, 47-year-old Joseph Griffin, lived until October 5. Michael Singer, age 66, was shot in the back of the head on September 20, and 36-year-old David Towns, another vagrant, was killed in his sleep three days later. September 30 marked another double-header, with victims Christopher Boyle, 25, and Leon Gaines, 56, murdered in separate attacks. Chang Kang, a 23-year-old Korean resident of Texas, was gunned down while visiting L.A. on October 7, and 44-year-old vagrant Wayne Ellis was killed in Athens Park the following day.
That same afternoon, a surviving gunshot victim described his assailant as a youngish black man, offering police their first solid lead in the case. Detectives were still beating the brush for a suspect on October 10, when a well-dressed black man checked into a Wilshire Boulevard hotel, paying in cash and signing the register as "Marcus Nisby."
In his room, the guest removed his jacket, hung it in the closet, then lay down upon the bed and calmly shot himself to death. Upon discovery of his corpse, next day, a fingerprint comparison identified "Nisby" as 26-year-old Michael Player, convicted over the past two years on charges of theft, armed robbery, violating probation and carrying a concealed pistol.
Player had been questioned as a suspect in the Roque murder and released for lack of evidence. A search of his belongings led police to name him as the Skid Row Slayer, and the case was closed in February 1987.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
Los Angeles Police identify a siocide as killer of 10
By Judith Cummings - The New York Times
Friday, February 6, 1987
The Los Angeles Police said today that they had
identified a man they believe killed 10 lone men, most of them
homeless, in a series of slayings last year, and that the suspect
shot himself to death last October.
Police Chief Daryl Gates said detectives were led to
the suspect through records from the coroner's department and ballistic
tests after the series of killings ended as abruptly as they had begun.
The suspect, Marcus Nisby, also known as Michael
Player, shot himself to death in a Los Angeles motel room Oct. 10, the
police said. Mr. Nisby, 26 years old, had a long record of street
The 10 victims were slain in a 36-day period that
began Sept. 4 and ended Oct. 9 with an 11th attack on a man who survived.
The victims were all shot without provocation in the early morning hours
in and around the Skid Row area. Several were shot in the back of the
head and some were attacked as they slept in alleys or on park benches.
An Added Affliction
The murders were an added affliction to the city's
large homeless population, estimated at 35,000 to 50,000 people. But
social workers said the series of slayings had done little to change the
routines and rhythms of a Skid Row district inured to sudden death and
For three days last month the Los Angeles City
Council opened its City Hall chambers as an emergency shelter for the
homeless, in addition to other facilities, after four homeless people
died on the streets in an unusual cold spell.
In another series of killings, the police late last
month announced the arrest of Joseph Danks, a 24-year-old drifter, who
they said had confessed to killing six homeless men. Five of the victims
were stabbed to death in the Koreatown district in the first week in
Mr. Danks, from Gaylord, Mich., who the police said
had a history of mental problems, pleaded not guilty to six counts of
murder and two counts of attempted murder.
At the news conference today, Chief Gates said that
Mr. Nisby shot himself one day after the attack Oct. 9 in which the
intended victim survived. Mr. Nisby, who had a number of aliases, was
linked to the slayings by ballistics evidence, the accounts of witnesses
and physical evidence collected in a search, with a warrant, of a
relative's residence where Mr. Nisby occasionally stayed, Chief Gates
'That Closes This Case'
Bullets fired from the pistol Mr. Nisby used to kill
himself were subjected to ballistic tests with several bullets recovered
from the slayings, Chief Gates said.
''That closes this case,'' the chief said.
The police said that Mr. Nisby came under suspicion
because he had been mentioned as a possible witness to the killing of
Rudolfo Roque, the first victim, who was slain Sept. 4. Mr. Roque, 54,
was shot as he walked along a sidewalk.
After the killings ended, and after they had failed
to find Mr. Nisby for an interview, detectives searched the coroner's
records and determined that Mr. Nisby had shot himself to death. The
search of a relative's apartment turned up other other evidence linking
Mr. Nisby to the slayings, the police said.
A Dislike for 'Bums'
In the case involving Mr. Danks, the District
Attorney's office asserted that the Michigan man said in a tape recorded
statement that he disliked ''bums'' and ''dirty'' derelicts. His victims
were generally stabbed in the back and several of them had been robbed.
The District Attorney said that Mr. Danks had arrived in Los Angeles
from Michigan last October.
The Los Angeles police are still looking for one
person believed to have taken the lives of nearly a score of prostitutes.
The city has a history of killers who prey on
transients. Vaughn Orrin Greenwood was convicted of the throat slashings
of nine men in 1974 and 1975. Bobby Joe Maxwell was convicted of two of
10 stabbing murders of victims on Skid Row in 1978 and 1979. Norman
Bernard pleaded guilty in 1984 to shooting three derelicts.
Skid Row Slayer
M RACE: B TYPE: T MOTIVE: PC-nonspecific
Los Angeles, Calif.
Shot homeless men, age 23-66
Suicide by gunshot, Oct. 10, 1986.