(1984-1993) aka "the Riverside Prostitute Killer" or "The
Lake Elsinore Killer" was a 41-year old government stock clerk from
Riverside County, California who liked to impersonate police officers,
write books, drive fancy cars, and do community service work.
neighbors described him as "a friendly nerd who was always doing
things to help people".
He had, however, spent some time in prison
during the 1970s in Texas for, along with his wife, beating their 2-month-old
daughter to death.
In the orange groves of Riverside County, he dumped
of 13 victims, all prostitutes, and authorities suspected he may have
been responsible for as many as 22 deaths in the local area. He would
cruise around red light districts in a van and then knife his victims to
death. A traffic stop and forensic evidence obtained from inside his van
resulted in conviction for 2 of the murders, and in 1995, he was
sentenced to death.
After the trial, the prosecutor told the foreman and
four other members of the jury that they suspected Suff used the breast
of one of his victims in his prize winning
chili, although this was a rumor that was never verified. What is true
is that this stable Jekyl-and-Hyde type offender stumped some of the
nation's best crime analysts at RCSO. At one point, his job required
delivering furniture to the serial killer task force investigating his
In 1997, his friend and solicitor Brian Lane released, "Cat
and Mouse: Mind Games with a Serial Killer," a book containing Bill's writings, poetry, and some of his award-wining
recipes. Bill also appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show from Death
Row in San Quentin as part of the book's promotion.
William Lester Suff (born August 20, 1950, as
Bill Lee Suff), also known as the Riverside Prostitute Killer and
the Lake Elsinore Killer, is a Californian serial killer.
In 1974, a Texas jury convicted Suff and his then-wife,
Teryl, of beating their two-month-old daughter to death. The Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals later reversed Terylís conviction but upheld Suff's
in Suff v. State (Tex. 1976) 531 S.W.2d 814, finding insufficient
evidence to convict her as either the primary actor or a principal in
their baby's murder. Though Suff was sentenced to 70 years in a Texas
prison, he served only 10 years before his 1984 release on parole.
He subsequently raped, stabbed, strangled, and
sometimes mutilated 12 or more prostitutes in Riverside County,
beginning in 1986. On January 9, 1992, Suff was arrested after a
routine traffic stop.
Described as a mild-mannered loner, Suff worked as
a county stock clerk who allegedly delivered supplies to the task
force investigating his killing spree. He liked to impersonate police
officers and cooked chili at office picnics.
In fact, it was alleged that he used the breast of
one of his victims in his chili, which won the "Riverside County
Employee Chili Cookoff." He was also working on a book about wild,
lethal dogs. He enjoyed vanity plates and was an avid volunteer in the
county's car-pooling program.
On July 19, 1995, a Riverside County jury found Suff
guilty of killing 12 women and attempting to kill another, though police
suspected him responsible for as many as 22 deaths. During the penalty
phase that followed, the prosecutor presented evidence linking Suff to
the 1988 murder of a San Bernardino prostitute, as well as evidence that
despite his prior Texas prison term for murdering his first daughter, he
abused and violently shook his three-month-old daughter by his second
On August 17, 1995, after deliberating for only 10
minutes, the jury returned verdicts of death on all 12 murder counts. On
October 26, 1995, the trial court followed the jury's recommendations
and ordered Suff condemned to death.
Executing a death sentence not a quick task
July 23, 2000
Five years after William Lester Suff was sentenced
to die, he sits on Death Row ---- not much closer to execution.
Many of those connected to his case are frustrated
by how long it's taking the state to carry out the sentence handed
down for Riverside County's most prolific serial killer.
Only recently was a lawyer appointed to represent
him during the appeal process, and there are many other hurdles to
pass before his victims' loved ones will be able to say that justice
has been served.
Although the wait may seem long to those affected
by the case, it is not unusual. The nine men executed in California
since 1978 served an average of 14 years, 10 months on Death Row.
"Mr. Suff is the poster child for someone who
deserves the death penalty," said District Attorney Grover Trask,
adding that Suff's case is an example of what the death penalty is
"The sooner the better," Trask said regarding
Suff, was convicted five years ago for the brutal
murder of 12 women in western Riverside County from 1986 to 1991.
Jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of convicting him of a 13th murder
He was sentenced to death in August 1995. In March,
a lawyer was appointed to represent him at his automatic appeal.
"We were able to try this case, with 13 victims, in
about three years after his arrest and it takes five to appoint an
attorney? That's outrageous," said Paul Zellerbach, who prosecuted
Suff. Zellerbach left the district attorney's office in March, after
being elected as a Superior Court judge.
He thinks changes could be made to the system to
expedite the appeals process.
"If we need to reallocate dollars to the appellate
courts, I think the public would be all for it ---- especially if we
saw some results," he added.
"I'm a firm believer in the appellate court system,
especially in death penalty cases, but nearly 15 years? There's no
justification for that," Zellerbach said. "It's unfair to the victims'
families and to the taxpayers."
According to the California Department of
Corrections, it costs $21,243 a year to house an inmate in a state
prison. There are more than 160,000 inmates housed in facilities
statewide, 565 of them on Death Row, according to the agency.
"(Suff's) guilty as hell and the taxpayers are
supporting him," said a woman named Mary, a relative of one of Suff's
victims who asked that her last name not be used to protect her
"It's just a waste of money," Mary added. "He's not
gonna get unguilty."
Suff: Egotist or exemplary inmate?
Until he is either executed or wins an appeal, Suff
will continue to live in a cell that measures 11 feet, 3 inches by 4
feet, 5 inches.
Called a "pretty exemplary inmate" by officials at
San Quentin, Suff has had no record of disciplinary action, said
Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections.
He is in generally good health, "although he
probably could lose a few pounds," Bach said. He is classified as a
"Grade A" inmate because of his good behavior, meaning he is allowed
to move around Death Row more than some other inmates, she said.
Though he may be an exemplary inmate, his
prosecutor still considers Suff a "self-involved egotist" who will
never admit his guilt.
"From the night he was arrested, I saw that he was
the type of individual who would never admit his guilt to himself or
to anyone else," Zellerbach said. "He'll go to his grave denying it."
'Justice won't be fully served until he's executed'
Bob Creed, the lead Riverside County Sheriff's
Department detective on the case, first became involved in the
investigation in April 1988. After 20 years with the Sheriff's
Department, 12 as a detective, Creed left in December 1998 to become a
senior investigator with the district attorney's office.
"We all knew from the very beginning that there
would be an automatic appeal to his sentence," Creed said. "Still,
even knowing that, justice won't be fully served until he's executed."
Creed said he has trouble understanding how there
even could be a successful appeal in the case. Many appeals are won,
he adds, when DNA evidence proves someone's innocence.
"But how do you refute so much physical evidence,
such as all the DNA, like we had in this case?" Creed asked. "There is
no way these killings can be justified or explained away.
"I just wish they'd hurry up with the appeal
process and continue on with Suff's execution," he said. "That's the
only way to close the last chapter on this."
Execution not likely any time soon
An official with the state attorney general's
office, which handles death penalty cases after sentences have been
handed down, said Suff's execution is not likely to happen any time
Gary Schons, senior assistant attorney general in
San Diego, said the case still has a lot of paperwork and oral
arguments in four courts before it will be concluded. There will be
appearances in the state appellate court, U.S. District Court, the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court
"I have a case right now from 1996 that's far less
complicated than (the Suff) case and there still has not been an
appeals attorney appointed," Schons said.
According to Schons, part of the delay in these
cases is the assigning of lawyers to defend those sentenced to death.
"The (state) Supreme Court has a difficult time
finding attorneys to do that," Schons said. "With 565 people on Death
Row, it's something of a challenge to find lawyers to handle that many
"I know that the chief justice is trying to find
ways to find counsel more quickly," he added.
The steps of death-sentence appeals
Once a death sentence is handed down by a state
court, paperwork makes its way through the court for years.
One step begins immediately. Called "record
completion," it entails making sure the trial transcripts are
complete. This step should have already been completed in Suff's case.
The next step can't start until an appeals counsel
has been appointed, Schons said. Record correction involves the
careful review of the trial-court transcripts, looking for things that
could be used in an appeal.
Once the record is corrected, Schons said, it can
be as long as a year before the appeals attorney files a legal brief
with the court, raising issues about the trial court's rulings,
conduct of the judge and the jury, as well as attorneys on both sides.
The attorney general's office then files a brief of
its own, to which the appeals attorney replies. Then the appeals
attorney files a brief addressing things outside the trial record,
such as extenuating circumstances such as a bad childhood, Schons said.
Family members and psychologists may be interviewed during this stage,
After that, the case is finally ready to be heard
by the state Supreme Court. Schons said it is reasonable to expect all
this to take about five years, meaning ---- if everything flows
smoothly ---- it will be five more years before Suff's case reaches
the state's high court.
Killer of Prostitutes Gets Death Sentence
The New York Times
October 29, 1995
Calling him "a cruel and indifferent man," a judge
on Thursday sentenced William L. Suff to death for strangling 12
prostitutes during a sex-murder spree that ended in 1991.
Judge W. Charles Morgan of Superior Court followed
the jury's recommendation in sentencing Mr. Suff, who was paroled to
California in 1984 from Texas, where he served 10 years of a 70-year
sentence for beating his baby daughter to death.
Prosecutors said he was suspected in at least 22
killings dating to 1986, although there was enough evidence to
prosecute only the more recent ones.
Jury Asks for Death Penalty for Convicted Killer
of 12 Women
The New York Times
August 20, 1995
A jury has recommended that a man convicted of
killing 12 women should himself be put to death, prompting shouts of
approval from the relatives of some of the victims. The killer,
William L. Suff, whom a prosecutor had described as "truly evil" and
"no longer a member of the human race," showed no emotion on Friday
when a clerk read the jury's recommendation in court.
The seven-man, five-woman jury needed only 10
minutes to reach its verdict late Thursday. Yet one juror, Janeel
Sedgewick, said that recommending the death penalty was a difficult
decision for her to make. "I'm Catholic and it was tough," she said.
Judge W. Charles Morgan of Riverside County
Superior Court set sentencing for Oct. 10. He could follow the jury's
recommendation or sentence Mr. Suff to life in prison. Condemned
prisoners in California can be executed by lethal gas or lethal
Mr. Suff, a former county supply clerk, was
convicted last month on 12 of 13 counts of first-degree murder and on
one count of attempted murder. He will be 45 years old on Sunday.
Ana Zamora, the sister of one victim, said: "It's a
very happy day. He's going to get what's due him, to feel the pain
that he's caused us."
Bunny Harrison, the sister of another victim, said:
"Now I know that he'll never be able to hurt another person. As long
as he can't hurt anyone else, then my sister didn't die in vain."
The killings began in 1989 and ended in 1991. Mr.
Suff chose prostitutes and drug addicts in Riverside and nearby Lake
Elsinore, picking them up in his van to have sex, then strangling them,
Besides mutilating some women, the killer sometimes
dressed them in his clothes and took theirs. Bodies were posed in
disturbing ways, and most were dumped in citrus groves or along
Mr. Suff was arrested in January 1992 after a
traffic stop in Riverside. Inside his van detectives found rope, a
bloody knife and a sleeping bag with fibers matching those found on
some of the victims' bodies.
In closing arguments to the jury on Thursday, a
prosecutor, Paul E. Zellerbach, described Mr. Suff as a "truly evil"
"I submit to you, Mr. Suff is no longer a member of
the human race," Mr. Zellerbach said. "By the nature of the crimes he
has committed for 22 years, he has no heart, he has no soul and, by
God, he has no conscience."
Mr. Zellerbach's voice trembled and tears came to
his eyes as he reminded jurors of the suffering of the victims'
Mr. Zellerbach told the jury that Mr. Suff killed
his infant daughter in Texas 22 years ago and served 10 years of a 70-year
prison sentence for that crime.
Earlier, Mr. Zellerbach said that Mr. Suff may have
severely abused another infant daughter in October 1991 and that he is
the prime suspect in the slaying of a San Bernardino prostitute. She
was killed in January 1988, while Mr. Suff lived in Colton. Judge
Morgan did not allow prosecutors to present that evidence during the
guilt phase of the trial, calling it too inflammatory.
In his closing arguments, Mr. Suff's lawyer, Randy
Driggs, urged the jury to consider a sentence of life in prison
without the possibility of parole. As a child killer and abuser, Mr.
Suff will be a marked man in prison, Mr. Driggs told the jurors. "Mr.
Suff will be living on the edge of the seat for the rest of his life,"
Mr. Driggs said. "He will worry about his next step, his next move and
who's behind him."
Suspect in 19 Killings Indicted in California
The New York Times
July 29, 1992
The leading suspect in the serial killings of 19
prostitutes throughout Riverside County over the last six years has
been indicted on charges of committing 14 of those slayings, the
authorities announced today.
The indictment, returned by a county grand jury on
Friday, charges the defendant, William Lester Suff, a 41-year-old
stock clerk, with 14 counts of murder, one count of attempted murder
and one count of assault with intent to commit rape.
Deputy District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said Mr.
Suff remained under investigation in connection with the five other
Riverside County prostitute killings and with other slayings in Los
Angeles and San Bernardino Counties.
The 14 killings cited in the indictment include two
to which Mr. Suff pleaded not guilty in February. He had been arrested
in Riverside the previous month after pulling his car up next to a
suspected prostitute and then making an illegal U-turn.
At the time of his arrest, Mr. Suff was in
violation of his parole in Texas for having failed to check with the
authorities there periodically. That parole was granted him in 1984
after he had served 10 years of a 70-year term for the fatal beating
of his 2-month-old daughter. He lost custody of another daughter in
1991 after that infant suffered severe head injuries in a beating.
Charges were not filed because investigators could not determine who
By David Lohr
A Killer Among Them
It was early morning, shortly after dawn on
October. 30, 1986. The Rubidoux industrial area was a short distance
from Riverside, California, near Agua Mansa Road and Market Street.
Riverside is a burgeoning urban sprawl, which boasts a UC campus, Mt.
Rubidoux and a county population growth unmatched in any nearby
region. Those who have traveled through the area often compare the
trek towards the industrial area to that of the entrance to Dante's
seven levels of hell. A thick veil of smog rests over the district
and the permeating smell, which emanates from many of the local
factories, is something most visitors care not to describe.
A local man was winding his way through the
streets scavenging aluminum cans when he noticed the body of a young
woman wedged in a drainage ditch. The woman was lying on her back,
her blouse and shorts ripped to shreds. She was covered in blood and
it looked as though her genital area had been mutilated. The man
quickly dropped his bag of cans and ran into a local factory for
The young woman was later identified as 23-year-old
Michelle Yvette Gutierrez, a former resident of Corpus Christi,
Texas. An autopsy revealed she suffered severe trauma to the anal
and vaginal areas and multiple stab wounds were discovered on her
face, chest and buttocks. Ligature marks on her neck suggested that
she had been strangled as the gruesome mutilations took place. In
the end, investigators had a brutal murder on their hands and few
clues to follow.
Less than two weeks later, on December 11,
investigators were called to the scene of another apparent homicide.
The victim, later identified as 24-year-old Charlotte Jean Palmer, a
transient from Anna, Illinois, was discovered near Highway 74 in
Romoland. According to The Fifteen Most Horrific Murder Cases
Ever to Shock America, by Bill Kelly, the scene was
approximately twenty-five miles away from the Gutierrez murder site
and it was not immediately apparent whether the two deaths were
related. In addition, Palmer's body was so badly decomposed the
county coroner was unable to determine the cause of death.
In January 1987, the naked and mutilated body of
37-year-old Linda Ann Ortega was found along a dirt road in Lake
Elsinore. The victim had been dead for at least three days and high
levels of alcohol and cocaine were found in her blood. Investigators
later discovered that Ortega, a part-time fast food worker, had a
rap sheet for drugs and prostitution. Investigators now had three
similar homicides and some were beginning to wonder if they had a
serial killer on their hands.
All doubts were put to rest on May 2, 1987, when
27-year-old Martha Bess Young was discovered in a ravine not far
from the Ortega murder site. The victim, originally from Albuquerque,
New Mexico, was discovered fully naked in a spread-eagle position.
As with Ortega, she had a rap sheet for prostitution and high levels
of drugs were found in her body. The county coroner later determined
she had been dead for approximately three weeks and died from a
lethal dose of amphetamines as she was being strangled.
Serial killers are not uncommon in California,
and investigators working the prostitute murders were all too
familiar with the names: William Bonin, Leonard Lake, Charles Ng,
and the infamous Zodiac. They were also aware that a serial killer
has an unquenchable thirst for murder and that the only way to end
his murderous cycle would be get him off the streets.
According to The Riverside Killer by
Christine Keers, a task force was quickly formed and headed by
Riverside Police Chief Linford L. Richardson, Sheriff's Lt. Al Hearn,
Captain Bill Reynolds, Lt. William H. Caldwell, and Sheriff Cois
Byrd among others. Under their supervision were 14 detectives, the
largest enforcement effort ever assembled in the county.
Apparently aware of the efforts police officials
were taking to find him, the killer either stopped killing or found
another dumping ground, which remains undiscovered to this day.
Regardless, by 1989, two years since his last known murder, the
killer struck again. On January 27, 1989, the body of 37-year-old
Linda Mae Ruiz, a known prostitute, was discovered on the beach of
Lake Elsinore. The victim's head was buried in the sand and an
autopsy later revealed large quantities of alcohol in the blood.
Sand was found in the victim's throat and cause of death was listed
as acute asphyxiation.
Nearly six months later, on June 28, 1989, the
body of 28-year-old Kimberly Lyttle was discovered in Cottonwood
Canyon. A police query on the victim revealed that she was a known
prostitute and drug user. Her bruised and battered corpse was taken
to the county coroners office, where an autopsy revealed the
presence of alcohol and drugs. The official cause of death was
listed as asphyxiation. While another murder did not sit well with
the task force, they were excited to learn that several pubic hairs
and fibers, unrelated to the victim herself, were discovered on her
body. This evidence alone told them very little about the killer,
but if a suspect were to emerge, the samples could play a major role
in identifying him.
Following the murder of Kimberly Lyttle, local
newspapers began to look into the murders and within weeks out-of-town
reporters began arriving in Riverside. The killer was soon dubbed "The
Riverside Prostitute Killer" or "The Lake Elsinore Killer." Capt.
Bill Reynolds held several press conferences and tried to calm the
public, assuring them that all efforts were being made to find the
On November 11, 1989, a local resident discovered
the bludgeoned and mutilated body of 36-year-old Judy Lynn Angel
near Temescal Canyon Road, just northwest of Lake Elsinore. Angel
had a long rap sheet, which included arrests for prostitution and
possession of drugs. During the autopsy, the coroner discovered
several deep gashes on the victim's hands. The injuries appeared to
be defensive wounds, which meant she had tried to fend off her
attacker. The victim also suffered several blows to the face, which
ultimately crushed her cranium.
According to Jack Levin, professor of sociology
and criminology at
University, who has authored or co-authored
18 books including Mass Murder: America's Growing Menace and
Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing, the common
denominator among the victims of serial killers is vulnerability.
During a June 24, 1998 interview with ABCNews.com,
Levin stated that prostitutes are the number one victims, "Because
they will get right into the car with a stranger, can easily be
dehumanized in the mind of the killer and are not missed for a very
long time by family members." He also described a serial killer as
someone who, "murder(s) one victim at a time, at least three or four
over a period of weeks, months or years, with a cooling off period
between their murders." The majority of serial killers hunt humans,
usually for sexual thrills and will commit the crimes over and over
again until they are killed, arrested, or in very rare cases, decide
to move on and find another fantasy to pursue. During a serial
killer's cooling off period, he will fantasize about his previous
murder and, like a drug, he will be content for a period of time.
However, with the passing of time these fantasies will become less
and less appealing and he will have to kill again in order to find
the fulfillment he desires. Often times the killings become more
violent than the last and the cooling off period becomes shorter and
shorter. The killer might also become more brazen. With the passing
of each murder they begin to feel God-like and unstoppable.
On December 13, 1989, a month after the discovery
of Judy Lynn Angel's remains, the body of 23-year-old Christina Leal
was found in Quail Valley. Unlike previous victims, she was fully
clothed and did not appear to have suffered serious abuse or
mutilation prior to death. A resident of Perris, California, Tina
had previous arrests for drugs and prostitution. Investigators found
tire tracks at the crime scene and made several impressions, which
could later be used to compare with a suspect's vehicle. The
victim's hands were encased in paper bags to preserve anything that
might be under the nails. At the lab, the body would be examined for
hairs and fibers.
Later that day, during the victim's autopsy, the
county coroner discovered that the victim had been stabbed directly
in the heart. Due to the victim's clothing, the wound was not
immediately noticeable, which suggested the killer had dressed her
after the murder. The knife wound, while potentially fatal, was not
the immediate cause of death. The victim died as a result of
asphyxiation by strangulation. Several pubic hairs and fibers were
removed from the body, which would later be matched to the ones
discovered on Kimberly Lyttle. Then, as the coroner inspected the
victim's genital area, he made a startling discovery the killer had
shoved a light bulb up into the victim's womb - something no one
present had ever seen done before.
The killer's crimes were escalating. The murders
were becoming more perverse and the time between the killings was
getting shorter. There was no doubt that he would strike again, but
without a single suspect to pursue it was impossible to know where
The Body Count Rises
On the morning of January 18, 1990, investigators
were summoned to a scene east of I-15 in Lake Elsinore. Earlier that
morning a jogger had accidentally stumbled upon the half nude body
of a female, whom investigators recognized as a 24-year-old
prostitute named Darla Jane Ferguson. The victim died as a result of
strangulation, which was so severe that she nearly bit off her own
tongue. As with the previous crime scene, investigators found tire
tracks and made several impressions, which were later matched to the
Less than a month later, on February 8, 1990,
farmers working at an orchard in Highgrove discovered the nude body
of 35-year-old Carol Lynn Miller. A known prostitute and drug addict,
Carol went missing one month earlier. The cause of death was listed
as multiple stab wounds to the chest and asphyxiation. The coroner
also made note of a wound near Carol's right nipple. Pubic hairs
were discovered on the victim, which were later matched to the ones
on file from the previous murders.
According to Cat and Mouse: Mind Games With a
Serial Killer, by Brian Allen Lane, it was eight months before
investigators were called to the scene of another horrific murder.
On the afternoon of November 6, 1990, a man working at an industrial
plant on Palmyrita Avenue in northeast Riverside, not far from the
location where Miller was found, discovered the naked and mutilated
corpse of a female hidden under some tree branches. This was by far
the killer's most brutal crime yet. The victim, 33-year-old Cheryl
Coker, a prostitute and drug user, suffered severe mutilations to
her body and most shocking of all, the killer had removed her right
breast and placed it next to her. Investigators found shoe prints at
the scene and took several photographs and impressions before
transporting the body to the morgue. It was later determined that
the victim had died as a result of strangulation.
With the death of Coker, the Riverside Task Force
had already spent over $100,000 and they were still no closer to
catching their killer. According to Levin, serial killers are the "cream
of the crop" when it comes to murder. "Most homicides are solved
within 14 hours, serial killers can stay on the loose for weeks,
months, years, even decades. There is a self-selection process. Most
serial killers very smartly wait until the most effective moment to
attack their victim, clean up the crime scene afterwards, or dump
the body of their victim in some desolate area. In many cases the
police have no physical evidence."
On Decembet 21, 1990, a janitor was emptying
dustbins at a factory complex on Iowa Avenue when he discovered the
nude and carefully posed body of a young woman. Investigators on the
scene recognized the victim as 27-year-old Susan Sternfeld, a local
prostitute and drug addict. There was no evidence of mutilation
found on the victim's remains and the county coroner later
determined she died of strangulation.
Victim No. 13, 42-year-old Kathleen Leslie Milne
(a.k.a., Carol Kathleen Swenson and Kathy Pluckett) was discovered
on January 19, 1991. A passing motorist spotted her body alongside
the road northwest of Lake Elsinore. According to the autopsy report,
the victim was rendered unconscious by several blows to the head and
then strangled. She had been dead less than 24 hours.
The One Who Got Away
As the killer's body count continued to rise, so
did the demands for justice. In a city not known for community
activism, public outrage toward the faceless killer was vented in
letters to newspaper editors, the Riverside Task Force and during
community meetings. National media outlets began to regularly
broadcast the case and at one point the television program
America's Most Wanted covered the killer's crimes. In an effort
to find the killer, all available law enforcement personal began
combing the area. At one point the manhunt grew to include over 20
law enforcement agencies. Regardless of the spotlight upon him, the
killer was undaunted and continued to elude identification and
Kelly wrote that on the morning of April 27,
1991, a transient stumbled upon the body of 24-year-old Cherie
Michelle Payseur, a part time maid and prostitute. The victim had
been left in a flowerbed in a bowling alley parking lot. She had
been violated, strangled and posed - a toilet plunger protruding
from her vagina.
Following the discovery of Payseur, in a brief
interview with The Bay City News, Lake Elsinore Detective Bob
Creed defended accusations that the department was dragging their
feet because the victims were prostitutes. Standing in front of a
wall, which displayed the serial killer's handiwork: Gutierrez;
Palmer; Ortega; Young; Ruiz; Lyttle; Angel; Leal; Ferguson; Miller;
Coker; Sternfeld; Milne; and the latest, Cherie Michelle Payseur.
Creed said, "We don't care if they're drug addicts or prostitutes.
They're getting the same resource level as if they were cheerleaders."
On July 4, 1991, picnickers near Railroad Canyon
Road discovered the remains of 37-year-old Sherry Ann Latham, a
known prostitute and drug user. The victim's hand was wrapped around
some nearby branches, suggesting that she was still alive when the
killer left. Apparently, Latham had made one last feeble attempt to
crawl away before succumbing to her injuries. An autopsy later
revealed that the victim had been strangled and feline hairs were
discovered on her corpse. According to the victim's friends, she did
not own a cat, thus leading investigators to wonder if her killer
Just when it seemed they were never going to
catch a break, investigators got their first major lead on August
15, 1991. According to Keers, a man driving a gray van picked up a
prostitute near the University of California. The woman told
investigators that everything was going fine at first, but then the
"John" became angry and began assaulting her for no reason. Luckily
the girl managed to jump out of the vehicle and run down the street.
The man quickly sped off, but stopped at a nearby corner and picked
up the girl's friend, a 23-year-old prostitute named Kelly Marie
Hammond. Later that same night investigators found Hammond's naked
body near the intersection of Sampson Avenue and Delilah Street. The
victim had been strangled and her body was still warm. Investigators
had just missed the killer they so desperately sought.
The woman who escaped the killer's clutches was
able to help investigators create a composite sketch of the suspect
and his vehicle. Investigators quickly issued an APB and within
hours newspapers and television stations were broadcasting the
Catching a Killer
On September 13, 1991, a construction worker
found the body of 30-year-old Catherine McDonald, a known drug user
and prostitute, near a building site in Tiscany Hills. Kelly wrote
that at first glance investigators thought the murder might be
unrelated to the others. The victim was African American, whereas
all previous victims were Caucasian. However, upon closer inspection
they noticed the victim's right breast had been removed. But, unlike
Cheryl Coker's mutilation, it was not lying next to the victim's
corpse. Apparently the killer had taken it with him. Investigators
surmised that the killer heard a recent broadcast on the six o'clock
news, during which a psychologist said that the killer was probably
a white male who preyed exclusively on white women. Hence, the
purpose of McDonald's murder was to show the media who was in charge.
The following month, on October 30, 1991, a man
was driving along Summerhill Drive when he spotted something odd
just off the shoulder of the road. "At first I thought it was a
mannequin," he later told investigators, "but at closer inspection I
realized it was the corpse of a woman." The victim was later
identified as 35-year-old Delliah Zamora Wallace, a prostitute, drug
addict and mother of five. The county coroner listed the cause of
death as asphyxiation.
The victim toll was now at 18 and investigators
still didn't have one viable suspect. The killer was striking at
least once a month now and investigators knew it was only a matter
of time before he killed again.
Two days before Christmas, 1991, Eleanore Ojeda
Casares' naked body was found near Victoria Avenue, just down the
street from the Riverside police station. The 39-year-old drug
addict and prostitute had been strangled and her right breast was
missing. The proximity of the body to the police station angered
investigators, who were convinced that the killer purposely placed
her there in order to make fools out of them.
On the night of January 9, 1992, Officer Frank
Orta was patrolling University Avenue, an area known for
prostitution and drugs, when he suddenly noticed a van, matching the
description of the APB, make an illegal U-turn. When Orta flashed
his lights and siren, the 1989 Mitsubishi pulled off to the side and
he quickly called for backup. Within minutes, officers Don Tauli and
Duane Beckman were at the scene. The driver, a man by the name of
William Suff, appeared to be polite, but upon running his name
through the computer Orta discovered that his driver's license was
suspended and his vehicle registration was expired. The suspect was
then transported to the Riverside police station for questioning.
Christine Keers (The Riverside Killer) and Brian Allen Lane (The
Fifteen Most Horrific Murder Cases Ever to Shock America) both
provide details, with some from The Los Angeles Times.
A Killer's Past
Back at Riverside police
headquarters, homicide Detective Christina Keers and John Davis
began questioning the suspect. The interrogation lasted for hours
and Lane says that Suff repeatedly denied any involvement in the
prostitution murders. Investigators were going to need evidence to
gain a conviction and without a confession their job became even
harder. Police collected blood and hair samples from the suspect and
arrested him for suspicion of multiple murders.
As investigators scrambled to find evidence,
members of the media began digging into Suff's past. While his
family remained tight-lipped and details of his early life remain
vague, they were able to obtain several bits of information from
public records. According to Keers and Lane, William Lester Suff was
born on August 20, 1950, in Torrance, California. Unfortunately,
when it comes to early childhood events - invariably, the most
interesting pieces of the puzzle - very little is known. In regard
to his siblings, Suff's brothers were also troubled, one by drugs,
the other by a nagging predilection for pedophilia.
According to school classmates, Suff was a
friendly person and skillful musician, who graduated 87th in a class
of 144. The image of the friendly personality disintegrated with the
1974 report that Suff, then 24, and his former wife were arrested
and later convicted of beating their two-year-old daughter to death.
Suff was sentenced to 70 years in prison, but earned his parole in
March 1984, after serving only 10 years. His wife served a mere 20
months before having her conviction overturned.
In 1986, Suff began working as a stock clerk for
the county and, ironically enough, had delivered furniture to the
Riverside task force headquarters midway through the killing spree.
Friends of Suff described him as a mild-mannered man, who kept to
himself and spent his free time writing stories and cookbooks. On at
least one occasion his chili recipes won him first prize at a local
On February 28, 1992, Suff was arraigned before
Judge Becky Dugan in Division 22 of the Riverside Municipal
Courthouse. Suff's attorney, Floyd Zagorsky, entered a plea of
innocent on two of the 19 deaths to which his client was charged.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Dugan ruled there was
enough evidence to send the case to trial.
William Suff's trial began on March 25, 1995,
before Judge W. Charles Morgan in the Riverside Hall of Justice. A
jury, consisting of seven men and five women, sat in the pews
awaiting opening statements. Kelly wrote that prosecutor Paul E.
Zellerbach chose to go first and explained to the jury that
detectives had enough evidence to connect Suff to the murders of 13
prostitutes. He went on to describe Suff as a violent sexual sadist,
who enjoyed torturing and murdering women.
Suff's two lawyers, Randolph K. Driggs, a former
prosecutor who had worked with Zellerbach, and Frank S. Peasly,
described Suff as an easygoing man who was simply in the wrong place
at the wrong time. "This is largely a circumstantial case," Driggs
Over the next several months, over thirty
witnesses were called to the stand, the most damming of all being
Faye Springer the state Department of Justice's foremost
criminologist on hair and fiber analysis. According to Keers,
Springer testified that microscopic samples of hair found at two
murder scenes matched Suff's own hairs and that fibers from a pillow,
blanket and sleeping bag found inside Suff's van were similar to
those discovered near the bodies of Kim Lyttle and Christina Leal.
In addition, Springer said a towel that covered Lyttle's naked body
contained two fibers similar to the floor carpeting in Suff's
vehicle. Other fibers, which were found on Suff's car seat, matched
that of a T-shirt and sock found on Leal's body.
After 54 days of testimony and four days of
deliberations, the jury found Suff guilty on 12 of the 13 counts of
first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. The jury also
found Suff guilty of multiple murder, use of a deadly weapon and
lying in wait. The following day, August 17, 1995, Suff was given
the death sentence.
As of this writing William Suff resides on death
row at San Quentin Prison, where he is awaiting execution. He
continues to maintain his innocence and claims that police used him
as a scapegoat. It has been rumored that Suff used two of his
victims breasts in chilies he prepared for the Riverside County
employees annual picnic, but that information has never been
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE:
MO: Killed infant daughter;
"ripper" of female prostitutes
DISPOSITION: 70 years in Tex.,
1973 (paroled 1983); condemned, 1995.