Failure to Protect:
Following the identification of Milwaukee serial killer Walter E. Ellis, Wisconsin officials are acknowledging that at least 12,000 DNA samples that were supposed to be taken from convicted felons and databased are missing from the state registry.
Add to that the 50,000 felon samples acknowledged missing in Illinois, and the hundreds of thousands of other samples from both felons and victim kits that are routinely discovered “stockpiled” or “shelved” or simply gone missing, and what becomes visible is a systematic abandonment of the rights of victims and protection of the public from crime.
So why is there no outcry? Why are ten, or thirty, or fifty dead women so easy to leave behind? Sure, we read these stories with prurient interest. The term “serial killer” piques imagination and inspires Hollywood stories. But nobody seems to be able to take the next step, to behaving as if injustice to victims matters as much as injustice to anyone else.
For it isn’t just that Ellis’ DNA sample disappeared. It’s far worse than that. Ellis convinced another felon to give a sample for him. On discovering the duplication of samples in the database, the tech simply threw out the one wrongly attributed to Ellis and left his profile blank. It sounds as if this happened all the time, but nobody did anything about it. Ellis was released from prison three months before the faked DNA sample was noticed, and his address was known, but authorities did nothing to obtain an accurate sample.
Even with a serial killer operating in Ellis’ neighborhood, and his own prior record, there apparently wasn’t enough curiosity about his effort to conceal his DNA.
Bodies, Bodies Everywhere:
DNA technology has been used in criminal convictions in the United States since 1987, when the first rape case was won using DNA in Orlando, Florida. Despite the astonishing promise of this technology, it was years before some states even began testing suspects for DNA, and nearly a decade passed before the FBI managed to convince the first few states to begin sharing samples. At every step of the way, civil liberties organizations have fought implementation of DNA testing, except, of course, in cases where it might be used to exonerate someone.
Georgia recently passed the threshold of solving 1500 cold cases from their database, though “solving” doesn’t necessarily translate into convicting the offenders. Who’s got the money for all that? And Georgia, like every other state, still suffers from perennial backlogs and rape kits that go missing. Meanwhile, murderers like Brian Nichols get stables of silk-stocking lawyers on the public dime.
Little wonder the bodies keep piling up. In addition to the seven murder victims now tied to Walter E. Ellis, twenty other similar, unsolved murders are being investigated again. That’s twenty-seven raped and murdered women in Milwaukee whose killers were never caught. Why? Lack of resources. Too many murderers, and not enough cops:
Nick Sandoval, a detective . . . said the homicide unit was understaffed and detectives were often overwhelmed by the number of killings they were investigating. There were 85 homicides that year. “We were so short-handed,” he said. “Homicides would come in and we would start on one and we never really got our teeth into them to the point that we could do decent follow-up work. We would come in the next morning and, lo and behold, we would have another one. It was like a vicious circle.”
Here is what the cold case investigators in Milwaukee had to comb through:
They sifted through 500 names in case files, 15,000 sexual assault cases spanning 23 years, 6,000 prostitute-related investigations, and 2,000 arrests in the geographic areas where bodies were discovered over a 15-year period.
As I mentioned in this post, Ellis was arrested multiple times. It isn’t clear why he wasn’t convicted and sentenced to prison after some of those arrests. How much precious police time and manpower got wasted because prosecutors and judges didn’t follow through?
A Convicted Rapist Working in a Hospital?
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there are so many serial killings and serial rapes being re-investigated now that it takes color-coded charts to sort them out. Investigators searching for the killer of ten young, black women recently stumbled upon a serial killer responsible for another cluster of crimes: the rapes and rape-murders of dozens of elderly white women in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Like Walter Ellis, John Floyd Thomas managed to avoid giving police a required DNA sample. Prior to the advent of DNA, Thomas had twice been convicted of rape, sent to prison, and released. Later changes in the law required him to submit a sample, but he apparently didn’t comply and was not caught. He was finally identified by a detective who was trying to solve the young women’s murders by rounding up convicted rapists who had avoided the new DNA law.
One chilling aspect of Thomas is his criminal longevity: his first rape conviction came in 1957, and he is now tied through DNA to a 1986 case. That’s nearly 30 years — or perhaps longer — of raping and killing women. Why didn’t he get caught? Well, he did, of course, once in 1957, and again in 1978, but he was released early, so he could continue doing this:
The “Westside Rapist” became one of the more notorious criminals of the era. Victims ranged in age from the 50s to the 90s. Bella Stumbo, the late Times feature writer, wrote in December 1975 that the “serenity” of the neighborhoods where the victims lived “had been so grotesquely invaded by that elusive maniac the police loosely refer to as the ‘Westside rapist,’ now accused of sexually assaulting at l[e]ast 33 old women and murdering perhaps 10 of them.” She said residents lived in “small colonies of terror.” The attacks appeared to stop in 1978. That year, a witness took down Thomas’ license plate after he raped a woman in Pasadena. He was convicted and sent to state prison.
Five years later, he was out, and the killings started up again.
Thomas was enabled by his family and by a legal system that made it very difficult to keep him locked away for long. Others also apparently overlooked his criminal record to give him jobs in social work, a hospital, and a state insurance agency. It is hard to understand how somebody with a prison record for rape could get a job in social work, or in a hospital, where he had access to vulnerable, elderly, immobilized women — his preferred targets.
Thomas was a work acquaintance of activist Earl Ofari-Hutchinson, who wrote this thoughtful article in the wake of Thomas’ capture.
Released Early and Not Monitored
Meanwhile, investigators are asking why Phillip Garrido, who kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard when she was 11 and held her captive as a sex slave for 18 years, was released decades early from a federal conviction for another brutal sex crime.
Decades early. The federal system, at least, is supposed to be strict when it comes to offenders serving time. Garrido received a 50-year sentence for an horrific kidnapping and sexual assault in 1976. 11 years later, he was released, apparently in violation of federal sentencing rules:
[Q]uestions intensified Monday over how Phillip Garrido could have served only 11 years in prison after a 1976 rape and kidnapping for which he had been given a 50-year federal sentence as well as a life term in Nevada.
Garrido was convicted of kidnapping in federal court for abducting Katherine Callaway in South Lake Tahoe on a November night nearly 33 years ago and driving her — handcuffed and hogtied — to Reno. He then pleaded guilty to a Nevada state rape charge for assaulting her in a storage unit.
Former Assistant U.S. Atty. Leland Lutfy, who prosecuted the kidnapping case, said Monday that he was “amazed” because, at the time, he believed that defendants convicted of federal crimes were required to serve two-thirds of their sentences — in this case, 33 years. That would have kept him safely away from Dugard, who was snatched from her quiet street in 1991.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said in an interview.
The real question Lutfy and others need to be asking is this: how many more Phillip Garridos are out there?
I wonder why anyone bothers to express surprise that an offender with a life sentence walked out of prison after a few years to commit more violent crimes against women and young girls. It happens every day. The U.S. Parole Commission, which was responsible for Garridos’ release, is refusing to answer questions:
A spokesman for the U.S. Parole Commission did not return a call for comment about why Garrido was set free in 1988.
Loyola Law professor Laurie Levenson said that barring an extraordinary situation, “there is no way on a 50-year sentence he should have been out.”
Count me not surprised: parole boards are frequently stacked with pro-offender activists who believe themselves to be above the law. In trial testimony that should have been reviewed by the federal parole board, Garrido admitted to acting on uncontrollable sexual urges for children as young as seven:
Phillip Garrido admitted that starting in 1968 he hung around schools and pleasured himself while “watching young females.” “I have done it by the side of schools, grammar schools and high schools, in my own car,” Garrido said in court testimony obtained Tuesday by The Daily News. Asked how old these girls were, Garrido replied, “From 7 to 10.”
Nevertheless, the parole board decided that he should be released after serving one-fifth of his sentence, and he immediately kidnapped Jayce Lee Dugard. Three years later, when Jayce was 14, she gave birth to the first of the children with which her rapist impregnated her. Parole officers apparently didn’t notice that the man they were supposed to be watching had a pregnant prepubescent girl living in a shack in his backyard.
That means the parole officers also did not avail themselves of any records regarding his conviction. Or something even worse — they knew his history but still viewed Garrido as the real victim of a harsh system. How could they neglect to check the structures in his backyard, when he was on parole for kidnapping a woman and holding her in a storage unit, and neighbors raised questions about the young females in the storage unit in his backyard? It belies the imagination, yet the media seems strangely incurious about Garrido’s parole officers. Why?
This woman, U.C. Berkeley Police Specialist Lisa Campbell, didn’t think Garrido’s behavior was normal when she saw him dragging his “family” around the Berkeley campus. She started asking questions and ultimately rescued Jayce Lee Dugard and her daughters:
Walter Ellis, John Floyd Thomas, Phillip Garrido: the cops arrest them, and the judges and parole boards let them go. Not anymore, at least, for these three men. But how many women and children had to be raped, and killed, in just these three cases, before anybody in the courts could be bothered to respond appropriately, all the times these men could have been put away?