Detroit police say suspect may be linked to serial killings

Women found in abandoned homes

By Holly Yan and Madeline Holcombe, CNN

A man charged with stabbing and raping a woman may be the same man responsible for three killings in Detroit, police said.

The suspect, who has not been identified, was initially detained Friday as a "person of interest" in the possible serial killings.

As the investigation unfolded, authorities charged him with the May 7 rape and stabbing of a 26-year-old woman who survived, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Monday.

But he hasn't been charged with the deaths of three women who were found in abandoned homes on the east side of Detroit since March.

"We're still working our case," Craig said. "We're confident that he is connected to all the cases that we've described."

 

The killer may have targeted sex workers

 

The three bodies found in abandoned homes were in various stages of decomposition -- making it "very challenging to figure out cause of death," Craig said.

So far, only one of the deaths has been ruled a homicide, Craig said. The police chief said he expects the other two will also be ruled homicides.

Police said they found similarities between the three deaths and two other attacks since May in which the victims survived. Among the similarities: Most of the victims were sex workers.

Craig said the police department's outreach with sex workers helped lead to the man's arrest.

"We focused on the right community, the potential victims from that community, and that was a reason why I believe we were able to get information so quickly," the police chief said.

"We take violent crimes very seriously. We understand that in many cities, a sex worker community is marginalized. ... We want everyone to know, regardless, that we take these crimes seriously. We want to keep members of that community safe."

 

A family disputes the claim about sex workers

 

Two of the slain victims have been identified as Nancy Harrison and Travesene Ellis, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said.

While police said all three slain victims were believed to be sex workers, Harrison's family said she was not, CNN affiliate WXYZ reported.

Harrison, the first to be found, is the only confirmed homicide victim so far. Initially, police suspected she died by drug overdose, but a medical examiner ruled she died of blunt force trauma. The other two victims do not yet have a cause of death.

The third slain victim has not been publicly identified.

Police describe her as an African American female, about 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. She had a short, cropped Afro hairstyle that Craig said might be about 3 inches. Authorities don't yet know her age, but say she was "long deceased" when found.

 

Boarding up houses

 

As the investigation continues, police and community members have been searching for more possible victims and trying to prevent similar attacks in abandoned houses.

Volunteers have been going door to door, canvassing the area near where the women were found, the mayor said.

Once police clear abandoned houses, they alert officials to board them up. Duggan said by the end of July, 1,000 houses on the east side will be boarded up.

And by September, citizens will be able to download an app that would allow them to report anyone trying to remove the boards and enter the houses.

"The quicker we can secure these vacant homes, the better off we all will be as a city," the police chief said.

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