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Sacramento Handyman Accused in 6 Murders

April 24, 1987|LEO C. WOLINSKY and TILLE FONG | Times Staff Writers

SACRAMENTO — Detectives painstakingly unearthed each square foot of land behind an aging clapboard house Thursday where two badly decomposed bodies were discovered in shallow graves, but found no more victims of a suspected serial killer.

A 43-year-old handyman, Morris Solomon Jr., was booked into Sacramento County Jail on suspicion of six murders late Wednesday after detectives unearthed the two still-unidentified bodies in the backyard of the Oak Park house where he once lived. The remains of four other young women, three of them identified by police as prostitutes, were discovered earlier in nearby homes once occupied by Solomon or where the suspect worked as a house renovator.

Detectives Fan Out

A team of 20 Sacramento police detectives fanned out over the county, canvassing neighborhoods where Solomon had been spotted in recent years and expecting more grisly discoveries.

"We want to check these places out and make sure there aren't any more bodies," said police spokesman Sgt. Bobby R. Burns. "So far we have not."

In San Jose, Santa Clara County Assistant Dist. Atty. Dave Davies told The Times that Solomon was convicted in 1977 of felony assault and false imprisonment of a prostitute. He also was charged at that time with the murder of a masseuse, but was acquitted when a prosecution witness did not appear for the trial.

Most of the six victims in the Sacramento murders were found in homes within several blocks of each other in Oak Park, a once middle-class neighborhood that has been on the decline in recent years. The community, about five miles southeast of the state Capitol, is populated mainly by poor minorities and beset with problems of crime and prostitution.

All of the bodies found were in such advanced stages of decomposition that authorities have been unable to determine a cause of death and say they may never know. In the case of the two bodies discovered Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento County coroner's office said it may be several days or weeks before even the sex of the two victims can be determined.

Solomon remains in custody at the Sacramento County Jail where he is being held without bail and is expected to be arraigned Monday on murder charges.

Detectives began their investigation last June when Solomon reportedly called police to report that he had found a body in a closet of a home he was renovating. Police identified the victim as Yolanda Johnson, 22, a prostitute. She was found nude, and Solomon was interviewed on local television describing his discovery.

According to Burns, Solomon was immediately considered a suspect but was not arrested at the time for lack of evidence. Instead, detectives stayed in almost daily contact with the suspect who, they said, cooperated with them until his arrest Wednesday night.

One month after the discovery of Johnson's body, police found the remains of another prostitute, Angela Polidore, 25, behind a tumble-down house in the same neighborhood. The third victim, Maria Apodaca, 20, also a known prostitute, was found buried in the backyard of a home several miles to the southwest by utility workers. Solomon reportedly had lived in the house until last December.

Cherie Washington, 26, the only identified victim who had no record of prostitution, was found Monday in a shallow grave behind another Oak Park home where Solomon reportedly lived from January until March. Washington reportedly lived with her sister three blocks from the house where her body was found. She had not been seen since early February.

2 More Bodies

Wednesday's discovery of two more bodies at another Oak Park house came after detectives determined that Solomon had lived there briefly last summer.

Laura Synhorst, Sacramento County coroner's spokeswoman, said a San Francisco forensic anthropologist has been called in to help identify the two bodies found Wednesday and officials of the Department of Justice plan to use a special laser technique to check for fingerprints on the body wrapping.

"It's a very complicated case," Synhorst said. "The bodies are very decomposed, almost skeletal."

Burns said Solomon made a statement after he was arrested but that detectives do not have a motive for the crimes.

As a backhoe worked to remove earth from the yard where the latest bodies were found, neighborhood residents and other curious onlookers clustered around, craning their necks for a view and speculating openly about other possible victims.

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