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Suspect Allegedly Had Slain Woman's Ring : Serial Killings: According to Alabama affidavits, Cleophus Prince Jr. gave jewelry belonging to Holly Tarr to his San Diego girlfriend for Christmas.

March 07, 1991|MARK PLATTE and MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Murder suspect Cleophus Prince Jr. gave his girlfriend a ring for Christmas that police believe was taken from 18-year-old Holly Suzanne Tarr, the third of at least five victims in a serial killing in San Diego, authorities allege in court documents filed here.

The documents, filed this week, allege that Prince stole jewelry, photographs and other personal items from the homes of each of his victims.

The search warrant affidavits filed in Jefferson County District Court outline the evidence San Diego police have against Prince, 23, who is charged with stabbing to death five women in Clairemont and University City from Jan. 12 to Sept. 13, 1990.

Authorities confirmed Wednesday that they are looking at Prince in connection with two other murders, one in Alabama last March, the other in East San Diego last May.

Affidavits on file describe some of the strongest evidence against Prince in the Clairemont-University City cases.

According to the affidavits, which were filed in court to justify the searches, police have "an exact match" between DNA obtained from semen found on the clothing of 21-year-old Janene Marie Weinhold, the second victim in the series, and from blood and saliva samples taken from Prince.

"This fluid from the crime scene, and the fluids collected from . . . Cleophus Prince Jr. were compared for DNA characteristics and revealed that the suspect sample and known sample from the suspect was an exact match," police said in the affidavits.

San Diego police have been tight-lipped about details of the case, saying only that genetic DNA material is a "major factor" in linking Prince to the five murders. But the affidavits suggest significant evidence beyond the DNA.

Among the items seized from Prince include camouflage gloves that police believe the killer wore while stabbing his victims and a pair of Nike Air running shoes, the same kind that made a footprint outside one of the victims' homes.

But the most explosive evidence is the ring apparently owned by Tarr and, according to the affidavits, later given to Prince's San Diego girlfriend as a Christmas gift. The affidavits suggest that the girlfriend, Charla M. Lewis, who lived with Prince from December, 1989, until last month, is cooperating with authorities.

According to the affidavits, San Diego police served a search warrant last Saturday at Lewis' home in San Diego, the day before Prince was taken into custody in his hometown of Birmingham.

The affidavits say police found a ring "tentatively identified as belonging to Holly Suzanne Tarr . . . who was killed April 3, 1990."

Lewis told investigators last Saturday that the ring was given to her in December as a Christmas present from Prince, the affidavits say.

Assistant Police Chief Norm Stamper on Wednesday declined to comment on the details of the affidavits, saying, "Clearly, I cannot comment on the service of a search warrant in another jurisdiction, or even in our own jurisdiction, that would in any way jeopardize the prosecution."

Police in Birmingham filed the affidavits Monday to gain court permission to search the Alabama homes of Prince's mother and sister. Birmingham authorities returned Tuesday with San Diego police detectives to the mother's house to pick up clothing, a Gucci travel bag and gloves Prince allegedly brought from San Diego. Those items were recovered.

The searches were authorized by District Court Judge O. L. Johnson to find several pieces of jewelry, photographs, a diary and other items police say were missing from each of the four murder scenes.

According to the affidavits, none of the items police sought was found at either the mother's or the sister's homes in Gate City, the impoverished housing project where Prince was living at the time of his arrest Sunday.

The clothing taken Tuesday includes a red turtle-neck shirt, the pair of white Nike shoes with black trim and the pair of camouflage gloves, the affidavits say.

A painter who said he saw the killer run from the apartment where Tarr was killed described him as wearing a red shirt. Police believe the suspect may have worn gloves when committing the murders, the affidavits reveal, because investigative "efforts to obtain latent fingerprints at these crime scenes had only turned up impressions of fabric on various surfaces, which indicate . . . that the perpetrator wore gloves."

Police also found an imprint of a running shoe in a flower bed outside one of the victims' homes. They have since matched the imprint to a Nike Air shoe, the affidavits say.

In other news Wednesday, police in Homewood, Ala., and San Diego confirmed that they are investigating Prince in connection with two other homicides. Homewood police were investigating a possible link between Prince and a stabbing death there last March.

San Diego police said Prince may have been involved in the killing of 38-year-old Elissa Naomi Keller on May 22, a block from where he was living at the time in East San Diego.

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