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Diary May Offer Clues to 1970s Murders : Unsolved crimes: Serial killer's unpublished manuscript has uncanny references to the slayings of a 7-year-old and a 19-year-old.

May 16, 1993|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — It was a first-person account by a serial killer of his thoughts and emotions while he kidnaped, tortured, sexually assaulted and, finally, murdered his young, female victims.

The writer-killer describes himself as getting depressed, or making "the fall." He kidnaps and tortures victims as part of his remedy, or "restoration."

Victims who go into shock, like an 11-year-old girl who failed to scream--even after cigarette burns and knife cuts were inflicted--are useless to him.

Five chapters of such details were sent to publishers under the incarcerated killer's nom de plume "John Novak" in a manuscript entitled "Diary of a Serial Killer."

But instead of generating a book contract, the would-be author's efforts resulted in a search warrant that has apparently ended the project.

In late February, police seized the manuscript, plus numerous letters, from the home of a researcher collaborating with Manuel Cortez, a former La Puente resident who was convicted of killing two 11-year-old girls in Ashland, Ore.

The seizure prompted authorities in Oregon, Texas and California to review half a dozen unsolved murders, all dating back more than 15 years, for possible links to Cortez, who is serving a 50-year-to-life sentence in the Oregon state penitentiary in Salem.

Two of the unsolved crimes--the deaths of 7-year-old Margaret Madrid and 19-year-old Helen Lopez--occurred in 1977 in the San Gabriel Valley.

Cortez's literary efforts, brought to a screeching halt, have revived stale investigations and given hope to authorities who thought they had reached an impasse, said Detective Les Rainey of the Eugene, Ore., Police Department.

The manuscript "is not a serial number, not a fingerprint," Rainey said, "but it is consistent with other evidence."

That Cortez should seek the authorial limelight is not surprising to Rainey. "Cortez sees himself as this elite criminal" like Ted Bundy, the detective said, referring to the serial killer who was executed in Florida in 1989.

Although Cortez, 37, is linked by police to a dozen abductions and slayings, he is imprisoned in Oregon for only three crimes: the Dec. 27, 1979, murders in Ashland of Rachel Isser and Deanna Jackman, both 11 years old, and the Dec. 6, 1977, kidnaping of a 16-year-old City of Industry girl, who escaped.

In 1980, Cortez was convicted of the Ashland murders. In 1982, he pleaded guilty to the City of Industry kidnaping.

As the years passed, Cortez sat in prison, enviously watching while other serial killers gained fame with books and movies about them, Rainey said.

"He had to bite his tongue all this time, because California and Texas have the death penalty," the detective said. "He got no credit for how clever he's been, for how he's avoided detection."

So, six years ago, Cortez teamed up with Ronald Holmes, a well-known University of Louisville criminology professor who was gathering information on serial killers, Rainey said. Cortez hoped that his time for recognition finally had come, even if vicariously and anonymously, the detective said.

Holmes, reached by telephone at a law enforcement conference in Hawaii, said Cortez contacted him because of regret over his past killings. The convicted killer had been assaulted while in prison and got a taste of what his victims had gone through, Holmes said.

The researcher said he cautioned Cortez not to give him details of slayings other than the Ashland crimes, but encouraged the convicted killer to talk about his feelings while committing murder. Holmes, an author who lectures nationwide, said he used Cortez's statements to help police understand the mind of a murderer.

The manuscript was intended as a semi-fictitious work and not a confession or recanting of Cortez's unsolved crimes, Holmes said. The crimes in the account are fiction, the researcher insisted.

But Rainey believes otherwise. Although the names of victims and some facts surrounding their deaths are altered, substantial similarities exist between the manuscript accounts and actual cases, the detective said.

After a source tipped him off to the manuscript's existence, Rainey said he met with Holmes and decided that he was not getting full cooperation. So he got a search warrant.

Rainey admits that Cortez's statements in the manuscript are not considered evidence because they are hearsay and that Holmes was not legally required to tell police about them. But the detective, nonetheless, believes that the researcher ignored ethical responsibilities by failing to offer police the information.

Holmes, however, believes that Rainey has gone overboard, and he wants the seized material back.

"If Manny told me he killed somebody on a particular date, I would tell police," Holmes said. "But I don't have any particular knowledge that he's done any particular crimes."

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