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San Diego Murder Linked to Serial Killer

Crime: Ex-Marine has confessed to 8 slayings, including student at Saddleback College. Unsolved O.C. cases are reviewed for ties.

April 27, 1997|ESTHER SCHRADER and JUDY PASTERNAK and TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN DIEGO — Police here said Saturday that one of the eight women Chicago security guard Andrew Urdiales confessed to slaying is a prostitute killed in downtown San Diego nearly a decade ago.

San Diego Police Lt. Jim Collins said law enforcement officials believe Urdiales shot and killed Mary Ann Wells, 31, on Sept. 25, 1988.

Wells' death took place at the same time as a string of dozens of murders of prostitutes, transients and hitchhikers--all women--in San Diego County that gripped the region in the mid-1980s.

Wells' murder was not among the 43 deaths investigated by a special San Diego homicide task force assembled in 1988, because it did not fit the pattern of the other victims being stangled and dumped in a remote, rural area. Wells was shot in the head and left in a downtown alley in an area of low-rent hotels and warehouses.

Seventeen of the 43 cases investigated by the task force, which disbanded in 1993, remain unsolved. Collins said that homicide investigators will now review the cases to see if Urdiales might be linked to any of them.

In all, Urdiales, a 32-year-old former Camp Pendleton Marine, has confessed to killing eight women in Illinois and Southern California, including three women in the Palm Springs area and a Saddleback College student whose death had remained unsolved for 11 years, police said Friday.

As former friends of the shy one-time Marine radio operator expressed shock that a serial killer may have been living among them, Urdiales was ordered held without bond by Illinois Circuit Judge Willie B. Wright in the killings of three suspected prostitutes last summer.

His family appeared in the courtroom sobbing but would make no comment about Urdiales.

Urdiales, who was working as a security guard at a downtown Chicago Eddie Bauer store, allegedly picked up two of the women in his car from a street where prostitutes congregate in the Chicago suburb of Hammond, Ind.

There, he bound their hands and feet with duct tape and took them to isolated Wolf Lake, in a public park on the Illinois-Indiana border, where he stabbed them repeatedly and then shot them in the mouth, Chicago police said.

The body of the third Chicago-area victim, Cassandra Corum, 21, of Hammond, was found July 14, 1996, in the Vermillion River about 90 miles south of Chicago. Police in Livingston County, where the body of Corum was found, said they expected to file charges against Urdiales in her murder case early next week.

In the working-class Chicago neighborhood of modest bungalows and duplexes where the Urdiales family has lived for more than a decade, and where Andrew Urdiales returned to live in 1995, neighbors remembered the suspected serial killer as a "normal" teenager who changed abruptly when he came back from the Marines.

Friends who attended Chicago's Bowen High School with Urdiales recalled drinking beer and laughing with Urdiales in their school days by the light of bonfires in a forested area under an elevated highway called the Chicago Skyway.

The friends said Urdiales was sociable in those days, dating neighborhood girls in the area of mostly Serbian, Croat and Mexican immigrants. The area was once home to workers in neighboring steel mills. Now it is barren in areas where the mills have shut down.

One of the old friends, Gerry Thompson, 31, said Urdiales dated his sister for at least several months before he became a Marine, often taking her roller skating at the Hammond Rollerdome.

"After he came back [from the Marines], he was different," said Gary Zabala, 34. "If you waved to him, he'd look like he was looking right through you. I think the Marines changed his life."

Urdiales served in the Marine Corps from 1984 to 1991 and was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms from 1987 to 1989. He also was stationed at Camp Pendleton. Late Friday, Palm Springs police found a gun and knife in a storage locker registered in Urdiales' name in Twentynine Palms and are conducting ballistics tests on the gun to see whether it matches those used in any of the murders.

In the last two years, Urdiales was a regular at the Casino restaurant across the street from his parents' home. Owner Nick Pervan-Kennedy said Urdiales came in often on weekends, always alone, and sat by himself in a corner, quietly drinking one or two beers.

"He has the most beautiful, pleasant personality," Pervan-Kennedy said. "I must say I was shocked."

But the Urdiales family was no stranger to tragedy, even when Andrew was a child.

In 1967, Urdiales' brother, Arthur Urdiales Jr., was killed in the Tet offensive in Vietnam, according to a commemorative brochure devoted to the lives of 11 U.S. Army soldiers from Urdiales' Chicago neighborhood who were slain in Vietnam.

Shortly thereafter, according to the brochure printed by Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Urdiales' cousin, Charles Urdiales, was also killed in Vietnam.

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