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'The Details, as Much as His Victims, Were the Trophies'

Crime: Urdiales' confession in deaths of eight women, one in O.C., chills veteran officers and stuns neighbors.

May 14, 1997|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 28 years as a police officer, Lt. Ray Griffith had never heard a confession as chilling as Andrew Urdiales'.

Not only did he describe how he killed eight women, Urdiales offered a level of detail that left Griffith and a roomful of colleagues incredulous as they listened to the taped confession he had made to Chicago police.

"It gave me cold chills," said Griffith, who's investigated hundreds of murders for the Cathedral City Police Department near Palm Springs. "He was very methodical, very calm. I can't remember what I wore last Friday--I can't remember the details of my mother's death--but this guy remembered everything. He sounded like a novelist. It was like the details, as much as his victims, were the trophies."

Urdiales, 32, was indicted Tuesday on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated kidnapping. He's being held without bail in Cook County Jail. He is scheduled to enter a plea June 3.

Regardless of what happens in Chicago, Urdiales may stand trial in Orange County, where he says he killed disc jockey Robbin Brandley, 23, in a dark parking lot in Mission Viejo in 1986, in what marked the beginning of a nine-year killing spree in three states.

He claims to have killed three women near Chicago and five in California: three near Palm Springs, one in San Diego and Brandley at Saddleback College, stabbing her more than 40 times in the back, chest, neck and hands.

Law enforcement officials in Illinois, Indiana and California say they've never met a suspect who documented his killings so thoroughly. Urdiales' attorneys, from the public defender's office, declined interview requests.

Back home in Chicago, in the Slag Valley neighborhood on the city's South Side, as could be expected, Urdiales has emerged as a focal point of gossip and consternation.

Locals are piecing together memories and processing the news that one of their own may be less the war hero his parents remember him as than a serial killer who, in a single conversation, may have solved eight homicides.

His confession was so detailed, Griffith said, he could link Urdiales to 11 pieces of evidence to corroborate the ex-Marine's version of killing Julie Ann McGhee, whose body a jogger discovered in a remote area of the Coachella Valley.

"If he didn't do it," Griffith said, "he at least had to be there. He knew how she was dressed, down to the brand of her shoes. He knew where and how he shot her, the ammunition he used, how much he used, the tattoos she wore.

"Granted, killing a human being is probably a significant event in a person's life, but few people remember significant events in their own lives as well as this guy remembered these. I've never heard anything like it."

Officer Brian Miller, spokesman for the Hammond, Ind., Police Department, believes that Urdiales might have wanted to get caught. Hammond, a working-class city southeast of Chicago, was the end of the line for Urdiales.

In November, a Hammond police officer pulled him over for a routine traffic stop. Asked if he had a gun, Urdiales, without hesitating, answered yes, Miller said. He then handed over a silver revolver that would later prove crucial in putting him behind bars.

Hammond Officer Warren Fryer cited Urdiales for carrying a handgun without a permit. He let Urdiales go, but kept the gun.

Nearly five months later, on the evening of April 1, Fryer was sent to the American Inn Hotel in Hammond, where Urdiales, of all people, had phoned police.

He was arguing with a prostitute, Miller said, accusing her of taking personal papers.

Fryer recognized him from their meeting in November, Miller said.

The prostitute told Fryer that Urdiales had taken her to nearby Wolf Lake, which traverses the Illinois-Indiana border. He wanted to handcuff her and bind her with duct tape before having sex with her, Miller said. She refused and asked him to return her to Hammond, which he did, according to Fryer's report.

"Fryer looked at this and thought, 'This doesn't sound right,' " Miller said, remembering two unsolved murders of prostitutes whose bodies were found in Wolf Lake.

On April 23, after test results connected Urdiales' revolver to the weapon used in the Wolf Lake homicides, Chicago police arrested him at his home. Several hours later, he confessed, eagerly, Miller said, and with details that surprised those in Chicago as much as it would Lt. Griffith in Cathedral City.

James Alan Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston and the author of "Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed," says such detail is not uncommon among serial killers, who revel in their crimes and prize the memories of their atrocities as much as athletes recalling feats on the playing field.

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