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California and the West

Man Surrenders; Suspect in 4 Slayings

Crime: He is carrying a woman's severed breast when he walks into sheriff's office.

November 06, 1998|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A long-haul trucker who walked into the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department carrying a severed female breast is cooperating with authorities throughout the state in their investigations of four slain women.

Wayne Adam Ford, 36, surrendered to sheriff's deputies in the North Coast city of Eureka on Tuesday evening and gave information about an unidentified woman whose torso--without arms, legs or head--was found a year ago in a marshy area outside of town called Ryan's Slough.

The breast, however, did not belong to that torso, authorities said. The woman whose breast he carried was killed recently and "was a stranger to him," said Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis.

"He said, 'I have evidence in my pocket,' " Humboldt County Sheriff Dennis Lewis said at a news conference Thursday. "What he had was a zip-lock bag with a woman's breast in it."

Lewis said that Ford is now a suspect in at least four slayings and that "the law enforcement community will look at him to see if perhaps he might be responsible for more than that."

Ford, who owns a mobile home in the college town of Arcata but has been living in the nearby woods, was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on one count of murder. The hearing was postponed because Ford was being interviewed by detectives who had traveled north from San Bernardino and San Joaquin counties to talk to him regarding the unsolved slayings of two women whose bodies were found in their jurisdictions.

The Humboldt sheriff's office contacted authorities in San Joaquin County on Wednesday because Ford had told them that he had picked up a woman in Ontario in September and dumped her body off of California 12 near Lodi, 30 miles from Sacramento, said San Joaquin Deputy Mike Padilla.

It was a break that his department had been hoping for in the unsolved case, Padilla said. On Sept. 25, a motorist experiencing mechanical problems pulled over and found the body of Lanett White, 25, of Fontana in an irrigation canal.

Because her body was badly decomposed, the cause of death was unknown. Two detectives are interviewing Ford and will search his truck looking for evidence linking him to the slaying.

"We are certain now that the homicide he's talking about and our victim are one and the same," Padilla said.

"It's a horrible thing, but thank God he turned himself in," Padilla said. "Can you imagine the damage he could have done as a long-distance truck driver?"

San Bernardino County sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson said Thursday that Ford--who has been driving between Arcata and San Bernardino County for the past eight or nine months--allegedly told Humboldt County authorities that he dumped the body of another woman into the California Aqueduct at Interstate 15 in Hesperia.

That admission matched the unsolved slaying of Victorville resident Patricia Anne Tamez, 29, who was last seen alive early on Oct. 23 and whose body was found in the aqueduct later that night.

"We hope to learn more as this unfolds," Patterson said. "There are one or two cases we have that are open that we would like to talk to him about. Whether or not there's a possible link remains to be seen."

Humboldt County sheriff's deputies have searched the wooded campsite where Ford had been living and have searched and impounded a "travel trailer" that Ford owned at an Arcata trailer park, the department said.

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