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Inmate Linked to Five Deaths

Prisoner's DNA is matched to the serial killings of women whose bodies were found north of Pomona Freeway in 1993 and 1994.

November 05, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A prison inmate set to be released in February has been charged in connection with the strangulation slayings of five women a decade ago, authorities said Tuesday.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said DNA evidence linked Ivan J. Hill to the killings, which occurred over a 10-week period along the Pomona Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley and Inland Empire. The so-called 60 Freeway Slayer dumped his victims north of the freeway in Diamond Bar, Chino, Industry, Pomona and Ontario.

Hill, 42, has been behind bars since February 1994, a month after the last killing. He has spent all but 13 months of his adult life in jail or prison.

"I am pretty confident, given the nature of the case, we will seek the death penalty," said Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who joined Baca at a news conference.

"This case dramatically illustrates how law enforcement agencies can reach back in time and bring criminals to justice through DNA technology."

Hill allegedly picked up his victims in the south Pomona area, where Baca said detectives believe they worked as prostitutes. The slayings began 10 months after Hill was released from prison, and then stopped a month before he was arrested in February 1994 for a series of armed robberies.

If he had not been detected and was released, "he would have gone right back out and started over again," Baca said.

The killings mystified detectives when they were committed. At first, investigators could find no connection.

Capt. Frank Merriman, who heads Baca's homicide bureau, said the slayings never faded from memory. When new DNA technology became available to test material seized from crime scenes, the "60 Slayer" case jumped to the top of the list, Merriman said.

Investigators in September 2002 took a DNA sample from biological evidence gathered in the first slaying, that of Betty Sue Harris, 37, whose body was discovered in a Diamond Bar parking lot.

Within six months, a state DNA database that includes samples from some felons produced Hill's name. Baca said tests on samples from the other five killings attributed to the 60 Slayer produced matches in all but one case.

In the last two years, Cooley's office has filed nearly two dozen "cold hit" cases in which DNA has been taken from evidence at a crime scene in the form of skin, hair or fluids and has been matched to suspects. Cooley said investigators have other physical evidence and information tying Hill to the crimes.

Hill will be arraigned in Pomona today about a mile from the Holt Avenue area, where detectives believe he picked up his victims. Sheriff's Lt. Joseph Hartshorne said detectives have interviewed Hill but they still have not determined a motive in the killings.

John Douglas, a former top FBI profiler, said in such cases the slayings are about anger and power.

"This guy dumped the bodies alongside the roadway. He dumped them in plain sight. He was saying he didn't care about them and he didn't believe he would be caught," Douglas said.

Hill may not have manifested homicidal behavior earlier because he did not have an opportunity, Douglas said.

"They usually start in their mid-20s," he added. "Because he was incarcerated, he was effectively on ice."

The body of the first victim was discovered shortly before 5 a.m. on Nov. 1, 1993. The night before, Harris had brought the youngest of her four children to her sister's home in Pomona for a visit. She told two girlfriends that she would be back in an hour and left on foot for a store. She was never seen alive again. Harris had grown up in Pomona, and attended Chaffey College in nearby Upland.

Helen Hill's partially clothed body was found about 10 a.m. on Nov. 14, 1993, in the parking lot of an industrial complex in the City of Industry. The 35-year-old Covina woman was killed after a night of partying at the Elks Lodge in Pomona, her sister, Alice Hill, told The Times in 1994.

The next victim was a close friend of Hill's, Donna Goldsmith, 35, of Montclair. She was found dead Nov. 16, 1993, in the parking lot of a Pomona industrial complex. She was last seen the previous evening. Born in Milwaukee, Goldsmith grew up there, was married for nearly 20 years and raised three children while working as a medical technician and receptionist.

On Dec. 30, 1993, the body of another victim, Cheryl Sayers, 35, of Ontario, was discovered in Pomona's Ganesha Park. Sayers had been arrested on a prostitution charge in Omaha.

Then, despite headlines and broadcasts revealing that investigators had linked the crimes, the killer struck again. It would be his last victim.

The body of Debra Denise Brown, 33, was found about 5 a.m. on Jan. 12, 1994, in San Antonio Park in Ontario. She was lying fully clothed on the grass.

Within a month, Upland police had arrested Hill for a string of robberies in San Bernardino County and eastern Los Angeles County between Nov. 23, 1993, and Feb. 24, 1994.

Sheriff's homicide investigators working with Pomona and Ontario police are still trying to connect Hill to the sixth victim of the 60 Slayer. Roxanne Brooks Bates, 31, of Pomona was found dead Nov. 5, 1993, along a roadside just inside an agricultural area near a Chino dairy.

Hill was convicted of acting as an accomplice in a Glendora liquor store holdup on Jan. 24, 1979, in which one man was killed. He went to prison in October of that year and was released in February 1993. After his conviction a year later, a sample of his DNA was taken in prison because of the nature of his crimes, authorities said. The first match to the 60 Slayer was made in March.

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