Twenty-six years ago, police discovered the partially nude body of 85-year-old Isabel Askew in a vineyard near Ontario International Airport. She had been reported missing from her Claremont apartment more than a week earlier.
The cause of death could not be determined because of the condition of her body. But three years later, her daughter, Adrian Askew, was found strangled in the same West Bonita Avenue apartment where she had lived with her mother. The 56-year-old retired school crossing guard was found lying face-up with bedding pulled over her head and she had been sexually assaulted.
Los Angeles County prosecutors on Wednesday linked Adrian Askew's slaying to an alleged serial killer. And a source familiar with the investigation said detectives are now trying to determine whether Isabel Askew was also one of the man's victims.
Adrian Askew was one of five victims that prosecutors allege were killed by a former state insurance claims adjuster. He is accused of raping and killing older women as the so-called Westside Rapist in the 1970s and later in the 1980s in the Claremont area, where the Askews lived.
John Floyd Thomas was originally charged with murder on April 2 in connection with the deaths of Ethel Sokoloff, 68, in the Mid-Wilshire area in 1972, and Elizabeth McKeown, 67, in Westchester in 1976.
With the latest charges, Thomas faces a total of seven murder counts. Authorities say he could be responsible for as many as 30 homicides.
Thomas appeared in court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to all seven murder charges. Officials said they have DNA evidence linking Thomas to all of those cases.
The charges are an outgrowth of cold-case investigations by the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Inglewood Police Department.
Authorities allege he began raping and killing older women four decades ago.
The initial crime wave was concentrated on the Westside of Los Angeles -- generating headlines in the 1970s about a "Westside Rapist." Now officials believe he also preyed on women in the Inglewood/Lennox and Claremont/Pomona areas.
Cora Perry, a 79-year-old Lennox resident, was killed Sept. 20, 1975. Her slaying was recounted in a story about the Westside Rapist in The Times, which described "the stunned relatives, the terrified neighbors, the heartbroken friends of all the old women who have met such indecent deaths. People who now live in small colonies of terror."
Retired schoolteacher Maybelle Hudson was attacked in her garage as she arrived home in Inglewood in April 1976. The 80-year-old was beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled.
Two months later, 65-year-old Miriam McKinley was ambushed in her Inglewood garage before being beaten and strangled.
That October, Evalyn Bunner, 56 of Inglewood, suffered a similar fate.
The attacks appeared to stop in 1978. (Officials said that year, Thomas was convicted and sentenced to state prison for the rape of a Pasadena woman.)
After his release in 1983, Thomas moved to Chino, coinciding with a wave of rapes and killings that began in the Pomona Valley area. Over the next six years, Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives would investigate five slayings of older women in Claremont, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
When Isabel Askew was found dead in 1983, the circumstances were suspicious. According to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, she had trouble getting around and police had no sense of how she got from Claremont to Ontario.
After Adrian Askew was killed, detectives looked for possible links to her mother's death -- but the investigation was inconclusive. The source said officials are reexamining the evidence.