The investigation into the slayings of three women in San Bernardino, all elderly and attacked while alone in their homes, caught its first major break, police said Monday.
A neighborhood handyman was arrested in connection with the violent, home-invasion slaying of Mary Beth Blaskey, 76, in November, San Bernardino Police Chief Rob Handy announced at a news conference. The violence and seeming randomness of the killing was unnerving even in a city calloused by an uptick in gang-related violent crime.
"This type of predator, this type of victim, this type of crime concerns us greatly,'' Handy said. "We're not done. We're far from done. We believe he may be linked to other crimes in the city.''
Jerome Anthony Rogers, a 58-year-old registered sex offender, was arrested Friday on suspicion of killing Blaskey on Nov. 14. Blaskey's son found his mother dead, and her home ransacked, when he dropped by to take her to a doctor's appointment.
Handy said DNA found at the murder scene matched a sample from Rogers, who was among 30 suspects being investigated for the killings. Handy stopped short of saying Rogers was a suspect in the other two slayings, but acknowledged that investigators believe the killings, given their similarities, are linked.
Handy said detectives also believe additional suspects may have been involved in the attacks, and from the outset were focused on "burglary crews" because the killings occurred during brazen, daytime home invasions.
All three slain women lived in the quiet, northern neighborhoods of the city; two were members of the First Presbyterian Church on D Street.
Wanda Paulin, 86, was killed in December 2010, and Josephine Kelley, 90, was killed in September 2005. At least one of the victims was sexually assaulted. Handy declined to provide additional details because the investigation is ongoing.
Handy said Rogers worked as a handyman in that part of the city, walking door to door and offering to do odd jobs. Rogers was a transient who bounced among the homes of relatives and friends, Handy said.
On Friday, San Bernardino investigators received notice that DNA recovered at Blaskey's house matched the DNA profile of Rogers, which had been entered into the state Department of Justice DNA database because of his sexual assault conviction. Rogers is listed as a registered sex offender in the state's Megan's Law database for sodomizing a child under 14 years old.
Rogers denied being involved in any of the crimes, Handy said. San Bernardino detectives executed search warrants on four homes Rogers was known to frequent and recovered property belonging to Blaskey at at least one location, Handy said.
San Bernardino Mayor Patrick Morris called the slayings "tragic in the extreme," and urged residents to call in any tips that might help with the investigation. The city has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in each case.
Relatives of all three victims attended Monday's news conference, saying they were encouraged that progress has been made in the cases.
"We're still hoping that our case will be solved, but it's encouraging that one of the cases was brought forward like this,'' said Phillip Kelley, the son of Josephine Kelley. "I was kind of losing hope before this. It didn't seem like anything was getting done.''
Sherman Ballard, Paulin's son-in-law, said the family remains devastated by the killing.
"She was the little old lady who took other little old ladies to their doctors' appointments.… She was a very vibrant 86-year-old woman," Ballard said, visibly shaken. "She was a wonderful grandmother to my children.''