The Daytona Beach Killer
Between 2005 and 2007, an unknown individual targeted sex workers along the eastern Florida coast. Police were able to learn much about this serial killer from the evidence left behind at the crime scenes, but have yet to identify the Daytona Beach Killer…
Daytona Beach is a tourism-driven town along the eastern Florida Coast, located about an hour northeast of Orlando and about an hour-and-a-half south of Jacksonville.
Not many people live in Daytona Beach itself - having only around 60,000 year-round residents - but the larger metropolitan area is home to more than half-a-million. Many are familiar with Daytona Beach due to its International Speedway, which hosts one of the most the Daytona 500 - NASCAR's annual prized event.
In addition to the speedway, Daytona Beach also houses the headquarters for NASCAR, and has long been known as a mecca for motorsports. That is, of course, in addition to its scenic beaches that seem to carry the same kind of clout, as well as the region's temperate climate - which remains pretty favorable year-round.
However, despite seeming like a tropical paradise from the outside, Daytona Beach is far from perfect. In addition to helping birth one of the most notorious American serial killers of all-time - Aileen Wuornos - it has a few other secrets that continue to haunt those affected by them.
Between 2005 and 2007, a handful of women were targeted by an unknown killer, who singled them out because of their flaws and their faults. At least four women were killed by this unknown individual, but it is theorized that many more may have been affected - both before and after this crime spree unfolded.
This is the story of the Daytona Beach Killer.
LaQuetta Gunther was a 45-year old sex worker and day laborer, who was known as "Quetta" on the streets.
Unlike many that find themselves in her position, LaQuetta seemed to know who she was, and was comfortable with it. She was known to use drugs, and was a regular at bars along North Ridgewood Avenue in Daytona Beach - an area known for sex work and drug activity. For some time, she had been known to utilize homeless centers for food, and often mingled with the outcasts of society that were usually overlooked: sex workers, drug addicts, and the homeless (among others).
What most remember about LaQuetta Gunther was her bizarre sense of humor and her tough, no-nonsense attitude. It's what endeared many to her, including her best friend, Stacey Dittmer, who lived in town.
Not many people in her orbit knew that - in addition to being a tough and emotionally hardened woman approaching middle-age - LaQuetta was also the mother of five children; all of whom lived elsewhere, and hadn't really seen or heard from her in a while.
LaQuetta Gunther seemed to be living to the beat of her own drum, and that made itself all-too-apparent in the final days of 2005.
On December 24th, 2005 - Christmas Eve - LaQuetta was prepared to indulge in her Christmas Eve tradition. Every year, she hung out with her best friend and roommate, Stacey Dittmer, and the two enjoyed the holiday cheer while preparing a full-course meal for the following day.
However, this year, LaQuetta made the decision to head down to a local bar named Chubby's - which is now closed, but was on the corners of North Beach Street and Madison Avenue. She wanted to spend a few hours at the bar - partying and having fun - but told her friend Stacey that she would return in a few hours.
Unfortunately, she never did.
Stacey Dittmer waited up until the early morning of Christmas Day, then finally decided to go to bed some time after 1:00 AM. When she woke up, LaQuetta was still not home - and Stacey started to get angry at her. She couldn't believe that her friend would run off and skip out on their annual tradition, which they had both seemingly been looking forward to for weeks.
Sadly, Stacey would learn the truth about her friend the following morning.
On December 26th, 2005 - the day after Christmas - the body of LaQuetta Gunther was found in an alley located just off of North Beach Street. This was well within walking distance of the bar she had been headed to on the evening of December 24th, and investigators immediately believed that - whoever had killed her - had likely encountered her in the immediate vicinity.
LaQuetta's body was found wedged in a narrow space between two separate buildings - almost like a little hole in the wall - and had been left mostly nude, other than the socks she was wearing.
The cause-of-death in this case was apparent: a .40-caliber bullet that had been fired into the back of her head, in what was reported as an execution. Investigators were able to recover DNA from the crime scene, which came in the form of semen found on the body.
As police began looking into the case, hoping to find a lead in the surrounding area, the remains of LaQuetta Gunther were set for cremation just a short time later - in January. The ashes were kept by her friend, Stacey Dittmer, who continues to mourn her murdered friend.
Just days after Gunther's body was found, Stacey put together a poster that was signed by more than a dozen of LaQuetta's friends, and hung it up at that spot in the alleyway. The poster is no longer there, but Stacey continues to make pilgrimages to the spot, taking a beer to pour out in LaQuetta's honor.
Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel just a few years ago, she stated about her long-lost friend:
"She was my confidant, I could tell her anything. She was the best friend a person could ever have. She had faults, we all have faults. But she was the bomb."
Julie Green was a 34-year old Jacksonville native, whose story was very similar to LaQuetta Gunther's.
Julie had two children in her early 20's; two daughters, who were aged 11 and 13 years old, at the time. She had once worked as a gardener and a dog groomer, but began falling down the slippery slope of drug abuse; namely, to crack cocaine.
Julie soon began frequenting the same haunts as LaQuetta Gunther; namely, Ridgewood Avenue - the street used by street-walking sex workers - as well as Willie's Place, a bar not too far away on Madison Avenue. Not only did she and LaQuetta go to the same spots, but the two women were actually friends. In fact, when LaQuetta's roommate Stacey arranged a poster to hang up in the spot that the woman's body was found, Julie was one of the dozen or so friends that signed the poster. That's how familiar with each other the two were.
To those that worked alongside Julie, she soon became known as "Sissy," and developed a reputation as a "hustler" - someone that would scam you out of your pocket change if you didn't keep your guard up around her. It was a trait that got her into trouble constantly - that, in addition to a few run-ins with local law enforcement for soliciting sex work.
On January 13th, 2006 - just a few weeks after the death of LaQuetta Gunther - Julie told a friend that she was going to make a phone call at a nearby pay phone (along Tomoka Road). Not too far away, the friend expected Julie back in a short period of time, but she would never return.
The body of Julie Green was found the very next day, on January 14th, 2006.
The discovery was made by a construction worker, who was working near LPGA Boulevard (not too far away from Interstate 95). The remains had been dumped on a dirt road at a construction site, and Julie's body was found lying face-down on a ditch.
Like LaQuetta Gunther, Julie Green had been shot once in the back of the head "execution-style," with a .40-caliber bullet. Both women seem to have been shot in a similar manner, and were both found lying face-down. However, unlike LaQuetta, it seems like the killer had robbed Julie during or after her death, as whatever money she had had on her person was now missing.
Investigators were able to learn that Julie had last been seen by friends the night before, giving her time of death a more narrow window than LaQuetta Gunther.
Police were able to find some tire tracks close to the body, which indicated a vehicle that might have been driven by the killer. The treads from these tire tracks were later identified, and pointed to a 2003 Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable; both of which are and were relatively normal-looking sedans. In particular, police found that these were the factory tires put on each of those vehicles when they were rolled off of the assembly line.
Unlike the other victims of this unknown killer, Julie Green seemed to be aware that her life was in danger.
Just days prior to her body being found at the construction site near LPGA Boulevard, she had written a letter to her boyfriend, in which she expressed being frightened; although, whether or not she was rightfully frightened or just paranoid is anyone's guess.
Like I said, the letter had been written to Julie's boyfriend, who was in prison at the time for theft. The letter is pretty hard to read - due to the incredibly scratchy handwriting and the numerous misspellings - but reads as follows:
After the death of Julie, this letter was handed over to investigators. Due to conversations with Julie's boyfriend and friends, police were able to determine that this letter was written at around the same time that Julie had admitted to ripping off an acquaintance of hers - likely for drug money or something like that.
Because of that, a portion of the letter was highlighted by investigators, who thought it might mean something. That portion was right in the middle, where Julie had written:
"If anything happens to me Smiley knows all!"
Despite spelling the name as "Smilly," (S-M-I-L-L-Y), investigators soon theorized that this meant "Smiley," who was a known friend of Julie's named Rick Marcott.
Marcott - aka "Smiley" - wound up in jail a short time after the murder for violating the terms of his probation, and was questioned by investigators. However, it seems like nothing definitive emerged from his questioning, and it was unknown whether or not the mention of him in Julie's letter was relevant or purely coincidental.
Attached to this letter addressed to Julie's boyfriend was a photograph. The photo showed Julie goofing off alongside another young woman, who seemed to look super serious. Black ink points towards the woman, and a small hand-written note says:
"Find her - she can help."
It is unknown if police have identified this mysterious woman photographed alongside Julie in the year's since, but it is believed that her identity remains a mystery.
Iwana Patton had been born in Buffalo, New York, but now lived in Holly Hill - a small city just north of Daytona Beach.
The 35-year old Iwana worked as a nurse at an assisted living facility, in addition to an assortment of second part-time jobs. Unlike the other victims, she was not believed to have been a sex worker at the time of her death, but had been arrested for soliciting prostitution in the past.
Iwana Patton would often use the local homeless center as a mailing address, and would come in to pick up her mail from time-to-time. Because of this, she was known to often linger and loiter in the vicinity of the center, which was an area well-known for drug use and sex work.
Her brother was a police officer not too far away in Orlando, and it is believed that Iwana had a personal connection to the second victim: Julie Green. One of Green's friends claims that the two women themselves were friends, and that Iwana had gone over to Julie's house on more than one occasion. However, without being able to speak to the two women, the parameters of their relationship are unknown.
On February 24th, 2006, police received an anonymous phone call. The call came from a pay phone at a gas station along Bill France Boulevard, and described the caller - along with a female friend of his - discovering a body not too far away. He gave the location of the body to police, and would eventually be questioned and ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. He and his friend just-so-happened to discover the body while out on a walk.
The body of Iwana Patton was found on a dirt road near Mason Avenue and Williamson Boulevard: an area not too far away from the Daytona Beach Police Department. In a potential link to the second crime, this scene was also just down the road from Interstate 95, the region's major highway.
Like the other two victims, Iwana Patton had been shot in the head with a .40-caliber bullet. However, she had not been shot like the other victims: in the back of the head. Rather, her scene seemed to indicate much more of a struggle, and police believe that Iwana Patton had fought against her eventual killer.
DNA was recovered from the scene, which came in the form of semen found on the victim's body.
A shell casing was also discovered at the scene, which allowed investigators to identify the type of weapon that had been used to murder all three victims: a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson Sigma Series VE handgun.
In the days after Iwana Patton's body was discovered, police would locate her vehicle, which had been left behind a speech therapy center near Ridgewood and Cottrill Avenues. This is the same area frequented by the first two victims - LaQuetta Gunther and Julie Green - and was well-known for its rampant drug use and sex work.
Unlike many investigations that I cover on this podcast, which are often smothered in years of legal red tape, this investigation was headed solely by the local crime-fighting agency, the Daytona Beach Police Department. Police Chief Mike Chitwood, who was hired in May of 2006, found himself facing an immense amount of pressure almost immediately - and he would regularly make statements about the state of the investigation over the next several years.
Just weeks after the discovery of the third victim, Iwana Patton, police linked together all three of the crimes: LaQuetta Gunther, Julie Green, and Iwana Patton. All three were women that had gotten in prior legal trouble for sex work, and it was believed that they were had all been working as sex workers when they were killed by an unknown individual. The family of Iwana Patton disagree with the assertion that she was a sex worker, but she had been arrested for soliciting prostitution in the past, and police don't believe it's impossible for her to have returned to the line of work.
Investigators believe that all three women had encountered their killer in the area around Ridgewood Avenue, which - again - was littered with (what the police called) "streetwalkers" and drug dealers. It is believed that at least two of the women got into the killer's vehicle and drove away to a second location. In the case of LaQuetta Gunther, she was likely killed not too far away from where the victim picked her up, near North Beach Street.
The bodies were all three were disposed of in pretty close proximity to one another, throughout somewhat-isolated areas in Daytona Beach. However, the killer had seemingly done very little to try and hide the bodies.
All three victims showed signs of sexual assault, and had been killed in what investigators described as "execution-style" shootings. The first two victims - LaQuetta Gunther and Julie Green - had been shot in the back of the head and were lying face-down, while Iwana Patton had seemed to fight back against the killer. Her crime scene showed evidence of a struggle, but her fate was ultimately the same as the other two.
The bullets from all three crime scenes were linked to one another, and the bullet used to end each victims' life was a .40-caliber shell. When a shell casing was found at the third crime scene, investigators were able to determine that the weapon used was a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson Sigma Series VE pistol.
In addition, investigators were able to recover DNA evidence from two of the crime scenes: the first and the third, which came in the form of semen. Because of the similarities in each of these murders, police were pretty confident in naming them the work of the same killer.
Clem Malek, a retired police sergeant that joined the investigation two years later - in 2008 - stated about this:
"Between the DNA and the fired brass from the same weapon that was identified, that's what tied the three of them together. There's no dispute in physical evidence."
A profile for the supposed killer was developed by Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Tom Davis, who theorized that the killer was lashing out at these women as (what he called) "substitute victims." He explained:
"The victims are providing a channel for the perpetrator to act upon stressors in his life. It is believed that a close acquaintance of the perpetrator is the source of causal stress in his life and that this person may become a victim in the future."
The profile used by investigators indicated that the killer was most likely a white man, who possibly had a girlfriend or a wife: a prominent female figure in his life that he held some kind of hatred or resentment for. He likely had a job, which allowed him to pay for sex workers at least semi-regularly, and he may have even had a prior relationship with the victims. He was possibly an acquaintance or a repeat customer of the women.
It would later be revealed that the killer likely had some obsession with socks. When all was said and done, all but one of the victims were found with socks on, despite them being otherwise nude. This was possibly a fetish or some kind of trigger for him.
Police also publicly stated that they knew at least three definitive details about the unknown killer.
First, they knew that he owned or otherwise possessed a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson Sigma Series VE, which had been used to kill all three victims.
Secondly, they knew that he had been driving a 2003 Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable during the commission of one of the crimes. He likely owned the vehicle, and its rather bland exterior allowed him to blend in with almost any crowd.
Lastly, they had his DNA on-file - which did not seem to match up with any other records in the federal or state databases. This indicated that he did not have any prior arrests; or, if he did, they had been before states started requiring felons submit DNA.
Nonetheless, investigators had this unknown subject's DNA on-file, and it seemed like finding a match would be an easily-surmountable task. As they would soon learn, that was much easier said than done.
In April of 2006, police began collecting evidence from multiple persons-of-interest; namely, DNA evidence, which could be compared with the samples they held on-file.
Later that month, authorities would confirm that some officers from the region were being questioned in regards to the unsolved deaths, leading to multiple theories that the killer might have even been a cop. Those theories continue to linger to this day.
That spring, one of the most peculiar leads surfaced in the form of a woman that lived in the region. She came forward and told police that her ex-husband was most likely the killer, due to him being a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence. In particular, this woman claimed that her estranged ex had confessed to shooting a woman at close range - a detail that sounds incredibly incriminating... if true.
The woman was placed in protective custody while police investigated the matter, eventually obtaining multiple sources of DNA from her home. When paired up with the DNA samples on-file, however, the evidence showed a different picture from the woman's claim: the DNA was not a match, and her ex-husband was cleared.
Another lead that police began to probe in the immediate aftermath of the third killing came in the form of a local homeless man, named David Gibson Lindsay.
David, who went by the alias of "Rich" Lindsay, was a homeless man living in Daytona Beach that had undoubtedly changed his name to avoid any suspicion. He had been a longtime volunteer at a nearby homeless shelter, which at least two of the victims had been known to frequent.
When police began looking into connections at the homeless center, they began looking into the staff and volunteers, and soon came upon David Lindsay. While digging into his backstory, they learned that his real name was not "Rich," and that his past showed a couple of tremendous red flags.
It was learned that David Gibson Lindsay had been previously convicted of killing his wife, Christine Lindsay, back in 1988. He had beat her and then suffocated her with a plastic bag, and - the following year - was sentenced to 19 years in prison. He would be released in 1997, having only served 8 years (less than half of his sentence). Following his release, he had then been suspected of involvement in the murder of an elderly man, named Austin Runion, who was strangled and beaten to death in 2001. As soon as that murder unfolded, David Lindsay had fled the state of Illinois, and had been living off-the-grid in Daytona Beach ever since.
On June 10th, 2006, David Gibson Lindsay was arrested on a warrant pertaining to the murder from 2001, and was soon awaiting extradition back to the state of Illinois. While he was held in local custody, investigators obtained his DNA and compared it to the records held on-file.
About ten days later, police got back the bad news: that David Gibson Lindsay was not the man they were looking for. He was ruled out as a suspect via DNA evidence - as was another suspect, who police had never publicly named.
Lindsay was soon extradited back to Illinois to stand trial over his potential involvement in the 2001 murder, but investigators in Daytona Beach continued to hunt for their mysterious killer. They began to look at different potential suspects, but were unable to find anything definitive - ruling out any persons of interest through DNA evidence.
Captain Brian Skipper, who headed the Criminal Investigation Division for Daytona Beach, told reporters at the time:
"We're starting all over again. We're following up on new leads and we're going back and talking to people we talked to in the beginning to see if there was something we overlooked."
Unfortunately, while investigators searched for this unknown individual, he was preparing to kill again.
Stacey Charlene Gage was a 30-year old woman living in Holly Hill, Florida - just north of Daytona Beach - who had lived just as hard of a life as the prior three victims of this burgeoning serial killer.
Stacey had dropped out of high school as a senior, and by the age of 21, had given birth to both a son and a daughter. Now - approximately ten years later - both of those kids were in grade school, and Stacey was still struggling to get her life together.
Stacey was not a known sex worker, although police would later have reason to believe she might have been. She did have a history of drug abuse; in particular, she had struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine, which had resulted in several run-ins with Holly Hill and Daytona Beach police.
Corporal Gina Baker, one of the officers most well-versed in Stacey's case file, stated that:
"It was almost like a roller-coaster ride with her."
For years, Stacey had been trying to work through her issues with drugs... but in the final months of 2007, seemed to be falling off of the wagon once and for all. She was living with her grandmother at the time, and was falling on hard times once again.
On December 10th, 2007, Stacey had asked to borrow her grandmother's vehicle: a white 1998 Plymouth Voyager. She was headed to a nearby convenience store to fetch some ice and other items, and said that she would be back in just a bit.
Security cameras at the Publix spotted Stacey, but she would not return home. In fact, she never would. Some have theorized that she might have been working as a sex worker at the time, and may have made an appointment with a potential client through Craiglist, Backpage, or another similar service.
However, for the next several weeks, both Stacey and the minivan she had borrowed would be gone, and were reported missing by her grandmother.
The body of Stacey Charlene Gage was discovered close to a month after her disappearance - on January 2nd, 2008.
The body was only found by happenstance, when Daytona Beach Police Officer Chris Reeder pulled over in a secluded spot along Hancock Boulevard to catch up on some paperwork. This spot - near an old, abandoned church - was located near a small forested area that didn't get much foot traffic.
When Officer Reeder pulled over, he rolled down his car windows, and was almost immediately overcome with an incredibly foul odor. He got out of his vehicle, and discovered the decomposing remains of Stacey Gage less than fifteen yards away from the road.
Due to the decomposition of the body, it made the following investigation incredibly tough. However, police would able to learn that Stacey had been shot once in the head, with a large-caliber bullet (either a .32, .40, or even .45-caliber round).
They were unable to obtain any DNA from the crime scene - due to the decomposition - but were able to determine that Stacey had likely been killed on (or around) December 11th. She had last been seen the day prior (December 10th), when she had borrowed her grandmother's minivan.
The minivan was found by authorities about a week later, on January 9th. It had been sitting in the parking lot of an apartment complex on South Beach Street, which was mostly occupied by college students. Witnesses recall it having been there for about a month, having seen it for several weeks at that point but not knowing who it belonged to.
The only real outlier between this crime and the prior three murders seemed to be that Stacey Gage did not have a history of sex work. However, police believe that might have changed shortly before her disappearance, and that - due to the circumstances - they weren't prepared to rule it out.
Detectives would state that the circumstances of Stacey Gage's murder were "eerily similar" to the other three deaths; describing it, at times, as:
"... almost a carbon copy."
This came even though police admitted that they were unable to recover much in the way of DNA evidence, leading many to believe that there are details that have yet to be publicly released linking the crimes together. Mike Chitwood, the Police Chief for Daytona Beach, all but admitted a link between this murder and the other three during one of his press conferences shortly thereafter:
"Based on the limited circumstance there's a gut feeling this could be connected. Anytime we have a female, it's the first thing we look at. Could this or could this not be? But I think, if you look at the area, if you look at the facts we know that I can't release, I kinda feel we may be headed in that direction."
"It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. When you look at the victimology, at Stacey's past, the topography of where the bodies were found and obviously other signs and clues at crime scenes, you begin to think, 'Wow, are we heading down this road again?'"
Approximately three weeks after the discovery of Stacey's body, Daytona Beach Police would officially announce that they were investigated her murder as being linked to the other three victims.
In January of 2008, a task force was created to find the man behind at least four murders, who had earned himself the nickname 'the Daytona Beach Killer'.
This task force was made up of four Daytona Beach detectives and a handful of agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who rotated on a schedule based on availability and expertise. In addition to interviewing new suspects and re-interviewing old suspects, they began overseeing undercover sting operations in the hopes of luring the killer. After all, the killer had killed three women in successive months - between December 2005 and February 2006 - and it was believed that he might follow the same pattern again two years later.
Mike Chitwood, the Police Chief of Daytona Beach, told reporters that he and his department were going by-the-book on this one, and doing everything they could to prevent another crime from unfolding. He also described the type of individual they were looking for, based on the profile they had built over the last two-plus years:
"I think he's one of us. We're going by what the profile says. This is a clean-cut guy. He is probably married. He may have a girlfriend. He probably has a job."
"He is our next-door neighbor. He is somebody we go to church with. It is somebody who is a respectable, decent human being on the outside. But on the inside, they are out there preying on women. He is dehumanizing women."
In addition to an increase in operations and canvassing, police began requesting DNA from volunteers. They made this process optional, but also began collecting DNA from motorists in the area matching the description from the profile. Motorists that were pulled over during traffic stops were asked to give samples, and this even led to an incident where a doctor from Ormond Beach - another city nearby - was pulled over. Not only did he have a sex worker in his car with him, but he also had handcuffs and a weapon in his possession. His DNA was taken and tested against the samples on-file, and was not a match, so he later cleared of involvement in the Daytona Beach Killer case.
Through 2008, those DNA samples were tested against dozens of potential suspects and persons-of-interest, but resulted in nothing definitive. All the tests came back inconclusive, and the individual responsible for these crimes seemed to be a phantom when it came to national and state forensic databases.
In September of 2008, the task force investigating the Daytona Beach Killer was disbanded due to inactivity in the case - but officials vowed to resurrect it should any more evidence come-to-light or the offender reemerge. At this point, they believed that the killer had either stopped killing - due to changes in his life - or had moved on from the area.
In 2010, the Orlando Sentinel published an article about dozens of unsolved cases throughout Florida, and leaned heavily on the four murders from Daytona Beach. A portion of the article read as-follows:
"According to the FBI, the four killings are among 28 in Florida that are unsolved and connected to serial killings that the bureau suspects were committed by long-haul truckers. Those include 19 deaths along the Interstate 4 corridor between Tampa and Daytona Beach..."
The belief that the murders of LaQuetta Gunther, Julie Green, Iwana Patton, and Stacey Gage were tied to a larger string of killings was hardly original - investigators had been looking into the possibility from the first month of the investigation. However, at around the same time that the killings were unfolding in Daytona Beach, the FBI had been in the process of developing their Highway Serial Killing initiative, which looked to explore the possibility that dozens - if not hundreds - of unsolved murders might be due, in part, to long-haul truckers and those that travel the nation for work.
This relates to this case because at least three of the victims were found near major highways or interstates. Both Julie Green and Iwana Patton - the second and third victims, respectively - were found just a short distance away from Interstate 95, which extends all the way between Florida and Maine. Stacey Gage, meanwhile - the fourth and presumably final victim - was found less than a mile away from Interstate 4, which travels the length of Florida between Daytona Beach and Tampa.
It is indeed possible that the four victims of this unknown killer were just indicative of a larger string of killings, perhaps expanding outward into the rest of Florida or perhaps through the American Southeast. After all, investigators had developed a pretty extensive profile for their supposed killer, but had been unable to determine whether these crimes were premeditated or impulsive. They could have been the killer's very first crimes or just another batch of them. Perhaps he did this in other areas of the nation, changing up his M.O. ever-so-slightly to avoid detection.
One of the major theories that has been thrown around over the past few years is the possibility that the Daytona Beach Killer could somehow be related to the Long Island Serial Killer, another similar-minded offender that I've covered on this podcast in the past.
The Long Island Serial Killer murdered at least four women between 2007 and 2010, disposing their bodies just off of the New York coast, along Gilgo Beach. I only say that he murdered "at least four women," because roughly a dozen bodies would be found in the area over the span of several years, with the discovery of each creating more questions than answers. Some have been identified since, but others remain without a name or any kind of answer.
However, investigators in Long Island attribute at least four murders to the same killer, and based on the timeline established by those four deaths, we can surmise that the killers might actually be one in the same.
The Daytona Beach crimes unfolded between December of 2005 and February of 2006, with the killer killing one woman in successive months. Then, he disappeared for just under two years, resurfacing in December of 2007 to kill Stacey Gage.
That left a pretty big gap in the middle of the crimes, which is left mostly unexplained. However, the known crimes attributed to the Long Island Serial Killer started in July of 2007, before similarly pausing for about three years. The murders then commenced once again in June of 2010, with the killer murdering at least three women over the span of just a few months.
The murders attributed to the Daytona Beach Killer and the Long Island Serial Killer differed, at least when it came to the methods of murder and the concealment of the bodies, but... it is possible that he had wizened up after a few close calls, and decided to change with the times. Whoever he was, this killer might have traveled along the east coast in his endeavors, moving back-and-forth between the northeast and the southeast. This would fit in with the theory investigators proposed, that he wasn't just a crazed wacko - he was a mostly-normal guy, who knew how to blend in with society at-large. Perhaps he was adapting his killings to avoid capture, and changed up his methods to avoid detection.
I don't know whether or not I personally believe in this theory, but I do find it interesting.
In the years since investigators confirmed that these four murders were committed by the same individual, they have been looking for any similar cases - not only through Daytona Beach, but throughout Florida and the United States at-large.
The case of the Long Island Serial Killer was an intriguing option, in addition to a few others that I may end up covering on the podcast in the near-future. However, some cases from Florida raised suspicions, including some not too far away from Daytona Beach.
In July of 2007, the nude body of 37-year old Kelly Lanthorne was found in Orlando, and investigators explored any possibilities between her death and the Daytona Beach cases. Likewise, the dismembered body of 48-year old Regan Kendall was found just a few weeks later, in August of 2007. Her body was found in a field just north of Kissimmee, and seemed equally eerie to investigators.
Earlier that year, the body of 39-year old Lisa Marie French had been found in Casselberry, Florida - just 50 or so miles away from Daytona Beach. Her case seemed particularly important to the Daytona Beach investigation, because she had actually worked there in the past - perhaps, even, at the same time as some of the known victims. Her body was disposed of behind a warehouse, near the intersections of 13th and Elm Streets. She had likely been strangled to death, but the autopsy results were inconclusive (the cause-of-death, ultimately, was undetermined).
A short time later, a man named Jerry Lee Williams, Jr. was outed as being a serial rapist, who was believed to have attacked at least six women and murdered at least two between 2003 and 2007. He ultimately pleaded guilty on charges of raping and suffocating Lisa Marie French, and was sentenced to life in prison.
To-date, investigators have struggled to connect the four Daytona Beach murders to any other nations-wide, but the possibilities seem to remain endless. For every string of murders there's another potential psycho who has the means and the motive, and takes out his misguided aggression at the most vulnerable among us.
John Lytus is a registered sex offender that raped and sodomized a 19-year old woman in 1986, up in Rockland County, New York.
In October of 2015, Lytus was arrested for the rape, kidnapping, and torture of a pregnant sex worker. He was theorized to have previously been involved in the death of at least one other sex worker: 30-year old Laura Nagenast, whose body was found in September of 2015. In addition, he was also wanted in the nation of Nicaragua (where he had lived just a few years prior) for the alleged sexual assault of a woman at knife-point.
Lytus later pleaded guilty to both crimes - the sexual assault as well as the separate murder case. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but won't be eligible for parole for at least 38 of those years - meaning he'd be upwards of 90 years old if he were to ever be released. And hopefully not, because he's a sack of shit that deserves every bit of misery he's received.
After being incarcerated, investigators discovered that his DNA was not in the national database - despite him being a registered sex offender that had committed a violent sexual crime decades ago. His 1986 rape conviction came at a time before DNA was required from all inmates and felons, and his DNA was not submitted to the aforementioned database until after his arrest nearly-three decades later. It was not a match for the Daytona Beach killings.
However, Lytus is just one such suspect that has been eliminated in the years since; and the fact that he is just one of perhaps dozens - if not hundreds - of similar-sounding suspects is a terrifying prospect. How many more men are out there just like him? Having committed similar crimes, but being able to live off-of-the-grid and avoid detection for more than a decade?
Another possible suspect emerged over the past year - who you might be familiar with - in the form of a man living in Texas named Juan David Ortiz.
Through September of 2018, four sex workers were murdered in Laredo, Texas - about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio. The victims were 29-year old Melissa Ramirez, 42-year old Claudine Ann Luera, 35-year old Griselda Alicia Hernandez Cantu, and 28-year old Nikki Enriquez (a transgender woman).
All of the victims were sex workers that were shot with a .40-caliber handgun, which just-so-happens to have been the same caliber used in the Daytona Beach slayings). Their bodies were left scattered throughout rural sections of Webb County; in the area between the U.S. and Mexico border.
The time period in which these women lost their lives was over roughly two weeks, indicating a spree-killer that was acting rather-impulsively. As you can imagine, this led to fears that someone like the Daytona Beach Killer was haunting this region of Texas, and that it was only a matter of time before he struck again.
Thankfully, when the killer did strike again, he was unsuccessful in his endeavor. A woman that he abducted with the intention to kill was able to escape from his vehicle with her life, and was able to lead police to the man that had abducted her: 35-year old Juan David Ortiz.
Ortiz had served in the United States Navy from 2001 to 2009, spending time at numerous military bases along the East Coast and through the Midwest. After his service ended, he moved on to the U.S. Border Patrol, where he had worked from 2009 to 2018 - quickly approaching his ten-year benchmark. During his time with both agencies, he was known as a relatively well-behaved employee, who was only punished once for a minor infraction while employed by the Border Patrol.
In addition, Ortiz was pretty well-educated, having earned a Bachelor's Degree from the American Military University, and obtaining a Master's Degree from St. Mary's University. At the time of his arrest - in September of 2018 - he was married with one child.
Following his arrest, Juan David Ortiz confessed to the kidnapping and attempted murder of the woman that would have been his fifth victim, as well as the four murders that preceded that attack. He told investigators that he had used his .40-caliber service weapon to kill all of the women, and even gave them a motivation for him having done so.
According to Ortiz, he hated sex workers. He would try to befriend them ahead of time, in an attempt to earn their trust, but told investigators that he wished:
"... to eradicate all the prostitutes."
The District Attorney prosecuting the case stated:
"The scheme in this case from Ortiz's own words was to clean up the streets of Laredo by targeting this community of individuals who he perceived to be disposable, that no one would miss and that he did not give value to."
Out of all of the potential suspects linked to the Daytona Beach Killer, Ortiz is one of the possibilities I find most interesting. Of course, there are a number of variables that could disqualify him - such as whether or not he had the means to attack the women at the time, where he was stationed when the attacks unfolded, etc. - but he seems to fit the profile of the Daytona Beach offender to a 't'.
Ortiz was as normal and unassuming as anyone: he was well-educated, he had been working regularly since 2001, he was married with a child, and - other than a single small blemish on his border patrol record - he had no disciplinary actions otherwise. He also had a self-professed disdain for sex workers, targeting them specifically in each of his attacks, and the victims were killed almost identically: both the Daytona Beach Killer and Juan David Ortiz had killed four women, shooting each in the head and abandoning their bodies in desolate areas not-too-far away from where they had been abducted.
Police have yet to comment on the potential link between the killings, but even if Ortiz is not the Daytona Beach Killer, it remains frightening that men like him exist. They are by no means alone in this world, and their toxic mentality is shared by many: leaving the most vulnerable among us exposed to their hatred and bigotry.
The case of the Daytona Beach Killer remains open and active.
Police continue to investigate the case, even though they've recently admitted that they don't currently have any active persons-of-interest or suspects. Virtually all of the men investigated have been cleared through DNA testing, and investigators believe that the killer may no longer live in the region of the crimes.
To this day, police continue to hunt for the killer, and base their investigation on the profile that has been established for their man. This profile indicates that the killer is:
- Most likely a white man, due to the types of women he targeted, who possibly has a wife or a girlfriend that he struggles with on a constant basis.
- Most likely familiar with the area, having grown up or lived there between December of 2005 and December of 2007.
- Most likely a man that frequents sex workers; in particular, sex workers along a particular stretch of road along Ridgewood Avenue.
- Most likely obsessed with socks or feet, due to three out of four victims being found mostly nude, with the exception being socks.
- And, finally, it is theorized that the killer is most likely someone who targets women during bad periods of his life, taking out his aggression on women that can't be traced back to him. Perhaps he even suffers from seasonal affective disorder, and deals with depression around the winter holidays (when all of the crimes unfolded).
Gregg McCrary, a retired criminal profiler for the FBI, was unfamiliar with this case, but shared his opinion that serial killers often target victims in their same socioeconomic background. This is a habit that I'm pretty sure is familiar to most of you, as I and other podcasts have discussed it in the past. Because of this widely-accepted belief, it is theorized that the killer of these women was likely familiar with them, or existed in the same community: choosing to hunt down these four women in particular because they were available to him. And he likely targeted them because of his own personal issues with his sexuality, as expressed by McCrary himself.
"Prostitutes represent sex. There's some sort of sexual disorder that's driving this. He's drawn to these women for something other than anonymous sex."
Despite much of the suspect's profile being based on guesswork, we do have a couple of solid details about the man known as the Daytona Beach Killer. We know that he owned or possessed a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson Sigma Series VE (pistol), and that - at one point - he had been driving a 2003 Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable. In addition, police were also able to recover his DNA from multiple crime scenes; DNA that has been submitted to national databases, and is simple waiting for a match.
Again, here's Police Chief Mike Chitwood:
"Genetically, we know who he is. We have DNA evidence from the murder scenes - so, we got that. That is never going to go away. And, sooner or later, we will match the DNA to the physical person and bring closure to everything that is going on."
With modern advancements in DNA testing, it seems like it is only a matter of time before this sick individual is brought to justice. However, a $20,000 reward exists for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the killer. If you know anything, you are encouraged to get in-touch with the Daytona Beach Police Department.
I hope to bring you an update in this case in the very near-future, but until such a time... the story of the Daytona Beach Killer remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on March 24th, 2019
Borrtex - "Fog In The Street"
Rest You Sleeping Giant - "Sleep"
Blear Moon - "Cold Summer Landscape"
ROZKOL - "Happiness Free For Everyone and Let No One Be Forgotten"
Blue Dot Sessions - "Olivia Wraith"
ROZKOL - "All the Little Pieces"
Graham Bole - "Lurking"
Other music created and composed by Ailsa Traves
Sources and further reading
The Daytona Beach News-Journal - “DNA eliminates suspects; police back at ‘square one’”