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Questions follow arrest in serial murder case

By Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 29, 2003

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BATON ROUGE, La. - The capture of the man wanted in the serial killings of five women in Louisiana was met with relief Wednesday, but also questions about whether investigators missed or discarded clues that could have saved some victims.

Ultimately, it was not the task force in charge of the 10-month investigation that zeroed in on Derrick Todd Lee as the suspect. Instead, it was an investigator working on two seemingly unrelated slayings who got the DNA that implicated Lee.

Lynne Marino, the mother of the killer's third victim, Pam Kinamore, said Lee's history of arrests in neighboring towns for stalking, attempted murder and peeping into homes should have made police check out his DNA years ago.

"Just think how many lives we could have saved if somebody had put these pieces together and gotten this monster years ago," Marino said. "That's my child. Do you think I'm going to be a good sport about how many mistakes they made?"

Lee, 34, was arrested Tuesday outside an Atlanta tire store and was flown back to Louisiana on Wednesday after waiving extradition. He was booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish prison Wednesday night on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated rape, second-degree kidnapping and aggravated burglary in Kinamore's death. Lee faces three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated rape in connection with the deaths of three more Baton Rouge women: Gina Wilson Green, Charlotte Murray Pace and Carrie Yoder, formerly of Tampa.

Baton Rouge residents had been on edge for nearly a year since news first broke that a serial killer was on the loose. Women put guns and pepper spray in their purses, took self-defense classes and set up elaborate phone trees to make sure their friends and relatives were safe.

"Now, I can go out in the evening. I was putting on the dead bolts. I put a chair against the door. Now, I don't have to do that," said Vesna Karaman, a graduate student in biology at Louisiana State University.

Wiping away tears, Baton Rouge police Chief Pat Englade, who heads the task force, said he was proud of the work by the team of local, state and federal law enforcement officials. He refused to respond to specific criticisms by the victims' families.

During the investigation, the task force cast a huge DNA dragnet, taking genetic samples from more than 1,000 men. It also fished for tips by releasing details about a white truck, the killer's shoeprints and items apparently taken from the victims. Investigators sent dogs sniffing through neighborhoods and went door to door, looking for leads.

But it was a separate probe of two cases in nearby Zachary, a suburb of Baton Rouge, that led an investigator not connected to the task force to seek a DNA sample from Lee and link him to the five known slayings by the serial killer.

Lee has not been charged in the two cases in Zachary - the 1998 disappearance of Randi Mebruer, 28, and the 1992 slaying of Connie Warner, 41 - but Zachary police said they suspect he is responsible.

On May 5, the same day Lee voluntarily submitted the DNA, he abruptly pulled his two children out of school, saying he was moving to Los Angeles. Authorities said they do not know the whereabouts of Lee's wife and children.

Lee also was identified in a warrant in St. Martin Parish on Tuesday in connection with an attempted murder and attempted rape in an incident in July, before three of the serial killer's victims were slain.

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