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Spokane

Task Force Tackles Murders Four Detectives Will Concentrate On Recent Prostitute Killings

A four-detective task force began working full time Monday on a string of unsolved homicides involving women who worked as prostitutes, Spokane authorities said.

Police and sheriff’s administrators met Monday to formalize the task force, the same day forensic pathologists performed an autopsy on a woman found dead Thursday in the Hangman Valley.

Workers discovered the woman near a wastewater treatment station on Hangman Valley Road, about a mile from where the body of a known prostitute was discovered last month. That woman, 29-year-old Darla Sue Scott, had been shot in the head and buried in a shallow grave.

Sheriff’s detectives did not release the latest victim’s name or cause of death Monday. But her discovery has added urgency to an already intense effort to solve the growing list of murders, said Roger Bragdon, assistant city police chief.

On Monday, the sheriff’s office and police department each assigned two detectives full time to the task force, Bragdon said. That group will receive support from other investigators as needed.

The task force will scrutinize the deaths of five women found dead in the Spokane area this year, as well as the unsolved homicides of seven other prostitutes dating to the mid-1980s.

“We’re going to be looking at all the prostitute homicides we’ve had, including ones we’ve solved, just trying to find any inkling about what might be going on,” Bragdon said.

For the past two months, the four detectives now assigned full time to the task force have been laying the groundwork for an intense investigation, Bragdon said.

They researched serial killings, reviewed the files on the latest cases and assembled special computers and software they will use to track clues, all while reporting to their unit supervisors and pursuing other cases.

On Monday, authorities established a joint command and freed up the four detectives to work solely on the prostitute murders, Bragdon said.

“We had all the pieces in place,” he said.

In addition, FBI experts will arrive in mid-January to review case files and offer advice, sheriff’s Lt. John Simmons said last week.

Still, local authorities hesitate to call the string of murders the work of a serial killer.

“The first thing our people have to do is prove or disprove the serial aspects of the case,” Bragdon said. “We haven’t been able to prove anything yet. Of course, any thinking person can see that there are an awful lot of coincidences to some of them.”

Most of the women were either shot or strangled and their bodies dumped in out-of-the-way places. Most were either nude or partially clothed.

Authorities have released few other details of the crimes.

If a serial killer is at work in Spokane, detectives will have to work long and hard to stop him, Bragdon said. The infamous Green River killings in Western Washington, where nearly 50 women were murdered, remain unsolved.

“We realize that if we start making connections (among the killings), we’re in for the long haul,” Bragdon said. “We’re looking at a mammoth task that’s going to be very, very frustrating.”

, DataTimes MEMO: The body found near the wastewater treatment station was identified as Shawn L. Johnson.

This sidebar appeared with the story: STAFF The sheriff’s office and police department each assigned two detectives to the task force.

The body found near the wastewater treatment station was identified as Shawn L. Johnson.

This sidebar appeared with the story: STAFF The sheriff’s office and police department each assigned two detectives to the task force.


 

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