A neighbor walked over to Lawrence Singleton’s door and saw pretty much what Californians feared 10 years ago when they drove Singleton out of town: There was Singleton, his face and chest covered with blood, a naked woman dead on the living room floor.
Singleton, 69, was arrested on murder charges Wednesday, a decade after being released from a California prison for raping a teenage hitchhiker and hacking her forearms off with an ax.
Back in California, people responded with a collective I-told-you-so. In Florida, officials said they were angry that Singleton was out on their streets but said there was little they could have done to monitor him.
“It’s a sad commentary on our criminal justice system that a person of this notoriety who has committed a crime this heinous is out on the streets,” sheriff’s Lt. David Gee said.
California Gov. Pete Wilson called the slaying a needless tragedy.
“This man should never, ever have been released from prison,” Wilson said. “He was clearly dangerous; I think he is an animal.”
Singleton was paroled in 1987 after serving nearly 8-1/2 years of a 14-year sentence for the rape and dismemberment. His sentence had been reduced by good behavior and a law to relieve prison overcrowding. At the time, California officials said that under the law, they had little choice but to release him.
He retreated to his home state of Florida after being driven from several Northern California communities where residents were angry and fearful about his release. After his arrival in Florida, neighbors protested and a car dealer offered him $5,000 to leave the state.
Nancy Fahden, who was a Contra Costa County, Calif., supervisor when a mob of 500 people in the small town of Rodeo forced Singleton to leave, wasn’t surprised by his arrest.
“It’s as if someday, somewhere, I was expecting something,” Fahden said. “I don’t think he should ever have been let out of jail.”
Donald Stahl, the former Stanislaus County District Attorney who prosecuted Singleton in 1978, said, “This was completely predictable.”
“Give him some alcohol, put him in a pickup situation with a woman and he’ll have her at home, use her at home and throw her out like garbage.”
Police said 31-year-old Roxanne Hayes apparently died Wednesday of stab wounds to the upper body. She had a string of prostitution arrests, dating from 1986 through last month, but Gee said her relationship with Singleton was unclear.
Family members described her as a loving mother to her three children, aged 3, 7 and 11.
“Her kids weren’t going to go without a meal,” said Clifford Tyson, her boyfriend of nine years and the father of two of the children.
Singleton was arrested after a painter who had been doing work inside the house arrived there and heard a commotion inside. He opened the door and saw a naked Singleton struggling with the nude woman, who was crying out for help.
“I think he was strangling her,” the painter, Paul Hitson told WFTS-TV. “He told her to shut up and then hit her with his fist. I would have done something, but I was scared.”
Instead, the man backed away and called 911. A sheriff’s deputy went to Singleton’s home with a neighbor, and when Singleton answered his door, his chest and face were bloody. The officer saw a person’s foot on the floor.
Singleton at first refused to let the deputy inside, but when Singleton went back in to answer the telephone, the officer could see the woman’s body, said Danny Sales, the neighbor.
Sales and several other neighbors said they didn’t learn of Singleton’s past until about three weeks ago, when Sales and his father pulled Singleton from his van, where he was apparently trying to kill himself by carbon monoxide poisoning.
At that time, police held Singleton and filed an attempted suicide report, Gee said. He was released from a mental health center.
“I hope that I find peace,” Singleton wrote in a suicide note found inside his neat, one-story home in a blue-collar neighborhood. “I would like to thank everyone who helped me. Please have me cremated and have my ashes thrown into Palm River on the outgoing tide.”
If convicted in the California attack under today’s laws, Singleton would have been in prison until at least the year 2000.
“We have been able to do some things,” said California state Sen. Richard Rainey. “A guy like Singleton committing the same type of crime would not be out on the street today.”
Singleton’s victim in California, Mary Vincent, has been in hiding ever since his release, afraid he would track her down and kill her, said Mark Edwards, her attorney in a lawsuit in which she won $2.56 million.
Mary Vincent’s mother says her daughter is doing well despite the memories dredged up by Singleton’s latest arrest.
“Mary’s taking it calmly. She feels sorry for whoever it was he killed, but in a way she’s happy he’s back in jail,” Lucy Vincent told San Francisco TV station KPIX on Thursday.
“They should really stick to him and just put him away and do their job right this time,” she said. “These people in Florida should really, really make sure that he’s put away for good.”