Nation/World


Police Renew Look At String Of Murders Try To Find Three Missing Women; Task Force May Review Killings

SATURDAY, NOV. 15, 1997

Three missing women are being sought by authorities as they intensify their investigation into a series of prostitute murders.

The plea for public help in finding the women has heightened fears that a serial killer is preying on prostitutes.

Spokane police and the county Sheriff’s Department are considering forming a joint task force to look into the killings. They also have asked for help from the FBI.

Sheriff’s detectives said Friday the three women may have information useful in the murder investigations.

One of the three has a criminal record for prostitution. All three are known to frequent freewheeling areas on East Sprague where prostitution and drug-dealing are commonplace.

“We would like to confirm if they are alive,” said sheriff’s Capt. Doug Silver.

“If they are alive and well, they should call us,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Reagan.

The deaths of four young prostitutes in the last three months prompted detectives to review five other killings since 1990.

All the victims were working prostitutes. At least eight died of gunshot wounds. The remains of the most recent victim, Darla Sue Scott, were found last week in a shallow grave near Hangman Valley Golf Course.

Sheriff John Goldman said it’s too early to say if a serial killer is involved. “Right now, that’s just speculation,” he said.

But city police and county sheriff’s detectives are looking for clues - including common friends, drug dealers and working areas - which could tie their deaths together.

The information is being compiled in a computer database that was provided by the FBI.

Local investigators sought assistance from the FBI even before Scott’s body was discovered.

After two prostitutes were found murdered in August, FBI crime-profiling experts were asked to review the Spokane homicides, said FBI supervisor Charlie Mandigo.

The request was forwarded to the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, based in Quantico, Va.

Mandigo said he doesn’t know the status of the review by the FBI profilers, who have a record of accurately describing serial killers.

The same FBI database software was used by agents and local detectives who investigated terrorist bombings and bank robberies in the Spokane Valley. The computer program helps investigators track leads, look at similarities and quickly retrieve information.

The FBI hasn’t been formally asked to assign agents to assist local detectives.

There’s no known interstate aspect to any of the homicides, so the FBI doesn’t officially have jurisdiction.

That condition usually can be easily met if investigators document interstate travel or telephone calls.

Investigators have no suspects in the murders. Detectives recently flew to Portland to interview a man, but declined to discuss their findings.

The secretive, transitory nature of prostitution has frustrated authorities. Prostitutes often work alone and in the dark. They often switch cities.

“There is a cloak of secrecy in that society that hides a killer, that makes it difficult for officers to conduct an investigation,” said Goldman.

Lynn Everson, a social worker who runs an HIV-prevention clinic on East Sprague, said local prostitutes are terrified.

In 1990, when three prostitutes were killed within four months, tips were plentiful, she said. Now, leads are scarce.

“What startles me at this time is there are not many tips coming out,” said Everson.

Police hope the three missing women can help. They disappeared within five days of each other.

Laurie Ann Wason, 31, vanished Nov. 3. Relatives pasted her picture on walls across the city last week, asking for help.

Shawn L. Johnson, a 36-year-old with a rose tattoo on her ankle, last lived in Deer Park. She had several brushes with police for theft and drug charges, but wasn’t convicted.

Lonna Marie Hughes’s last residence was a shelter for homeless women. According to court records, she appeared Oct. 30 in district court on a prostitution charge.

She hasn’t been seen since.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 10 Photos (3 Color)

MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Murder victims Police are taking a fresh look at whether the deaths of these women are related. Additional victims Shannon Zielinski, 38, found murdered in June of 1996 Sherry Palmer, 19, found murdered in May of 1992

2. Unsolved murders The murders of these women remain unsolved: Yolanda Sapp, 26, found shot Feb. 22, 1990, along the banks of the Spokane River near 4100 E. Upriver Drive. Nickie Lowe, 34, found shot under the Greene Street bridge on March 25, 1990. Kathy Brisbois, 38, found shot May 15, 1990, on the banks of the Spokane River near Trent and Pines. Sherry Palmer, 19, found shot near Bill Gulch Road and Mt. Spokane Drive on May 1, 1992. Shannon Zielinski, 38, found shot near the intersection of Holcomb Road and Mt. Spokane Drive on June 14, 1996. Heather Hernandez, 20, found shot in an overgrown lot behind 1800 E. Springfield on Aug. 26, 1997. Jennifer Joseph, 16, found shot near Judkins and Forker roads in northeast Spokane County on Aug. 26. Teresa Asmussen, 22, found floating in the Spokane River in downtown Spokane on Oct. 17. She was not shot, and authorities won’t disclose her cause of death. Darla Sue Scott, 29, found shot on Nov. 5 near Hangman Valley Golf Course.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jonathan Martin and Bill Morlin Staff writers Staff writer Robin Rivers contributed to this report.

Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. Murder victims Police are taking a fresh look at whether the deaths of these women are related. Additional victims Shannon Zielinski, 38, found murdered in June of 1996 Sherry Palmer, 19, found murdered in May of 1992

2. Unsolved murders The murders of these women remain unsolved: Yolanda Sapp, 26, found shot Feb. 22, 1990, along the banks of the Spokane River near 4100 E. Upriver Drive. Nickie Lowe, 34, found shot under the Greene Street bridge on March 25, 1990. Kathy Brisbois, 38, found shot May 15, 1990, on the banks of the Spokane River near Trent and Pines. Sherry Palmer, 19, found shot near Bill Gulch Road and Mt. Spokane Drive on May 1, 1992. Shannon Zielinski, 38, found shot near the intersection of Holcomb Road and Mt. Spokane Drive on June 14, 1996. Heather Hernandez, 20, found shot in an overgrown lot behind 1800 E. Springfield on Aug. 26, 1997. Jennifer Joseph, 16, found shot near Judkins and Forker roads in northeast Spokane County on Aug. 26. Teresa Asmussen, 22, found floating in the Spokane River in downtown Spokane on Oct. 17. She was not shot, and authorities won’t disclose her cause of death. Darla Sue Scott, 29, found shot on Nov. 5 near Hangman Valley Golf Course.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jonathan Martin and Bill Morlin Staff writers Staff writer Robin Rivers contributed to this report.



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