January 31, 1998 in Nation/World

Detectives Link Tacoma Killing To Spokane’s Woman’s Body Found Shot In Vacant South Tacoma Field

By The Spokesman-Review

A serial killer responsible for at least four Spokane murders may be crisscrossing the state killing women, authorities said Friday.

A Spokane task force chasing the killer has linked a Western Washington murder to recent homicides here, investigators said.

Task force members traveled to Tacoma last week to compare notes with detectives investigating the murder of Melinda L. Mercer.

They also analyzed the crime scene and looked at evidence from the 24-year-old woman’s murder, said Assistant Spokane Police Chief Roger Bragdon.

“Every crime scene gives us an advantage as far as collecting evidence,” Bragdon said.

Mercer’s body was found in a weed-covered field in South Tacoma on Dec. 7. She had been shot in the head.

Spokane authorities said there are striking similarities between that case and the killings of Darla Sue Scott, Shawn Johnson, Laurie Ann Wason and Shawn McClenahan.

Those women were shot in the head and dumped in out-of-the-way spots around Spokane. Their bodies were found between Nov. 5 and Dec. 26. Task force members believe they were killed by the same person or people.

Capt. Doug Silver of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department said Mercer also lived a lifestyle similar to that of the Spokane victims, who worked as prostitutes or used illegal drugs, or both.

“She had been seen hanging around where drug activity and prostitution took place,” said Silver, a Spokane task force commander.

Silver and Bragdon declined to discuss suspects or provide further details about the connections between Mercer and the local cases, saying they didn’t want to jeopardize the investigation.

There are similarities between Mercer’s murder and others being investigated by the Spokane serial killer task force, which is reviewing a total of 18 unsolved murders - not all of which have been connected.

Like 19-year-old Sherry Palmer, who was found shot to death near Mount Spokane in May 1992, Mercer had a plastic bag pulled over her head, Tacoma police said.

Mercer’s body was discovered by a man collecting cans, not far from a crime-infested area of Tacoma, where prostitutes and drug dealers are known to gather.

A man looking for cans in east Spokane last August found Heather Hernandez’s body in a vacant lot near an area where drugs and sex are often sold. The 20-year-old homeless woman had been shot in the head.

Jennifer Joseph, whose body was discovered in rural Spokane County the same day Hernandez was found, is a native of Spanaway, just south of Tacoma. The 16-year-old also had been shot in the head.

It’s not known whether Mercer, whose family lives in the Centralia, Wash., area, was ever in Spokane. She has no criminal history outside two 1988 juvenile theft convictions in Lewis County, records show.

The FBI and Washington Attorney General’s Office have been looking for connections between the Spokane cases and others nationwide since November.

So far, they’ve found none. They have eliminated connections to the unsolved Green River killings, where 49 women were killed in the Seattle-Tacoma area during the 1980s.

, DataTimes

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