LA Forensics: The Signature Murders
The Second Scene
Nine days after Luis's murder, on April 15, and a few blocks away, a similar scene was called in, around 6:30 in the evening. Another pair of detectives from the same squad, Dan Jaramillo and Lloyd Perry, went to investigate.
At 5920 Hollywood Boulevard, they found Willie Nichols dead by ligature strangulation. The belt wrapped around his neck had been pulled so tight his set of false teeth had been forced from his mouth. His apartment had been ransacked and the pockets on his trousers had been turned inside out. They were empty.
Willie Nichols, 65, had lived alone, but he had relatives who were able to go through the apartment to indicate whether property was missing. Among the items they noticed was that Willie's black leather jacket was missing. Also, a ring, his wallet, and his wristwatch were gone. Yet from the number of beer and liquor bottles at the scene, and the lack of forced entry, it seemed possible that Willie had known his attacker and had invited him in.
A woman named Deborah, who knew Willie well, said she had last spoken to him on April 8. In the habit of speaking to him almost every day, she called again on April 9, but he did not answer the phone. For the next four days, she called every day, but received no response, which made her worry. She went over on April 13, but he did not answer the door. She asked the manager of the apartment complex to check on her friend, but it took until April 15, and a great deal of pleading, to get the manager to open the door. When she did, she found Willie's body and called the police.
Willie Nichols' former wife, when questioned, said she had spoken with him on April 11, around 10:00 in the evening. He hadn't complained about anything. Another set of friends talked with him at 11:30 that night to invite him to dinner the following day. He'd accepted, but, uncharacteristically, did not show up. They tried contacting him but were unsuccessful.
A check of Willie's background indicated that he was a drug user, which raised the possibility that the death was drug-related.
Among the victim's belongings were ATM statements. However, the police could find no ATM card, which indicated that the killer might have taken it away. They notified banks and hoped the killer would use the card. Then they could track the suspect.
Strangely, a leather belt lay next to the victim, loosely coiled. Even stranger, a collection of items had been placed on the bed near him: cigarettes, photos, and a toy dinosaur.
The scene was exhaustively dusted for prints. In this case, they were able to get clear fingerprints from a King Cobra liquor bottle that did not originate with the victim.
At this point, there were two scenes processed by different detectives, so the notion that they were related had not yet been explored. If it had been, then the coiled belt would have been more significant. Given the same neighborhood and same MO, it would have appeared as if the same person did both crimes — and left a "signature."