Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Riverside Prostitute Killer

The Body Count Rises

Darla Ferguson
Darla Ferguson
 

On the morning of January 18, 1990, investigators were summoned to a scene east of I-15 in Lake Elsinore.   Earlier that morning a jogger had accidentally stumbled upon the half nude body of a female, whom investigators recognized as a 24-year-old prostitute named Darla Jane Ferguson.  The victim died as a result of strangulation, which was so severe that she nearly bit off her own tongue.  As with the previous crime scene, investigators found tire tracks and made several impressions, which were later matched to the others.

Less than a month later, on February 8, 1990, farmers working at an orchard in Highgrove discovered the nude body of 35-year-old Carol Lynn Miller.   A known prostitute and drug addict, Carol went missing one month earlier.  The cause of death was listed as multiple stab wounds to the chest and asphyxiation. The coroner also made note of a wound near Carol's right nipple.  Pubic hairs were discovered on the victim, which were later matched to the ones on file from the previous murders.

Cat and Mouse: Mind Games with a Serial Killer
Cat and Mouse: Mind
Games with a Serial Killer
 

According to Cat and Mouse: Mind Games With a Serial Killer, by Brian Allen Lane, it was eight months before investigators were called to the scene of another horrific murder.  On the afternoon of November 6, 1990, a man working at an industrial plant on Palmyrita Avenue in northeast Riverside, not far from the location where Miller was found, discovered the naked and mutilated corpse of a female hidden under some tree branches.  This was by far the killer's most brutal crime yet.  The victim, 33-year-old Cheryl Coker, a prostitute and drug user, suffered severe mutilations to her body and most shocking of all, the killer had removed her right breast and placed it next to her.  Investigators found shoe prints at the scene and took several photographs and impressions before transporting the body to the morgue.  It was later determined that the victim had died as a result of strangulation.

Cheryl Coker
Cheryl Coker

With the death of Coker, the Riverside Task Force had already spent over $100,000 and they were still no closer to catching their killer.   According to Levin, serial killers are the "cream of the crop" when it comes to murder.  "Most homicides are solved within 14 hours, serial killers can stay on the loose for weeks, months, years, even decades.  There is a self-selection process.   Most serial killers very smartly wait until the most effective moment to attack their victim, clean up the crime scene afterwards, or dump the body of their victim in some desolate area.   In many cases the police have no physical evidence."

Susan Sternfeld
Susan Sternfeld

On Decembet 21, 1990, a janitor was emptying dustbins at a factory complex on Iowa Avenue when he discovered the nude and carefully posed body of a young woman.  Investigators on the scene recognized the victim as 27-year-old Susan Sternfeld, a local prostitute and drug addict.  There was no evidence of mutilation found on the victim's remains and the county coroner later determined she died of strangulation.

Kathleen Leslie Milne (aka. Kathy Pluckett)
Kathleen Leslie Milne
(a.k.a. Kathy Pluckett)
 

Victim No. 13, 42-year-old Kathleen Leslie Milne (a.k.a., Carol Kathleen Swenson and Kathy Pluckett) was discovered on January 19, 1991.  A passing motorist spotted her body alongside the road northwest of Lake Elsinore.  According to the autopsy report, the victim was rendered unconscious by several blows to the head and then strangled.  She had been dead less than 24 hours.

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