Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Capture of Serial Killer Arohn Kee

Low Priority Victim

The rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl should be big news in most any city at most any time. But New York of 1991 barely noticed the horrendous East Harlem crime because the city was awash in violence then, collateral damage of the crack cocaine scourge that had begun in 1984. From 1990 until 1992, more than 2,000 murders were reported in the city each year. Every day, an average of six bodies turned up in the five boroughs of New York Citymost of them in poor, minority neighborhoods like East Harlem, the South Bronx and East New York, Brooklyn.

Few of those cases garnered much attention. Instead, the media stampeded to the more up-market crimeswhite, affluent victims in more photogenic locations, such as a stockbroker attacked while jogging in Central Park or a tourist slain during a subway robbery.

Police investigated the murder of Paola Illera, of course, but it was not a marquee case. High-profile crimes often are assigned scores of detectives who are allowed to lavish countless hours on the investigation. For example, when the son of a media mogul was killed in New York a few years after Paola was murdered, the new mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani, solemnly vowed that "hundreds and hundreds" of cops would be assigned to the case. But the young Colombian immigrant did not rate such star treatment.

Reward poster circulated by Illera's family
Reward poster circulated by Illera's family

A man's pubic hair was collected from the child's body and stored as evidence. But without pressure from the media or politicians, Paola Illera became a low-priority murder victim. Her case was destined to languish in limbo, unsolved, for most of the 1990s.

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