Profiler Tells Officials 2 Mother-Daughter Slayings in Prince George's Unrelated

By Matt Zapotosky and Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 12, 2009

The similarities between the cases were so stark, they had to be more than simple chance. Two sets of mothers and daughters brutally slain in Prince George's County. Both on Mondays. Within a half-mile of each other.

But an FBI profiler has concluded that the slayings that gripped residents in the Largo area this year are not the work of a serial killer, authorities said. In fact, the profiler said, the double homicides are not connected at all, according to county police investigators handling the cases.

The profiler "definitely said that they were unrelated," said Prince George's police Detective Bernard Nelson, the lead investigator in one of the cases. The similarities, he said, were "just weird coincidences."

Detectives said that they are not ruling anything out but that there are some fundamental differences between the killings.

Police have no suspects in the slayings of Karen Lofton and her 16-year-old daughter, Karissa, who were found shot inside their locked home in the Largo area Jan. 26. Nor do they have any suspects in the killings of Delores Dewitt and her 20-year-old daughter, Ebony, whose bodies were found March 16 in a burning car that had been stolen that day. In part to generate tips about the high-profile cases, investigators agreed to discuss their progress.

"We've got the pieces to the puzzle," said Detective Anthony Schartner, the lead investigator in the Dewitt case. "Now we just need somebody to tell us where the pieces go, to tell us why it makes sense."

In the days after the Dewitt deaths, the Prince George's police department devoted the entire homicide squad and nearly a dozen other senior investigators to determine who was killing sets of mothers and daughters in the county. Officers blanketed the neighborhoods where the killings occurred, talking to more than 100 people and asking for DNA samples from everyone. Detectives collected about 200 pieces of evidence and reached out to the FBI for a profile of unknown suspects.

"We're still following up everything we have," said Lt. William Rayle, a commander in the police department's homicide unit. "Somebody somewhere knows something. That person needs to call us."

Nelson and Schartner are working side by side, but they said their investigations have taken them in vastly different directions. Whoever killed the Loftons seemed to be more organized, less messy, they said. Unlike in the Dewitt case, the killer or killers made no effort to take the bodies elsewhere, they said.

At the top of the list of questions investigators have is how Karissa Lofton got home from work at the Golden Corral restaurant the night of the killings, Nelson said. She was seen leaving at 9 p.m., family members have said, and her mother typically picked her up.

But detectives said they don't think Karen Lofton showed up at the restaurant that night. Family members told investigators that Karen Lofton religiously armed her burglar alarm before going anywhere. On the night of Jan. 25, investigators said, security company records showed it was never armed.

Shortly after 2:30 a.m. Jan. 26, sources have said, Karissa called 911 from her home, whispering as she told a dispatcher that she and her mother had been shot. She spoke as if the shooter or shooters were still in the house, sources have said.

The Dewitt killer or killers, on the other hand, were more "haphazard," Schartner said. He revealed for the first time that the women were dead before their bodies were loaded into a stolen car. The killer then drove the car past the house from which it was taken and set it ablaze in a driveway in plain view. After that, Schartner said, detectives think the suspect or suspects fled through a nearby back yard and into woods. A canine unit was able to trace the trail, he said.

"They were lucky that they weren't caught," Schartner said. "There was a lot of unnecessary risks that were taken."

Schartner has more basic questions. Where did the suspects kill the women? Where did they load them into the car?

"There's so much action in that case," Schartner said. "Somebody has to know something. There's too much activity."

As the investigations drag on, family members said they have become increasingly unsettled, many unable to continue with their normal routines until their loved ones' killers are caught. The families haven't talked with each other, and relatives have said they don't think the cases are connected, except by odd circumstance.

Patricia Renee Smith, 40, Delores Dewitt's sister, said she has been unable to return to work as a nurse since the killings, too paralyzed by grief. She said she conducted her own investigation, knocking on doors in the neighborhood until the detectives asked her to stop. Her family even enlisted the aid of a Nigerian prophet, she said, who told them that the killer was a young woman.

"I just lay awake, just like, 'Who?' " Smith said. "These people are still out there."

Kirkland Lofton Sr., Karen Lofton's ex-husband who lives in Covington, Ga., said he sometimes sees little reminders of the family members he has lost. He used to call his daughter "butterfly," and one day in March he saw a butterfly outside his tailoring shop. It was green, Karissa's favorite color.

"Nothing is going to bring them back," he said. "Even if they catch this person that did it, then I can't even think of any punishment that is good enough."

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS (8477). Callers with information leading to a conviction are eligible for a $25,000 reward in each case.

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