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In Prince George's, a chilling portrait of a skillful serial killer

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; A01

The man responsible for the slayings of two mothers and their daughters in the Largo area last year is a crafty serial killer who pored through books about forensic science to learn how to clean up his crime scenes and intentionally changed his killing methods to confuse detectives, law enforcement sources close to the investigation said.

He holds two master's degrees and was so good that he duped an FBI profiler into concluding that the killings were unrelated, the sources said. And long after he is brought to trial, Prince George's Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton predicted, he will be remembered as "one of America's most infamous killers."

For now, at least, he is behind bars on unrelated charges.

"This case before you, I think, is going to be a case study for many law enforcement agencies in the future," Hylton said Tuesday, delivering his first public remarks about the suspect. "This was an individual that was very well read, a studious person, that studied the policing system, knew the policing system, knew about his craft."

The man, who is 27 and is being held on federal weapons and sex charges, has not been charged with the Largo killings. Hylton and other police officials declined to name him because he has not been charged. But Hylton said he expects the man to be indicted within the month in connection with the killings of Delores Dewitt, 42, and her 20-year-old daughter, Ebony. Their bodies were found March 16, 2009, in a burning car in Largo that had been stolen that day.

Hylton said the devastation may extend well beyond that. Detectives also think the man is responsible for the slayings of Karen Lofton, 45, and her 16-year-old daughter, Karissa, who were found shot in their locked home Jan. 26, 2009. And detectives are investigating whether he might be responsible for a 2008 killing in which a Bowie woman was shot before her home was set ablaze. He also is being investigated in connection with other crimes in the Washington area and as far away as Texas and Florida, Hylton and law enforcement sources said.

"He's a serial killer," Hylton said.

Hylton said the man in custody made efforts to throw detectives off his trail, but he would not say what those efforts were. He also was not specific about the evidence connecting the man to each killing, saying only that it places him at "the scene of the crime." He said detectives were led to the man after receiving a tip on an unrelated case.

(The execution of convicted murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner in Utah)

Sources with knowledge of the cases said the suspect's two master's degrees include at least one in computer science. Detectives also found computer files and textbooks indicating that he had researched evidence-gathering and forensic science, sources said. The detectives think he did so to learn how to clean up his crime scenes. In at least one case, he used bleach, sources said.

And the suspect, who once lived in the Largo area, allegedly altered the way he killed his victims to confuse detectives. In the Lofton case, detectives said, the killer was more organized and made no attempt to transport the bodies. For a time, the strategy worked. An FBI profiler concluded that the Lofton and Dewitt cases were unrelated.

"This guy is brilliant and well read enough to know that if he alters his MO, it will, at least temporarily, throw the police off," said one source with knowledge of the case. The source, like the others referred to in this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and the man has not been charged.

A source said the man once worked for a delivery service, and investigators are trying to determine whether he used his position to get access to a database with addresses to find his victims.

He remains jailed on weapons and carjacking charges and a charge that he coerced a minor female into sexually explicit conduct so he could take a digital photo, the sources said.

Hylton said the evidence against the man in the Largo killings is "overwhelming," and he praised homicide detectives Bernard Nelson and Anthony Schartner, the lead investigators, for sacrificing vacations and time with family. He said that their PowerPoint presentation of evidence to commanders took more than four hours and that Schartner was able to deliver much of it from memory.

Sources said the Dewitt case, at least, is largely circumstantial, based on interviews with the man's co-workers and family members.

(From the archives: 4 women dead, countless questions)

Sources said the man went from committing lesser crimes -- burglaries, then residential robberies and other violations -- to committing murders. It is not clear how he selected his victims, but being small in stature, he might have preferred women, sources said. Sources said he did not have any obvious connection to the Loftons or the Dewitts, although he did, at one time, live in their neighborhood.

Hylton declined to comment on the charges on which the man is being held, but he said the suspect's incarceration had lasted several months. Hylton and sources said detectives were monitoring the man's movements, but because he is already incarcerated, authorities are working deliberately in preparing charges against him.

Staff writer Maria Glod and researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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