When the drama dies, what's left is the serial killer's crimes

By Petula Dvorak
Friday, July 23, 2010; B01

It's like we've opened the cover of this summer's hottest crime novel, and we're all waiting to read more.

Prince George's County police said this week that they have behind bars a man destined to become "one of America's most infamous killers," a 27-year-old who murdered two mother-daughter pairs last year and may have left a trail of bodies from Largo all the way to Florida and Texas.

He is smart, cunning, "brilliant" even, according to Prince George's Chief Roberto Hylton.

The case is set in a bucolic Maryland neighborhood where the lawns are big, the trees spread their branches wide, and it is quiet except for the buzz of one lawn mower on a weekday morning. The swings sway ever so slightly in the breeze on an empty playground.

This is where he allegedly did his handiwork, where he honed his grim art after poring over texts on crime scene forensics, law enforcement and police procedure.

He thwarted an FBI profiler, who concluded his crime scenes were unrelated.

Two mothers, both nurses, and two daughters, both young and attractive, found dead two months apart. Both times, the killer struck on a Monday.

The detectives were dogged, compiling 14 binders of evidence against the ruthless predator, who is so well educated he held not one but two master's degrees, police said.

"This case before you, I think, is going to be a case study for many law enforcement agencies in the future," Hylton said Tuesday. "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 case is already up for discussion on a fan site called Serial Killer Central.

And we don't even know who the guy is yet.

We do know that the cops are head over heels for this case, setting it up to be the stuff of legend.

America's love affair with the serial killer is undeniable: Books, movies, television shows and songs abound. Whether fact or fiction, from Dillinger to Dexter, those who prey on fellow humans have a firm hold on our imaginations.

And what we have going in Prince George's County this week is a full, florid display of that fascination.

"It's interesting why the police approached it this way. We don't even know who he is yet," said Katherine Ramsland, a criminology professor at John Jay College of Criminology in New York and an authority on serial killers. "And maybe we have overeager officers here who already want to build him up."

"Americans have this romantic, outlaw idea about these guys. The media turns them into these really smart, cat-and-mouse players," Ramsland said. "We focus on the killer, not the victims. But by doing that, we minimize the damage they have done."

Ah, yes, the damage.

Before we get all gooey about the brilliance of a man who allegedly confounded detectives for a year while working at a UPS sorting facility, sheer evil lurking in brown shorts, let's take a look at what police think he did.

Karen Lofton, 45, a school nurse, and her 16-year-old daughter, Karissa, were found shot in their locked home in Largo on Jan. 26, 2009. The day before, the pair had gone to church together, and Karissa had finished her shift at a restaurant.

At 2:30 a.m., a 911 call came from the house. Whispering into the phone, Karissa said that she and her mother had been shot. They were both dead when police arrived.

Two months later, on March 16, a 17-year-old came home and couldn't find her mom and sister. A jacket was by the door; the car was in the driveway; something wasn't right.

A few hours passed before Ebony Dewitt, 20, and mother Delores Dewitt, 42, were found down the street in a burning car. Dental records were used to identify them.

In this green, gorgeous suburb, where many families moved to escape the crime and chaos of the city, terror took hold.

BET ran a story wondering whether black women and their daughters were being targeted by a killer.

The police said absolutely not and calmed the fears of a crowd of about 200 people who packed a community meeting, according to an ABC 7 News report.

"It doesn't appear to be a serial killer. The manner of deaths is different; it is not indicative of a serial killer," said a county police officer, Andy Ellis.

But in our CSI-saturated culture, laptop detectives couldn't let go. The case was picked apart on Websleuths.com, where one poster predicted exactly what the police announced this week: "I would be shocked if this person does not live in the area, as it seems someone would notice an outsider lurking around," the sleuth deduced.

Bingo, police said he lived near the four victims. They also believe that he is responsible for killing a Bowie woman in 2008.

Police picked up on him as a suspect because of the stuff found in his place during a routine raid on a weapons case. He was supposedly showing off some guns he was selling at work.

That's not too brilliant in my book.

"It's such a myth that I always have to set my classes straight on," Ramsland said. "That serial killers are these brilliant people. Yes, they have a predator's advantage. They go past social limits. And we want them to be these smart, alpha males. People can't just have some stupid lughead who just lucks out until he gets caught."

Lughead is among the milder words I would choose for the monster who cut the lives of these women short.

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