By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A01
Police barely knew that Jason Thomas Scott existed before the bodies of two of his alleged victims turned up in a burning car in Prince George's County last year. The suspected serial killer was living quietly with his parents and sister in a modest suburban colonial in Largo, and public records show just one breach of the law: a speeding ticket.
But soon after the slayings, he was suspected in a weapons case. That allowed police to raid his home and pull back the layers of his life, revealing a rapid escalation from burglary to home invasions, and eventually the killings, court records say.
On Tuesday, a Prince George's grand jury charged Scott, 27, with two counts of murder and other crimes in the deaths 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.
Police have said that Scott is a person of interest in the killings of another mother-daughter pair from Largo: Karen Lofton, 45, and her 16-year-old daughter, Karissa, who were found shot in their locked home Jan. 26, 2009. Lofton and Dewitt were nurses. Detectives also are looking into whether Scott might be responsible for a 2008 killing in which a Bowie woman was shot before her home was set ablaze and for other crimes as far away as Texas and Florida, police officials said.
So far, Scott is charged only in the Dewitt slayings. "Clearly, this was a gruesome double murder that really shocked the community," said Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn Ivey. "I hope that this indictment will help bring some sense of calm to the community."
Ivey declined to say whether Scott would face charges in any other killings, citing ethics rules that prohibit him from talking about ongoing investigations.
But Prince George's Police Chief Roberto Hylton did not back away from his characterization of Scott as a ruthless and deceptive serial killer.
"This person was just a natural, hard-core criminal that just preyed on this community," Hylton said after the indictment.
Hylton said investigators had been contacted by "a number of other police departments" wondering whether Scott might be responsible for more killings. He declined to name those departments, noting that investigators had to "compare notes" to see whether the cases are connected. He said his own investigators think that Scott might be responsible for "one or two" more slayings in Prince George's as well.
In almost every way possible, law enforcement officials say, Scott was the worst kind of criminal. Besides living under their radar, he was computer savvy, receiving a bachelor's degree in information systems management from the University of Maryland University College and using his access to a database at UPS, where he worked for nine years, to track his victims, law enforcement sources say. He also was crafty, reading up on evidence collection so he could learn how to clean his crime scenes, the sources say.
And he was depraved, they said, targeting complete strangers.Peeping accusation
Kobie Flowers, Scott's attorney on previously existing charges, declined to comment. No one returned a phone message or responded to multiple handwritten notes seeking comment that were left at Scott's family home.
Richard Arnold, another lawyer who represented Scott in previous cases, said Scott struck him as a "very mild-mannered, easygoing guy" of "reasonable intelligence."
"That he would commit a crime of any nature, for me I don't see it," he said. "But I've been fooled."
Neighbors said they knew Scott as a pariah but never pegged him as a killer. One said that in 1997, she twice caught Scott peeping through her teenage daughter's window. One of those times, she called police but was told that no charges could be filed because she could not "positively identify" Scott. She said she told her daughter to spread word of the incidents through the schools she and Scott attended (first Kettering Middle School, then Largo High School) in hopes that it might deter him. It apparently did, she said, adding that it was a "total shock" to learn that police believe Scott is a killer.
Law enforcement sources said Scott read Internet articles and books on how evidence is gathered so he could learn to scrub his crime scenes and changed his methods to throw police off his trail. An FBI profiler had even concluded that the two mother-daughter killings were unrelated. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
But Scott was a prolific criminal, court records show. And as is usually the case with prolific criminals, they don't stay under the radar for long. He has no criminal convictions on his adult record, but since his first arrest in 2009, police have charged him with several crimes dating to 2007.
In June 2009, according to federal court records, Scott drew the attention of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a confidential informant told agents that a UPS employee named Jason and another man named Marcus were selling stolen guns in the Landover area. Already investigating a burglary at a gun shop in Woodbine, the ATF now had suspects.
For $1,000, the informant agreed to cooperate with ATF agents by trying to buy guns from Jason and Marcus. Authorities had identified the pair as Scott and Marcus D. Hunter, 24, court records show. Later that month, the undercover operation came to fruition. For $3,000, the informant bought four guns from Scott. Three had been stolen from the gun shop in Woodbine, court records show.The big break
On July 1, 2009, the agents raided Scott's family home, court records show. A dozen guns were taken out of the house that day, along with a bulletproof vest, a police scanner and a silencer, the records say. Agents also found what appeared to be a burglar's kit -- a crowbar, Gerber tool gloves and a ski cap -- and some of his loot, including computer equipment and a set of BMW car keys, court records show. They contacted Prince George's police.
That, police now say, was their big break in the mother-daughter slayings.
Prince George's police searched Scott's house again and found evidence connecting him to several break-ins in the area. Court records say a stolen handgun connected him to a December 2007 burglary on Albert Drive in Mitchellville. A computer tower connected him to a June 2008 burglary on West Branch Drive in the Kettering area. An Xbox and two spare keys to a BMW connected him to a burglary on Dunwood Valley Drive in Bowie in May 2009. Computer equipment connected him to another burglary that month on Aventine Lane. Two camera lenses connected him to a theft from a fire investigator's car in May 2009. He was charged in each of those cases, but the charges were dropped in favor of federal charges in a separate case.
Hunter told police that he and Scott were also involved in two home invasions: one on March 14, 2009, on Pickering Circle in Largo, the other Oct. 4, 2008, on Medinah Ridge Road in Accokeek, court records show. In the October home invasion, the two were forced to run when the homeowner wrestled one of their guns away; in the March home invasion, they made off in a woman's 2002 Cadillac SLS, the records show.
But perhaps the most telling item was a computer flash drive containing pictures of a naked, young-looking female with a pillowcase over her head and a butterfly tattoo on her left hand, court records show. That young woman had returned to her Fort Washington home with her mother on June 13, 2009, to find a man holding her younger sister at gunpoint, the records show. The man ordered her into a separate bedroom, made her strip, took nude photos of her and sexually assaulted her, the records show. Police now think the man was Scott, and he was charged in that incident.
It is unclear whether the raids in July produced any evidence to link Scott directly to the Dewitt or Lofton killings. Police have said the ATF search was a break in the case, although they have declined to discuss the evidence they have. Sources said the evidence is largely circumstantial and relies heavily on computer forensics and Scott's access to a UPS database with names and addresses.
Hylton previously said the evidence is "overwhelming" and places Scott at the "crime scene." He said Tuesday that experts in anthropology and botany from the University of Maryland assisted with a sweeping investigation.
"While I don't want to glorify his intellectual capacity, I will tell you he is a challenge to us," Hylton said.
Scott was arrested after the July 1 raid. Police have subsequently dropped and added various charges to keep him behind bars while they investigate the slayings. Court records show that he has given statements to authorities at least three times. At the time of Tuesday's indictment, he was being held on federal carjacking, weapons and sex charges, court records state.
Staff researcher Meg Smith and staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.