Detective M.J. Fischetti got the news from his morning paper. Early one day last month, while his wife was out running errands and their three sons were still in bed, he sat at his kitchen table in Chesapeake, Va., sipping coffee. The headline on the front page of the Virginian-Pilot hit like a thunderclap: "Portsmouth man indicted in most recent death tied to serial killer." That had been his case. Fischetti had been the lead detective on the serial killings for three years, his first three years in homicide. He'd spent thousands of hours sifting through the meager forensic evidence, combing through hundreds of tips phoned in to a police hot line, approaching scores of wary street people and habitues of strip joints and gay bars and transvestite clubs in Norfolk. And yet he had on his hands one of the nation's longest-running series of unsolved homicides, a series dating to 1987 and including as many as 12 victims, all of them men who had some ties to the local homosexual demimonde. Exhausted and frustrated, Fischetti had reluctantly relinquished the case 12 months before to another of the four homicide detectives in the Chesapeake Police Department, Cecil Whitehurst. Now he was reading about it in the newspaper. A grand jury had indicted Elton M. Jackson, 41, of Portsmouth, in the slaying of Andrew D. "Andre" Smith, whose body was found last July. The Virginian-Pilot's report noted that police had never officially connected the Smith homicide with the first 11, but quoted them as having said that it "bears many similarities" to the others. Fischetti already knew the similarities. He also knew Elton Jackson. He knew that Jackson was familiar with several of the victims. He had questioned Jackson himself, but found no evidence to warrant bringing charges against him or even making him the focus of his investigation. He headed into work that morning more than curious to know what Whitehurst had discovered. Events unfolded quickly, or seemed to for a case that had remained open for so long. Jackson had been taken into custody quietly at his house the same day he was indicted. Court papers unsealed in the ensuing days said that he had been a friend of the victim's since childhood, and that he had lied about this under questioning by police. Jackson acknowledged through his attorney that he had had consensual sex with Smith shortly before Smith's body was found. He pleaded not guilty to the charge that he killed Smith, and said he had not killed any of the other 11 victims. Detective Whitehurst, following a longstanding preference, declined to talk to the media. But a police spokesman said, "We can't say this is the serial killer, and we can't rule him out. We're still looking at it very strongly." After Jackson was arraigned, after he was held on $100,000 bond, the police were still looking. The arrest came to seem like a break that dissolved into ambiguities, a lead that yielded no conclusions. But this entire case had always had its anomalies. It unfolded within a four-hour drive from Washington, but drew little publicity beyond the Tidewater area. It led straight into a sex-and-drug subculture, into which men retreat precisely so they can shed their everyday identities. It has a killer whose motive is still open to conjecture. For all its complications, for all its false leads and frustrations, the case clearly marks the tortuous trail investigators follow when they seek a serial killer. In this case, the trail leads to a series of questions: Did Elton Jackson kill Andre Smith? Did he kill 11 other men? If he didn't, who did? BREAK On June 28, 1993, the body of a young black man was discovered in a ditch beside a rural road in Chesapeake, a city of about 180,000 just south of Norfolk. M.J. Fischetti, working his first day as a homicide detective, took one look at the ligature mark around the victim's neck and said to himself, "Here we go again." This required no great powers of deduction: There had been six similar killings in the heart of the Tidewater dating to August 1987, when the body of Charles Frank Smith turned up in Chesapeake. A year later, the body of Joseph Ray was found, also in Chesapeake. Others followed sporadically: Stacey Reneau in January 1989; John W. Ross Jr. in January 1992; Billy Lee Dixon, found in Isle of Wight County, west of Norfolk, in August 1992; and Reginald Joyner, found in Suffolk, a city 20 miles west of Chesapeake, in March 1993. The victim discovered on Fischetti's first day was identified as Raymond Bostick, 27, an unemployed truck driver from Norfolk. Like the others, he had lived a somewhat transient life, either socially or geographically or both. Like the others, he had died of strangulation, yet his corpse showed no signs of struggle. His body was found nude, like all the others except Charles Smith, who had turned up in his jeans and sneakers. Bostick also shared in the others' ultimate fate: Sometime after he died, his body had been dumped by the roadside in a spot that was both secluded and well traveled. It was the kind of spot that offered the dumper some privacy, but ensured that the body would not go undiscovered for long. As the years passed, the killer did not deviate from this pattern. Clearly, he -- the assumption was that it was a man -- perfected a method of disposing of his victims without leaving much physical evidence. But working backward in time from the point of disposal, there were other signs of a formidable intelligence. Some of the bodies were more decomposed than others, suggesting that the killer kept them for a while -- in some cases, for a few days -- without being found out. His method of killing, strangulation by garrote or bare hands, requires substantial strength -- and perhaps some training. More baffling was the fact that none of the corpses showed any sign of struggle. Even the weakest of strangulation victims will resist, and in their resistance will often get the killer's blood or skin under their fingernails. The absence of any such evidence on the corpses suggested strongly that the killer had found some way to immobilize his victims. "You have to assume that if you're 250 pounds of muscle," Fischetti said, describing the stature of several victims, "I'm going to need to dope you up enough so you don't react." Blood tests turned up neither Rohypnol, the so-called date-rape drug, nor Liquid X, a sedative known as the "love drug." Some of victims had been drinking and doing cocaine, but others hadn't. It was only after Raymond Bostick's homicide, the seventh, that police concluded that it and the others were the work of a single killer. For one thing, this killer's "signature" was relatively subtle -- lacking in sensational disfigurement or satanic scrawlings. For another, the bodies had been dumped in different jurisdictions. "Sometimes we are our own worst enemy," Fischetti said during a series of conversations held before Elton Jackson was arrested. "We didn't do a very good job comparing murder cases." But after Bostick's corpse was discovered, Fischetti convened a meeting of homicide detectives from Suffolk and Chesapeake. "We were just sitting around talking about this as a group and decided we had to do something. It's not like it just came to me out of the blue. Once we compared descriptions of the cases, it became obvious. We just all came to the same conclusion." Thus the Serial Killer Task Force was born. At first it consisted primarily of Det. John Cook, on part-time loan from Suffolk, and Fischetti. Soon, state police were providing a computerized database that compares cases and leads nationwide. The FBI's Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit would provide detailed DNA testing and create a psychological profile of the killer. Fischetti, despite his short tenure in homicide, remained the lead investigator. The son of a New York City cop, Fischetti had dreamed of following in his father's footsteps, but when he was ready the NYPD had a prohibitive backlog of applicants. He ended up at the Chesapeake Police Training Academy and, taken with the beauty of the Tidewater area, he gladly accepted a job in the Department of Police in 1980. He now shares a small fluorescent-lit office with Whitehurst and two other cops. To go with the gray industrial carpeting and scraggly potted plants, he keeps a miniature New York Giants helmet and pictures of his wife and three young sons on the bulletin board near his desk. At 39, he has the nervous bearing of a well-trained greyhound: lithe frame, chiseled facial bones and thinning brown hair slicked back. With his frustration over the killings, it's easy to imagine him chasing a mechanical rabbit. "No matter how hard you try, there is nothing to explain some aspects of human behavior," he said. "You just try to accept it for what it is." Within months after Bostick's body was found, Fischetti's caseload started to expand: In September 1993, the body of Robert Neal was dumped beside another road in Chesapeake. A year later, the body of Garland Taylor Jr. was found in Suffolk. In May 1995, Samuel Aliff turned up dead in Chesapeake, followed by Jesse James Spencer, found in Chesapeake in January 1996, and then Andre Smith last July. Gradually, Fischetti became obsessed with finding the killer. Forensic evidence -- hairs, fibers, medical data and the like -- was either uncollected in the earlier cases or inconclusive in later ones. But it is a truism of serial murder investigations that the killer will reveal himself through his victims, so the police turned to investigating how the dead had lived. Here, too, they kept running out leads that went nowhere. BREAK The Tidewater metropolis made up of Norfolk, Portsmouth and environs has seen some homicides of unusual violence or terrifying circumstances, but its murder rate -- 150 per year in a population of more than 1.5 million -- is extraordinarily low for an urbanized area. The place is notable as a port of entry and as the headquarters of the Navy's Atlantic fleet. It has the largest concentration of military personnel in the country. On weekends, Norfolk and Portsmouth come to life with young servicemen. Strip joints line Norfolk's Ocean View section, and go-go clubs offer entertainment tailored to every sexual taste. Cheap motels advertise "military discounts." Downtown, bars and clubs line one end of Granby Street, which has served as home to the city's night life since the 1960s. In Portsmouth, men cruise for sex and/or drugs in a two-block area of a neighborhood named Truxtun. As far as the police could tell, all of the victims were last seen in or known to frequent one of these three neighborhoods. But what the 12 men have in common is not homosexuality, or ambiguous sexuality, so much as their lack of a constant relationship with a job or a community or a schedule. They were men who wouldn't be missed for a while. "Everyone keeps saying gay' when they talk about the victims," Fischetti said. "But with a lot of these guys that wasn't something they talked about." Billy Lee Dixon, victim No. 5, posed for pictures in gay erotic magazines, but his brother David said he never discussed his sexual orientation; he remembers Billy Lee as a wanderer, a "not your nine-to-five type," a youthful and muscular guy. "Whoever did this," he said, "must have been some kind of a monster." Robert Neal, victim No. 8, had two children, and he had talked about moving in with them and their mother, Pam Morgan, the day before he disappeared. But Morgan also said he was a crack addict, and would disappear for days at a time and then show up hungry, drugged out and sleep-deprived. "He always figured he could handle any problem that might come his way," she said. She also said she'd told police that Neal had had a friend named Elton. Garland Taylor Jr., victim No. 9, had married shortly before he disappeared, and his parents insisted that he was neither homosexual nor a drug user. For a while they stopped talking to Fischetti, believing that he was the source of some speculation about their son's lifestyle that appeared in the local press. "All we can do is go on what people on the streets are telling us," Fischetti said, "and it is not what parents want to hear about their kid." The killer, said John Cook, Fischetti's partner on the task force, might well revel in this aspect of his victims' lives. "The killer's getting the same comments we're getting on the streets," he said. "People are telling him, What are the police worried about? It's just another loser getting taken care of.' That's boosting his ego and making our job harder. He knows people won't talk." Although all 12 men disappeared from or near the Tidewater's adult playgrounds, that alone isn't very telling. In each place, the population changes from night to night and includes people from across the social, racial and sexual spectrums -- people who aren't generally eager to talk to police. On a night in February, a landscape architect named Mike was at the Garage, a gay bar in downtown Norfolk. Young men with baseball hats worn backward were shooting pool next to crumpled wanted posters. A hand-painted mural of heavily muscled men looked down on the throngs. Mike, who asked that his last name not be used in this article, said he had been frequenting gay bars on Granby Street since 1968, when he was 16, and now, at the age of 44, he lamented the willingness of patrons -- especially the youngest among them -- to go home with strangers. "These kids need to say to each other, I'll see you later. I'm going home with so-and-so,' " he said. "But they get a little buzzed and don't want anyone to know what they are up to." Like Mike, many Garage patrons are comfortably middle-class. But two blocks away is the Union Mission, a shelter for homeless people where three of the victims had stayed for various periods. And directly across the street from the Garage is the Greyhound bus station, a magnet for loiterers and the down and out. In a garbage-strewn mall just up the street, middle-aged men were idling in their cars and eyeing hustlers and each other with a combination of desire and suspicion. Gregg Fordham lived that kind of life for more than decade before he pulled himself out of it; in 1994, he started doing volunteer work for the Tidewater {STYL}cp,8.0,10.5 AIDS{STYL}cp,9.75,10.5 Crisis Task Force. The same night that Mike was talking in the Garage, Fordham was loading the back of a blue Chevy Astro with boxes of condoms for one of his thrice-weekly visits among Norfolk's outcasts. Trained in HIV prevention, he had broadened his message to include warnings about the killer. Out on Granby Street, he told three homeless men never to set foot in a stranger's car. "These young guys hang out in the mall with nothing to do," he said, describing a ritual he had witnessed -- and experienced -- dozens of times. "A guy, usually a military man or a married guy from the 'burbs, rolls up in a car and says, Hey, what ya doin'? Let's get a cup of coffee.' Whether they are gay or straight, they will have sex with the dude for $5 or $10, depending on what they do. Then they can score and get what they need for the night." One of Fordham's concerns was the hustlers' powers of denial. "When you need a fix, believe me, a serial killer is the last thing on your mind," he said. "You always think you can handle anything that comes along." He also noted that this denial extended to others who hung out downtown: "The guys on the streets think it's a homosexual thing, and the gay boys in the Garage think it's a homeless problem." In January 1996, Fischetti spent several nights combing Granby Street for leads in the killing of Jesse James Spencer, victim No. 11. His reception was about as cold as the winter air. "What you get is people running from their shadows," he said. "They think you are going to bust them for drugs or prostitution. No matter how hard you try to tell them different, they just go away." By canvassing the neighborhood, Fischetti was able to turn up some people who had seen Spencer in his last hours: He was drinking and smoking crack. He downed some beers at Perry's Lounge. He hit the street and climbed into a shiny maroon Ford Explorer with silver five-spoke mag wheels. The driver was a heavyset black man with Jheri curls and a diamond cluster ring on his left ring finger. They were probably headed to the Top Hat, a transvestite club nearby. But after that, Fischetti hit a wall: He found nobody who could place Spencer at the Top Hat. Nor could he find out more about the man with the Jheri curls and the maroon Explorer. Long before he started running into dead ends on Granby Street, Fischetti had realized that there was another element that would make things easier for the killer. The area is a few minutes' drive from a web of highways connecting Norfolk to Portsmouth, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Suffolk. The largest of these highways is Interstate 64, which rings the Norfolk area like a noose. Yet just minutes off I-64 there are farmlands and country roads, on which you can drive for miles without encountering another human being. Fischetti drove those roads dozens of times in his unmarked maroon cruiser, revisiting the dump sites, trying to get into the killer's mind, always mindful of how much the area had changed since he moved south from New York. "You can now go anywhere in the area in no time, really, which gives the killer plenty of easy escape routes," he said. He imagined the killer in a van or car, the latest victim in the back or trunk, darting from highway to byway and back again, taking the measure of potential dump sites. After getting rid of a body, he could be headed for home on the interstate in a matter of minutes. "Unless something goes wrong," Fischetti said, "no one has ever seen him leaving a body." But by that time, a few people had come close. BREAK The first time was when Raymond Bostick's body was dumped: A man who lived nearby went out on an errand early that morning in June 1993 and saw no body. When he returned half an hour later, the corpse was in plain view. It happened again in May 1995: A Chesapeake cop was sitting in his cruiser in a cul-de-sac in the shadow of I-64, a place kids used as a hangout. No more than 15 minutes after the cop left, a motorist found Samuel Aliff, victim No. 10. It may even have happened with Jesse Spencer in January 1996: A witness saw an olive-skinned man driving a red pickup down the same road shortly before the body was dumped. But the witness failed to get a license plate number. "You're frustrated, of course, because each near-miss means that you will probably get another murder," Fischetti said. "But you're also hopeful because it means this is a killer getting closer and closer to the edge. He needs the thrill of living on the edge. You hope that next time he will wait the extra minute that gets him caught." By this time, Fischetti had already had his share of frustrations. In February 1994 -- between victims No. 8 and 9 -- the body of 15-year-old Chesapeake girl was discovered on a rural road. She had died of exposure and alcohol poisoning. Police traced her last hours to the car of one Raymond Letcher Onley Jr., a 23-year-old gay man from Moyock, N.C., just over the border. As Fischetti questioned him, Onley blurted out something about "bodies and ditches." When he picked out several of the serial victims from photos, Fischetti and another detective thought they had stumbled across a witness who, at the very least, could help them break the silence on the streets. They had nothing on which they could hold Onley, so they made a date to question him again two days later. On the appointed morning, the detectives were delayed 45 minutes. Some time during that delay, Onley put a shotgun to his head. The detectives found him slumped against a wall in his mobile home. Fischetti already had ruled him out as a suspect -- Onley had been too forthcoming about his sexuality and night life, and the killer had shown no interest in killing women. But his shock over Onley's suicide was mingled with the realization that he'd misunderstood: When Onley mentioned "bodies and ditches," Fischetti concluded, he was talking about the practice among young partyers of leaving their underage fellow inebriants by the roadside to avoid blame for their activities. More false leads followed, though none so extreme. In early 1995, for instance, a young man called a police hot line to say he'd been picked up by a stranger who had tried to strangle him. He also talked directly to Fischetti, and promised to lead him to the man's house. He declined to give his name, but agreed to meet Fischetti in the police department lobby. He never showed. Last September, another young man made a report: He'd been walking by the side of a highway in Norfolk; a heavyset white male at the wheel of a windowless van had pulled up to offer him a ride; the driver had taken him on a detour through rural Chesapeake, where he had pulled to the side of a deserted road and made sexual advances; after a short struggle, the young man had broken free and jumped onto the street as the van sped away. He described the driver as a muscular man in his mid-thirties with short-cropped hair and several tattoos, including one on his right forearm of a dagger with a snake coiled around it. "Hitchhiker Attacked; Serial-Killer Link Possible," read the Virginian-Pilot's headline. More calls flooded the hot line: It suddenly seemed as if every young man who'd had a bad homosexual experience imagined that he'd stumbled across the killer. It didn't help that in 1994, Virginia's gay community had been terrorized by Gary Ray Bowles, a male prostitute accused of robbing and killing well-heeled older gay men from Washington to Florida. (Bowles has been convicted in one case and has pled guilty in another.) The young man who made the report showed up at a Portsmouth hospital with head injuries, Fischetti said, but under questioning his story unraveled. "He'd say one thing, then we'd question him again a couple of days later and he'd give a different answer. In the end, we think he may have been blaming his injuries on someone else. In Virginia, if you're injured while committing a crime, the state won't pay your hospital bills if you're indigent." Still, when the Serial Killer Task Force didn't follow up every lead, no matter how tangential, gay activists cried foul. Our Own Community Press, a monthly newspaper, also criticized the police for their insensitivity toward gay men. The task force was in part responsible for the mistrust: From the beginning, the detectives had held their information pretty closely, because it was sketchy and because Fischetti was trying to avoid just the sort of frenzy that had engulfed this latest episode. Once a rumor had spread that the killer was a cop, but even that didn't change his approach. "When they couldn't find the Zodiac Killer in San Francisco, there was speculation he was a cop," he said. "Sure, it could be. But what the rumor tells me is that people are feeling insecure, which I understand. The human mind doesn't like to be confused. It's human nature to make up answers if you can't get them." As his own frustration built, he had to keep reminding himself of that. BREAK The task force had little evidence from the victims' bodies and few hard leads coming from the street. It did have two psychological profiles of the killer, one from the state police and one from the FBI. These Fischetti was reluctant to use. He feared that if they were inaccurate in any way, they could point the investigation in the wrong direction. For fear of raising undue alarm, he declined to make them public. "The profilers told us in advance that they couldn't be as accurate as they would like because of the lives of the victims," he said. "Because some were prostitutes and drug users, it's harder to predict the characteristics of the killer. They could give you a pretty good profile of Wayne Williams in Atlanta because he was killing black children only. It had to be a black guy, or he would have been noticed in the neighborhoods from which they disappeared." Larry McCann, a special agent with the state police in Richmond, developed one of the profiles for the task force. "What I found was that the victims lived in a fascinating area I had never encountered before," he said. "It is a world where the heterosexual world of sex overlaps with the homosexual world. The question is, how would the lives of the people in this world come into contact with the offender?" As McCann read the crime scenes -- or, rather, the dump sites -- he had little trouble placing this killer into one of two basic categories recognized by experts. The method of dumping, the removal of physical evidence, the lack of signs of struggle all suggested considerable cunning and forethought. A "disorganized" serial killer generally strikes on impulse and with little regard for whether he will be caught. This killer, McCann concluded, is capable of making and executing plans -- he is "organized," in the same class as Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer. This basic distinction generally suggests things for police to look for. One of them is the possibility that the killer is keeping souvenirs from his victims -- jewelry, or a lock of hair, or body parts. Organized killers "keep trophies to relive the experience, to say, Here is my reward for what I have done,' " says Tod W. Burke, an associate professor of criminal justice at Radford University who has written on police procedure in serial killings. "There are two kinds of trophies: One is body parts, which are used for sexual pleasure . . . but with personal possessions, they are kept, as much as anything else, to keep track of the victims, which is not easy to do once the killer gets into the teens." The implications for the Chesapeake case are obvious: The stripping of the victims before they were dumped might suggest that the killer is keeping some of their clothing somewhere. Less clear, however, is the role of race in the murders: The first five victims were white, but five of the next seven were black. This has blurred what is normally a basic clue for police. "It is extremely unusual for a serial killer to go outside his race," Burke says. It may turn out that race has no role, or no role useful to investigators. "In cases like this one," Burke says, "in which the victims are substance abusers and hustlers, {they} don't care about the race of the people they're hanging around with." Still more ambiguous is the role of sex in the killings. "Most serial killers are motivated by sex," says Robert K. Ressler, who became an authority on profiling when he served with the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit. "Essentially, the serial killer has a total inability to have normal relations with other people, so he turns to sadistic killings as a way to achieve intimacy. It may stem from impotence and anger at his inability to form relationships." The Tidewater killer's sexual orientation, and the roots of his rage, remain a matter of hypothesis for the police. Autopsies of several victims showed evidence of receptive anal intercourse, but in many cases the medical examiner could not determine how recently the acts took place. And because some of the victims were hustling for a living, they had had multiple sexual partners, making it impossible to determine whether the killer was among them. Police won't rule out the possibility that the killer lured the victims into some kind of erotic asphyxiation, gaining a choke hold when they were at their most vulnerable. John Wayne Gacy killed many of his 33 young victims by turning their T-shirts into a noose during a sex act. On the other hand, the killer could simply be using the promise of sex to gain control over his victims. Based solely on the physical evidence and the profile, the killer is a man who is cunning enough to cover his tracks, strong enough to choke victims of considerable size and verbally facile enough to seduce his victims into a situation that he controls. One other clue may lie in a 31/2-year gap in the killings, from January 1989 to August 1992. It coincides roughly with the military buildup for Operation Desert Storm. This coincidence led Fischetti to look at the possibility that the suspect was a member of the armed forces, thousands of whom shipped out from the Tidewater area for deployment to the Persian Gulf. With reports of white supremacist activity at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and with the military's ban on openly gay personnel, the task force detectives believed that a killer who targeted a marginalized population might find cover in the service. But again, the lead went nowhere. "We couldn't see any patterns in personnel that made any sense to us," Fischetti said. "The pool of people was just too large." After the military angle proved a bust, and after the near-miss in the Spencer case, Fischetti needed a break. He would put in long days af the office, and then sit at his desk late into the night, poring over a long list of tips that had been picked over long ago. "I didn't want to give up years of my life" for nothing, he said. "It had become a personal thing for me." But he was suffering bouts of insomnia. He was quarreling with his wife. In May 1996, he reluctantly stepped aside. BREAK Cecil Whitehurst, like Fischetti, had a reputation for thoroughness. Because his desk is next to Fischetti's, he heard an awful lot about the case over the course of three years. When he took it over, according to Fischetti, he wanted to try something new. Whenever victim No. 12 turned up -- police were expecting another killing soon -- he would focus on that case almost exclusively, as an isolated event. Then a Virginia Power Co. employee discovered Andre Smith's body in a ditch July 22. The corpse was unclothed. An autopsy would establish that Smith had died of ligature strangulation, but Whitehurst refused to make that detail public, leaving any connection to the previous 11 killings unclear. Through a police spokesman, Whitehurst declined to discuss the case with The Washington Post Magazine. But in papers unsealed by circuit courts in Portsmouth and Chesapeake in early May, he described the evidence that led him to Elton Jackson. Whitehurst quickly learned that Smith, who was 38, had lived with his mother in Truxtun. He had hung around with Garland Taylor Jr., victim No. 9, at a Quick Shop on Portsmouth Boulevard. When police canvassed Smith's neighborhood, they learned that Smith was acquainted with Jackson, and that Jackson lived on Portsmouth Boulevard within half a mile of Smith. The on-ramp to Interstate 264 is close enough to cast a shadow over Jackson's single-story red-brick house. Whitehurst also was told that around 10 p.m. on July 20, Smith had left his mother's house intending to borrow money from Jackson so he could engage the services of a prostitute. It is not clear from the court papers whether Smith saw Jackson at that point. A friend of Smith's told Whitehurst that at 2:30 the next morning, Smith failed in an attempt to procure the prostitute and set off for Jackson's house once again to borrow money. About 29 hours later, his body was discovered. On July 23, Whitehurst went to Jackson's house to question him. It was then that Jackson said he didn't know Smith and had heard of his death only through the TV news. Whitehurst initiated a background check of Jackson, during which he learned that a local credit agency had Jackson's Ford Escort. On August 22, the detective bought the car, apparently to keep it in police custody. At that point, FBI agents were brought in to search the Escort. In the car's ashtray, they found six cigarette butts. On the butts, an FBI forensic examiner found material from which he could extract DNA. It matched DNA extracted from Smith's corpse. Exactly what that link means, however, remains unclear. Later in the investigation -- just last February and March -- Whitehurst sought warrants to search Jackson's house and his person. "It appears that the offender responsible for this series of deaths is an organized killer," reads the request for one of the warrants. "Such offenders have a tendency to obtain and keep personal items from their victims . . . These items are generally kept hidden by the offender in an area within their residence that they feel is safe and secure." After the warrants were issued, police took samples of Jackson's blood, saliva, pubic hair and cranial hair. Whether those samples match any taken from Smith's body -- or from any of the other 11 -- police have not disclosed. They also seized 34 items from his house, including a gold belt, cigarette butts, a gay newspaper and three bottles of cologne. Whether any of these items belonged to Smith, police have declined to say. By April or May, Whitehurst and Chesapeake prosecutors decided that the time had come to arrest Jackson. In securing the indictment against him, they employed a rarely used procedure by which they submitted a number rather than the suspect's name to the grand jury. When police arrived at Jackson's house, on May 6, he denied knowing Smith again and submitted to arrest without incident. After further questioning at the police station, he acknowledged that he had known Smith. He also told police that he had engaged in intercourse with Smith on the night of July 20, but said he didn't kill him. At his arraignment, bond was set at $100,000. At a bond reduction hearing May 9, Jackson was escorted by five burly deputies. The defendant, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 230 pounds, wore a blue jumpsuit that bared his massive forearms. Throughout the proceedings, he sat somberly next to his court-appointed attorney, Randolph Stowe, and occasionally whispered in his ear. Stowe asked Chesapeake Circuit Court Judge Russell Townsend Jr. to reduce his client's bond from $100,000 to $10,000, describing him as a "scared middle-aged man" who was unemployed and devoted to caring for his elderly mother and unlikely to flee. Nancy Parr, the commonwealth's attorney, responded that Smith was "strangled with a cord or a rope or something and left nude by the side of the road. {Jackson} is the last person the victim went to see . . . He had denied knowing him until sitting in the police station." After much deliberation, Townsend sided with Parr and declined to reduce bond. After the hearing, Stowe said his client had one previous conviction, for solicitation and frequenting a bawdyhouse in 1987. He also said he would use the evidence of a serial killing in Jackson's defense: "If the evidence available to police does not indicate any relationship between my client and the other murders, and if Mr. Smith and the other victims were killed by the same person, as the police seem to believe, then the fact that my client is not connected to the other killings is strong circumstantial evidence that he did not kill Mr. Smith." Regarding what is known about serial killers generally, Stowe said: "The profile of a serial killer is of an extremely intelligent white man, a Ted Bundy type," he said. "Well, my client is certainly not white, and has given me no indication of brilliance so far." Even after Jackson's arrest, Whitehurst maintained his silence. Through a police spokesman, he thanked the FBI, the local gay community and residents of Portsmouth for their help in his investigation. Fischetti did not begin sleeping more easily. He praised Whitehurst's detective work on the Smith case but remained uneasy about the open status of the other 11. "If this arrest solves the case, great," he said. "If not, I hope to get back to work. I'm not going to rest until we can close each and every case. Then we can all go home." Back on Granby Street, Gregg Fordham said, "Life on the streets here will never be the same." Some people he knew had adopted caution as part of their nightly lives, but he also worried that the arrest had given others a sense of security that might prove false. Faded police sketches of the two men tied to Jesse James Spencer's disappearance were still hanging in the Garage. Elton Jackson's trial in the homicide of Andre Smith is scheduled to begin September 8. Chris Bull, a Washington writer, is coauthor of Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s and a contributing editor of the Advocate. CAPTION: Many of the victims favored the adult playgrounds of Norfolk. CAPTION: Geography made things easier for the killer or kill-ers, who dumped victims in spots that were secluded yet well-traveled enough that the bodies would not go undiscovered for long. Just minutes off Interstate 64, which rings the Norfolk area, are many country roads that fit that description. CAPTION: 1. Charles F. Smith CAPTION: 2. Joseph Ray CAPTION: 3. Stacey Reneau CAPTION: 4 John W. Ross Jr. CAPTION: 5. Billy Lee Dixon CAPTION: 6. Reginald Joyner CAPTION: 7. Raymond Bostick CAPTION: 8. Robert Neal CAPTION: 9. Garland Taylor Jr. CAPTION: 10. Samuel Aliff CAPTION: 11 Jesse James Spencer CAPTION: 12. Andrew D. Smith CAPTION: Elton Jackson, left, has been charged in the slaying of the 12th victim, Andrew D. Smith. Far left, inside the Garage on Granby Street. Below, Detective M.J. Fischetti at the spot where the body of the first victim, Charles F. Smith, was found.