MIAMI, AUG. 28 -- Discovery of five murder victims since Sunday afternoon, including two today, has shocked and frightened residents and set off a massive dragnet for a serial killer in Gainesville, a quiet college town in northern Florida.
The bodies of four women and one man, all college students, were found inside three separate student apartments not far from the University of Florida campus, authorities said.
"We have every reason to believe the murders are probably all connected to one suspect or two suspects," said Gainesville Police Chief Wayland Clifton. He said the methods of the killer appeared similar, but he did not elaborate.
The Gainesville Sun reported today that the bodies of the first three victims had been mutilated and that at least one woman had been decapitated.
Spencer Mann, spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Department, cited similarities in the slayings but said the most recent victims were not mutilated.
"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that anybody that commits homicide using mutilation is a pretty sick individual and it's somebody we want to get off the streets very badly," he said.
Clifton said more than 50 police investigators from the FBI, Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement have been brought to Gainesville.
The killings evoked memories of Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer who stalked college campuses from Seattle to Tallahassee during the 1970s and whose execution last year, 35 miles from Gainesville, drew a crowd of 2,000 cheering spectators to a grassy field across the highway from Florida's death row in Starke.
Bundy was executed for murdering a 14-year-old school girl in 1978. He also was convicted of killing two sorority sisters at Florida State University in Tallahassee that year, and police officials in many states have said they believe that he may have killed as many as 36 college-age women.
"That's what we're all saying -- it's another Ted Bundy on the loose," said Jana Walters, 18, a University of Florida freshman. "Some sicko."
Three University of Florida students who live across the street from the apartment where the first two victims were found Sunday afternoon said they were going home to Key West.
"We're horrified, we're scared and we're going home until this thing blows over," Lydia Blanco, 22, told the Associated Press. Other students said they were so afraid that they slept with steak knives.
The first two victims, University of Florida freshmen rooming together, were discovered in their apartment after one of the victim's parents could not reach her by telephone and called police.
Sonya Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Christina P. Powell, 17, of Jacksonville, were found semi-nude and mutilated in a bedroom and the living room of their apartment near the campus after the maintenance man opened the door for police, authorities reported.
Investigators believe that the two had been dead 48 to 72 hours when found. Neighbors reported to police that they saw one or two people leaving the apartment early Saturday but did not recognize them.
Early Monday morning, eight hours after discovery of the first two victims, police found the mutilated body of Christa Leight Hoyt, 18, inside her apartment about two miles from the complex where Larson and Powell lived.
Hoyt was a records clerk at the Alachua County Sheriff's office, and deputies checked her apartment when she failed to report for her midnight shift. The Sun, quoting unidentified sources, said that she was decapitated and that her breasts and those of at least one other victim were mutilated.
The fourth and fifth victims were identified as Tracy Inez Paules and a friend, Manuel R. Toboada, 23, graduates of American High School in Miami. They were found this morning inside a ground-floor apartment at the three-story Gatorwood Apartments.
Toboada had just been accepted at nearby Santa Fe Community College and was planning to study architecture, a friend, Eric Dunham, 22, of Sarasota, told the Associated Press. Paules was a pre-law senior at the University of Florida and majoring in political science, the AP reported.
Gainesville police were going door to door today to reassure residents. But because so many students said they did not feel safe and want to leave town for a while, the university has extended until Sept. 7 the period during which students can add or drop classes.
University of Florida officials decided today not to cancel classes, which began Monday, and invited students who live off campus to move temporarily into dormitories on campus, where security has been increased. About one-third of the 34,000 students live off campus, but 95 percent of freshmen live in dormitories, a school spokesman said.
Several toll-free hotlines have been established in Gainesville so students can telephone their parents.
The university has long had student patrols to escort students around campus at night. On an average night, 50 escort patrols accompany students. Monday night, more than 200 patrols were at work.