The first time Prince George’s County homicide detective Tony Schartner met Jason Scott, he thought there was “no way” the soft-spoken son of a retired D.C. school teacher and federal government worker had killed anyone.
Scott was strange, to be sure. He would only whisper in the detective’s ear out of fear of being recorded. But to Schartner, Scott did not seem like “that type” to have strangled two women.
Schartner is convinced now that he was face to face with a serial killer, one responsible not only for the slayings of Delores Dewitt, 42, and her daughter, Ebony, 20, but also for the killings of two other women and a teen in Prince George’s. But the anticlimactic resolution of the case — Scott, 30, has never talked, and under a plea deal, did not admit he was guilty of anything — has left Schartner and some family members of the victims feeling disconcerted.
“Selfishly,” Schartner said, “I’m not satisfied, because there’s many questions that I have that I still want answered.”
“To me,” said Karen Price, the aunt of one of Scott’s alleged victims, “it feels like he got away with murder.”
In January 2009, 45-year-old Karen Lofton, and her daughter, 16-year-old Karissa, were found fatally shot inside their locked home in Largo, Md. A few months later, the Dewitts were strangled and left in a burning car not far away.
Detectives ruled out the usual suspects — friends, family members, lovers — which left them with a killer who was either lucky, skilled or both. Whoever shot the Loftons had only a three-minute window to elude police, after an injured Karissa dialed 911, and somehow managed to get away without leaving a fingerprint or shred of DNA.
The Dewitts’ killer left a bleach stain in their home — perhaps to mask blood — and put the women’s bodies in the burning car, stolen from outside a nearby home. As the car’s owner dialed 911 to report it stolen, she said she saw it zoom by. Police found it ablaze minutes later.
“That’s how close we were,” said Prince George’s Assistant State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who would prosecute the case.
Detectives started “working backwards,” Schartner said, focusing their efforts on the burglary in which the car keys were stolen. Schartner began talking to suspects in area break-ins. Scott, a Largo resident under investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for burglarizing a gun shop in Woodbine, Md., was among them.
In their first meeting in July 2009, Scott came off as odd but otherwise unremarkable, Schartner said. Then, a week later, the ATF gave detectives a list of break-ins and home invasions that Scott said he had committed across Prince George’s.
Among them were four break-ins on the street from which the car keys were swiped and a home invasion that occurred just before the Dewitts were killed.
“That was a light-bulb moment,” Schartner said. “That doesn’t prove that he’s a murderer, but it’s a jumping-off point.”
Detectives began digging into the UPS worker’s life. Marcus Hunter, a co-worker who said that he committed some break-ins with Scott, told them that Scott once stopped at the Dewitts’ window and eyed two women inside. He said that on the night the Dewitts were killed, he and Scott had robbed another home, and when he dropped Scott off on a corner near the Dewitts’ house, Scott said, “All right, I’m going to stay out for a while.”
Evidence mounted. Detectives found burned remnants of the Dewitts’ clothing at a vacant house where Scott stashed burglary loot. They found that someone at Scott’s UPS office had searched for the Dewitts’ home on company computer software and that Scott was working when those searches were conducted.
Two more searches at the UPS office caught the attention of police: One for the home from which the pivotal car keys were taken, and the other for the home of 46-year-old Vilma Butler, who was fatally shot in 2008 before her home was set ablaze.
Detectives ruled out Hunter — whose alibi was supported by cellphone records — and soon became convinced that Scott was more than just odd. Among the files they found on his home computer were searches of the book “The Sociopath Next Door” and a TruTV.com article called “What Makes Serial Killers Tick.”
Scott, they concluded, had not just killed the Dewitts, but also the Loftons and Butler.
“There’s no doubt,” Schartner said. “Absolutely no doubt.”
Scott in September pleaded under the Alford doctrine in connection with the Dewitt slayings — meaning that he did not admit guilt but acknowledged the strength of the evidence against him. Prosecutors, who have publicly said they think Scott killed all five women, agreed not to charge him in connection with the other homicides, knowing he had been sentenced to a century in prison in a separate federal case stemming from the gun shop burglary.
The deal left many disappointed. Kirkland Lofton, Karissa Lofton’s father, said he is not “100 percent” convinced that Scott killed his daughter and ex-wife. Karen Price, Kirkland Lofton’s sister, said that she believes Scott did it but that “there’s no scab on our wounds. There’s just nothing.”
“He is going to serve time, but we don’t feel he is serving time for Karen and Karissa,” she said.
Harry Trainor, Scott’s attorney, said Scott never said anything that “would indicate that he had any involvement in any homicide.” Scott’s parents insist their son, a graduate of Largo High School and University of Maryland University College, is innocent.
“Just explain to me what he did and how he did it,” said Barbara Scott, Jason Scott’s mother. “Jason was quiet. If you’re quiet and you don’t raise a lot of ruckus and stuff, and they catch you doing wrong, then you’re a sociopath.”
Detectives acknowledge that in a case without witnesses or a confession, they are left to speculate about some details. But that has not made them any less convinced of Scott’s guilt.
Homicide detective Bernard Nelson said he typed up charging documents, which were never approved, in the Lofton slayings. In that case, he said, detectives compared shell casings from the crime scene with Maryland State Police ballistic test records. They determined that the gun used in the killings was a Glock 17 swiped from a burglary in the Upper Marlboro area. Hunter told detectives that he and Scott had broken into that home 13 days before the slayings, and that sometime later, he saw Scott with a Glock 17.
Police never found the weapon, and Hunter told detectives that Scott ditched it after the Lofton killings, Nelson said.
Detectives say they hope Scott will talk to them. But they worry they might have all the answers they will ever get.
“It is the outcome that I dreamt up? No,” Schartner said. “My curiosity and wanting to know the story and the events and why he did certain things aren’t answered.”