She woke up on her back in a dark, abandoned house, pinned down by a man with his hands pressed into her neck. She couldn’t breathe as he ripped off her shirt.
But then she remembered the blade — a red box cutter that she carried in her pocket for protection. She pulled it out, flicked it open and started stabbing.
“I just stuck him,” testified the woman. “And then I went back again, and stuck him again.”
His blood spurted onto her clothes as she leaped up and then jumped out a window, fleeing down the empty street for help at a gas station.
The woman, police now say, was one of the lucky ones. The man later charged in her assault is a serial killer who terrorized Detroit for months, police allege — and the blood the man left on her pants is now a key piece of evidence against him.
On Thursday, police submitted four homicide warrants against the suspect, WDIV reported. Authorities say Deangelo Martin, a 34-year-old homeless man, targeted sex workers, mostly in their 50s, and killed them inside derelict houses. As prosecutors decide whether to charge Martin in those deaths, police say they’re investigating him in connection with other potential killings.
The case has shined a light both on Detroit’s vulnerable population of sex workers and the endemic problem of abandoned homes in the Michigan metropolis, leading the mayor to promise to board up thousands of blighted properties that police combed through to look for more victims.
Police found the first body on March 19, inside a vacant house. Later identified as Nancy Harrison, 52, she died of blunt force trauma to the head, WDIV reported. On May 24, authorities found Trevesene Ellis, 53, also dead of blunt force trauma to the head in an abandoned house. On June 5, Tamara M. Jones, 56, was found in another neglected property; her cause of death is unclear. According to the Detroit News, all the women were “arranged in kneeling positions,” with used condoms nearby.
Police sounded the alarm after discovering Jones’s body. “It appears we may have a serial killer,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig warned at a news conference last month, citing the similarities in the victims and the ramshackle dwellings where their remains were left behind.
Police began a massive operation, eventually combing through more than 3,300 abandoned homes to search for other victims and evidence. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (D) pledged to quickly board up the remaining vacant houses in a city where about 19,000 similar properties have already been demolished in the past five years, CBS News reported.
“We have to remove the blight from this community,” Duggan said. “It has been a plague on this city for far too long.”
For police, the case was further complicated because the killer appeared to be targeting sex workers.
“Sex workers, in many cases they’re invisible,” Craig told reporters. “Some are illegal narcotic users, they’re disconnected from families, so if they go missing, generally there will be no report of a missing person. So that’s what makes cases like this very challenging.”
On June 7, police arrested Martin at a bus stop. They haven’t said what evidence first led them to the itinerant man.
But authorities soon revealed that at least two victims had escaped brutal attacks allegedly at the hands of Martin. The first, a 26-year-old woman, said Martin invited her to his mother’s house to take a shower and sleep, and then sexually assaulted her and stabbed her in the neck. (The Washington Post typically doesn’t identify victims of sexual violence.) She said she escaped when he dropped the knife and she managed to stab him.
The 51-year-old woman who escaped by using her box cutter testified that she waited three days to notify police, fearing she could get in trouble for stabbing the man. At first, she pointed police toward another man who had asked her for sex shortly before the attack.
But a state crime lab tested the blood on the sweatpants she was wearing during the attack, prosecutors said in court, and came back with a hit on Martin’s DNA. The abandoned house where she escaped was the same property where police found Jones’s body two days later.
For now, Martin has been charged with assault with intent to murder and four counts of criminal sexual assault in the attack on the 26-year-old, WDIV reported. In the second case, he’s charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting the 51-year-old.
Martin’s attorney didn’t immediately return a message. Police have not said which killings are tied to the homicide warrants filed on Thursday.
When the 51-year-old woman testified about her ordeal in a preliminary hearing in August, she broke down in tears on the stand.
“I thought I was going to die,” she said.
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