The police in Phoenix say they have linked a suspect to nine killings that shook the area over a three-week span last year — the second suspected serial killer the region has endured in recent years.
Cleophus Cooksey Jr. has been in custody since his arrest by police in December for the fatal shooting of his mother and her husband. And on Thursday, police said they had linked the 35-year-old to seven other killings that occurred during the weeks leading up to his arrest.
All the victims had been shot in Phoenix or nearby Avondale and Glendale.
One victim was the brother of an ex-girlfriend, the Arizona Republic reported; others were set up as meetings online or through text messages. Police described one as the result of a purported drug deal.
The first murder occurred on Nov. 27, when Andrew Remillard, 27, and Parker Smith, 21, were fatally shot in a parking lot in Phoenix.
On Dec. 2, Salim Richards, 35, a security guard, was shot and killed about six miles away, police said. A little more than a week later, Jesus Real, 25, was shot and killed; police said that Cooksey had a connection to Real’s sister. On Dec. 13, Latorrie Beckford, 29, was shot and killed. On Dec. 15, Kristopher Cameron, 21, was shot and killed after police said he showed up to make a drug transaction with the suspect.
A few hours later, Maria Villanueva, 43, was kidnapped after leaving her car near her home, police said. Her body was found with gunshot wounds and “evidence of sexual assault” the next day, police said.
It is not clear how the killings were linked in motive. Ballistic evidence linked Cooksey to the cases, news reports said.
The alleged serial killings finally unraveled on Dec. 17, when police were called to a disturbance at the house where Rene Cooksey, 56, and her husband Edward Nunn, 54, lived. A patrol officer arrived to find Cooksey bloodied and “concealing things,” officials said at a news conference on Thursday. His mother and her husband were discovered dead in the house, having been shot, the police said.
“Nine deaths, three weeks, nine people shot in our communities,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said at the news conference.
Cooksey was arrested that day and charged with two counts of murder.
According to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Cooksey was just released from prison in July after serving nearly 16 years for armed robbery and manslaughter from 2000 and 2001.
According to the Arizona Republic, the charges resulted from an armed robbery of a strip club which resulted in one person being killed. Cooksey’s role in the crime was not immediately clear; as the Republic notes, people can be found guilty in Arizona even if they weren’t the actual killer.
He was convicted at the age of 18; during his years in prison, he racked up a lengthy disciplinary file, records show. During a brief release in 2015 to a community supervision program, he was charged with a DUI, the Republic reported, and later “absconded” from his supervision, according to the Corrections Department, before being arrested again and returned to custody in 2016.
During his time out Cooksey had started posting rap videos on YouTube, according to the Republic. The low-quality videos show the rapper at his couch, singing over a track in the background.
The Republic reported that Cooksey is the grandson of a Tucson-based civil rights leader, Roy L. Cooksey.
Another alleged serial murderer killed nine people in Phoenix in 2015 and 2016, leaving the city on edge. Aaron Juan Saucedo was charged with the murders in May 2017.
Officials on Thursday credited cooperation between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and local police departments, as well as new technology initiatives, for quickly finding suspects for both serial murder cases.