Animals were the first to die. Now it’s people at random. In separate strings of crimes, Valley women have been raped. And now some have been killed. At least two serial killers are targeting the Valley, and detectives are on the hunt.
A string of sniper shootings in one case and a series of rapes, burglaries and homicides in another — two separate cases with at least two separate killers.
From Aug. 6 to May 1, the man dubbed the “Baseline Rapist” has possibly attacked at least seven people, killed four and robbed seven in Phoenix.
And from May 30 to April 13, police believe one or more serial shooters has slain four people and seven animals in the West Valley and Phoenix.
Police believe the same person or group could be responsible for as many as 25 random shootings, but detectives have definitively linked only four.
“We don’t have a pattern of where he’s going to strike next and we don’t want to eliminate any possible information,” Phoenix Sgt. Andy Hill said. “We don’t want the suspects knowing what we’re doing and changing their behavioral pattern.”
Many of the shootings occurred in clusters late at night and early in the morning, generally using a smallcaliber weapon.
Victims were simply walking down the street, riding bicycles or sleeping at bus stops when they were shot.
“Serial shooters are relatively rare,” said Eric Hickey, a criminologist and former consultant to the FBI. “The odds are that it’s a male who is waiting for the opportune moment and wants to get something out of this.”
He said the gunman is probably the type of person who goes home and watches the news and “gets off” on all the attention.
Hickey, a criminolog y instructor at California State University at Fresno, said the man likely knows the Valley well and lives close to where the shootings took place. He also noted that many of the shootings have been close to freeways, which provide an easy escape route.
Hickey said he is not surprised the shooter targeted animals before people.
“What he has probably done is some practicing,” Hickey said. “He measured the media response to that and when he got comfortable with that and knew he could get away with that, killed people.”
Experts say serial offenders, such as the shooter and the rapist, will likely act again until they are caught or die.
Phoenix police said they are creating profiles of their suspects to help find them.
But Scottsdale Community College criminology instructor John Kavanagh said successful profiling is difficult for two reasons: There are only a handful of profilers nationwide, and profiling is not an exact science.
“What scares me is if these are in fact two individuals, their level of activity is frightening,” Kavanagh said. “It’s pretty rare to have two deranged people team up, but it happened in the case of the D.C. sniper.”
Police are not comparing the serial shooter to the October 2002 sniper attacks that terrorized Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, when 10 people were killed and three injured over a three-week span. But there are striking similarities: Random victims, multiple deaths and no suspect descriptions.
In the case of the D.C. sniper, two men were arrested as they slept in a car customized into a mobile sniper’s nest.
John Allen Muhammad, 45, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 21, were convicted of murder. Muhammad is awaiting execution while Malvo received a life sentence.
Police are asking the public to be aware and report any suspicious activity to help catch the killers, who have become increasingly brazen.
The “Baseline Rapist” sexually assaulted women for four months before the first killing, police speculate. Investigators believe his first slaying victim was Tina Washington, a 39-year-old mother of two, who was shot Dec. 12.
His next two victims — a couple who worked at a restaurant — were targeted March 15. His fourth victim, Kristen Nicole Gibbons, was killed two weeks later.
Police said some of the killings also involve sexual assault. The victims have been black, Asian and American Indian, which some experts argue is rare because many serial killers only target their own race.
Police are linking the “Baseline Rapist” crimes through suspect description and analysis of the attacker’s method of operation.
He is black, 25 to 40 years old, 140 to 200 pounds with a bald or shaved head in his earlier crimes and long hair in later incidents. He usually wears a long-sleeved shirt and khaki pants.
“He would be an anger excitation rapist,” Hickey said. “He is someone who is actually aroused by the suffering of the victim. It’s not so much about the sex, but using sex for a weapon.”
Hickey said the man may be leaving signatures at scenes or taking away “trophies” to remember the incidents. Police would not comment on this.
Hickey said it is not unusual for rapists to be responsible for robberies, since violent criminals are not generally opposed to committing other crimes.
Police urge the public to avoid walking at night, even if accompanied by another person. They also are asking anyone who knows anything to come forward. Hill said a “large number” of detectives are working the case but would not say how many.
“We don’t want anyone else to suffer who doesn’t have to,” Hill said. “One of the hardest things is to think that anyone else would suffer.”
Hickey said this person will likely be caught if he is committing so many different types of crimes.
“He is going to make mistakes, and he is going to get caught,” Hickey said. “This guy is probably in the system already. If his DNA is not in a bank yet, they’ll be looking for palm prints and fingerprints.”
Police ask anyone with information to call (602) 262-6141 or Silent Witness at (480) 948-6377.