True Crime

Did Dahmer Do It?

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Accused North Side Strangler is His Own Worst Enemy

As the state’s case against an accused serial killer proceeds through the Milwaukee County Court system, the suspect likely provided the proverbial rope needed to figuratively hang himself.

 Walter Ellis, the man prosecutors allege is Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler, fired his attorney, Russell J.A. Jones, earlier this month.

“Mr. Jones has not investigated. Mr. Jones has not asked for an extension to review 50,000 pages of documents intended to be used in this case,” Ellis told Circuit Court Judge Rebecca Dallet.

Many consider Jones, who took the case at no cost, a rising star among the pool of Wisconsin criminal defense attorneys. From 2005 to 2007, Jones defended former Pewaukee Alderman Anthony Balistreri on sexual assault and child pornography charges that eventually went to trial.  The evidence against Balistreri was overwhelming, but Jones managed to chip away at the state’s case.  Although the disgraced alderman was later found guilty, a prominent Waukesha County official privately lauded Jones’ courtroom acumen.

“I know as a matter of fact I did everything I can [in Walter Ellis’ defense],” Jones told the court. 

Reading between the lines of Ellis’ statement, it appears as if the man prosecutors believe killed seven women is upset that his attorney has not spent more time investigating information contained in reams of police reports.  In reality, however, defense attorneys primarily react to the filings of prosecutors.  While the state needs to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, the goal of defense counsel is to suppress prejudicial information and then marginalize the evidence presented to a jury in order to create enough doubt to justify an acquittal of charges. 

Since the only statement Ellis allegedly made is to a jailhouse informant—the character of which a competent defense attorney should rip to shreds—the primary evidence in the North Side Strangler case is DNA collected from the crime scenes.  Prior to being relieved on his duties by the court, Jones filed a motion requesting that the state pay for additional DNA testing that he argued would show that the victims had contact with multiple men. At a hearing in late December, Judge Dallet, citing costs, denied this motion.

Here lie the pitfalls of DNA, which can include numerous suspects.  Moreover, on appeal, the courts may reasonably conclude that the state should provide all exculpatory DNA data retrieved from crime scenes to the defense at the expense of taxpayers.  In all fairness, defendants on trial for serious crimes are entitled to evidence that may shine light on their innocence.

Without Russell J.A. Jones at the helm, the state’s case against Ellis now becomes stronger.  The accused North Side Strangler may not realize it, but I am willing to bet — somewhere in the offices of the Milwaukee County DA’s office — a collect sigh of relief occurred.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


The Power of Pictures

Their hairstyles depict decades old fashion. Even though these women voluntarily posed for photographs it is what may have taken place afterwards that is troubling.   

Over 30 years ago, police seized more than 2,000 pictures of women — many taken in the nude — from a storage locker rented by Rodney Alcala. In late February, a California jury found Alcala guilty in the slayings of one girl and four women over a two-year period in the late 1970s.

Investigators believe that it is possible some of the women who had posed for Alcala became victims of the serial killer. 

Huntington Beach Detective Patrick Ellis believes Alcala is obsessed with the cache of pictures. Now in his mid-sixties, the since convicted serial killer represented himself at his latest trial where he sought courtroom discovery of the images.

“Now, why does he want all of this after 30 years?” Ellis pondered during an interview with AOL News. “Either he’s reliving his glory days or there’s a victim in here we don’t know about.”

Convicted of murdering Jill Barcomb, 18, in November, 1977; George Wixted, 27, in December 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 32, in June 1978; Jell Paranteau, 21, on June 14, 1979, all in Los Angeles County, Alcala sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and, then, strangled his victims. A 12-year-old girl, Robin Samsoe, also fell prey to Alcala in June of 1979 near Huntington Beach, California.

While the photographs of the seemingly naïve women sensationalize Alacla’s acts of nefarious debauchery, serial killers routinely retain personal items from their victims. In this instance, these items — like the photographs themselves — are souvenirs. Based on the description of the crime scenes, Alacla is a classic power and control killer.  He relishes reliving the potent fantasies fulfilled by witnessing the victims’ pain, which is why Alcala rented a storage locker in far away Seattle to house the photographs and the other souvenirs taken from victims. 

Milwaukee’s infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, also kept souvenirs and trophies.  Psychologists do make a distinction between the two: souvenirs generally consist of personal items taken from the victim. Trophies are items used by the perpetrator to create a memorial — a serial killer’s hall of shame.  In Dahmer’s case, the skulls and genitalia served as trophies, while the photos of victims, taken in various stages of dismemberment, acted as souvenirs.

In the Alcala case, investigators believe there are more victims.  However, unless the state is willing to cut a deal sparing the former amateur photographer from the death penalty, the fate of the others may never be known. Orange County Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy has so far refused to make a deal in exchange for cooperation.  “We don’t make deals with people like Rodney Alcala,” Murphy told AOL News. 

I have a professional hunch that the prosecutor’s stance may change if the photographs identify a dozen or so missing women. The political pressure brought to bear by family members seeking closure may ultimately result in a commutation of the death sentence.  After all, information is power, and power and control is what Alcada will savor as he relives his crimes by describing them to investigators.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.


Vanished but Not Forgotten

To read this article, purchase the Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010