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The Unsolved Homicides

Cold Case: The 'game' police are playing to win

By Ken Raymond
Staff Writer

The head lay in the alley like an abandoned toy.

Its eyes were closed as if in sleep, but the head could no longer dream. Arley Bell Killian's secrets and memories, fantasies and fears - everything that made her human - had spilled from it with her life's blood, and now she was no more.

Nothing but the plaything of a killer.

Between 1976 and 1986, the killer struck at least three times in near northeast Oklahoma City, stalking through sparsely populated neighborhoods that had emptied to make way for highway construction. His victims occupied the dark cracks in society's walls, poor and desperate, women willing to lie with strangers in exchange for drugs, booze, food or smokes.

They were the easiest of victims, approachable and alone, and he turned them into fuel for his grisly fantasies. Each was dismembered, not with a surgeon's skill but with the rough wisdom of a butcher. He mutilated the face of at least one woman and used the bodies of the other two to play a twisted game with police - scattering parcels of flesh for them to find, then leaving more once they had gone.

"This guy took great pleasure in placing the body out to be found and taunting police and making sure that the portions that he wanted found were found. ... They were placed in areas where he knew they would be found for their shock value," said Oklahoma City police cold case Inspector Kyle Eastridge.

The killer began his game nearly 32 years ago.

Police are still playing to win.

'I could tell it was human'

The first victim was found on April Fool's Day 1976, and at first, everyone thought it was a joke.

About 3 p.m., three Standard Drilling Co. workers got bored while waiting for a colleague. Gene Shores suggested to Jimmy Bishop and Decho Duke that they kill time by exploring a vacant house at 325 NE 8.

"Who knows?" he told Bishop. "We might find a dead body."

The front door was boarded shut, but Shores and Duke found the back door unlocked. They slipped inside as Bishop entered through a hole in the side of the house.

The structure was dark, even in the cool light of afternoon. Fumbling through the living room, Bishop stumbled over something on the floor, then kicked it out of his way. The room smelled strange, and as he peered into a shadowy corner, near an overturned chest of drawers and a fireplace, the odor grew so strong that he backed away.

Bishop warned the others about the stench, but Shores, carrying the broken handle of a hoe, ignored the admonition. He stumbled over the same object as Bishop. They would later learn they'd tripped over a woman's severed thigh.

"Right at the door, there was a popcorn box, like you'd get at the drive-in to hold your popcorn and drinks and candy and all that," Bishop said. "There was one of them leaning up there. Gene took his stick and hit it, and when he hit it, well, a head came rolling out. We both just kind of stared at it, and being the dummy I was, I picked it up.

"He said, 'That's a dog's head.' I said, 'No, it's not.' I could tell it was human."

Bishop stuffed the head back into the popcorn box, and the men dashed outside to get help. No one took them seriously, apparently thinking it was an April Fool's Day prank. Once inside the house, though, police quickly realized it was no joke.

Years pass before identity

The head and leg were recovered. So was the woman's torso, which had been left near the fireplace.

The victim's face had been mutilated, an autopsy report shows. Multiple incisions, mostly vertical, had been carved into the flesh. A horizontal wound cut through the cheeks on both sides, extending the angles of the mouth as if the killer had tried to create a gaping smile. An incision sliced through the center of the lower lip and into the chin - a wound that would later prove significant to investigators.

"It was horrible," Duke said. "It was horrible to see."

For well over a decade, the victim was logged in the books as a Jane Doe. Authorities tried to identify her, comparing her teeth to dental records of several missing women, but the effort was fruitless. A sculptor worked with police some years later to produce a clay reconstruction of the woman's face. Still nothing.

Finally, in 1993, Andra Medina called the police. Her cousin, Cathy Lyn Shackelford, had been missing for 17 years. Medina had held off on calling the police because her mother said it wasn't her place; Shackelford's immediate family should make the call. When her mother died, though, Medina could wait no more. She contacted police.

Shackelford's remains were identified that same day. After DNA tests confirmed the match, the 18-year-old woman, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, was buried among her relatives in an American Indian cemetery in Shawnee.

"We always talk about her," Medina said recently. "We always wonder what things would be like if she was here. She was such a caring person. She'd be willing to give you a hug before anybody else."

'Toying with investigators'

Killian was the next to die.

On the night of April 19, 1979, a dog found Killian's head, dragging it down an alley in the 300 block of NE 10 toward some kids playing basketball on a hoop with no net.

"That prompted a call to police," Eastridge said, "and they started a search of the area. They found portions of what was identified as body parts of ... Killian scattered throughout that neighborhood wrapped in newspaper and brown paper and some in brown paper sacks."

Along with Killian's left hand and parts of her pelvis, the killer left several pancake-sized segments of skin and adipose tissue - all of it strangely bloodless, as if it had been carefully washed and cleaned.

Officers canvassed the area and returned the next morning to make sure they hadn't overlooked anything, Eastridge said. Even so, they were called back to the neighborhood repeatedly during the next two weeks. Body parts kept turning up until May 1, when Killian's torso, arms and part of her left leg were found in the 200 block of NE 7.

"The first thing that pops into your mind as an investigator is, 'Did the guys (officers) who were originally there miss things?'" Eastridge said. "When you go out looking for body parts, you're not looking for the trash and debris they're wrapped in. But I reviewed the case files, and I think they did a pretty thorough job. ... That leads you ultimately to believe this guy had to be just toying with investigators."

Killian, 22, was identified by fingerprints on April 25. Relatives told police they'd seen her "several hours" before her head was found.

Suspicion fell on one of her male relatives. Newspaper accounts said he escaped from a mental hospital the same day as the killing, and he had a history of violent behavior. In 1976, the same year as the Shackelford murder, he'd been arrested after allegedly butchering two of his grandmother's dogs with a hatchet and tossing their remains into buckets. Two years later, he was arrested after allegedly attacking his grandmother with a steak knife.

Police records of the investigation into the man are not available, but one thing is clear: He was re-arrested in connection with the hospital escape on April 24 - more than a week before Killian's final remains were found. If he was in custody at the time, he couldn't have dumped the body.

In 1984, another suspect turned up. Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to murdering Killian. At the time, though, Lucas was confessing to nearly every unsolved homicide in the nation, at one point claiming responsibility for more than 300 murders and being investigated for more than 600. His involvement in Killian's death was eventually discounted.

"We do have a record of him being in Oklahoma City during his travels," Eastridge said, "but I ... think this was someone who lived in the area, someone who knew the area pretty well. I mean, if you think about taking body parts and placing them around in public, you would almost have to be comfortable with the area you're in, because that's something that's certainly going to draw attention if someone sees you.

"I know a lot of the parts were wrapped, but I'm talking about a human head."

'They were just cut into bits'

On March 6, 1986, a man found a woman's upper torso, lower left leg and some pieces of tissue in an alley behind his house at 501 NE 1.

Six days later, the matching head turned up behind a house at 507 N Lindsay. It lay so close to a trash fire that much of the face had burned off.

The victim - Tina Sanders, 22 - was identified by two tattoos on her shoulders: a Playboy bunny and the words, "Lady Aries." She was last seen alive on March 5.

In mid-April, police publicly linked Sanders' death to those of Killian and Shackelford, who was then still a Jane Doe. The connections were obvious:

Shackelford and Killian each had a distinctive incision through the center of the lower lip.

Killian and Sanders' body parts were intentionally scattered at different intervals.

The women were dismembered, and certain body parts, including sexual organs, were never found.

All were left within a mile of each other in a predominantly black neighborhood.

All were known prostitutes. ("Killian was a paint sniffer who lived on the street, and she was known to be a prostitute just to get by," Eastridge said. "That doesn't mean she was on a corner like everyone thinks with a prostitute. She was just doing what she had to do to get by. I think all of these women were the same way.")

All were young American Indian women with the same body type.

Each death occurred in the spring.

By all indications, there was at least one other similarity: The killer didn't rush with the butchery.

"There is evidence to suggest that this person took his time with the victims and may even have toyed with their bodies, at least post-mortem, not to mention the time it would've taken to dissect them into pieces," Eastridge said.

Initially, rumors persisted in media reports and on the streets that the killer was a medical student or physician, someone familiar with human anatomy and skilled in dissection. After all, the OU Medical Center was nearby, and who else could make those cuts?

Just about anyone, Eastridge said.

"There's nothing surgical about this," he said. "It's just a gruesome and terrible tearing-down of the human body. Basically, all these girls, they were just cut into bits."

Additional victims?

After all these years, Eastridge and his partner, Mike Burke of the Oklahoma County district attorney's office, have little to go on.

No DNA. No fingerprints. Just seven boxes of dusty documents and photographs.

Two questions concern them the most: Who killed these women? And are there other victims?

"It is interesting to note," Eastridge said in an e-mail, "that the first two murders are three years apart. The last murder is approximately seven years later. Is there a victim in between we don't know about?"

The detectives are looking for any possible connections to a man who was arrested last month in the grisly 1989 slaying of Audrey Harris, whose case was featured in Cold Case OKC in December. Roderick Webster, 52, is accused of disemboweling Harris while she was still alive, ripping out her intestines and reproductive organs and throwing them around her apartment.

"We were always concerned that all these body parts were collected, but the same parts that were removed from ... Harris were never found with any of these victims," Eastridge said. "It's not unusual for these types of killers to be a collector and collect certain parts from a victim."

Distinct differences exist between the Harris case and the others, though. Harris was elderly and white. She was not dismembered, nor was she a prostitute. Her body was found right where the killing occurred, not taken elsewhere and dumped.

"It's just something that we ... want to check into," Eastridge said.

Whoever the killer is, he has won his horrible game so far.

Medina, whose cousin was the first to die, hopes police will end it soon.

"He cut off her breasts and cut her mouth open," Medina said. "He scalped her. He cut from her female organs up and opened her up. That's what police said, anyway. And he cut her hands off, her arms off, her legs. Everything. So that was just kind of ...."

She paused, choking back tears.

"That was hard to hear and imagine, but we just try to think that she's in a better place now. We try to think that way, but sometimes we wonder about who this was, who done this to her. Is this person alive? ... Is it somebody who's dead and gone already?

"We just want to know."