Serial Killer Identified Through DNA Technology

October 23, 2004

Los Angeles: Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Cold Case Unit of Robbery-Homicide Division will be presenting to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for filing, a case involving the most prolific serial killer ever identified in the history of the City of Los Angeles. Thirty-seven year-old Chester Dewayne Turner was identified following a complex yearlong investigation that involved extensive DNA testing. Turner was ultimately identified as the man responsible for a series of violent murders using California’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database. It is a database of convicted felons DNA.
Turner has been connected, through DNA, to 13 murders that occurred in the City of Los Angeles between 1987 and 1998. Eleven of these murders took place in a four-block wide corridor that ran on either side of Figueroa Street between Gage Avenue and 108th Street.
The two murders outside of this corridor occurred in downtown Los Angeles. One was within four blocks of Figueroa Street.
The investigative journey that ultimately led to the arrest of Turner began on February 3, 1998. At 7:00 am that day, a security guard discovered the semi-nude body of 38 year-old Paula Vance. She was found at the rear of a vacant business at 630 West 6th Street. Vance had been sexually assaulted and murdered. The crime was captured on videotape from a nearby surveillance camera. When Detectives looked at the tape, it was of such poor quality the suspect could not be identified. Despite a lengthy investigation, the case remained unsolved. In 2001 the Cold Case Unit began working on the Vance Homicide case. Foreign DNA that had been recovered from the victim was used to eliminate several potential suspects. The Serology Section of the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division performed the DNA extractions and made sure the resulting profiles were uploaded in CODIS.
On September 8, 2003, Cold Case Detectives Cliff Shepard and Jose Ramirez were notified of a match between the DNA recovered from Paula Vance and a known offender, Chester Turner. At that time, Turner was serving an eight-year sentence at a California State Prison for a rape conviction. Turner was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 47 year-old woman on March 16, 2002, on Los Angeles Street between 6th Street and 7th Street at 11:30 p.m. Turner assaulted the victim for approximately two hours. Afterward, Turner threatened to kill the victim if she told the police. The victim did report the crime and Turner was arrested and convicted. As a result, Turner was required to provide a DNA reference sample for inclusion in CODIS. It was this reference sample that ultimately led to the identification of Turner as Paula Vance’s killer.
When the detectives were notified of this DNA match, they were also informed that there was a second DNA hit matching Turner to a 1996 unsolved murder that they had also submitted to CODIS. About 10:00 a.m. on November 6, 1996, the body of 45 year-old Mildred Beasley was found in the bushes at 9611 South Broadway, next to the Harbor Freeway. She was partially nude and had been strangled.
The Detectives then began a careful examination of Turner’s background. Nine additional unsolved murders were matched to Chester Turner using DNA evidence.
The nine murders are as follows:
On the morning of March 9, 1987, two passing motorists discovered the body of 21 year-old Diane Johnson in a roadway construction area west of the Harbor Freeway at 10217 South Grand Avenue. She was found partially nude and had been strangled.
On October 29, 1987, just after 1:00 a.m., a passing motorist discovered 26 year-old Annette Ernest lying on the roadway. She was found partially nude on the dirt shoulder at Grand Avenue and 106th Street. She too had been strangled.
On January 20, 1989, Southeast patrol officers received a radio call regarding a dead body in an alley at 9819 South Figueroa Street. Officers saw a wood panel door leaning diagonally against a detached garage. Behind the door, officers found the body of 31 year-old Anita Fishman.
She was partially nude and the cause of death was strangulation.
Around 11:00 a.m., on September 23, 1989, a woman discovered the body of 27 year-old Regina Washington in a detached garage of a vacant home at 8858 South Figueroa Street.
She had been strangled. The investigation revealed that Washington was six months pregnant. The death of the fetus was attributed to the strangulation of the mother. The baby girl’s death was ruled a homicide.
On April 2, 1993, at 9:15 a.m., a construction worker discovered the body of 29 year-old Andrea Tripplett. She was found lying in the yard to the rear of a vacant building at 7812 South Figueroa Street. The victim was found partially nude and had been strangled.
On May 16, 1993, at 7:00 a.m., the body of 29 year-old Desarae Jones was found laying alongside a vacant residence at 6821 South Estrella Avenue. She was partially nude and the cause of death was strangulation.
On February 12, 1995, at 8:20 a.m., a friend discovered the body of 31 year-old Natalie Price alongside a residence at 532 West 80th Street. She too was partially nude and had been strangled.
On April 6, 1998, at 2:00 a.m., Central Area patrol officers were flagged down. They were told there was a possible dead body in a portable outhouse at 500 Gladys Avenue. The officers found the partially nude body of 37 year-old Brenda Bries. The cause of death was strangulation.
During the investigation of these cases, Detectives Shepard and Ramirez did not limit their analyses of crimes to only unsolved cases. They also reviewed similar solved cases. In doing so, the detectives found that on April 4, 1995, a 28 year-old defendant named David Allen Jones was convicted of three murders that occurred in the same area where Chester Turner was known to be operating.
Rather than using these convictions as a basis for excluding Turner, the detectives revisited these "solved" murders and re-evaluated the physical evidence. The detectives found that all of the forensic work introduced during David Jones’ 1995 trial had relied upon ABO blood typing. At the Detective’s request, the LAPD Crime Laboratory processed the remaining evidence using the latest DNA applications. It was discovered that Chester Turner was responsible for two of the murders. The evidence in Jones’ third murder conviction had been destroyed after his trial; however, the new DNA evidence was legally sufficient to secure his release from Prison. During his trial, Jones had also been convicted of a rape unrelated to the murders. He had served out his sentence for the 2000 rape conviction. Detectives working closely with Jones Attorney
Gigi Gordon of the Post Conviction Assistance Center and Deputy District Attorney Lisa Kahn of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office were able to obtain Jones’ release on March 4, 2004.
Two of the murders Jones was convicted of, but that have now been connected to Turner through DNA, include:
A custodian at the 97th Street Elementary School discovered the partially nude body of 32 year-old Debra Williams on November 16, 1992. She was found lying at the bottom of a stairwell that led to the campus boiler room. The cause of her death was strangulation.
On December 16, 1992, at 9:00 a.m., an employee of the Figueroa Motel at 9714 South Figueroa Street discovered the body of 42 year-old Mary Edwards inside a carport. This carport is off of an alley that is next to the 97th Street Elementary School. The cause of death was strangulation.
Jones’ third conviction was for the 1992 murder of Tammie Christmas. She was found on September 30, 1992 at the 97th Street Elementary School. She had been strangled. Although DNA analyses could not be used to reinvestigation the case, Detectives are confident that their new investigation along with pre-existing forensic reports provide enough proof that Jones is innocent of the murder and Turner is the likely suspect.
This news advisory was prepared by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Media Relations Section, at 213-485-3586.