Saturday, May 19, 2018

Update: Investigation of Atlanta strangulations

Former Atlanta prostitute Susan Drew vividly recalls the multiple deaths of sex workers in the 1990s, a time when city officials warned the press not to declare that the homicides might be the work of serial killers. "People were dying left and right. We knew!" Drew told WXIA-TV, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. She believes she was also attacked by a likely serial killer.

Veteran WXIA investigative reporter Brendan Keefe is leading a team examining 133 female strangulations in Atlanta stretching back to the 1970s, including 40 killings before and after the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. These cases represent the nation's largest cluster of suspicious homicides, according to a computer algorithm developed by the Murder Accountability Project to spot victims of serial murder among FBI computer files. Dozens of strangulations remain unsolved in the city.

WXIA continues an investigation begun in late 2017. Among the cases reporters are reviewing is the October 19, 1994 murder of Valerie Payton, 39, found with a note near her body that taunted police: "I'm back in Atlanta" and signed by "Mr. X." Michael Harvey was eventually identified through DNA evidence and convicted, although he was prosecuted for only one murder.

"Most police administrators on the higher end would rather eat glass than say, 'We have a serial offender out,'" said Danny Agan, former Atlanta homicide commander who headed the city's famous "Hat Squad" of detectives. Agan agrees that there may be unresolved serial murders.

To see the latest reporting of WXIA's work reviewing unsolved strangulations of women, click here.