Code Amber Ticker
The 10 Year Hunt For A Serial KillerSubmitted by rodman on Fri, 08/07/2009 - 13:26
In the 90's New York City was the backdrop to a series of nightmare crimes. But the predator is as cunning as they come. This is a story about a Manhattan Mystery withan elusive predator playing a game of cat and mouse with the police with so many twists and turns that it is stranger than fiction.
At 4:45 PM on January 24th, 1991 Paola Illera walks home from school. She is a 13 year old girl who immigrated here from Columbia in the 1980s. She is a volley ball player and loved hopscotch and the New Kids On The Block. She is just a sweet little girl. When Paula reaches her building, she calls up to her 30th floor apartment. Her parents upstairs buzzed her up to let her in the building and were waiting there for her to come off the elevator as she did every day after coming home from school. But when the elevator opens on the floor, she isn't on the elevator. Her parents begin looking throughout the building for their Daughter. They also walked to and from the school looking for her. They looked everywhere for her but could not find her. That is when the panic set in
Just hours later a man walking on East River Drive sees something lying in the shadows. As he got a little closer he saw that it was the body of a young girl and she is dead. Police quickly arrive on the scene and try to assess the victims injuries. It turns out that she was strangled with some sort of ligature and was also stabbed three times in the left chest. A lack of blood on the ground indicates she was killed elsewhere. Detectives immediately connect the body with the missing persons report filed by Paola Illera's parents. The body roughly fits the description of Paula so they inform the family to come and take a look at the body to see if they can identify it. They do and unfortunately it is Paola.
Paola's body is transported to the Medical Examiner's office. She died with a piece of chalk her Mom had given her in her Jeans pocket. She has a New Kids On The Block watch on her wrist. She seemed much younger than her 13 years which made her even more innocent. The medical also notices sever bruising on the pelvic area along with a pubic hair that doesn't belong to the victim. Now back in 1991 there isn't much that can be done with a single pubic hair so they preserve it. Big cities have a reputation for violent crime. But it is very rare that you get a murder this atrocious. Everyone connected to the case was sickened to the core.
Detectives begin by canvassing Paola's apartment building. The apartment building where Paola lived and died was largely blue collar families. The lead detective interviews two women who rode the elevator with her and said that there was a young black man who was talking with Paola but they got off before she reached her floor so they don't know if she got off the elevator floor or not. Detectives question the young man who is a resident living on the 19th floor. He said he rode the elevator with her but he got off before she reached her floor.
Investigators then turn their attention to Paola's friends and acquaintances. The case has all the earmarks of being done by someone who knew the victim, or at least that's what detectives think for now. They look at a number of people who she had contact with. Then they look at a man who worked Paula's older brother at a neighborhood grocery store. There was some indication that when she went there to visit her brother he was hitting on her. But that lead goes nowhere and after working the case for months the investigation goes cold.
Unsolved murders have a way of sticking with Detectives. They are always replaying the evidence in their minds wondering what they missed. And in this case it wasn't just one Detective looking for overlooked clues, it was an elite task force of Homicide cops. Pretty much every Detective in the 23rd precinct had read the case file on that case and was very familiar with it. Whoever had done this was a monster in every sense of the word and needed to be taken off the streets of New York. One of those Detectives was Mike Ullaco. Ullaco devotes much of his free time investigating the case.
The family obviously never forgot. The put fliers up all over town asking for information. At one point Mike has a Spanish speaking Detective speak to the Illera family because they were very frustrated because they didn't think anyone was working on their case. He tells them that he is working on it as much as he possibly can. But in spite of their best efforts years go by without any leads or any hope. Seeing this case go unsolved was very disheartening for the Detectives and the family. Little did they know this was just the opening chapter in a case that would forever haunt them.
Six years after the unsolved murder of Paola Illera, fire fighters respond to a trash fire on an East Harlem high rise. They take out their hoses and spray the fire and they put the fire out and discover it is in fact a human body. Burnt beyond recognition the body offers Detectives few clues. All they were able to tell was that it was a female between the ages of teenager to mid twenties. They don't even know if she was alive or dead when she was set on fire. To make matters worse, the water logged crime scene yields little evidence. The only thing they find was some pieces of jewelery and shards of clothing recovered.
But the initial investigation goes nowhere. A canvas of the building yields nothing as no one remembers seeing anything unusual. Nobody even knows who the victim is. The medical examiners office examination provides few answers. There were no stab or gunshot wounds nor any evidence of bindings. Apparently she had been asphyxiated and then set on fire. It is apparent that solving this case was going to be an uphill battle. Everyone agrees, however that anyone who could do this to another human being had to be a diabolical madman. But he was also calculating and disciplined and that was sure to make him an elusive target.
Police immediately issue a city wide alert for missing females and Investigators in the Bronx respond. A 19 year old Johalis Castro has been missing for two days. She is ID'd through her jewelery. The mother had to identify the little charm bracelet that the girl was wearing around her ankle when she died. She just sparkled in photographs and was for by all accounts a good person. She was also the Mother of a young girl. But how did a woman from the Bronx end up on an east Harlem roof top 8 miles away? Nobody in the building knew her even after they had identified her and knew what she looked like.
Detectives try to track Johalis' movements on the day she was murdered. Phone records indicate a series of phone calls between her and an Aaron Kee in East Harlem. They bring Aaron Kee in for questioning. He stated that his girlfriend, Jacquelin, and Johalis and her were good friends and in fact they were going shopping that day and were going to go buy baby clothes but she never showed up. He seemed concerned and forthcoming and he didn't seem to be holding anything back. The Detectives ask if they can interview his girlfriend and he said no problem and she didn't seem to be hiding anything either and in fact back his story.
Desperate for a lead, Detectives read Johalis' diary. In there she talks about her boyfriend with whom she had the baby who had been beating on her. The Detectives bring the boyfriend in for questioning. He states that he might have put his hands on her but he would never kill the mother of his Daughter especially like that. Like the other suspects in the case he doesn't seem to be holding back anything either. But police are skeptical especially since he kept such a tight rein on Johalis and didn't let her have many friends. The fact of the matter is that most women are killed by people they know and love. It was natural for the Detectives to focus on Johalis' boyfriend. With no basis to hold their suspect, frustrated Detectives are forced to let him go. As in the Paulo murder the case quickly reaches a dead end but in the months to come Investigators will discover a microscopic thread that will tie everything together.
Nine months after the Johalis Castro murder a woman walking down a stairwell of a building located at 1345 5th Avenue comes across the body of a woman at her floor landing. Her initial thought was that this was a drug addict who had sought refuge in the stairwell. In other words, she didn't think much of it. The woman calls 911 and heads off to work. When Detectives arrive they find the woman is dead and had been murdered. She was naked from the waste up and was covered with a shirt, like someone had placed the shirt over like a blanket. She appeared to be late teens or early 20s. She looked like she had simply fell asleep at that location. There was no blunt trauma the could be determined, nor any blood on the scene. But there is a puzzling grid shaped pattern on her neck and back.
Some of the older apartments have clothes driers that hang over the bath tub that have a similar pattern. So the Detectives think maybe she could have been pushed down on one of these clothes drying racks to get those marks. So find the clothes drying rack, maybe find the scene of the crime. They spend a lot of time in that apartment interviewing people and trying to find one of the clothes racks. Finally they find a vacant apartment that was going under renovation that has one of the drying racks. But the grid pattern is different. At the medical examiners office semen is found which suggests a sexual attack prior to the murder. Running a missing persons check Detectives identify the woman as 18 year old Rashida Washington. She had disappeared the previous day.
Rashida Washington was a sweet girl with a promising future. She was murdered only three days after she turned three years old. She was also very responsible person and that is why her parents were so alarmed when she didn't show up. Even at a young age she knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to go into fashion, worked at a downtown boutique, and was actually a student and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which is a great school. The day before Rashida had left work at her usual time but she never made it home. She had a metro North card so the Detectives track that and found out that she got off at 106th street. Her Mother said her normal routine was to get off the train and walk the three or four blocks to her house.
How she ended up in a stairwell several blocks in the other direction remains a complete mystery. Nobody can place her in the building and has no friends or ties to this particular building. At the end of the day all investigator have to go on is the semen collected, but DNA technology is still in it's infancy and there isn't much of a database against which to check the sample. Meanwhile assistant DA Linda Fairstein is gathering evidence around a 15 year old rape victim in the upper east side. She has also submitted a DNA sample to the lab. A few weeks later, Linda gets a shocking call. The sample from her case matches the DNA in the Rashida Washington case as well as a third unsolved case.
This is truly an electric moment. DNA technology is still evolving science. Suddenly they realize a serial killer and rapist is prowling the city. Now they have a live victim who actually saw the person who killed Rashida Washington. Investigator immediately assemble a task force. A sketch of the rape suspect is posted throughout East Harlem. They pull all the files of unsolved cases in Manhattan to see if any match the pattern. Almost immediately Investigators find another rape case fitting the profile. There is a clear pattern to the attacks.
This predator would choose young African American women that were attractive, had light skin and straight hair. The suspect confronted his victim while she waited for an elevator. Each one was blindfolded with an article of her own clothing. In one of the cases the suspect left a clue. A baseball cap and a gray sweatshirt containing a laundry tag. The Detectives canvas all the dry cleaning stores in East Harlem. They find the store with the same matching tags as is one the sweatshirt. They are able to trace it a chain of cleaners in a complex of buildings on about First and 108th street in East Harlem, which is the same housing project that Rashida Washington lived in. The cleaner's can't ID the laundry tag but they give Detectives a list of customers.
At the same time a very interesting tip had come in on the tip line. The tipster says the Detectives should take a look at a guy named Ace who lives at 108th street in apartment 1910. It may have taken cutting edge technology to link all the cases together but it was good old fashion Detective work that would finally give the predator a name. A computer check reveals Ace's real name is Aaron Kee, the same Aaron Kee that Detectives had interviewed and released years earlier. At the same time Detectives are looking at the customer list from the laundry and they find that Cynthia Kee, Aaron Kee's Mother is on that list.
When Detectives compare a photo of Aaron Kee to the sketch provided by the surviving victim, they are very similar. And it's not only the face that's familiar. Mike Ullaco remembers another name whose name was brought up in the Paola case the name Aaron Warford, which just happens to be Aaron Kee's Father's name. He was one of the people supposedly seen with her riding up in the elevator prior to her death. Suddenly the pieces of this puzzle are all falling into place. Detectives have linked one man to a series of rapes and murders over a seven year time period. What was once a puzzling game of who done it is about to become a game of cat and mouse.
Aaron Kee was one of only a handful of serial killers to ever stalk New York city. He did so with relative anonymity. For what some believe is reasons of race and class the media never focused on these crimes. People in the city were largely uninformed and still the suspect was walking free. The evidence against Kee is mounting. Detective question Kee's neighbors. According to them he had two personalities, one would be a nice guy and the other he would be into perverted sexual things. He would pop out the plastic peep holes and look into apartments hoping to catch a woman undressing. He also had a camera he would put in a paper bag and would walk around and film shots up women's dresses. A lot of people in the building were cautious and afraid of him.
The Detective's desperately need a sample of Kee's DNA but they didn't have probable cause. So there they are, fearing that another child could be raped or killed and yet there hands are tied. Police put key under 24 hour surveillance hoping that he will drop a tissue or discard a cigarette or anything they can covertly collect a sample of his DNA from. Investigators follow Kee for days but come up empty. He either knows he was being followed or he was just paranoid. He is probably the only person the Detectives have ever seen in New York city who walks around for days without throwing anything in the garbage.
Then Detectives catch a break. Kee is arrested on a misdemeanor charge involving a computer scam. Now they have an opportunity because they had Kee in an enclosed space where he would have to drink and eat and use the bathroom. Investigators stock the interrogation room with sodas, cups and cigarettes. Then Detectives bring Kee in for what they tell him is a routine debriefing. He is a very quiet individual who doesn't get excited and knows exactly what is going on and in control of the situation. It was kind of amazing to sit there and talk to this young man knowing the horror he has caused. Kee talks freely but isn't tempted to take a drink or smoke.
Investigators come up with another ruse. They have a female Detective don a Doctors lab coat and tell him that tuberculosis going around the cell block and they want to test him for TB for his own good. The hand him a chart on a clipboard for his signature that has the letters DNA on it. He picks up the clipboard and pen and starts to sign until he sees the letters DNA and then claims that taking blood is against his religion as he is a practicing Jehovah's witness. It was at that moment in time that Kee knows that we are looking at him for sure and it is for something a lot more serious than computer crimes. Kee is the perfect villain. Brazen, extremely intelligent, and without remorse.
The Detective then remembers that they feed these guys. So one of the Detectives goes down to the cells in the basement and retrieves some cups from Kee's cell. The only trouble is that Kee is in with another prisoner. The cups are immediately rushed to the lab for testing. All investigators can do now is wait. Kee is about to go to arraignment on a misdemeanor case which means he will soon be released. The investigators simply cannot let that happen. They are told by the lab that it would take 72 hours to get a reading on the DNA. The question is will that be soon enough? But Kee is not about to go down without a fight and in a dramatic twist Investigators are about to find themselves in a desperate race against time.
Today most Detectives can expect DNA results in a few hours. But back in 1999 DNA results could take hours to come back. There is little they can do while the forensic scientists to work their magic. Criminalist Karen Dooling tests each cup found in Kee's cell. She finds DNA on the lid of one of the cups that is the same as the pattern of the serial killer and rapist. The match confirms that either Kee or one of his cellmates is a serial killer. But the results come too late. Kee has been arraigned on the misdemeanor charge and released on his own recognizance.
Incredibly, Kee manages to slip police surveillance and go on the run and he's not alone. He went to Brooklyn and picked up a 16 year old girlfriend and took her to the bus station and headed south. Her name is Angelique Stallings and Detectives fear she could soon become Kee's next victim. And she looks exactly like the two girls he had raped and the three he had murdered. No one ever expects to see Angelique alive again and who knew how many more victims there would be if Kee managed to go underground.
Police scour the city for four days with no luck. Then another of Kee's girlfriends calls police to report a phone call from Kee. The Detective's gets her phone number and did a dump on the phone and find out the call originated in Florida. At that point two Detectives are assigned to go to Florida and hook up with the police there. Detectives head to Miami. A second call traces to a payphone outside the Miami Sun Hotel. While Detectives are out front of the Hotel they see a girl walk from the Hotel that looks like Angelique but she is taller than they remember. Then they see Aaron Kee next to her.
The New York Detectives ask the Miami Swat team to move in. They go from floor to floor from the bottom up and each each floor is reported secure they begin to believe Kee has given them the slip again. Finally on the last floor and the last room they use a miniature camera to peek under the door. They find him and the runaway hiding under the bed. It is a great relief that Angelique is alive and well and even more relief that they finally have Aaron Kee in custody. Detectives interrogate Kee but he refuses to admit to anything. Then Angelique shows up to say goodbye.
In a calculated move Investigators let her stay and the strategy soon pays off. Angelique keeps asking him why, why, why. Kee explains why he killed Rashida Washington. He says after raping her he knew she could identify him so he had to kill her. The Detectives can't believe their ears. Detective's know the confession will be challenged in court but they finally have the suspect where they want him. Four months after arrest in Florida, Kee is extradited back to New York where Detectives collect a definitive DNA sample. The DNA sample matches the DNA pattern in all the rape homicides. A sample of Kee's hair is sent to the FBI in Washington and it matches the single pubic hair found on Paola Illera case years earlier.
With Kee finally off the streets Detectives finally breath a sigh of relief. But just when prosecutors seem to have an airtight case, Aaron Kee surprises everyone with a last ditch effort to save his skin. In October 2000 Aaron Kee goes on trial for three murders and four rapes. There is a palpable thirst for justice in the court room as it has been nearly ten years since this case started. There are a lot of horrible moments in that trial with all the gruesome details being relieved. The prosecution carefully lays out Kee's long violent career. With the rapes their are surviving victims to tell the tale. In each case he jumped them from behind sometimes after having made eye contact with them. All four victims told tales of psychological torture like by telling them they should feel honored by being raped by such a good looking guy. He also told them to pretend that they love him while he is raping them at knife point or gunpoint.
One of the witnesses for the prosecution clear up one of the mysteries of the case - how Kee moved the bodies around without drawing attention. He wrapped the bodies in plastic and then used a shopping cart to dispose of the bodies because it would not draw any attention. Anyone who saw him would think he was taking out the laundry. This is one of the shocking details of the case. How many people must have seen him moving bodies around the city and not realized he was moving a body? The shopping cart also solves another puzzling detail in the case - the odd grid pattern on the back and neck of Rashida Washington's neck. The prosecution presents over 130 witnesses in what appears to be an open and shut case. That is until Kee takes the stand.
Once on the stand Kee giggles inappropriately and the rape victims and families of the murdered girls are simmering in the audience. Kee makes an extraordinary allegation. He insists he is being framed by the medical examiner. He claims he has stumbled on a illegal organ donation ring. Kee further claims that several Detectives are in on the conspiracy. He says that all of the evidence was given to him by a "Mr. X" and that he had it on CD in his hotel room when he was arrested but was then confiscated by police. Fortunately, he remembered some of what was on the CD and wrote it on the T shirt he was wearing. Kee then strips to reveal an undershirt covered with notes. Kee is very charming, very engaging and a handsome guy but he id the kind of con artist who is used to conning 13, 14, and 15 year old girls.
The Jury doesn't fall for it. They convict him on all three murders and four rapes. On January 25th 2001, Kee is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The family members are in court screaming "apologize, apologize" and when he doesn't respond they shout "Maldieto, Maldieto" or the Devil in Spanish. It took ten years but Detective Mike Ullaco and the Illera finally found justice. After the trial he tells the family that they didn't forget about her. The Detectives who worked on this case were exactly what Detectives are supposed to be. They were determined to see the case through to the end even when setbacks abounded. This case not only showcase the extraordinary power of DNA but it also demonstrated what a team of dedicated Detectives can accomplish.
Murder Mysteries and intrigue abound as
stranger than fiction tales unfold in these
law and ordnance stories; published here
to thrill and amaze you.