Past offers clues in search for serial killers
July 22, 1997
From Correspondent Anne McDermott
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- As suspected serial killer Andrew Cunanan remains at large, law enforcement authorities are looking for clues to help them catch a possible killer.
Los Angeles, 1984, may provide one answer.
In 1984, the Nightstalker -- Richard Ramirez -- was at large, stabbing, shooting, raping and torturing dozens of victims.
"Richard said he wanted to go down in history as the most famous serial killer there ever was," says Frank Salerno, a homicide detective retired from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department.
In the end, Ramirez, who now sits on death row, was accused of 14 murders, five attempted murders and six rapes, among other charges.
But Ramirez never gained the fame of Ted Bundy, Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy, three names on a list of serial killers that goes on and on. The most stomach-turning notion of these mass-killing phenomena is that not all of them are caught.
"This is a big country, you know. We got a lot of people, and it's very easy to get lost," says Salerno.
Before retiring, Salerno helped catch his share of serial killers. He helped nab Ramirez, as well as the Hillside Strangler, who turned out to be two cousins, Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono, both of whom are now serving life terms in prison with the possibility of parole.
"I think their chances of getting out are about as good as Charlie Manson's," Salerno says.
Mass, serial, spree
Mason was a mass killer, a different classification from the classic serial killer. He's also different from Cunanan, who's suspected of being a spree killer, tied to at least four killings across the country.
Salerno, however, doesn't care about labels.
"If you continue to kill, you're a serial killer," he says. "I don't care what you call them. Call them anything you want, they're just killers."
Killers that can be notoriously tough to catch.
The Nightstalker, for instance, worked his bloody way through an area of greater Los Angeles crisscrossed by scores of different police departments -- departments that didn't always talk to each other.
Such killers are good at hiding, according to Lewis Yablonsky, a criminology professor at California State University at Northridge.
"One reason why they are difficult to catch and to arrest is that they lie with a blazing recklessness. They are untrammeled or unconcerned with any truth," Yablonsky says.
So how do you catch these mass murderers?
Sometimes it's luck. Sometimes it's dogged detective work. Sometimes the killer makes a mistake.
Still, Salerno says, they have to be caught.
"I've talked to a number of serial killers," he says, "and they have said if they weren't caught they were going to continue to kill and if they were ever released, they are going to kill again."
© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
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