Immigration officials held railway killings suspect but let him go
Experts warn of escalating violence
June 25, 1999
From CNN Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas
HOUSTON (CNN) -- Federal officials revealed late Friday afternoon that the chief suspect in the railway serial killings had been taken into custody by immigration officials June 1, just before the killing spree picked up speed, but they returned him to Mexico as an undocumented alien.
During the news conference outside the headquarters of the FBI-led task force called Operation Train Stop, special agent-in-charge Don Clark released a photograph of the suspect, Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, taken June 1 -- before the last four killings -- when he was detained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) "for an administrative violation."
Clark stressed that the fact that the FBI has only just now learned of Resendez-Ramirez's detention by another federal agency did not mean the fugitive has "slipped through our fingers" or that his release suggests a lack of coordination between the two agencies.
"He was picked up along the Southwest border. We had no information that he was wanted and treated him like any other undocumented alien and removed him from the U.S.," said INS spokesman Russ Bergeron.
A source familiar with the case tells CNN that Ramirez was picked up in Texas, but would not specify where.
The so-called railway killer left writings on at least one wall at the home of the last two victims, prompting intense concern among law enforcement officials that the killer is about to veer further out of control, sources told CNN on Friday.
According to sources familiar with the writings, they made a somewhat incoherent reference to the Middle East. Sources said in the past Resendez-Ramirez has written about or made references to the Middle East.
FBI profilers and behavioral scientists are examining the language. Law enforcement experts on serial killers say that notes left at crime scenes are generally indicators the killer's rage may be increasing and that more attacks are likely.
Resendez-Ramirez has been implicated in eight murders beginning in 1997 but charged in only two - the killings of George Morber and his daughter, Carolyn Frederick, in Gorham, Illinois. Seven of the killings have come within the last six months -- four between June 4 and June 15, an 11-day period.
A former FBI profiler told CNN that the railway killer is evolving from a serial killer, someone who murders over a longer span of time -- to a spree killer, someone murdering a number of people over a relatively short period of time.
Sources say law enforcement officials are working in a critical window of time. They are hoping the intense public interest will prompt tips that will lead to an arrest. When public interest falls, officials fear the suspect may be able to fade back into obscurity and kill again.
The suspected killer's writings were discovered on a wall in the home of two victims in Illinois.
The bodies of Morber, 80, and Frederick, 51, were found in Morber's Gorham home, not far from a rail line. The two are thought to have been killed sometime around June 15.
Sources say the crime was extraordinarily violent, further evidence of increasing rage. Morber was apparently shot at close range with his own gun.
The daughter was apparently beaten repeatedly with the butt of the same gun.
Most of the victims lived near railroad tracks, and authorities have said the alleged killer crisscrosses the country riding freight trains.
Morber's pickup truck was recovered from a school parking lot in Cairo, Illinois, about 60 miles south of Gorham. Authorities said the fingerprints found on the truck matched the suspect's.
In Houston, the FBI vowed that it would follow up every one of the more than 1,800 leads in its hunt for Resendez- Ramirez.
"We still think the intensity is on -- we know the intensity is still on -- what we're really trying to do is follow as many leads as we can. In fact we're going to get to every lead," said Clark.
"We're not going to leave any lead unturned. We do have to prioritize those leads. We think by having that intensity and the resources available ... we're hoping to reach our goal, which is to apprehend Mr. Ramirez," Clark said.
Police and FBI agents continue to concentrate on areas near railroad tracks as they press their hunt for the drifter.
The FBI released the new black and white photo of Resendez- Ramirez taken by the border patrol agents. Clark said the number of leads had gone up dramatically overnight as the FBI publicized a new 800 number for tips.
Agents said Resendez-Ramirez was at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, last weekend, and there have been unconfirmed sightings in El Paso, Texas.
In addition, more than a dozen police agencies from around the country have called about cases which are similar to the ones Resendez-Ramirez is either charged with or sought for questioning about.
Resendez-Ramirez was named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List earlier this week.
All eight killings Resendez-Ramirez is implicated in have been at night, and all have been near railroad tracks -- in Texas, Kentucky and Illinois. FBI sources have told CNN he is suspected in at least a dozen other murders.
Authorities: Suspected serial killer 'street-smart'
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