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Is ‘serial offender’ killing homeless men?

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Eric Manning, Lonnie Whittle, Eric Hicks.

Three men, all homeless, all stabbed to death, their bodies found in similar positions and within a couple of miles of each other over a period of four months earlier this year.

Albuquerque Police Department detectives say they don’t know yet whether this might be the work of a serial killer, but they do say there are indications the same person, or group of people, might be responsible for killing all three of them and possibly others.

They are worried others could be hurt or worse if the killer or killers are not caught.

APD homicide Sgt. Elizabeth Thomson said similarities in the deaths struck her as soon as she arrived at the site where the second body was found.

Then, there was a third.

“It jumps out at you because you do start to see how similar the scenes are,” she said. “The body always tells us so much about a murder. We can’t talk to the victim, so we’ve got to really pay attention, and on these that’s where a lot of the similarities are – the actual evidence found on or around the body.”

Thomson said that, although about 15 people who were homeless or living in the margins in motels were killed throughout the year in Albuquerque, detectives don’t have any reason to believe their deaths are all related.

But, she said, these three cases stand apart because of similarities in the characteristics of the men – all living alone on the streets, white or biracial, and in the same general age range – as well as how they were found.

She said the state of their clothing was similar in each case, although she could not release more specific details about that at this time.

APD had released few details about these deaths before now, other than a couple of sentences about when each man was found. Thomson said she hopes that by publicizing this new information, someone might remember something or be encouraged to come forward.

Or, someone who had been hurt but not killed could provide a missing link, she said.

“Now it’s time to say they’re possibly related, and we really need someone to come forward so we can figure out who committed each and every one of them,” she said. “And if it is a serial offender, let’s get this person caught.”

4 months, 3 deaths

Eric Manning, 37 (Courtesy of Jeff Manning)

The three men were all found by passers-by – bicyclists on a ride, employees on their way to work – around 5 or 6 in the morning. Their bodies were left in the open, in areas that are often deserted at night, and detectives believe they were killed where they were found.

Detective Jodi Gonterman is the lead investigator on the cases.

Manning, 37, was found stabbed to death May 20 in the middle of the North Diversion Channel off Montgomery and Interstate 25.

Two-and-a-half months later, on Aug. 9, Whittle, 51, was found stabbed to death in a vacant warehouse parking lot off Broadway near Mountain NE.

Eric Hicks

Eric Hicks, 33 (Courtesy of the family)

And a little more than a month after that, on Sept. 15, Hicks, 33, was found stabbed to death also by the North Diversion Channel bike trail south of Candelaria near Richmond.

Thomson said investigators haven’t been able to come up with a motive.

All three men were living on the streets when they were killed. Their families are scattered throughout the country and the state and kept in sporadic contact. Some occasionally sent them money for food, a motel room or a cellphone bill.

When the men came into contact with police – for trespassing or shoplifting food – they listed their addresses as homeless shelters.

The men mainly kept to themselves, Thomson said, although a group of Native Americans said Manning would sometimes camp with them in a vacant field off the bike path.

Lonnie Whittle

Lonnie Whittle

Manning and Hicks were in their 30s, while Whittle was about 20 years older. Manning and Whittle were white, while family members say Hicks was biracial, white and African-American.

Thomson said detectives have also considered whether the death of a fourth man, who was found beheaded and castrated behind a Walmart store in December 2016, could be connected as well.

In some ways, that man, Clifford Miller, 42, fits the pattern, she said. He was also homeless, white, living alone or in homeless shelters, and was stabbed to death. No one has been arrested in his death.

But, Thomson said, there are enough inconsistencies to give her pause.

Miller’s body had been hidden behind a Dumpster, whereas the bodies of the other three had not been concealed at all. She said the bodies of Manning, Whittle and Hicks had also not been mutilated.

“There are some similarities,” she said. “But not to the extent of the others.”

‘White Native son’

Dorothy White, who lives on the streets with several other Native Americans, said Manning used to sometimes stay in their camp. She would call him her “white Native son,” and he would call her “mom.”

When she heard of his death, White said she and others were furious and wanted to retaliate.

She said people who live on the streets are often mistreated or beaten, but even so, Manning’s death was shocking in its brutality.

“We have all out here on the streets tried to contemplate why it happened and tried to put things together, but we haven’t been able to,” White said.

She said that, after the killing, friends put together a memorial of candles, a white board, a couple of books, including Manning’s Bible, and wrote messages to him on the underpass.

Three weeks later, the city took it down and painted over their messages.

White said she didn’t know Whittle or Hicks and had not heard of their deaths.

Meanwhile, Thomson said detectives have not ruled out the possibility that the three men could have been killed by different offenders and that the deaths are not connected in any way.

That means any new information could be vital to solving any one of the cases, even if it doesn’t solve all three.

She said that, over the past couple of months, when detectives have interviewed people living in homeless camps near each of the scenes, they have told them to be careful.

“Because we don’t know who the perpetrator is in any of the cases, we’re telling people whoever did this is still out there,” she said.

But Thomson, because of her previous work with homeless populations while on APD’s Crisis Outreach and Support Team, said she knows that people who live on the streets often have a lot of mistrust of police officers and might be reluctant to report a crime, or might not have the means to do so.

She said that’s one of the reasons she feels so strongly about getting justice in these cases.

“It’s always disturbing to think that someone is victimizing people, particularly people who are already marginalized,” Thomson said. “They’re homeless, they’re experiencing something already very difficult in their lives. It’s hard to think about that they would be forgotten and I don’t want that to happen.”

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