Investigators Continue Pursuing Leads in Murder Probe
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Authorities investigating the slayings of five college students have not charged a suspect three months later, despite one of the most intense murder probes in Florida history.
But while some outside law enforcement officials don’t hold out much hope, investigators remain optimistic they will ultimately track down the killer.
Authorities have spent $2.5 million to send 75 investigators out to follow some 5,500 leads since the killings in late August.
″This isn’t television,″ said Win Phillips, second-in-command at the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. ″It’s been time-consuming, labor-intensive and costly.″
Last month, Edward Humphrey, earlier identified as a suspect in the case, was sentenced to 22 months in a prison mental institution for beating his grandmother. The 19-year-old student was never charged in the slayings.
The first two victims were found stabbed and mutilated Aug. 26. Sonja Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach, and Christina Powell, 17, of Jacksonville, were both University of Florida students.
Christa Hoyt, 17, a student at nearby Santa Fe Community College, was found the next day, beheaded. University of Florida students Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, both 23 of Miami, were found the day after that, stabbed to death.
Since then, a task force of investigators from the FBI, Gainesville police, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Highway Patrol have said little about their progress.
″I feel confident we’re going to ultimately resolve this thing because of the quantity and quality of the resources working on this,″ said State Attorney Len Register. ″The legends of the FDLE are up here working on this case.″
But outsiders are not convinced an arrest is imminent, or even likely.
Michael West, a Mississippi forensic expert, scoured the murder scenes with special laser equipment, looking for fingerprints, footprints, blood or fibers police may have missed. He said he had never seen a crime scene so clean in 13 years of such work.
″This person didn’t leave them anything to work with,″ West said. ″He didn’t wake up one morning and decide to kill. He did some planning and was careful.″
″They’re in a hell of a bind,″ said Leon County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Bodiford, who helped investigate the Ted Bundy serial murder case in the late 1970s. Bundy confessed to killing 23 young women.
″What do you do? If you have no evidence, you run all the leads down and try to develop new leads. It’s tough,″ Bodiford said. Leon County incorporates Tallahassee in northwest Florida.
So many leads are being pursued that the task force has discouraged victims’ families and the university from offering rewards - a traditional way of generating leads.
″They’re afraid of leaks, so they’re not telling us anything,″ said Ada Larson, mother of one of the victims. ″Recently, they don’t return my calls.″
Mario Taboada, whose brother was killed, said he would let the investigation take its course.
″I’ve been very patient, because I know every little item picked up needs to be written up, documented, processed,″ he said. ″Obviously that’s time- consuming.″
Meanwhile, university officials worry that students have grown complacent.
Campus police spokesman Angie Tipton said students have since dropped their guard, walking alone at night, leaving doors and windows unlocked.
″It’s like nothing ever happened,″ Ms. Tipton said. ″We try to remind them that the victims were just like they are: vulnerable and trusting.″