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Possible Serial Killings Spread Fear Among Prostitutes

November 29, 1989

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ The number of prostitutes on the city’s streets has dropped dramatically in the past few weeks as the number of unsolved killings of young women has grown to 13, police say.

Seven bodies of young women have been found in the Rochester area in the past two months. The most recent victim was Elizabeth A. Gibson, 29, whose body was found Monday by a hunter. On Thanksgiving Day, the body of June Stotts, also 29, was discovered in Rochester’s Genesee River gorge.

Of the 13 unsolved slayings in the Rochester area in the past two years, police have identified all but three of the victims as prostitutes. Another prostitute has been missing since early November.

Rochester police say that solving the killings is their top priority, but no arrests have been made and they have refused to comment on whether they have any suspects.

″I think the murders will continue″ until the killer or killers are found, Deputy Chief Terrence Rickard said this week. He said there may be at least three killers responsible for the deaths.

Many of the city’s prostitutes fear they are being stalked by a serial killer.

″I’m scared to death,″ said Debra, a 24-year-old prostitute, as she paced nervously on a corner north of downtown recently. ″If it wasn’t for my drug habit I wouldn’t be here anyway.″

Rickard said the number of prostitutes working the city’s streets has declined dramatically since mid-November. Debra said she tries to stay off the street as much as possible but sometimes ″you can’t help it.″

Sister Eileen Conheady, a nun who has worked for years with prostitutes, said she has been to the funerals of some of the victims and talked with their friends.

″The next day, I’ve seen them back on the street,″ she said.

Sister Conheady said public attention to the string of deaths was slow in coming because prostitutes are considered ″the most disposable of people.″

″Why has it taken so many deaths to arouse our attention?″ she said. ″People think they can take out violence on them because they’re not worth anything.″

On weekend nights, nearly as many police cars as prostitutes cruise Lyell Avenue, a strip of liquor stores, pizza joints and neon-lit bars just a few blocks from the Genesee River Gorge. Eight of the victims have been found along the gorge within a few miles of one another.

Debra said the officers are all over the neighborhood, telling the prostitutes to stay off the streets.

Yvette, 20, who did not want her last name used, said police follow prostitutes on their tricks. It makes her feel safer, she said.

She said she has started carrying a knife. ″If someone tries to do something to me, I’ll hurt them.″

At least four of the victims were strangled or choked, one was shot, two were beaten to death and one was hit by a car while fleeing an attacker. Police have not determined the cause of death of the five other victims.

Rickard said solving crimes involving prostitutes is complicated because many of them are transitory. They come to Rochester and work for a while, then leave with few clues after they are arrested or get into trouble, he said.