Originally created 08/02/97

Savannah slayings remain unsolved



SAVANNAH - Their names are pinned to homicides. Their bodies were found on Savannah's westside. Their killers remain unknown.

Since 1989, the slayings of five women - some known prostitutes - remain unsolved, including that of Karen M. Waye, 20, discovered last weekend on a dirt road.

Savannah police, noting some similarities, are sending information about each case to the FBI's profiling and behavioral assessment unit.

"We're checking if there is a connection because the bodies were located on the westside of town, and most of them had a history of prostitution," said Lt. Dean Fagerstrom of the violent crimes unit.

The similarities seem to end there, he said, but the FBI might be able to determine other ties.

"We don't have any evidence or indication that there is one person responsible for these homicides, but we want to see if ther are any similarities," Lt. Fagerstrom said. "This could be the work of several people."

Detectives started looking at unsolved homicides after Ms. Waye's body was found in a secluded area last Saturday. That night, detectives thought back to past women killed in the general vicinity.

Profilers at the FBI academy in Quantico, Va., will search through the information Savannah police send to look for clues that point to one or several killers.

"We look for a signature of a crime," said Kurt Crawford, spokesman for the FBI academy. "The profilers look for similarities in the crimes to link it to one person or to exclude some, saying that one person didn't do it."

The profilers use crime-scene photos and evidence, autopsy information and other details in their search, Mr. Crawford said.

After Jacquelyn Denise Harris, 25, was found with her throat cut under a house in 1990, police checked with the FBI about a possible link to two previous slayings - Judy Nesbitt, 39, and Annie Louise Geohaghan, 26.

Ms. Nesbitt was found beaten to death in a cemetery on June 2, 1989, and Ms. Geohaghan was found Nov. 17 that same year strangled to death nearby.

"We've had this thought before and sent the information to the FBI," Maj. Dan Reynolds said. "We just wanted to see if there was any connection then."

The FBI sent word back that those three slayings did not appear to have a link.

A man since has been charged in connection with Ms. Geohaghan's death, but no arrests have been made in the others.

Detectives are trying to retrace the last steps of Karen Marie Waye to find clues to who killed her.

Ms. Waye was captured on a West 52nd Street convenience store's surveillance camera July 25 - about a day before her body was found on the westside dirt road.

She was seen talking with a man outside the store and then entering the store with him. Ms. Waye was seen walking away in the direction of Ogeechee Road with the man.

"We're looking to talk to that man. Maybe he can tell us what her next step was (after leaving the store)," said Detective Deborah Robinson, the lead investigator in Ms. Waye's slaying. "We're hoping he can point us in a better direction."

Police are revealing little about Ms. Waye's homicide, saying only that blunt force trauma was a factor in her death. Another type of injury also may have had a hand in the 20-year-old's death, but detectives won't release what it was.

Ms. Waye had a past history of prostitution and drug abuse - a factor that may have been involved in some of the other homicides.

But people who knew Ms. Waye said she was trying to leave that lifestyle behind and had been off drugs for at least 14 months.

"She shouldn't be known as some hooker dead on the side of the road," said Nick Trawick, a friend. "She was so much more. She was so sweet. She really was taken advantage of a lot."

About four months ago, she found her way to the Chance for Life Ministry on 62nd Street - a place for women trying to escape abuse or hurtful lifestyles.

"She was going great," said the Rev. Alberta E. Click of the ministry. "At first she didn't think she had the ability to learn, but she was about to get her GED. She left her old life behind."

But that old life could have had a hand in Ms. Waye's death.

Police said most of the victims had a history of prostitution, and some westside neighborhood's are known for that activity.

Slayings of prostitutes are not unique to Savannah.

"Every city in this country seems to have a problem with prostitutes being killed," said Detective Sgt. John Best of the violent crimes unit.

The unsolved homicides of women on the westside may be the product of the prostitution trade - not violence in the neighborhoods. The five slayings have been spaced out by years, and while the bodies all were found on the westside, most were not within 10 blocks of each other.



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