Originally created 10/16/00

Women describe run-ins with suspect in slayings



The bait was fame and fortune. The hook was a ride to an empty room. The sinker, a willing young woman.

The catch, a victim brutalized and left for dead.

Based on an unraveling tale of arrest warrants, pending charges, and revelations from police and court officials, that was the sport Reinaldo J. Rivera played in the Augusta area.

In its wake are four dead women, shattered families and a border community that may never be the same.

But the faces of the dead weren't the only ones targeted, according to several young women in the two-state area. Richmond County sheriff's investigators say calls have been received from dozens of women who describe encounters with Mr. Rivera.

Investigators have been taking their statements and sorting out the truth-tellers from the attention-seekers, Maj. Ken Autry said.

From what several women who contacted The Augusta Chronicle told a reporter, the suspect approaches in differing vehicles, always breaking the ice by asking for directions, then easing into sex talk.

Shondell Hughes, 21, has no doubt the man she met in the parking lot of University of South Carolina Aiken, near the Etheridge Arts Center, was Mr. Rivera. He was the man whose photo has run in the newspaper, she said.

It happened almost two years ago, she said. He approached in a brown BMW. First, he asked for street directions, then he chatted about his plans to open a night club, she said.

"Ever done any modeling?" he asked, according to Ms. Hughes. When she declined the offer, the banter became sickening. He asked her about her sexual preferences and experiences, she said.

"It was just really slimy," Ms. Hughes said. "I'm just glad that I'm not naive."

When a similar encounter happened in early September outside Langley Drug Store off South Carolina Highway 421, Heather Neal, 17, of Graniteville, said she nearly fell for it. She and her friend Rose Boyd, 17, were offered about $200 to go back to their house, or to a motel room, for a modeling session, Ms. Neal said.

The man was sitting alone in a white pickup, she said. He asked one of the girls to pull her shorts up for a better look at her legs.

They were in a hurry to a friend's house, so they declined.

"He seemed sweet. He seemed professional. He was very convincing," Ms. Neal said. "We could be dead."

Robins Air Force Base Airman Krystal Garcia, 20, said the man who asked her for directions in a Smile Gas Station parking lot in North Augusta spoke effeminately.

She had stopped there for gas and cigarettes at about 1:30 a.m. after playing pool in downtown Augusta. Again, it happened in early September.

He said his name was "Matt," she said. He sat in a white minivan and asked for directions. He talked about plans to open an escort service and the attitudes of Augustans, then began spewing sexually explicit comments.

When she left him, he was masturbating, Airman Garcia said.

"I think it's twisted when you pretend to be so friendly, and people believe you. It takes a twisted person," she said.

"It's sick."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or jedwards92@hotmail.com.