Originally created 10/17/00

Cities contact Richmond County

Early speculation that a savage assault on an Augusta teen-ager would be linked to another killing proved true, but no one could have guessed where the bloody trail would lead.

While it's been two days since local authorities tied Reinaldo J. Rivera, 37, to the death of another young woman, experts on serial killings don't expect that trail to end soon.

That's because it would be unheard of for a man to start attacking strangers so late in life, said Robert Ressler, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation profiler and author of Whoever Fights Monsters.

"That doesn't happen," Mr. Ressler said, adding that for serial killers, the pattern of violence usually begins in pre-adolescence and escalates throughout life.

Police in some of Mr. Rivera's old stomping grounds are thinking the same thing. Aiken investigators - still awaiting DNA evidence in hopes of solving last summer's slaying of Jessica Carpenter, 17 - aren't the only ones who want a crack at interrogating the soft-spoken, well-mannered father of two.

Agency representatives from the Fayetteville, N.C., and Columbia areas confirmed they are in touch with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department and want any information they can get on the man accused of raping, strangling and stabbing young women.

Columbia Police Department Investigator Harold Chambers sent a written request Monday to the Augusta department where Mr. Rivera is in custody and reportedly telling his story. The victim profile matches the unsolved, high-profile disappearance of Dail Dinwiddie, 23, on Sept. 24, 1992, after a U2 concert at the University of South Carolina.

"It's more than just a case - it's personal," Investigator Chambers said. "I'd like to talk to him. He's a great suspect."

When Darrell and Irma Merchant heard about a string of slayings in the Augusta area involving young, blond-haired women, they turned to each other and wondered.

The couple hasn't seen their daughter, Paula, since Jan. 23, 1999. She was last seen leaving her parents' home in Forest Acres, a small town outside Columbia, and her abandoned car was found burning hours later near an airport.

Mrs. Merchant said she has mixed feelings about the Rivera case. She still wants to believe her daughter suffered memory loss and will one day return, she said.

"When you lose a child like this, there's never going to be closure," Mrs. Merchant said. "When you don't know, there's still hope."

Regardless of what develops in South Carolina, he likely will face a Georgia jury first.

Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig said he could not comment about filing a possible notice of intention to seek the death penalty. However, sources close to the investigation said Mr. Rivera will be prosecuted on capital murder charges.

Second Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan said Monday that Mr. Rivera's "clearly is a death penalty case. It has all the elements." But she might not have to prepare for a death trial because Georgia prosecutors might seek the death penalty first, she said.

Mr. Craig released a time line Monday describing Mr. Rivera's movements during the past three decades. Born in Madrid, Spain, he moved with his family to Puerto Rico at the age of 7. His father was a doctor.

At 19, Mr. Rivera joined the Navy and reported for basic training in Orlando, Florida. That same year, he was sent to San Diego, Calif. He spent 3´ years at sea.

From December 1986 to March 1991, Mr. Rivera worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, Mr. Craig said. For the next three years, he attended the University of South Carolina in Columbia, earning a degree in administration. While in Columbia, he married Tammy Lisa Bonette on Valentine's Day 1993.

He would remain in the Navy, moving to Pensacola, Fla., and Corpus Christi, Texas, before being discharged in September 1995.

He left Texas for Fayetteville. At some point, he returned to Columbia, then settled in Aiken County in January 1998. He was hired at Bridgestone/Firestone that same year.

Steve Egger, professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said serial killers aren't unique to the United States, but its culture breeds more than others.

"We tend to make strangers of one another," he said. "We move around a lot, and we have less close acquaintances than we used to."

He was surprised to learn local officials have declined to call Mr. Rivera a serial killer.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation classifies a serial killer as one who kills at least three people - usually unrelated victims - with cooling off periods in between.

Serial killers tend to lead two lives - one seemingly normal, one a monster, he said. Mr. Rivera appeared happily married with two small children and a steady job at Bridgestone/Firestone. Neighbors and friends said he was friendly, almost overly so.

His case is not unlike that of Robert Yates Jr., accused of killing 18 women in Spokane, Wash., Mr. Egger said. Mr. Yates was a family man, an aluminum worker and an Army National Guard helicopter pilot.

Mr. Ressler said serial killers often target similar victims because they represent some fixation or fantasy.

According to court documents, the man accused of four killings in the Augusta area rapes and strangles his victims. In some cases, the women have been bound. In others, stabbed in the neck.

In South Carolina, documents allege that Mr. Rivera tied Tiffaney Wilson's hands behind her back, raped her, stabbed her in the neck with a knife and strangled her with a rope.

Warrant applications filed in Georgia in the case of Sgt. Marni Glista say Mr. Rivera convinced her to lead him to her home. Once she changed clothes, he strangled her, sexually assaulted her, tied her hands and left her lying on her bedroom floor. Mr. Rivera admitted this to investigators and gave details of the crime only the perpetrator could know, the warrant application says.

Once captured, it's not unusual for serial killers to cooperate, Mr. Ressler said. While John Wayne Gacy, who killed at least 33 young men, put up resistance, Jeffery Dahmer, who killed at least 17 young men, aided authorities, he said.

"A lot of times, these people are under a great deal of stress, and the realization that it's over comes as a relief," Mr. Ressler said. "Sometimes they look forward to getting it all over with."

Jean Dinwiddie, Dail's mother, wants her torment to end, but she's not sure if she wants it to be this way. She and her husband, Dan, hope Richmond County authorities let Columbia police question the suspect as soon as possible.

"We have had so many things happen through these eight years, and nothing has ever come of it," Mrs. Dinwiddie said. "We try not to be optimistic.

"I think you don't ever want to know the answer, and at the same time you just want to put it to rest."

Augusta attorney Peter Johnson accepted a court appointment Monday to represent Mr. Rivera, whom he spoke with at the Richmond County Jail. "Now that I've been appointed, I cannot discuss the case," Mr. Johnson said.

Staff Writers Chasiti Kirkland and Sandy Hodson contributed to this article.

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


Law enforcement authorities in Columbia, S.C., and Fayetteville, N.C., begin investigating any connections Reinaldo J. Rivera may have had to the disappearance of several young women and the deaths of others.

District attorneys in both Aiken and Columbia counties are considering seeking the death penalty for the slayings of four young women.

Authorities release the identity of the fourth victim, Tabitha Leigh Bosdell, whose remains were discovered Saturday in Columbia County.


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