The building houses the headquarters of the Multi-Agency Homicide Task Force, whose latest news conference on the search for the Baton Rouge serial killer ended more than two hours ago. As three television news trucks aim their pop-up satellite dishes toward the wintry evening sky, Pace welcomes one last interview before the solitary drive back to her home in Jackson, Miss. Her daughter, 22-year-old Charlotte Murray Pace, was stabbed to death May 31, 2002, in a Baton Rouge townhouse -- one week to the hour after she and her parents celebrated her graduation from Louisiana State University with a master's degree in business administration.
Murray, as her family called her, had finished in the top 10 percent of her class and had a promising job waiting for her at a national accounting firm in Atlanta. And she had a boyfriend in New Orleans. "As her sister said, 'She had fallen in love for the first and last time in her life,'" Pace says.
The Pace case is one of four murders linked by DNA to the Baton Rouge serial killer, authorities say. Gina Wilson Green, a 41-year-old nurse, was found strangled in her home Sept. 24, 2001. Pam Kinamore, 44, an antiques dealer and native New Orleanian, was abducted from her Baton Rouge home July 12, 2002, and sexually assaulted. The killer slit her throat and dumped her body in a wooded area off Interstate 10 near the Whiskey Bay exit, 30 miles west of Baton Rouge. On Nov. 24, 2002, 23-year-old Marine Trineisha Colomb was found beaten to death in a muddy field near a Jesuit seminary in Grand Coteau. Colomb was the first African-American victim as well as the first victim outside Baton Rouge linked to the serial killer.
In early August, a Baton Rouge-based multi-jurisdictional task force, headed by Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade, was set up to investigate the string of murders and to catch the killer. Today, after six months of national media scrutiny and the desperation of victims' families and a fearful public, task force representatives say their case is making headway. National serial killer experts, however, are divided on the efficacy of the task-force approach. Victim's family members have mixed emotions as well. "We have had different feelings, back and forth, about the task force since it began," says Metairie businessman Ed Piglia, brother of victim Pam Kinamore. "My worst fear is that it will become a cold case and take 20 years to solve it."
Still, the task force is what keeps that fear from being realized. "They are our best hope," he says.
Before there could be a serial killer task force, there had to be a serial killer. Serial murders, according to the FBI's 1992 Crime Classification Manual, "involve three or more separate events, with an emotional cooling off period between homicides."
After DNA linked Murray Pace's murder to the same unknown killer who had strangled Gina Green in 2001, families and friends of both women launched a fierce campaign to alert local and national media to a possible serial killer on the loose in Baton Rouge. "And nobody responded to us," Ann Pace says. "I was pretty much discouraged." Then, on July 22, 2002, DNA testing confirmed that three homicides -- Pace, Green and Kinamore -- were the work of the same killer. (The Colomb murder would be linked four months later.) Suddenly, all the journalists who had initially ignored the distraught families and friends began returning their calls. Three days after the three murders were linked, Baton Rouge Mayor Bobby Simpson and other top state and local public officials held a press conference in a show of public support for the police.
But a mother's plea gave the search for the killer added impetus. On Aug. 1, Lynne Marino, mother of victim Pam Kinamore, called Gov. Mike Foster's live radio show and asked him to intervene. After this request, the governor directed the State Police to assist with the probe, which was already in motion. "The agencies just came together because of the urgency of the situation," says Baton Rouge Police Cpl. Mary Ann Godawa. In fact, that same day, the task force established its headquarters in the Office of Emergency Preparedness building near the Baton Rouge airport. "We started the briefings August 5, and the rest is history," she says.
The task force is currently composed of representatives from as many as nine federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. "Early on, we had numerous other, smaller agencies from the surrounding area," Godawa says. "But when the leads kind of slowed down, they went back to their regular duties." Originally, anywhere from 40 to 50 officers were involved. The task force no longer releases the number of investigators on the case. "It changes, depending on where the needs are," she says. Godawa declines to comment on the source of funding for task force operations; the State Police, whose labs the task force uses, are reportedly footing the bill for crime lab expenses.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade heads the task force because two of the four homicides occurred in his jurisdiction. The decision-making body of the task force is made up of "coordinators" who are investigators from the five major participating agencies: the FBI, the Baton Rouge Police Department, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, the Louisiana State Police and -- the most recent addition -- the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office. "[The coordinators] are a very tight group," Godawa says. "When a decision has to be made, they get together and make the decisions -- with Chief Englade. The buck stops with Chief Englade." Godawa adds that Englade regularly confers with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office, as well as U.S. Attorney David Dugas and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Doug Moreau for legal advice. "But the coordinators are the main decision-makers," she emphasizes. "They keep the task force running."
For the first two months, the task force held briefings daily, then twice weekly and now on an as-needed basis. "When the task force was originally formed, there were some misconceptions that we were not releasing information. And I think that's normal," Godawa says. "We have been very open with what we have released. The public is the eyes and ears of this task force."
Godawa says that the members of the task force meet "constantly -- all day long. The investigators give up a tremendous amount, personally. One of the coordinators did not have Christmas with his family until three days later. Others have given up vacations. The golfers don't play golf any more, and the skiers like myself don't ski any more.
"The public needs to have confidence in the entire task force," she adds, "because they deserve it."
Tom Streed says serial killer task forces are a "poisonous farce."
"Failure is an absolute guarantee with most task forces," he says. Currently a court-qualified death investigator, Streed has 25 years experience as a homicide investigator with the San Diego Sheriff's Department and has served as lead investigator on serial killer task forces in California. "I spent a lot of times locked up in cells with these assholes, trying to figure out what makes them tick," says Streed, who has conducted extensive jailhouse interviews with more than 50 serial killers. "I think they're lucky. They're just lucky. And the reason that they get away with so much of their violence is because of police agencies. There are damn good police investigators running around. But when you collectively look at police agencies, they are pretty damn stupid.
"Multi-jurisdictional task forces are the kiss of death in these cases," he continues. "It's just nonsense. The problem with a multi-jurisdictional task force is that you have multi-jurisdictional pissing contests going on." Streed advocates instead taking the one agency with the predominant amount of cases and leaving the investigating up to them. "Give a small team of investigators from Baton Rouge cross-jurisdictional authority to investigate the case," he says. "You don't have the Louisiana State Police, East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office and the FBI all sticking their noses in."
Godawa denies any inner task force turmoil. "This task force works extremely well together," she says. "We don't have anyone seeking the limelight above anyone else. We don't have any one agency who is trying to 'outpower' the other agency because every one has a common goal and that is to catch the killer."
Richard Keppel, chief criminal investigator for the Washington State Attorney General's Office, says that multi-jurisdictional investigative bodies in these cases present unique challenges. Cooperation depends on the locale and history of how jurisdictions have gotten along in the past. "I have been in and around over 50 serial murder task forces," says Keppel, who is currently writing a book about serial killer investigations. "I don't know of a one that totally got along."
But that doesn't mean task forces are necessarily a bad idea. "Every serial killer is different and that is the big premise that everybody has to understand up front," he says. "Local law enforcement use routine methods of investigation that don't necessarily work in a serial murder case. More than likely, the case is unprecedented for that jurisdiction."
Keppel has participated in a prior serial killer task force in Louisiana, an experience that offers salient clues to the difficulties facing a collective investigative body. In the mid-1990s, he served as special consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice, charged with evaluating a serial killer task force probing the murders of 24 women in the metro New Orleans area from 1991 to 1996. Keppel recommended that the Justice Department reject a task force request for federal funding help.
"That task force was a mess, to say the least," he recalls. The Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office was the lead agency for the task force, which also included the FBI, the New Orleans Police Department, and the sheriffs of St. Charles, St. John and Tangipahoa parishes. "The one thing I noticed a lot was that the FBI and the Jefferson Parish task force were constantly at odds," Keppel says. University of New Orleans criminologist Peter Scharf, who provided technical support for the task force, also recalls that "the task force lacked a coherent management staff." In the end, the task force turned up evidence of prosecutable police corruption cases among some of the participating agencies and the task force commander was eventually fired for destroying evidence.
Defining the scope of an investigation can also be part of the challenge. "I never believed they had 24 murders," Keppel says of the 1990s metro area task force, which ultimately disbanded after Russell Ellwood, now serving life in prison, was convicted of two of the murders. (NOPD spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo says the unsolved murder victims found in New Orleans have been reassigned to the department's Cold Case Homicide Squad; the other cases are the responsibility of the jurisdiction where the victims' bodies are recovered.)
By the time Keppel returned to Seattle, however, the New Orleans task force was looking at more than 60 homicides. "I thought there could be as many as four separate [serial killers] at work," he says.
The current serial killer task force is trying to keep its focus on the four cases with a DNA match, although Baton Rouge area law enforcement has reviewed investigative case files on 63 unsolved murders of women dating back to 1985. The families and friends of the confirmed serial killer victims call on law enforcement at least monthly to solve all of these murders, recently releasing 63 white balloons on the steps of the state Capitol in memory of each victim.
Streed says serial killer investigators often must overcome family frustration, media hype and their own meddling supervisors to focus on the case. "The instant someone labels one of these cases a serial case, all of a sudden it takes on a whole new significance," he says. "Police officers seem to have been very poor, even my own agency in the past, at saying let's just take these cases that we know are connected and investigate them, rather than overwhelming ourselves with the great mysticism and cosmic significance that this skulking ripper is going to attack again. Just handle it like another murder, for God's sakes!"
"The most important thing that can be done is to develop information that will solve the case," Keppel agrees. "There isn't a profiler out there in the FBI or a clinical psychologist or a forensic psychiatrist who can give you information about how to solve the case. You need good old-fashioned, experienced detectives to solve cases."
A lightning rod for criticism of the task force has centered on the release of a "profile" of the suspect composed by FBI behavior analysts; law enforcement officials have circulated the profile to news organizations and posted it on the Internet. The bureau profile says the murderer is probably a white male, age 25 to 35; he is physically strong and earns a below-average wage at a blue-collar job. Police say he may be driving a white 1996 or 1997 model Chevrolet pickup. He may have had scratches or bruises on his face or body after the murder of Murray Pace. He wears a size 10 to 11 shoe. He's a high risk-taker, probably with a criminal background, such as arrests for battery or domestic violence. He is prone to angry outbursts and is highly interested in developments in the case.
The FBI's serial killer profiles are not universally accepted as legitimate investigative tools. Keppel dismisses profiling as little more than a way of law enforcement taking the heat off themselves for a moment. "In more than 50 serial murder probes, I have never seen a profile that has been released to the public work," he says. "All a released profile does is allow the public to misinterpret and embellish the characteristics and load up the police investigation with useless tips. That effort is counterproductive to the investigation."
Streed says profiles are useful once investigators have a suspect in custody, but are ineffectual in determining the identity of the killer. "Profiling is absolutely nothing but a dynamite tool for interrogations," he says. "It doesn't mean shit as far as investigative tactics are concerned."
In response, Godawa says the task force has complete faith in its profile. "We feel the FBI behavior analysts are very qualified people. They have over 20 years experience in the field," she says. "Nothing is foolproof. The profile does not stand alone. ... You to have review the profile in its totality along with the other evidence."
Other leads include:
· Kinamore left her keys in her back door; investigators believe they have obtained a partial fingerprint of the killer from her home.
· A composite drawing of a "person of interest" spotted near the Colomb crime scene has been posted on billboards, as well as on the Web site of America's Most Wanted.
· Additionally, witnesses have reported seeing Colomb's car parked on the side of a rural road near Grand Coteau, a white pick-up truck parked behind it. But the search for the white truck has proved problematic. The task force has made national news with its controversial DNA "stop and swabs" of men connected to such a truck, a move that alarmed civil libertarians. Godawa refuses to say how many men have been swabbed, although The New York Times has reported 800 such stops as of Jan. 1. "One problem we had was the misconception that we were stopping every white truck that came through Baton Rouge and swabbing the driver's mouths for DNA," Godawa says. "We were doing everything within the bounds of the law."
· In September, the task force displayed a cast of the suspect's footprint, which cops linked to a distinctive sole found on six types of Rawlings athletic shoes sold at discount stores. At a Jan. 23 press conference, the task force released the cast of another footprint that they say the serial killer left at the scene of the Colomb murder -- a print they traced to two types of Adidas tennis shoes sold at discount stores.
But this practice of releasing leads as they become available has drawn critics. "The task force should provide general information," Keppel says. "You don't want to be releasing facts piecemeal. All that does is give the killer an indication how close the task force is. Because who is the only person who knows all the facts? The killer."
At the recent press conference, sample shoes, pictures of the victims and missing items presumed taken by the killer were displayed on a three-panel poster board and table behind Lafayette Sheriff Mike Neustrom. Neustrom called these new leads and evidence a "major development."
"I think the momentum's building," he said, adding that public attention to the details of each case is critical. "We think someone knows who this individual is but is not 100 percent certain."
Ann Pace looks up toward the task force's second-floor headquarters. Navigating the once-foreign worlds of law enforcement and the media has not been easy. Since Murray's murder -- and even before the task force was formed last August -- she has been sending pictures of her child to Baton Rouge police. "Just to let them know she was loved and treasured," Pace says. "I didn't want her to become just another case file number." Pace carries a homemade sign to the monthly victims' awareness rallies held in Baton Rouge; she painted it herself in a flash of anger after the media initially ignored her daughter's murder. The sign reads: "Murray matters."
The grieving mother and reluctant activist has since become self-schooled in how the media operates; she is a quick study. "The media to me is not a difficult thing," she says now. "It's a clear relationship. I am the news today. I understand I may not be the news an hour from now or a day from now. We use the media to get out information that we regard as important. And you, in turn, use us as the day's news. That's unambiguous."
Her relationship with the task force assigned to catch her daughter's killer, she says, is much more complex. "They seem to be doing everything to work together," she says. "Certainly since the multi-agency task force was formed, we have been very much in the loop, and they have been very reassuring."
Still, she adds, "the task force has not been as forthcoming as we would like, but they provide reasons for a lack of forthcomingness, such as when they are trying to protect certain information."
At a Jan. 19 rally on the steps of the Capitol, Ed Piglia called for the task force to seek help from outside experts in serial murder cases. "Put the pride aside," Piglia told the crowd of 100 people, half of whom were local and national media. Piglia wants the task force to bring in someone with in-depth experience in serial killer investigations, but "only as a consultant or an adviser, not to take over or bully in. We couldn't be any worse off than we are now." At a press conference a few days later, Neustrom said the task force has not yet considered outside consultants.
"We have been reassured that they would be open-minded to bring in anybody that would help them to analyze data, information and evidence," Piglia says. "It's just that they do it when then they deem it be necessary. And that's all we can go on." (Late last week, Piglia told WDSU-TV reporter Helena Moreno that his family is considering hiring Keppel if the investigation stalls.)
The dynamics between members of the task force and the victims' families are a special and sensitive issue, say Keppel and Streed.
"If you give the victims' families the impression you are not doing anything, you are going to have a whole lot of problems on your hands from the families," Keppel says. "My experience with families is they just need some assurance you are working the case. The police can't tell them what they are working on. But the task force should have contact with the friends and loved ones on a weekly basis if not every other day."
For investigators, Streed says, too much family contact can mean frustration. "A lot of times, the families say, 'Give us an explanation of why this [murder] happened,' and you can't," he says. "'What's going to happen next in this investigation?' You can't tell them that either."
Short of catching the murderer, how can the public tell if a serial killer task force is really doing its job?'
"The public can't. The elected officials can," Keppel says. "They need to be in there looking at the numbers. Everyone has a boss. Someone needs to look at quality of task force activity. Why hasn't the killer been caught? They may need someone to come in and help them understand the problems with this investigation, so they can properly staff and fund the people who work on it."
UNO criminologist Scharf has consulted with the victims' families in the Baton Rouge cases and, at a recent rally, urged the public to "keep the heat" on the task force. He demurs, however, when asked about the current level of effectiveness of the Baton Rouge task force. "These cases are incredibly complex," he says. "It took four years to catch Ted Bundy, 20 years to get the Green River [suspect] and 19 years to catch Theodore Kaczynski. At the end of the day, it's not the aesthetics or the structure of the task force that matters, it's whether or not you catch the killer."
Lynne Marino says she has been more encouraged since the Lafayette Sheriff's Office entered the case. "In fairness to the Baton Rouge police, they didn't know when these murders started that they had a serial killer, and Lafayette now knows that," Marino says. "So Lafayette was more aware and more on the ball. But I'm encouraged. I really am."
Before she drives out of the task force parking lot, Pace puts a tissue down and lets her tears take over. She recalls how she and her husband used to worry about Murray's safety. "We'd say, 'Please be careful about the way you drive.' 'Please don't go somewhere by yourself.' 'Please be cautious about this and that.' But whoever thinks to say, 'Please watch out for the serial killer'?"
She dabs her eyes with the tissue, then disappears into rush-hour traffic.
The cold wind picks up. The hasps of three flags in front of the task force headquarters -- one each for the nation, the state and the city of Baton Rouge -- clang against the steel poles. For a moment, it sounds like church bells.