American serial killer

Lorenzo J. Gilyard was in some ways one of the most successful serial killers of the modern era. He accounted for the death of at least 13 women and almost no one recognizes his name. He was an invisible predator, cruising under the radar, picking off an occasional victim.

Gilyard started his criminal murder spree on a spring evening in 1977 and continued without apprehension until 1993, when he stopped killing at the age of 42. He remained invisible until 2004, when he was undone by DNA evidence.

Tactics of a predator
Part of the reason he wasn't caught was in his selection of victim. He killed hookers, a group which doesn't command the same attention other victims enjoy. Hookers are by nature unstable, their profession illegal, working the dark side of society. Many use drugs, come from poor backgrounds, bad childhood environments, or possess other factors which make them easier targets for crime. It isn't uncommon for a hooker to decide to pull up stakes and take off, telling no one. It could be a long time before anyone notices she is missing and puts out an alert.

The idea that prostitutes are worth less than otherwise law abiding citizens is common. Police and predators often share the idea that a hooker is just a piece of trash, something to be used and then disposed of without a second thought. This attitude on the part of law enforcement allows predators room to operate as long as their activities don't become too dramatic, attracting attention from the public and press.

A list of victims
Gilyard started his murder spree in Kansas City, a major metro area with plenty of crime to keep law enforcement busy. He was very democratic in his selection, choosing both black and white women, young and more mature victims for his attentions.

Gilyard's first victim was Stacie Swofford, a 17 year old white girl who was found murdered and dumped in a trash-strewn lot in April, 1977. His second was Gwen Kizine, a 15 year old black girl, found dead in an alley in January, 1980. Third on his list was Margaret Miller, 17 and black, found dead in another vacant lot in May, 1982. The Kizine murder attracted some notoriety, mainly because of her youth. Relatives said she was a happy church-going kid who took up with the wrong crowd, got into illegal drugs, and started prostitution to finance her habit.

Gilyard went on a forced vacation from his murderous activities. Shortly after he murdered Margaret Miller, he was sentenced to almost 4 years in prison on another unrelated felony. He wasn't a suspect in any of the KC murders at that time.

Soon after his release from prison Gilyard picked up where he had left off. The body of Catherine Barry was found on March 14, 1986, hidden by some lumber scraps in a derelict building a few miles from downtown. Barry, age 34, was the only victim who was not a hooker. She was the mother of three children and due to mental illness ended up being on the street.

Two more women joined the growing list of victims in 1986. Naomi Kelly, 23, was found August 16 in a park frequented by drug dealers and their clients. Debbie Blevins, 32, was found November 27 (Thanksgiving Day), dumped outside of a church, her body nude except for her socks.

The rampage continued into 1987 with 5 more victims falling prey. A stripper named Ann Barnes was found April 17, the 10th anniversary of the murder of Stacie Swofford, the first victim. Midsummer was the end for Kellie Ann Ford, a 20 year old drug-addicted hooker. She was found strangled in a city park. Angela Mayhew, 19, was found dead and shoeless on September 12 in North Kansas City. Sheila Ingold, 36, was found murdered in an abandoned van on Troost Avenue, an area known for illicit sexual activity. Carmeline Hibbs, 30, was discovered on December 19 on Broadway, just 16 blocks away from where Ingold was found. She was also shoeless, though it was December.

The rate of murders slowed after 1987. The next victim was Helga Kruger, a citizen of Australia, found on Troost Avenue on February 12, 1989. Another victim, Connie Luther, was found murdered in January, 1993. Luther was the 13th and last victim ascribed to Gilyard.

Early problems
Gilyard both followed the profile for serial killers while exemplifying the exception to that profile. He had an extremely difficult childhood. His father was convicted of rape in 1970. His sister, also a prostitute, was implicated in the murder of a fellow hooker, as well as being convicted of stabbing a john to death in 1983. His younger brother Daryle is doing a life without parole stretch in Missouri for a 1989 drug murder.

Lorenzo Gilyard displayed a violent temperament early, beating his first wife whom he married when she became pregnant when he was 17. He assaulted friends, relatives, and strangers, but managed to avoid doing serious time for these assaults. He acquired a history of at least 12 rape accusations. Five charges failed to bring convictions between 1969 and 1974, but 1975 finally saw him convicted of raping the 13 year old daughter of a friend. This conviction got Gilyard 9 months confinement in a plea bargain. As part of the process during his trial, a psychiatrist failed to require any treatment of Gilyard's obvious violent behavior.

Lorenzo Gilyard continued to build his criminal resume, raping another woman in 1980 while holding a gun on her boyfriend. The evidence was compelling, but a jury found him not guilty. He assaulted his 3rd wife in 1980, who then divorced him. In 1981, Gilyard stalked and beat her twice while the original assault case was under appeal. Gilyard was finally convicted of these assaults in 1982, sending him to prison from May, 1982 until January, 1986. His prison time accounts for the lull in hooker murders during that period.

Lorenzo Gilyard was charged again in 1989 with the sexual assault of a neighbor. He was given a suspended sentence and probation as part of a plea deal. He was required to undergo counseling for his anger and sexual aggression.

A 'regular' guy
When Gilyard got out of prison in 1986, he secured employment as a garbage collector. He was a good employee, working dependably and well, rising to a supervisory position. He lived in a small home with his 4th wife, who he married in 1991.

Life was good for Lorenzo, working his job and living free after almost 2 decades of trouble with the law. He must have thought his past was buried and forgotten, much like his victims.

The long arm of the law
Behind the scenes in 2003, Kansas City had been awarded a federal grant for law enforcement. They used these funds to work cold cases which showed promise of being solved if given proper attention. Kansas City had about 600 unsolved rapes and murders, a list they narrowed to a prospective 85 to revisit. One was the death of Naomi Kelly, a cold case from her discovery in 1986.

Beginning in February 2003, the forensic examiners worked overtime testing DNA samples. They were to discover that the DNA from the Naomi Kelly case matched that of 12 other murdered women found from 1977 until 1993. Finally, on April 12, 2004, the forensics experts found a name to go along with the DNA evidence. Lorenzo Gilyard was linked by physical evidence to 13 murders.

Gilyard had been a suspect since 1987 in the murders, and had submitted a blood test at that time, but technology then available was unable to link him to the crimes. He was tailed for a time in 1987, but was eliminated as a suspect. Finally, after a 17 year pause, Lorenzo Gilyard was about to become prime-time again. His 1987 blood sample was tested against material recovered from the 13 murdered women. He was again tailed for 5 days while a case was built against him, and was arrested while enjoying a dinner at a Denny's Restaurant.

Appearing at his arraignment, Gilyard was calm. He entered a plea of innocent in each of the 13 charges. Relatives and friends of the victims were in attendance and said Gilyard appeared uncontrite.

Instead of working to prove Gilyard's innocence, his attorney worked to avoid the death penalty in the case. In yet another plea arrangement, Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar agreed to not seek the death penalty in exchange for a trial without a jury and Gilyard's waiver of most of his rights to appeal. The deal was none too soon, as much of the evidence was barred by Judge John O'Malley due to police ineptness at the time of the murders and during Gilyard's subsequent arrest. Chalk up one for the defense, but Kanatzar still had his DNA evidence, a strong trump card indeed. His plan was to play that card for all it was worth in the trial, set for 2007 in the spring.

Prosecutor Kanatzar brought charges against Gilyard for 7 of the 13 murders. There were samples of sperm in 6 cases, with a hair from Gilyard linking him to the 7th. The defense claimed that Gilyard was the victim of a nefarious unknown individual who killed the women immediately after Gilyard had sexual relations with them. The prosecution's response was that the 'unknown stranger' defense stretched the bounds of credulity. Judge John O'Malley agreed, and on April 13, 2007 found Gilyard guilty of 6 of the charges, acquitting him on the 7th. When asked if he had anything to say to the court, Gilyard's response was "No matter what I say, it doesn't matter". Judge O'Malley gave the verdict of life without parole, intoning that phrase a total of 6 times.

Gilyard once again was swallowed up by the Missouri penal system. Relatives of the victims expressed relief, saying they had been given a gift they never expected to receive with Lorenzo Gilyard's conviction.

Unanswered questions
The obvious question is HOW did Lorenzo Gilyard manage to follow his predilection for murder and violence for so long? The reasons are multiple and multi-layered. In America, the murder of a prostitute is viewed through a moral lens. Somehow, it is thought that she got what she asked for and deserved by selling her body to strangers. Prostitutes are somehow less than other women. Couple that with the underfunding for basic scientific examination of evidence and the product is over half a million violent cold cases in the US. Of that staggering sum, 50,000 are murders and 170,000 are sexual assaults. That backlog is pitted against a paltry $18.5 million dollars earmarked by the federal government in 2006 for forensic examination of evidence. These funds are available to jurisdictions on a grant basis of up to $500,000 for use in clearing cold cases.

Another factor is the idea that it simply takes more for a case to attract attention by the press and public these days. We've been inundated by tales of horror to the point where it truly takes something extraordinary to capture the attention of the police, press, and public. Simply offing a couple of hookers isn't sexy enough anymore. We need piles of bodies, ala Jim Jones and the Kool-aid he served to his followers to be horrified.

The long and grisly career of Lorenzo Gilyard is a picture of what is wrong with criminal justice in the US. The signs were there to be put together. Poor funding, uninspired police work, and the sheer volume of crimes awaiting clearance, allowed Gilyard to slip through the cracks time after time. Kansas City itself contributed to the difficulty, straddling the state line of Missouri and Kansas. Kansas City is a metropolis patrolled by not one but two police departments. Communications, or the lack thereof, between departments work in favor of the criminal.

Exception to the rule
The profile for a serial killer is of a white male, usually in his 20s to 30s, with a history of violence and aggression toward women. The common belief is that once a serial killer begins, he can't stop himself from continuing to kill. Gilyard didn't fit the profile in several important ways. Gilyard wasn't white, he was an African-American. He also ended his spree, though the reasons for doing so are unknown. He doesn't look the part of a violent felon. His photo could be that of your kid's school principal, a reporter, or your mailman.

For almost 30 years Lorenzo Gilyard escaped justice for the grisly deeds he committed. Most of the victims were strangled, most were shoeless, most had paper or rags obstructing their faces. Lorenzo Gilyard achieved the record of the individual responsible for the most murders in the history of Kansas City.


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