Linkage blindness is defined as an investigative failure to recognize a pattern which “links” one crime with another crime in a series of cases through victimology, geographic region or area of events, the “signature” of the offender, similar M.O., and a review of autopsy protocols. (Geberth, 2006) (7)
On November 1, 1987, a thirty-two year old female victim, who lived in the Westover Hills District of Richmond Virginia, was awakened in her bed at 3:00 A.M. by a Black Male, who was armed with a knife. The suspect was wearing a ski mask and gloves. He bound her with rope, which he had brought to the scene and made her drink half a bottle of Southern Comfort.
He then engaged in a three-hour nightmare of sexual assault and torture, which included repeated rapes, forced oral sex and brutal penetration with a vibrating dildo, which he had brought with him to the scene. He also had attempted anal sex with his victim. The victim was saved when upstairs neighbors heard her sobs. The killer then fled from the scene.
The case was handled as a rape investigation by Richmond authorities, who did not link this event to the other two cases because in this case the offender was described as Black. The FBI Profiles for Davis and Hellums indicated that the UNSUB was a White Male.
On November 22, 1987 fifteen-year old Diane Cho was found dead in her parent's home in Chesterfield County, which is just south of Richmond city limits. The killer had entered her bedroom through a window as the family was asleep. The victim had been strangled and her hands were tied behind her back. She had been raped, sodomized, and strangled to death with ligature. Biological fluid was recovered from the girl’s body and the crime scene. There was only a limited amount of genetic material recovered so the evidence was processed using DNA Amplification. This DNA was eventually matched to the Richmond cases.
Nine days later and over one hundred miles away in Northern Virginia another rape homicide was being investigated by the Arlington County Police.
On December 1, 1987 a forty-four year old Susan Tucker was found dead on her bed on the second floor of her two-story home in Arlington County in Northern Virginia in the early evening hours. Her husband, who was in Europe on a business trip, could not reach his wife by phone. He called The Arlington County Police Department to request that an officer be dispatched to “Check-on-the Welfare” of his wife. Investigation revealed that she had been killed a few days earlier. Evidence revealed that she had been raped, sodomized and strangled to death. Detectives recovered biological fluids on a sleeping bag and from a nightgown beneath the victim’s body. The Offender had entered the victim’s home through a basement window below the patio.
Detective Joseph Horgas from the Arlington County Police Department was assigned the investigation. He was intrigued by the presentation of the bound body in the crime scene and the manner in which the victim’s pocketbook had been dumped. These similarities reminded him of the circumstances of the Carolyn Jean Hamm homicide case of 1984 where he had assisted other detectives in their investigation. A suspect had been arrested in that case and was currently in prison. However, Detective Horgas remembered that the F.B.I. profile in that case had suggested that there could have been two persons involved. There certainly were similarities in this case to that of the 1984 case.
However, before he could even begin to evaluate these similarities, a Regional Broadcast was issued on December 8, 1987 by the Richmond Bureau of Police alerting law enforcement agencies to a series of murders, which had occurred in the City of Richmond. The Broadcast described the murders of Debbie Dudley Davis on September 18th and Dr. Susan Elizabeth Hellams on October 3rd It announced the method of entry in both cases and indicated that the victims had been strangled. “Any departments with a similar case please contact the Richmond Bureau of Police.”
When Detective Horgas contacted the Richmond Bureau of Police investigators to discuss the similarities between their cases and the Arlington murder, they did not believe that the cases were connected due to the geographic distance involved. Richmond detectives basically discouraged Horgas from pursuing any connection. However, Detective Horgas did travel to Richmond to review their cases and still felt that there was a connection to his case.
Detective Horgas returned to Arlington to review the 1984 case as well as determine whether or not there were any similar incidents that could be linked to his investigation. While reviewing previous sex-related cases that had occurred within Arlington County, he discovered a “Rape-Pattern” that involved a series of home invasions that occurred from June, 1983 to January 1984. Joe Horgas inquiry revealed that there had been nine women who had been raped and sodomized by a Black male. The offender would wear a ski-mask and was armed with a knife. The suspect usually dumped cash from his victim’s pocketbooks, which he left at the scene and the sexual assaults escalated with the subject engaging in repeated sexual acts including oral and anal sex.
The “Signature” component of the rape pattern matched the homicide of Susan Tucker.
All of the victims had been left nude and bound with their hands tied behind their backs in similar fashion. There was symmetry to the bindings and slip knots that the offender used.
The offender used the ligature as a tourniquet to control his victims and spent an inordinate amount of time with his victims as he engaged in sadistic torture. The victims had been vaginally and anally raped and the offender had masturbated on them. A comparison of the autopsy findings from the murder case with medical reports indicated the use of an object or brutal force caused ripping or tearing. The offender also used Vaseline and/or petroleum jelly during the anal assaults as well as dildos and ropes, all of which he brought to the scene.
Detective Joseph Horgas then remembered Timothy Wilson Spencer, a sex offender and burglar who was active in the same area as the rape pattern. A check with records indicated that Spender had been convicted of Burglary on January 29, 1984.
Interestingly, the rape pattern suddenly ended in January, 1984. Spencer had been apprehended by police as he waited in a woman’s apartment with his rape-kit. He was charged with Burglary and Attempted Rape. Spencer pled Guilty to Burglary to cover the indictment and received a lighter sentence of Three years. Horgas then ascertained that Spender had been released to a half-way house in Richmond, Virginia in September, 1987.
As Horgas checked the background on Timothy Spencer he learned that Spencer had been granted a six day Furlough for Thanksgiving, which allowed him to travel from Richmond to Arlington County Virginia. This information placed the suspect in Arlington at the same time as the Rape-Murder of Susan Tucker.
Detective Horgas went to the District Attorney’s Office and requested assistance in putting a case together on Timothy Spencer. The District Attorney initiated a Grand Jury and had Horgas present his findings and evidence to the jury. Horgas’ investigation linked Spencer to the murder of Susan Tucker and the Rapes Pattern in Arlington and established a case.
An Arrest Warrant for Spencer and a Non-Testimonial Warrant was issued to secure Spencer’s Blood for DNA Analysis. On January 20, 1988, Joe Horgas arrested Timothy Spencer in Richmond, Virginia after securing Grand Jury warrants. Horgas arrested Spencer at his half-way house in Richmond, Virginia pursuant to warrant and Spencer’s blood samples were taken for DNA comparison.
Timothy Spencer was charged with the Rape Murder of Susan Tucker and convicted in 1988. The Series of Rapes – From 1983 to 1984 were linked to Spencer through Lifecodes DNA Analysis. Eventually, all of the samples from the homicides and rapes were matched to Spencer by Lifecodes and the Serial Murder Cases Unfolded. Timothy Spencer was charged with two Richmond murders and The Chesterfield County murder.
The Horgas investigation also indicated that The 1984 Rape-Murder in Arlington of Carolyn Jean Hamm was a “Signature Crime” to the Susan Tucker case, which also involved the same M.O. Furthermore, a DNA analysis of the evidence from the Carolyn Jean Hamm case was matched to Spencer. The original suspect, David Vasquez who matched the profile been convicted and was still in jail. The Horgas Investigation revealed that David Vasquez was innocent and had been in prison for five years. On January 4, 1989 David Vasquez was granted an unconditional pardon and released from jail.
The prosecution used the “Signature Crime Theory” in each of the separate murder trials to present evidence that all of the crimes were committed by the same person. A summary of the legal definition of the “Signature Crime Theory,” according to a Supreme Court decision in Louisiana (State v. Davis, 1980) (8) is as follows; “Where evidence of a separate crime is used to establish the identity of the accused, more is required than merely proving the repeated commission of crimes of the same class. Generally, the device used to commit the crime, or the manner in which the crime was committed, must be so distinctive as to indicate a modus operandi or to act as a Signature of the accused.”
In the Timothy Wilson Spencer serial murder cases, the offender made sure that the victims, who were married or had a relationship, were home alone when he attacked. He exerted total control over these victims and spent considerable time in their homes.
The DNA evidence in this series of rapes and murders was the crucial because it forensically linked the cases. However, The DNA analysis also enabled Prosecutors to pass the legal test for "signature crimes," meaning enough similarities existed to believe that the crimes were committed by the same person. In each of the incidents, the women had been raped and sodomized by their attacker after he had accosted them in their sleep. Each victim had been strangled to death with ligature. Each of the victims was found face down and had been similarly bound with their hands tied behind their backs. This "Signature Crime" tactic was used in each of the subsequent prosecutions as well as the penalty phase hearings on each of the convictions
Timothy Wilson Spencer was convicted on all of the homicides and in the Penalty Phase was sentenced to death in each of the cases. His case was the first Appellate Division ruling on the admissibility of DNA evidence in a Capital Murder Case.
In September, 1989 The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the DNA Convictions and the Death Penalty. This was also the first Execution based on DNA Evidence in the United States of America. Timothy Wilson Spencer was executed in the electric chair at the Greensville Correctional Center by the Commonwealth of Virginia on April 27, 1994.