Is the Phoenix Serial Street-Shooter Really Hispanic?

I Introduction: The Phoenix ‘Serial Street-Shooter’

On Thursday, July 14th (Bastille Day), the same day as a horrific terrorist attack on the French Riviera in Nice, marks the day I first became aware of the nine shootings (7 fatal, 2 wounded), committed since mid-March, in Phoenix, AZ. Police dubbed the offender the ‘serial street-shooter.’ The gist of a deluge of press coverage, was the Phoenix PD were able to confirm a serial killer was loose on their streets, connecting four additional attacks forensically, to five already verified.

I should mention, one other linked incident, is that an unoccupied vehicle was shot-up on June 12th. This was just about 25 minutes before a very troubling triple homicide occurred in Maryvale. This is a simple way of saying it, but this means that some twisted individual has been creeping around West Phoenix since the first part of the year, an urchin crawling the streets just before dawn, stalking innocent people, then killing them with a semi-automatic handgun.

My interest and focus switched from the foreign terrorist attacks (I had witnessed), and citizen and police shootings (in the U.S.), over to a domestic case, which I found to be more of a threat than even ISIS. I can’t substantiate this is necessarily true, other than to say, my intuition tells me an internal threat is more powerful than an external threat. The killer’s identity and even his race, are up for grabs! His motives are anybody’s guess.

Phoenix Serial Street-Shooter police sketch iii
One of the early victims, who survived a vexing ordeal with the phantom gunman, provided the police sketch artist with this description, as seen in these sketches, convinced the shooter was a light-skinned, skinny Hispanic male, with short hair. Others are not so persuaded the shooter is Hispanic, considering the option, he might be white – there’s a big difference! We do have frontal and sideview renderings of the suspect; yet, this author is not an ardent fan of police sketches.Cases where the sketch matches the actual, arrested suspect, are far fewer than those that are not able to capture the offender’s likeness.

II The Victims

Six of the nine shootings occurred in Maryvale; all six died of their wounds. Three confirmed shootings were outside of Maryvale, but were fairly close to it. Two of these victims survived, but one died (Krystal Annette White). Five of the casualties or injured parties were Hispanic, and four were African-American. A sensible guess is that the racial makeup of the targeted holds some significance. What that looks like, is hard to say, so far.

The shooter may have accomplices, but this too is clouded, from what we can glean from eye-witnesses. Personally, I believe the killer is a lone perpetrator, and keeps a low profile in general society, to avoid detection.

What’s troubling me most is picturing the gunman as a Latino shooting his own people! Slowly, it’s starting to sink in; yea, it’s a good possibility this is what’s really happening. This scenario has played out before. I do remember how shocked I was after learning the Atlanta Child Murderer was black (Wayne Williams), yet was targeting poor black children during his homicidal crime spree (1979-1981).

Wayne hated poor, black children, which is a contradiction, since this is who he was. A logical conclusion is that he really hated himself. A similar situation may emerge with the ‘serial street shooter.’ We can’t rule out poverty, class, and race in the equation of conceivable motive!

I think I’ll make a list for you, of the victims, providing their name, date, time, and location of their assault, and whether they died or survived. Although the press has provided minimal biographical data on these people, these victims warrant our deepest respect. Most of them were young, and they didn’t deserve to die so senselessly and violently!

Here are two articles that feature two of the victims:

Serial Killer in Arizona Has Residents Afraid to Step Outside by the Associated Press – [New York Post], covers Manuel Castro Garcia. Phoenix victim’s sister: Serial killer has to “pay for what he did” [CBS News], covers Horacio De Jesus Pena.

  • (One) 16-year-old unnamed male was wounded (but survived) on March 17th, at 11:30 PM, at 1100 E. Moreland St. Only recently tied to the Phoenix SSS. Note: One of the first two victims provided the sketch artist with their best memory of the gunman.
  • (Two) 21-year-old unnamed male was wounded just 24 hours later (11:30 PM), on March 18th, at 4300 N. 73rd Ave.
  • (Three) Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, 21, was the first one to die from his wounds; the date was April 1st, the time was 9 PM, and the address was 5500 W. Turney Ave.
  • (Four) Krystal Annette White, 55, was found dead at 4:30 AM, on April 19th, at 500 N. 32nd St. is an African-American and the oldest of the victims, was only recently included in the cluster of shootings, associated with the PSSS. Another interesting clue is, her murder lies outside of Maryvale.
  • (Five) Horacio De Jesus Pena, 32, was gunned down on June 3rd, at 9:30 PM; location is 6700 W. Flower St. Horacio is survived by a twin sister, Nancy Pena, who is grieving for the loss of her brother. “This guy has to get off the street and pay for what he did” – (words of Nancy Pena).
  • (Six) On June 10th, at 9:30 PM (address: 6500 W. Coronado Road), Manuel Castro Garcia, 19, was ambushed, apparently, when exchanging a few words with his executioner. Did he know his killer?
  • (Seven) This incident wasn’t a killing, but says a lot about the MO of PSSS; an unoccupied vehicle was shot up and damaged, on June12th, at 2:35 AM. (The address is 6200 W. Mariposa Drive). A prelude to a triple homicide, the sizzling rage of the phantom gunman would find his mark just 25 minutes later.
  • (Eight, Nine, and Ten) In the early morning hour of June 12th, at 3: 00 AM, two African- American women and a girl would become the 7th, 8th, and 9th statistic of the PSSS. The deceased are: Angela Linner, 31 (shot 8 times), Maleah Ellis, 12 (shot 12 times), and Stefanie Ellis, 33 (shot 14 times), mother of Maleah, was able to hold on until July 7th. The three were listening to music in their car, minding their own business, when they were surprised.

June 12th is the last known shooting incident. For some reason, the suspect sensed he better lay low for now. His crime spree became known to the nation on July 14th (Bastille Day, also the date of the Nice, France terrorist attacks), after the Phoenix PD linked these 10 incidents, based on weapon forensics (a semi-automatic handgun).

serial killer phoenix az garcia house.
Home of Holly Garcia, soon to be Diego Verdugo-Sanchez’s mother-in-law, had he not been shot to death on April 1st, 9:00 PM, by the Phoenix ‘Serial Street-Shooter.’ Diego was having a casual taco dinner at the Garcia house, when he needed to go his parked- car on the street for just a moment; suddenly, he was gunned down by a killer, making Diego the first victim of the PSSS to succumb to his wounds.

III Maryvale

“Shootings often ring out at night in Maryvale, a neighborhood of strip malls and auto parts stores where most of the stucco single-story homes feature bars and chain-link fences protecting yards.” Serial killer in Arizona has residents afraid to step outside, by Associated Press – New York Post

With the knowledge that probably 6 of 9 shootings (7 fatal, 2 wounded) occurred in Maryvale, also called West Phoenix, I felt a need to research this neighborhood, since obtaining perspective on its history, I was thinking, likely would shed some light on the suspect. I would recommend reading the Wikipedia entry for Maryvale; compressing what I’ve learned, which includes accounts of real estate developer, John F. Long, who built Maryvale into thriving suburbs during the 1950s and 1960s, implying the glory days of Maryvale are behind them.

The economy has experienced decline since then; with that, comes gangs, drugs, and crime. In 2008, the Phoenix Police Department was successful at reducing crime. I wonder if these gains have been sustained today? Newer suburbs to the west, such as Avondale, Goodyear, and Buckeye, are experiencing economic growth, suggesting a shift. (Wiki)

Looking over Maryvale demographics; just as pictured, I discovered the district is 76% Hispanic; that is, 158,159 of a total population of 208,189 (2010 census) are Hispanic. Also, many of the Latin people who live here are immigrants from around the world (South America, Central America), but especially from Mexico. This leads up to a few questions about the suspect; why is he targeting Maryvale?

It’s obvious he is familiar with its streets; does this imply he grew up here? Good possibility! And if he is Hispanic himself, this begs the question, why would he shoot his own people? Did the shooter know any of his victims? What words were exchanged between the suspect and Manuel Castro Garcia (Garcia lost his life on June 10th, at 9:30 PM, 6500 W. Coronado Road)?

serial killer phoenix az streets.
The brutal streets of Phoenix have a killer on the prowl! Why is he targeting the district of Maryvale, where the population is 76% Hispanic, if he too is Hispanic? Wisely, the street shooter’s laying low just now, with June 12th as the last date of shootings; 2 African- American women and one child were killed that early morning. During the past 5 weeks since that triple homicide, the news has been jolted by gun violence, some against citizens of color, others against the police, upstaging the elusive Phoenix gunman!

IV Comparisons – Dale Hausner + the Son of Sam

I’m not that familiar with the Phoenix serial shootings from late 2005 and 2006, committed by Dale Hausner and Sam Deitman (plus one other Hausner family member), but I did manage to review an outline of the harrowing account from an article posted on ABC Arizona 15 (Serial shootings bring back memories for former Phoenix police detective, by Sonu Wasu).

These crazies would drive around until they found someone walking alone, then just shoot them. The Hausner bunch killed 8 people and wounded 17; you might note, our current serial shooter has shot seven to death and has wounded two. The killers would meet for dinner at a favorite haunt, then go out on a Hunger Games-like hunting caper, searching for human beings!

While the shootings were random, Hausner specifically held contempt for the homeless and prostitutes; ie the downtrodden were his scapegoats. Evidence for the present-day sociopath (under scrutiny here) suggests minorities are his focus, both Hispanics and African-Americans, so far. One slight nuance coming to my attention, is, the 2016 shooter gets to some of them when in a parked car, minding their own business, while others get stalked when walking.

This MO is what made me think of an infamous case from the 1970s, which garnered quite a bit more attention on my part. I wouldn’t get too drastically bent out of shape about this analogy, since the 1970s were very different times; quite a bit more innocent for starters.

In the day, I followed the .44 Caliber Killer, later dubbed the Son of Sam slayings; I was a young man back then (1976), and had no idea who or what forces were behind the string of vicious shootings. My curiosity only grew astronomically as I threw up my hands in disbelief, suspecting the ferocious attacks in NYC were initiated by an organized group with unknown motives.

(David Berkowitz – note: the theory that Berkowitz had accomplices has been considered and not totally ruled out by the author. You may want to read The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation into America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult, by Maury Terry [1987, if this theory of multiple partners in crime holds merit for you]).

One clue supporting fellow cult confederates, wa the early police sketch of the shooter, which didn’t match Berkowitz’s description, rather, better fitting John ‘Wheaties’ Carr (John was the son of Sam Carr, who owned the building in Yonkers where Berkowitz lived during the crime spree).

At this point, we plunge into rapid descent down a rabbit-hole of cult-worship, arson, and/or murder, commanded by a dog possessed by Satan, as so amply illustrated by Maury Terry. I accept more of what he says, than I do reject; the evidence of contradictory police sketches for Sam, is persuasive for multiple responsible parties.

The Son of Sam case was labyrinthian and quirky, and reflective of a unique era; actually this was the frivolous Disco Era. Yet, two safe analogies drawn between SOS and the ‘Maryvale Shooter’ are, the use of powerful handguns, and shooting the victims when they’re sitting in parked cars (both also shot people who were just walking down the streets).

A 3rd connection is the use of a vehicle to get into and out of the designated crime scene rather rapidly. I-10 runs right by Maryvale, and avails the shooter a quick and easy getaway! The vehicle is thought to be either a light or a dark sedan; not nailed down so good, but I heard they now have a better description. SOS drove a clunky yellow Ford Galaxie, so this tells you something!

The weapons of choice used by these two very different serial killers, showcase the technical advances brought to the manufacturing of guns, over a forty year timespan. The Son of Sam had a friend buy him the .44 caliber Bulldog revolver during a visit to Houston in 1976; this Bulldog, carried in a paper bag by Berkowitz, employed in all of the shootings, had a forceful recoil, making it difficult to fire.

The current Phoenix ‘Serial Street Shooter’ is using a semi-automatic handgun; authorities haven’t yet disclosed the make and model. An easy assessment is, today’s weapon can generate considerably more devastation, in a shorter period of time.

I should note one distinction also; Sam worked to his advantage a variety of boroughs throughout New York – Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn. Let’s cross our fingers, Phoenix refrains from widening the geographical zone of his crime spree; even better, that he would stop killing altogether and get arrested immediately!

V Nineteen-Seventy-Seven Versus Two-Thousand-Sixteen!

I will point out a few blatant variances between 1977 and 2016, that would be irresponsible of me not to mention. As I followed the Son of Sam crimes, in real time, there was no moniker (known to me) of ‘Serial Killer’ in the literature, nor any reference in public statements issued by major U.S. police forces.

As Berkowitz’s terrible spree gained momentum, lots of us, who have some reliable instinctual attributes, got the message a unique MO was at work on the mean streets of NYC; a birth of sorts comes to light, deemed the serial killer phenomenon, which later would look more like an epidemic.

The realization it’s still around today, attests to its strength and longevity; the fact that DB named himself Son of Sam (in a letter to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli), reveals just how huge these disturbed individuals’ egos can get!

In addition, they enjoy garnering a tremendous amount of press, going so far as to even influence the planning and actualization of their next crime-spree. This was true with Hausner, Berkowitz, and one senses, applies to the present-day Phoenix ‘Serial Street Shooter’ as well.

Part of the motive, it’s troubling to disclose, is these people get a kick out of shooting someone to death (there’s no other way to say it)! I better mention other significant contrasts as well, that would lead some to believe the 1970s was some kind of Age of Innocence. (phrase coined by 19th Century English poet and artist, William Blake).

That is, Phoenix detectives have to ask themselves, is this guy a domestic terrorist? Factoring in terrorism makes this case quite a bit more complicated and considerably more stressful for investigators. Not to mention the wave of police shootings (the shooting of young black men by the police has been going on for a long time).

Suspicions that there may be applications in Phoenix can not be totally eliminated at this time. Naturally, we must ask ourselves, is this madman committing this random gun violence on behalf of ISIS? I doubt it, but in this day and age you have to run by every conceivable scenario that’s possible.

VI Killer’s Identity and Motive

The killings would make a great deal more sense if we knew for certain the offender was white; as such, we could assert that racism figures into his motive. However, when we say he’s Hispanic, it’s a lot harder to argue the race of the victims is the basis for motive.

Nonetheless, we can find cases from our past that show someone wreaking havoc on their own. The killer hates the qualities they possess, perceived as flaws, since he shares those flaws or weaknesses with his victims. A lack of economic and social mobility easily come to mind, first of all. The Atlanta Child Murders of the late 1970s, early 1980s, is the best example of this (“killing your own” phenomenon) I can think of.

A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Steven Pitt, has some insight into serial killers. Pitt emphasizes the attacks tend to get bolder and sloppier as the perpetrator progresses through the timeline of attacks. These are zeroing in on a buzz, the thrill of the kill, lowering his guard, and increasing the possibility of detection, when getting more and more reckless.

However, June 12th is the last date we can ascribe to the carnal blood-lust of PSSS; the last one is more reckless and much more violent, with 3 lives lost. (Expert provides insight into Phoenix serial killer case, by Jason Barry – 3TV)

This is why I believe he stopped after that date; he knew he’d be apprehended once the case became higher profile, with the story going viral in the news. He was famous now! Another theory I hold is, the killer isolates himself, remaining virtually alone; therefore, he doesn’t really have anyone who could blow his cover. His anonymity is his cover from detection; he knows people, but he doesn’t get too close to anyone.

VII Sources

Fox News Latino; Maryvale (Phoenix) – Wikipedia; People; The Washington Post; Central Phoenix; Daily Mail; Son of Sam – Wikipedia; PHOENIX (KPHO/KTVK; New York Post; and CNN; America’s Serial Killers – Portraits In Evil (A 10-Part Journey Into Darkness – Mill Creek Entertainment – DVD). I do regret not having access to the Arizona Republic (don’t have a subscription).

John Kays
John Kays identifies timeless remnants from our past that will endure, or be admired by future generations.