USF criminologist weighs in on Seminole Heights murders

- The search for a possible serial killer in Seminole Heights entered its second week Monday, with Tampa Police and neighbors desperate to find the person responsible for three murders in 11 days.

Interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said detectives are working leads but have few clues into the killings other than some grainy home surveillance video of a man who was in the area when Benjamin Mitchell, 22, was shot Oct. 9, beginning the string of murders.

Dugan said investigators are combing through all security video they can track down to see if they can find anything else.

"It's a very painstaking process, it's very slow. Going through video, it's time-consuming. If you have two hours of video, you have to watch it in real time," he said. "You have to be methodical and slow because you can miss something."

Four days after Mitchell was killed while waiting for the bus on N. 15th Street, city workers found 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body in a vacant lot on New Orleans Avenue. Last Thursday, Anthony Naiboa, 20, was shot and killed after getting off the bus at the wrong stop.

The interim chief also stopped short of calling this the work of a serial killer.

"I'm afraid to label it because I don't know that it's one person and I think it would be irresponsible to give it a label when it could be more than one person. We don't have enough answers," he said, adding a concerning message for neighbors. "In all likelihood, somebody knows who did this, they just may not realize it."

Dr. Bryanna Fox, a Criminology professor at USF who has helped during investigations like this, said it's going to be a challenge for police to profile this killer.

"If we knew the offender was picking certain types of people and picking people with certain demographic traits, we could then backtrack off of that and predict traits of who that offender is. We don't have that in this case," she said, adding there are some clues with which investigators can work. "Since there's no real connection between the victims and offender, I'm guessing it's a male..."I would suspect based off of the available demographics of the victims that this might be a younger offender, probably between the ages of 21 and 35."

Fox also doesn't think the person behind these shootings fits the common perception of a serial killer.

"This offender is not picking these victims out in advance, not stalking them and premeditating it as we see in most other serial killings," she said.

As police chase down leads, the community has been coming together, holding walks and community meetings including one planned for Monday night with Dugan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Tampa Electric also made sure all the street lights are working, police handed out more than 80 light bulbs to neighbors so they could light their porches and city crews are also helping.

"I've got them out here now cleaning out the alleys, cutting vacant lots and boarding up vacant houses to give the officers some sense that nobody's hiding there," Buckhorn said.

Anyone with information about the man seen in the surveillance video should call police. He's not considered a suspect at this time but, according to investigators, is the only person who may have seen or heard something the night Mitchell was killed.

There is also a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

 

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