Luis Aguilar Perez preyed on ``discarded women,'' troubled people that society and sometimes their families forgot, prosecutors say.
He is the first suspected serial killer to be identified in Santa Clara County, and authorities said they expect the case to mushroom from the three victims they have identified so far.
``It has the potential to be one of the largest cases we've ever had,'' said San Jose police detective Sgt. Rob Millard. ``He's the first serial killer from here that we know of.''
If convicted of slaying two South Bay women and a third from San Francisco, Perez would join a dubious hall of fame of Bay Area serial killers.
Long before Perez allegedly killed his first known victim in San Jose in 1984, the Bay Area already had lived through the horrors of such killers as Ed Kemper, who butchered six young women, his mother and another woman in Santa Cruz County in 1972-73; Herbert Mullin, who killed 13 people in and around Santa Cruz in the early 1970s; and ``Trailside Killer'' David Carpenter, who killed two women in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1981 and four women and a man along Marin County trails in 1980.
Perez's victims ``were basically just discarded women,'' said Santa Clara County Chief Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu. ``There might be others people know about, women who had a mental illness or alcohol problems, just forgotten by society.''
San Jose police and Sinunu announced Tuesday that Perez -- who has been in prison for the 1999 sexual assault and attempted murder of a 14-year-old San Francisco girl -- had been charged with murder in the deaths of Florence Ruth Berrospe and Nestora McCune and is linked to the killing of a San Francisco woman.
Police also have received several calls from other police departments, including from New York, who have similar cases, although Perez has not been linked to any murders outside the Bay Area so far. Files for the two San Jose cases have been sealed until December to protect the ongoing investigation, authorities said.
Perez, 40, lived in San Jose from 1983 to 1989, and ``was a squatter,'' Millard said. ``He would hang out with different people and stay with them. He was a San Jose resident, but he was also a San Francisco resident.'' Police also believe that Perez traveled to New York at one point.
The body of his first alleged San Jose victim surfaced in 1984.
On the afternoon of July 24 that year, a passerby saw something unusual underneath a bush on the shoulder of westbound Highway 237 in Sunnyvale, said Sunnyvale Public Safety Lt. Marty Dale.
``Our fire rigs go out there and confirm it was a dead body in a decayed state,'' Dale said. ``This woman was not identified initially. Her remains were not identified until December 1989 when a call came in from her son or son-in-law saying `that person might be my Mom' '' after seeing a sketch of the woman on television.
It was Florence Ruth Berrospe, who was 50 years old and separated from her husband. She carried no ID, but was wearing a necklace with a charm that read ``#1 Grandma.''
Five years later, the body of 61-year-old Nestora McCune was found beneath a pile of dried eucalyptus leaves near the Brokaw Road on-ramp to Highway 101 in San Jose.
Both women had been strangled and sexually assaulted. Both cases were gathering dust in the ``cold case'' files until this year.
``Our county has a very low violent crime rate for such a big area,'' Sinunu said. ``As a result, our ace detectives are able to work these old cases. Rob Millard took this one off the shelf. It had biological evidence and he got a hit'' in a DNA database called CODIS that includes DNA from both crime scenes and suspects.
The case ``has kind of ballooned into more than we expected,'' she said.
It was the fourth cold case Millard and his partner, detective Sgt. Tim Porter, revived this year.
After getting a DNA hit on the evidence in San Jose, the detectives sent out a teletype about the cases to police departments around the country ``in hopes of getting other law enforcement to look at their cold cases,'' Millard said.
``One of the inquiries we got helped solve a Hayward case. The investigator said, `It's not him, but by re-investigating the case, we got a hit.' That's kind of cool,'' Millard said. Hayward police declined to discuss their homicide case.
While San Jose police continue their investigation, Sinunu said the public could help.
``Everyone has someone they know about or some case they remember in the newspaper that touched them,'' she said. ``Has that been taken care of? Has that case been solved? If someone knows of a case that might be linked, we'll take a look at it. We're doing that right now.''