John Williams Jr., a drifter from Georgia picked up for assaulting a woman about a month ago is believed to be a serial killer responsible for at least four slayings in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina. Williams, 36, was charged on March 19, 1997 with the killing of Patricia Ashe in January 1996. While in jail on the assault rap, he was also charged for the murder of Debra Elliott in December.
Police believe Williams also killed at least two other women -- Dawn Grandy and Cynthia Brown -- whose bodies were dumped on or near downtown railroad tracks. He's also charged with sexual assaulting four other women since October 1995.
Police conducted 6,000 interviews and beefed up patrols in the Moore Square area downtown after investigators started suspecting that a serial killer might be loose. An officer even talked briefly with Williams, but he was not identified as a suspect until his arrest on the assault charge. Investigators believe the Williams met his victims downtown and that they willingly went with him to secluded spots where "he felt comfortable to make the attacks."
A Raleigh man with an IQ of 80 was sentenced to death for killing two crack-addicted women, raping and assaulting two more, and trying to rape and assault another one. Though he's not been charged with any other murders, John Williams remains a suspect in the slayings of three more poor women in downtown Raleigh.
His defense attorney, in a futile attempt to spare his life, argued that he had been reared in poverty and abuse, and has an IQ in the low 80s. Apparently he suffered from a mental disturbance caused by having watched his sister being repeatedly sexually abused when he was between 7 and 10. The molestations triggered in Williams a mental disturbance called dissociation, in which, "We run away, only the running away is mental, and you're functioning on automatic pilot."
Nontheless, on March 4, 1998, a jury composed of five women and seven men handed him the death penalty. They saw him as a lethal predator in the desperate world of crack addicts, preying on women who were willing to have sex in exchange for a high. He lured them with drugs, then choked them, put a box cutter or a small knife to their throats and raped or tried to rape them, prosecutors argued. Those who resisted, he beat to death.
Four other poor women were killed in 1996, and Raleigh police at first rejected the possibility of a serial killer. But as the death toll rose, they reconsidered. One murder was solved last year when a man was convicted of shooting his girlfriend to death. But three other cases remain open, and police and prosecutors consider Williams the prime suspect in those, although they do not have enough evidence to charge him.