He Kills, We Shrug
Map of Missouri with Kansas City locator
On a spring night in 1977, an unremarkable, 26-year-old Kansas City, MO., man named Lorenzo Gilyard began strangling prostitutes in his hometown.
By the time he stopped, in 1993 at age 42, Gilyard had killed at least 13 women.
He was caught in 2004 when DNA evidence dropped into the lap of the city’s homicide detectives—a “fortunate fluke,” one forensic expert called it.
Three years later, at age 56, Gilyard, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
It is an unusual case, but not because Gilyard targeted prostitutes.
The world’s violent psychopaths have long favored streetwalkers as victims, dating to even before London’s Jack the Ripper went on his infamous spree in the 1880s. The women work in an edgy business, and their clients are not expected to produce references.
The case is unusual in that few Americans outside metropolitan Kansas City have ever heard of Lorenzo Gilyard.
He murdered more women than Jack the Ripper, and we shrugged.
But since Gilyard began his crimes, other serial murderers have targeted prostitutes in places like New Orleans, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Detroit, Rochester, N.Y., Daytona Beach, Fla., Atlantic City, N.J., and Ipswich, England.
“Prostitutes are fantastic targets for crazy people,” said Eliyanna Kaiser, executive editor of Spread, a New York-based magazine that focuses on the sex industry. “You have easy access to them. They will willingly go away with strangers while no one is watching. When they disappear, few people will notice. It couldn’t be easier.”
The sheer volume of these easy murders has pushed America into serial-killer overload. There are so many, in so many places, that we simply can’t keep up—or don’t want to.
“What’s happened is that we’ve become used to this sort of thing,” said Thomas Carroll, a retired sociology professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who studied homicide patterns. “It used to be that you’d murder two or three people, and everyone in the country would know your name. You were a famous killer. Now, a guy kills 13, and nobody’s ever heard of him.
Dr. Thomas Carroll
“Someone like this knocks off women from the dark sides of life, from the margins, and in our society he’s hardly worth mentioning,” Carroll, 73, told the Crime Library. “Our sensitivities have become blunted. It no longer shocks us. To make big news, you have to kill a famous person or a lot of people in a place where homicide is not expected, like Virginia Tech.”
The Gilyard case escaped the attention of even the Sex Workers Outreach Project, an international advocacy group for prostitutes that pays special attention to murders of streetwalkers.
Veronica Monet, a former call girl and advocate for sex workers, admitted that she had never heard of Gilyard until contacted by the Crime Library.
She said that is because the case won scant notice from the national media, which treated it as just another batch of throwaway murders.
As Spread editor Kaiser put it, “The media is just a projection of what people care about. Most people really don’t care about some prostitutes who go missing or die.”
“They were just pieces of trash,” Gary Ridgway, the Green River serial killer, once said of the 48 prostitutes he murdered in the northwest. “They were garbage.”
Too many law enforcers pick up on that theme and treat serial killers of streetwalkers as “garbage collectors,” said Monet.
“If your job as a cop involves doing sweeps to get prostitutes off the street, then you are all about trying to get these people to go away,” she said. “If somebody kills a few of them, then you might be thinking, ‘Gee, this is making my life easier.’ I’m not saying a cop would say that out loud, but it might be a subconscious motivation.”
And that attitude trickles down through the media and the public, she said.
When Gilyard killed his final victim, Connie Luther, in the winter of 1993, her demise rated about 100 words on page 6 of the local news section of the Kansas City Star, the city’s newspaper of record:
“The nude body of a Kansas City woman was found Monday on a sidewalk on the city’s West Side. The woman, Connie Luther, 29, was found about 6:30 a.m. near 25th and Allen streets, investigators said. Police think she was killed elsewhere. A man who was driving to work Monday told police he discovered Luther’s nude body face down in the snow among leaves and trash. Police have no suspects or motive. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death…”
Kansas City, a two-state metropolitan area with a population of roughly 2 million, is hardly a backwater outpost.
People there are accustomed to big-city crime, having begun their orientation in the 1880s when the powerbroker Pendergast family began its artful merger of politics and vice.
Even so, in the year that Luther was killed, the city averaged fewer than two homicides a week. Yet the hooker murder rated only a brief at the back of the local newspaper.
To be fair, a reporter can’t make much out of such bare details. But in retrospect, those no-detail homicides deserved a closer look. As is often the case, the most important crime stories spring not from the unusual cases, but from the routine ones.
Ecumenical Taste in Victims
Some of the murders were more heavily publicized than others, particularly during a flurry of hooker homicides in 1987. Police knew they had a serial killer on their hands, and at one point someone ponied up a $1,000 reward—which equates to about $77 for each of the 13 victims.
The killer was ecumenical in his tastes. His victims ranged in age from 15 to 36. Nine were white, four black.
Most were garroted with whatever was at hand—their own clothing in several cases, an electrical cord in one, a shoestring in another. The victims had cloth or paper towels stuffed in their mouths, probably to muffle screams.
Most had been sexually assaulted and showed the telltale scratches, cuts and broken fingernails of someone who fought for their lives. Many were naked and missing shoes, and detectives mulled the possibility that a foot fetishist was at work.
Several victims were found downtown, but others were scattered over a wide geographic area in and around the city. Police surmised that most were murdered in one place and dumped in another.
The first three victims: Stacie Swofford, Gwen Kizine, and Margaret Miller, 17.
The first three victims were wayward teenagers working as novice street prostitutes: Stacie Swofford, 17, killed in April 1977 and dumped in a rubble-strewn lot; Gwen Kizine, at 15 the youngest victim, left dead in an alley in January 1980, and Margaret Miller, 17, found in a vacant lot in May 1982.
The murder of Kizine rated the most attention of the three because she was so young. Relatives said she was a happy-go-lucky kid who had once attended a holy-roller church until she took up with a bad crowd and turned to drugs, the companion crime of prostitution.
A week after Miller was murdered, Lorenzo Gilyard went to prison on a felony conviction, and the serial killings ceased for nearly four years. They resumed with a violent flurry of eight murders that began a few months after he was paroled.
A Flurry of Hooker Homicides
The first was on March 14, 1986, when the body of Catherine Barry was found under scrap plywood in a derelict building a few miles from downtown, her usual haunt.
Barry, 34, was the only victim who was not a prostitute. She was a mother of three who had a mental breakdown and ended up on the streets.
Two other women were killed 14 weeks apart later that year, Naomi Kelly, 23, found on Aug. 16, and Debbie Blevins, 32, found on Nov. 27, Thanksgiving Day.
Kelly, a single mother, was found strangled in a needle park downtown. The body of Blevins, naked except for socks, had been dumped outside a church not far from the trendy Westport neighborhood.
In 1987, five more corpses turned up.
Ann Barnes, 36, a stripper, was found murdered on April 17, 1987, which was both Good Friday and the 10-year anniversary of the murder of Stacie Swofford, the first victim.
Kellie Ann Ford
Seven weeks later, Kellie Ann Ford, a 20-year-old junkie hooker, was found strangled in a city park. On Sept. 12, the shoeless corpse of Angela Mayhew, 19, turned up in North Kansas City.
Next was Sheila Ingold, 36, found dead in a van on Troost Avenue, a popular trawling ground for johns. Carmeline Hibbs, 30, was found murdered on Dec. 19 in parking lot on Broadway about 16 blocks from where Ingold’s corpse turned up. Like Mayhew, Hibbs was shoeless—on a cold December night.
The pace of the serial killings slowed after that brutal stretch. The body of Helga Kruger, 26, an Austrian national, was found on Troost Avenue on Feb. 12, 1989. Four years later, Connie Luther, the presumed final victim, was found dead in January 1993.
A Violent Life
The conventional wisdom is that serial killers never stop of their own volition. Once the compulsion to kill sets in, it can never be satisfied. The murdering ceases only when a killer dies or goes to prison, or so says the experts.
But Lorenzo Gilyard violated the conventional wisdom. He stopped.
No one knows why, since he has never admitted that he ever started.
The experts also say that serial killers often have a violent pedigree—that savagery breeds savagery. This was true with Gilyard.
His father was convicted of rape in 1970. Lorenzo’s sister, Patricia Dixon, a prostitute, stabbed a customer to death in 1983 and was later implicated in the killing of another hooker. His younger brother, Daryle, is serving life without parole in Missouri for a 1989 drug murder.
Daryle Gilyard is a notable Show-Me State inmate. He pays $1,100 a month in prison room-and-board from a $4.3 million settlement he won in 1986 after his legs were severed in a garbage truck accident.
Lorenzo Gilyard, a stocky 5-foot-9 man with bear-claw hands, was wired for violence. Over his lifetime, he assaulted friends, relatives and strangers, while again and again managing to dodge hard prison time.
Even as a teenager, young Gilyard was bullying and beating women, including the first of his four wives, whom he married at age 17 when she got pregnant. She would later say that Gilyard subjected her to five years of torture before she escaped.
He also compiled a numbing record of at least a dozen rape accusations.
Five rape charges failed to stick from 1969 until 1974—the last against a stripper.
Finally, in 1975, he was brought up on charges of raping a 13-year-old girl, the daughter of a friend. He was sentenced to nine months for molestation in a plea deal, but authorities blew an opportunity to get mental help for a clearly troubled man.
A psychiatrist examined Gilyard as part of a competency test in that 1975 case, according to a profile of Gilyard by Mark Morris of the Kansas City Star.
The shrink noted that the twisted Gilyard insisted that he, not the adolescent he raped, was a victim. The psychiatrist could have required Gilyard to get help.
Instead, he wrote, “It is my recommendation that Mr. Gilyard would benefit from, but does not require, further psychotherapy — either individual or group in nature.” There is no evidence that Gilyard received methodical mental health treatment, and his pattern of violence continued.
He was charged in 1979 with raping a woman while holding a gun on her boyfriend. Despite compelling evidence, a jury acquitted him.
In 1980, he was convicted of assaulting his third wife, who divorced him. He then stalked and beat her twice in 1981 while the case was under appeal.
Lorenzo Gilyard, 1981
Ultimately, he served jail time for those assaults, as well as a parole violation related to a jewelry theft. Those cases finally put Gilyard behind bars from May 1982, just after Margaret Miller was killed, until January 1986, two months before the eight-murder spree began.
Yet another sexual assault charge against Gilyard in 1989—this one involving a neighbor—led to a suspended sentence and probation under a plea bargain.
That incident offered a glimpse into the depth of Gilyard’s pathology.
The victim and Gilyard had dined and shared a bottle of bottle of wine on Halloween Eve. He made sexual advances, and she demurred. He reacted, as usual, with violence. In the middle of the ordeal, the victim said, Gilyard held a knife to his own throat and threatened suicide unless she complied with his sexual demands.
Under the plea deal in that case, Gilyard was required to undergo sex and anger counseling. But it was too late for 12 of the 13 women he killed.
Killer Next Door
Coincidentally, Gilyard became a garbage collector by trade after his release from prison in 1986. His boss at Deffenbaugh Disposal Service told reporters that Gilyard was punctual, personable and reliable, and he had been promoted to a supervisory job.
Logo: Deffenbaugh Disposal Service
After two solid decades as a familiar face in Kansas City courtrooms, he seemed to go straight in 1989.
Gilyard lived with his fourth wife, whom he married in 1991, in a small house on a dead-end street in south Kansas City. Neighbors told reporters that he rarely spent time outside and his interactions with others on the block were curt or surly.
By 2004, Gilyard must have been confident that he’d gotten away with murder. The investigation into the serial killings had been on ice for years, with forensic evidence sealed and stored.
But his past finally caught up with him.
Patch: Kansas City police
Stored evidence from cold cases like the Kansas City murders has gone begging for testing since the advent of DNA crime-solving technology. But Kansas City police, like most departments in America, deplete their laboratory budgets on current cases. Few can afford the time and expense of testing swab samples from the victims of forgotten murders—especially those of prostitutes. But in 2003, Kansas City police won a $111,000 federal grant to pay lab gumshoes overtime to run DNA tests on stored evidence from violent cold cases.
Police had evidence stored in some 600 unsolved rapes and murder, and detectives narrowed that down to 85 cases that showed investigative promise. One of them was the murder of Naomi Kelly, the prostitute murdered in 1986.
Over 13 months beginning in February 2003, the police scientists amassed 2,500 hours of overtime on nights and weekends in a DNA-testing marathon. The work paid off when DNA from the same man was matched in evidence from each of the eight murders from 1986 and ’87, along with the five others from 1977, 1980, 1982, 1989 and 1993.
And on April 12, 2004, the lab white-coats came up with a name to match the DNA. He was Lorenzo Gilyard, linked to the crimes by DNA extracted from hair or semen found on the victims.
He had been right under the police department’s nose all along.
Gilyard was scrutinized in the serial killings because he was known to cavort with prostitutes, and streetwalkers told cops they were frightened of him. He had agreed to give a blood test in 1987, and cops tailed him at the time but came up with nothing.
As forensic DNA testing became more widespread in the 1990s, Kansas City police did not take a second look at the serial-killing evidence until the federal grant gave them the financial motivation. Police began following Gilyard again, 17 years later, while prosecutors prepared a case. After a five-day tail, detectives arrested him as he ate dinner at Denny’s. It likely was his final meal as a free man.
A few days after his arrest, a manacled Gilyard—solidly built, but with graying hair and mustache—was led into a Kansas City courtroom for a brief hearing. The benches in the chamber were lined with relatives of the women he was accused of murdering. Some wept, but most merely stared.
“He didn’t look remorseful at all,” one victim’s sister told the Kansas City Star.
Logo: Jackson County Prosecutor
Although Gilyard made a by-rote claim of innocence, he and his attorney plotted a defense strategy focused not on acquittal but on avoiding execution. After negotiations, Jackson County Prosecutor Jim Kanatzar agreed that he would not seek the death penalty. In exchange, Gilyard agreed to a trial without a jury, and he surrendered most of his rights to appeal a guilty verdict.
Kanatzar said he made the agreement to ensure a “quick, just and final disposition.”
But he was also under pressure to win a conviction. In the fall of 2006, Judge John O’Malley threw out much of the evidence against Gilyard due to what he called sloppy work by Kansas City police, both in 1987 and after his arrest in 2004.
Yet Kanatzar still had the idiot-proof DNA evidence, and that was the focus of Gilyard’s trial in the spring of 2007.
Trial and Verdict
Kanatzar chose to prosecute Gilyard for seven of the murders—all from the deadly spree of 1986-87. The victims were Ann Barnes, Catherine Barry, Kellie Ford, Carmeline Hibbs, Sheila Ingold, Naomi Kelly and Angela Mayhew. DNA from semen evidence linked Gilyard to six of the seven women, and a hair provided the evidence in the murder of Mayhew.
It was a business-like proceeding, as trials without a jury often are.
Gilyard, who seemed a shrunken shadow of the burly man he was when arrested, betrayed no emotion in court, even as Kanatzar delivered the damning DNA evidence that each of the women died shortly after having sex with the defendant.
Defense attorney Thomas Jacquinot argued that Gilyard, who admitted to being a frequent customer of prostitutes, could have been a foil for a murderer who came along after he had sex with the women. But during closing arguments, Kanatzar countered, “The odds of some unknown person shadowing the defendant and killing those women immediately after he had sex with them defies logic.”
Judge O’Malley didn’t buy it, either. He convicted Gilyard of six counts of murder after a trial that lasted just a week. He was judged guilty of the six cases with DNA evidence and acquitted in the Mayhew murder.
On April 13, 2007, he stood before O’Malley for his comeuppance.
When the judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say, Gilyard spoke eight nihilistic words: “No matter what I say, it doesn’t matter.”
O’Malley then told Gilyard that he had “forfeited any right to live out here among the rest of us.”
“Life without parole,” the judge decreed, then repeated himself five times.
Joe Lambe, who covered the trial for the Kansas City Star, wrote that Gilyard’s lip quivered as he listened to O’Malley—his only reaction during the entire trial.
O’Malley said, “I want Mr. Gilyard to get up every day for the rest of his life, look in the mirror and say, ‘This is what I’ve done. That’s why I’m here.’”
But the judge’s idealized concept of a daily prison ritual would require a glimmer of conscience, something Lorenzo Gilyard never seemed to display in a lifetime of violence against women.
As Gilyard shuffled off into the obscurity of the Missouri prison system, a few relatives of his victims spoke to the press outside the courthouse. One called the conviction “a gift I thought we would never receive.” Her gratitude is understandable, but it also indicates that the loved ones of murdered prostitutes have low expectations for justice.
But should justice be so elusive in these cases, in this era of DNA evidence?
Someone in the Kansas City Police Department made a curious decision a few years by authorizing a publicity photo featuring members of its newly created cold case squad. In the photo, posted on the police website, the seven men are pictured wearing “Untouchable”-era fedoras while posed in a cooler amid blocks of ice.
Kansas City Cold Case Squad
It may be true that some cold cases are solved with dogged work by clever detectives. But a more apt cold case publicity photo might show a lab tech using the “rif-lip” technique (from “restriction fragment length polymorphism”) to compare DNA molecules.
Sample of Lab Results Using Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism Technique.
That is how the Gilyard case was solved—after languishing in detective bureau purgatory for decades. Similarly, DNA testing on old evidence brought Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer, to justice in 2003, 21 years and countless detective hours after his spree began.
At last count, biological evidence in more than 500,000 violent cold case crimes was awaiting DNA testing in the United States. The total includes more than 50,000 homicides and 170,000 sexual assaults.
For the past decade, the federal government has spent an ever-increasing amount each year to fund DNA testing. In 2006, $18.5 million was earmarked for the tests, including on both “no suspect” cold cases and on convicted felons for evidence comparisons.
Local law enforcement agencies can apply for federal DNA grants of up to $500,000 to fund the type of lab overtime work that nailed Gilyard.
The Ipswich Factor
Some forensics experts have predicted that DNA testing would be a boon to solving other long-forlorn specimens from the vast cold case catalogue of prostitute serial murders in America. That really hasn’t happened, perhaps because domestic prostitution murders are not a priority—to police, the media or the public.
Curiously, those in Great Britain seem to rate much higher.
The New York Times, for example, covered Gilyard’s murders of 13 women with two wire service briefs—one when he arrested, the other when convicted.
Ipswich Murder Victims
Yet when five prostitutes were murdered last year near Ipswich, England, the paper reported the case with three staff-written stories—two of them roughly 1,000 words each—and several others drawn from wire service accounts. (Ironically, one of the staff stories mulled why it was that the press was so enthralled with the Ipswich cases while all but ignoring a series of prostitute murders in Atlantic City.)
The Ipswich murders caused a sensation in the British press, and that interest seemed to ripple across the English-language media around the world. Scores of major American media outlets, including newspapers and television, covered the case. Veronica Monet, the advocate and ex-call girl, told the Crime Library that the Ipswich story got so much attention in part because it was championed by the very vocal British chapter of Sex Workers Outreach Project.
There were other factors, of course.
The American press tends to view murdered streetwalkers as immoral women who are accountable for their own demise. In Britain, the press takes a more sympathetic, paternal view of prostitutes as being tragically flawed. One of the Ipswich victims, Gemma Adams, became known as “Our Gemma” in British headline shorthand.
Monet, 47, of California, said she doesn’t buy the argument that streetwalkers place themselves at risk by doing exceptionally dangerous work.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling hotdogs, newspapers or pussy,” she said. “When you sell it on the street, somebody’s going to bash you over the head and try to take it from you.”
And no matter what your product, she said, you deserve protection.
One Kansas City newsman suggested to the Crime Library that the Gilyard case was doomed to obscurity elsewhere in America because the national press is overly attentive to events on either coast, to the detriment of news from Middle America. Ray Surette, a professor of criminology at the University of Central Florida, agreed that the Midwest location of the murder spree and the low social status of the prostitutes were factors in the story’s low profile.
Lorenzo Gilyard, 2001
But Surette also agreed with retired professor Carroll’s assertion that the country is verging on serial killer overload.
“A serial killer who murders five people today is competing with all the serial killers paraded across the media over the past generation,” he told the Crime Library. “Unless there’s an additional newsworthy factor—a celebrity connection, a particular gruesomeness, an unusual occupation of the killer, an ideal victim—they are not going to generate the coverage that they might have a generation ago when there was less serial-killer competition.”
He said real-world killers also compete for the media and public attention foisted upon cinematic homicidal maniacs.
Said Surette, “Unless you happen to be on the menu, doesn’t Hannibal Lecter seem like a more witty and urbane person to have dinner with than a run-of-the-mill killer from Kansas City?”
Surette scrutinized murder coverage for his book Media, Crime and Criminal Justice: Images, Realities and Policies.
Book Cover: Media, Crime and Criminal Justice: Images, Realities and Policies
“There used to be a clear correlation between the number of victims and the amount of coverage,” he said. “But it takes more than just a head count these days to get into the news. It’s no longer as simple as weighing five victims vs. 15 victims…You have to do something more dramatic and violent than some other guy did last year to get the equivalent amount of coverage.”
And what, Surette was asked, would be the perfect murder to attract optimal attention?
“If Madonna kills someone and the whole thing is captured on videotape so we can put in on TV and post it on the Internet,” said Surette.