The crimes of
a serial killer?
By Regina Medina
Philadelphia Daily News, July 23, 2005
Available online at: http://www.philly.com
Return to Current Events
THE TWO MURDER charges against Juan Covington - and the investigation into other killings he may have committed - convince at least two crime experts that the former SEPTA employee is a serial killer.
Police are looking into the 1997 disappearance of SEPTA bus driver Brenwanda Smith and the death last year of Temple University nurse Ann Yuille.
Covington's attorney Charles Peruto Jr. - hired by the suspect's sometimes estranged brother James Covington - said, "I can't say whether my client is involved with them [the killings] or not."
But, he continued, "he's truly schizophrenic. He was functional. He would function and he didn't know he did something that heinous. He fooled himself and he fooled others."
Covington has confessed to the May 17 shooting of X-ray technician Trish McDermott and to killing his cousin, the Rev. Thomas Lee Devlin in 1998. The confessions were read in court Wednesday and Municipal Judge Marsha Neifield ordered Covington held for trial for both murders.
Brenwanda Smith worked as a SEPTA bus driver from September 1994 to February 1997, said transit agency spokesman Jim Whitaker yesterday. Smith was based out of the SEPTA Luzerne yard in Hunting Park. On Feb. 18, 1997, she went missing after she left the Midvale yard on Wissahickon Avenue near Hunting Park.
"She was working one day and never came back," Whitaker said. Smith was reported missing on Feb. 18.
The alleged killer also confessed to the murder of Odies Bosket, 36, at a Logan subway stop in March, but another man has been arrested in that case. Covington has not been charged.
The 9mm handgun Covington had on him when he was arrested last week matched the bullets fired into Bosket, a father of four, a source said.
The FBI defines a serial killer as a person who has committed three or more murders, said Vernon Geberth, a former lieutenant commander with the New York Police Department who is now a homicide and forensic consultant.
But Geberth isn't with the federal agency and believes two murders accorded to one person is enough to label him or her a "serial killer."
"We're looking at a definite serial killer here who likes to kill. An organized offender who kills because he likes to kill and he got away with it," said Geberth, author of "Practical Homicide Investigation."
Katherine Ramsland, author and forensic psychology professor at DeSales University in Center Valley near Allentown, said a confession from Covington "doesn't mean he did it" because of his delusional tendencies.
Still, "if it turns out what he says he's done is true, he's definitely a serial killer," said Ramsland, author of "The Human Predator: Historical Chronicles of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation." She also believes that two murders in separate cases defines a serial killer.
Even if Covington is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the 43-year-old man is still a serial killer, she said.
Ramsland called him "a disorganized predator" who takes risks like shooting McDermott on a public street.
"He might not even be aware of the risk he was taking if his thinking is disorganized," Ramsland said.
From the descriptions of Covington's crimes, Geberth called him a "paranoid delusional person who will construct a reason to kill somebody."
Delusional yet conscious of right and wrong, he said.
"He killed and was able to elude apprehension, avoid capture," Geberth said. "That tells me it's somebody who knew right from wrong."
Peruto has seen Covington's paranoid side.
"He's definitely paranoid. Everyone of these victims he believed was doing something to him," Peruto said. "There's no motive except for delusion."
"He has his moments when he's very cooperative and appreciative. He thanks his brother for his hiring me. He knew who I was."
The day before the hearing, Peruto said, Covington's demeanor changed. "He wanted to know whose side I was on." He thought Peruto was in cahoots with the D.A.'s office, for example. But on Wednesday, Covington was back to his appreciative self.
When he got off his medicines in 1993, "he was worse than ever. The number of bizarre incidents "tripled when he went off the medications," Peruto said.
"He's had episodes when he's down and cries and doesn't know why he did these things."
The day police got him for the McDermott case, "He couldn't understand why everyone was upset with him for killing Patricia McDermott," Peruto said.
"He sees everyone as the evil one except himself."
Covington is on suicide watch in county jail, he said.
© 2005 Philadelphia Daily News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
Return to Top Return to Current Events
"We work for God."®