All were grotesquely posed and left
in south Yonkers over a seven-year span; two in a remote industrial
neighborhood, the other at an east-side motel.
"It was spooky," said
John D'Alessandro, a retired Yonkers detective-turned-lawyer who investigated
the three slayings. "We knew it was a ritualistic serial killer."
City police say they have
identified the uncharacteristic killer who eluded detectives for two decades —
Francisco A. Acevedo Jr., a 42-year-old Connecticut native.
Nicknamed "Artie" or "Frank," Acevedo
served a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a Connecticut woman in 1986.
police say it was he who beat, raped and strangled Bronx residents Maria Ramos, 26, on Feb. 5, 1989; Tawanda Hodges, 28, on March 28, 1991; and 30-year-old
Kimberly Moore of Greenburgh on May 24, 1996.
Detectives already knew through DNA
evidence that the same man was responsible for strangling Ramos and Hodges,
both north Bronx prostitutes, and Moore, a one-time all-county gymnast who
attended Woodlands High School in Greenburgh.
The final pieces of the case were
put together after a nine-year investigation by Detective John T. Geiss of Yonkers' Cold Case Squad and the Westchester
County forensics laboratory.
It would hinge on the DNA.
A portrait of Acevedo emerges from
the neighborhoods where he lived and worked in Connecticut, Yonkers, Mount
Vernon and on Long Island.
Interviews reveal a man who was
unassuming and friendly, but with a history of extreme violence dating to his
teens, particularly against women. Connecticut records show he abused cocaine,
marijuana and alcohol from the age of 12. He also had a history of arrests
involving sexual assault, larceny, assault, harassment and drunken driving.
Yet he flew under the radar in the Yonkers killings until after Jan. 26, 2009, when he was
arrested in Brentwood, N.Y., on his fourth drunken driving charge.
Detective John Geiss
stands in the squad room of the Cold Case Squad at the Yonkers Police
Department. His work led to the arrest in April of Francisco A. Acevedo
Jr., who is charged with the murders of three women in Yonkers. (Xavier Mascareñas/The Journal News)
That conviction landed him in Green
Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County,
where he began serving a one- to three-year sentence May 12, 2009. In January,
he provided DNA as a condition of a parole application. Geiss was soon told
there was a DNA match to the Yonkers slayings; Acevedo was charged with murder
in all three in April.
At the time of his Brentwood
arrest, Acevedo was living in Bay Shore, N.Y., with his wife, Lizette Santiago, 41, and their sons, ages 10 and 7.
The suspect in the serial killings
was a pudgy, bespectacled man who stands 5-foot-8. It was hardly what
detectives had been expecting.
"I was surprised that he was
living with someone and had a couple of children of his own," Geiss said. "You are thinking about a monster you are
looking for — a guy who killed three women ... You are thinking the worst, and
when you finally find out who it is, you find out that he has a family of his
Investigators had simply been
looking in the wrong place: They were working with a classic FBI profile of a
serial killer — a middle-aged white man with a high IQ.
It was a typical mistake, said Vernon J. Geberth, a retired New York City police lieutenant
commander who was asked by Geiss to look at the case
in recent years.
Geberth said urban Hispanic and black
serial killers are often overlooked by detectives seeking high-IQ killers like
Ted Bundy. Acevedo's IQ is a very average 104.
"Most of these guys do not have high IQs but they are street smart;
that is how they survive," said Geberth,
the author of three homicide textbooks including "Sex-Related Homicide and
Police in Suffolk County are
currently piecing together another possible serial-killer case stemming from
the Dec. 11 discovery of four bodies along Ocean Parkway on Long Island.
Detectives probing the remains, which were in various stages of decomposition,
are looking for patterns or behaviors that might identify that killer or
In the Yonkers
killings, Geberth described the
pattern as "sexual posing."
"He is posing
bodies to get some type of psychological charge," Geberth said.
Only about 1 percent of the nation's killers are sexual
posers, he said.
said he is now working with other police agencies to see whether Acevedo is
linked to other homicides.
Conn. guilty plea
Three years before the first
Yonkers killing, Acevedo raped and beat a Meriden, Conn., girl, according to
They show that on July 3, 1986,
Acevedo was working as a laborer when he picked up the girl in a company pickup
and drove her to a secluded area. There, he tied her hands behind her back,
blindfolded her and sexually assaulted her.
After his truck got stuck, he
walked from Meriden to nearby Berlin and assaulted her again. She fled after he
fell asleep. Acevedo pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual assault and
second-degree larceny and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
He was released eight months before
Ramos' body was found at 78 Fernbrook St. in Yonkers.
Two years later, Hodges was killed
and dumped near the Ludlow Street
bridge. Five years after Hodges' slaying, Moore's body
was found at the Trade Winds Motel at 1141 Yonkers Ave.
Acevedo has pleaded not guilty to
all the Yonkers charges. His next court date is Jan. 27. His attorneys, Tamika Ann Coverdale and Janet
Ann Gandolfo, are seeking to have the DNA evidence
thrown out. They declined to be interviewed.
The suspect's mother, Yadira Acevedo, 61, said her son grew up in the house in a
working-class section of Meriden where she still lives. One of her three
children, at 14 he went to live with his father when the couple divorced.
"It has been hard on the
family," she said. "I feel bad that I can't go to him."
Records show that Acevedo went to
Meriden public schools, dropping out of Platt High School his freshman year. He
earned an equivalency diploma Dec. 11, 1986.
Acevedo found work as a laborer,
and later as a cook in a pizzeria, a midnight baker at Dunkin' Donuts and a
dishwasher at Testa's Silvertown
Inn in Connecticut.
By the 1990s, he was living and
working in Mount Vernon, including at New Way Kitchen, where he met his wife,
according to police.
"I am so surprised," said
Nina DeMelo, who was his landlord at 125 Rich Ave. in
Mount Vernon. "He's not a bad man."
By Nov. 11, 1997, Acevedo and his
wife were living at 185 Saratoga Ave. in Yonkers, where he
accused of attacking her. The charge of third-degree assault was later
But a second arrest, on Aug. 30,
1998, led to a conviction. Records show Acevedo punched his wife in the face
and possibly broke her nose while the couple lived at 24 Caryl Ave. in Yonkers.
He served nine months in jail on
the misdemeanor conviction.
Vincent Dunn, a 38-year-old Caryl
Avenue neighbor, said Acevedo "seemed quiet."
"It shocked me," he said
of his ex-neighbor's arrest. "He was always a friendly guy."
But at 1549 Fifth Ave. in Bay
Shore, neighbors had a different take on him.
There, Acevedo had a confrontation
with another tenant and the man's pregnant wife, said Wendy Cabrera, 32, who
lives in the couple's old apartment. Paul Labron, the
landlord, said Acevedo and his wife eventually were evicted for nonpayment of
Santiago, Acevedo's wife, declined
to be interviewed.
If he's convicted of the Yonkers
slayings, Acevedo faces life in prison without chance of parole. He's charged
with first- and second-degree murder in Moore's death, and second-degree counts
in Hodges' and Ramos' slayings.
He also faces first-degree rape
counts in all three cases.
Former Yonkers Detective Sgt. Frank
LoCascio, who led the hunt with some 75 detectives
over 16 years, said he was flabbergasted when he heard the suspect's name.
"It was like, 'Who? Francisco
Acevedo?'" he said. "This guy never, ever, ever was on anybody's