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Suspect in Yonkers serial killings flew under the radar

By Will David             

December 19, 2010


Yonkers – All three women were naked, their bodies facing skyward, their hands bound behind their backs.

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.












Yonkers 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.

Troubled history

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)



John Geis.jpg










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.

Family man

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 own."

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 Deaths."

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 killers.

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.

Geiss 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 court records.

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.

Odd jobs

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."

Domestic violence

By Nov. 11, 1997, Acevedo and his wife were living at 185 Saratoga Ave. in Yonkers, where he

was accused of attacking her. The charge of third-degree assault was later dismissed.

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 rent.

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 radar."