DETROIT – In the last 10 days, four black women in their mid to late 20s have been violently murdered in Detroit. Three of them have been linked to an online escort service and the fear is that the killings could be related.
“We are stopping short of calling this a serial [killer] pattern,” Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said on Monday. “But three of them have profiles on this site.”
On Dec. 19, two women, cousins Renisha Landers, 23, and Demesha Hunt, 24, were found dead in the trunk of a Landers’ Chrysler 300 on the 14400 block of Promenade Avenue on the city’s east side. On Sunday, firefighters responded to a call on a fire at Lannette and Queen streets on the city’s east side at about 1 a.m.
Two bodies were found burned beyond recognition — Godbee said that dental records will be needed to identify the women — inside the trunk of a burning Buick LeSabre, which was inside a garage. Police said the bodies were tentatively identified as those of a 28-year-old woman and a 29-year-old woman.
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The women worked for an escort service listed at Backpage.com. The website, which is similar to Craigslist, offers free advertising in 11 categories, ranging from automotive to adult services and visitors can select a specific city, such as Detroit or Chicago, and search categories that interest them.
“We are not passing judgment on any individual who is utilizing this website,” Godbee said. “We felt it was imperative to alert the public that deciding to meet an unknown person via the Internet can be extremely dangerous.”
In the Dec. 19 deaths, Landers and Hunt were seen leaving a Detroit bar with an unknown man. It is not known what the relationship was with the man, but it is feared that he was meeting them through the service.
“We implore people to be careful and always let someone know exactly when and where that intend on meeting this person or persons, which should be in a public place.”
The website, and others, saw increased postings by escorts this fall after the FBI busted a popular sex ring that helped organize parties at suburban spots, including bowling alleys, where prostitutes offered goodie bags filled with underwear and golden tickets for free sexual favors.
Earlier this month, Satoria Youngblood of Detroit was indicted in federal court in after police said she pimped a 16-year-old girl and pocketed 40 percent of the earnings. The FBI learned about Youngblood, after responding to an ad on Backpage.com.
The minor was caught in an undercover sting operation on Nov. 4 in nearby Southfield. Youngblood remains in jail awaiting trial on federal child pornography charges.
Godbee said that the families of the victims are very distraught and that there are no suspects at this time. He also stressed the need to be careful when going on adult-oriented sites.
“This [website] tie for us is disconcerting,” Godbee said. “Our sole purpose is for the public to be cognizant of this website when engaged in adult activities.”