He lurks in the shadows of the Seminole Heights neighborhood in central Tampa, Florida. He strikes under cover of darkness, always with a firearm. But he does not appear to target specific individuals. The age and gender of his victims seem inconsequential.
According to a serial killer expert, this is the emerging picture of the person the media has taken to calling the Seminole Heights Slayer. Four people have been fatally shot in the last five weeks, and authorities say they suspect a single person is responsible: a serial killer.
“The fact that he’s using a gun is an indication that he’s more focused on the act of killing than the process of killing,” said criminologist Scott Bonn, who has spent years studying and interviewing some of the most notorious serial killers.
Bonn explained that the Seminole Heights Slayer is an anomaly in the world of serial killers. The shootings appear to be impersonal and lack the familiar hallmarks of fantasy or pleasure.
“This guy is terrorizing this neighborhood, and his modus operandi suggests to me that he is mission-oriented,” Bonn said. “He seems to have more in common with a mass murderer than an average serial killer. He appears to be sending a similar message: ‘You will recognize me. You will remember me. I am someone to be reckoned with.’”
Four people have been killed within a mile of each other: Ronald Felton, 60; Anthony Naiboa, 20; Monica Hoffa, 32; and Benjamin Mitchell, 22.
Mitchell, the first victim, was shot on Oct. 9, near North 15th Street and East Frierson Avenue.
Hoffa’s body was found on Oct. 13, in a field near East New Orleans Avenue and North 10th Street. Police said she may have been shot one or two days earlier.
Naiboa was killed Oct. 19. Authorities said Naiboa, who was autistic, had accidentally taken the wrong bus returning home from work. His body was found on North 15th Street, roughly 200 yards from where he’d stepped off the bus.
Felton, the latest victim, was fatally shot early Tuesday near North Nebraska Avenue and East McBerry Street ― just blocks from a memorial to the previous victims.
According to Bonn, the killer is likely targeting people in an area he is familiar with.
“Most serial killer have a killing zone that they feel comfortable working in,” Bonn said. “Typically, the first killing is the one most likely to be closest to home. This individual is working in a relatively small radius, so I would say the likelihood is that he is a local resident.”
Federal authorities have joined local police in the investigation. Investigators haven’t revealed the names of any suspects.
But there are clues. A witness to Felton’s slaying described the suspect to police as a black man, 6 feet to 6 feet 2, with a thin build and a light complexion. He was wearing black clothing and was armed with a large black pistol, police said.
The Seminole Heights Slayer is the sort of killer who’s especially vexing to law enforcement, and city officials are anxious to get him off the streets.
“We will hunt this person down until we find them,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said during a Tuesday news conference.
But until the person is caught, everyone is a potential target, Bonn said.
“He’s been successful four times now,” said Bonn. “He’s probably on a high each time he kills and he’s riding that wave. I suspect he won’t stop killing until he’s apprehended.”
Anyone with information should call Tampa police at 813-231-6130, or Crime Stoppers at 800-873-8477. There is a $41,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for the slayings.