Real Name: Unknown
Aliases: None known
Wanted For: Murder, Attempted Murder, Abduction
Missing Since: October 1992
Details: The heartbeat of the city of New Orleans is its raucous French Quarter, where great music, street celebrations, and Cajun cooking sometimes overshadow a more unsavory side of the city. On August 4, 1991, in Algiers, across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter, a lone recycler gleaned what he could along Nevada Street, a narrow, deserted city road that was often used illegally as a dump site. He had no idea he was about to launch one of the city’s most complex murder investigations. When he picked up a piece of garbage, he discovered the body of a young woman.
The body was identified as seventeen-year-old Danielle Britton, who lived nearby in Gretna with her mother. She had been strangled and possibly raped approximately twelve hours earlier. At first glance, her murder seemed to be an isolated incident. But the reality was far more sinister. She may have been the victim of a serial killer who preys on women he believes are prostitutes. By some chilling estimate, more than a hundred serial killers roam the streets of America at any given moment. Police are usually left to gather clues only from the silent testimony of gruesome crime scenes. But the New Orleans case would be different.
Just ten minutes into the investigation of Danielle’s murder, Detective Elizabeth Wigginton had her first inkling that she was dealing with a serial killer. A man approached her regarding an attack of a woman which had occurred approximately two weeks earlier. At that point, she realized that this attack and Danielle’s murder might be connected, with one difference – that this victim survived her attack.
The surviving victim, “Brenda”, had her voice permanently damaged in a strangulation attempt. Police believe she was attacked by the same man who killed Danielle. When interviewed by Detective Wigginton, she was able to recall the trauma in minute detail. On the night of the attack, July 22, 1991, she decided to visit a friend. She left her house and walked up Merrill Street. As she was walking, she noticed that a car was following her. The driver pulled up to her and asked her if she wanted a ride. She declined, saying that she was just going up a few blocks.
The man persisted and continued to drive next to Brenda as she walked. He continued to insist on giving her a ride. Then, he stopped his car, got out, and pulled her inside. Despite her protests, the man drove about a half mile past her friend’s house to the same deserted city road where Danielle’s body would be found two weeks later. After he stopped the car, he got on top of her and began to choke her. She realized he was trying to kill her. She tried to fight him off, but she did not have enough strength, so she was unsuccessful. He strangled her with his bare hands, stripped off her clothes, and dumped her by the side of the road.
Six hours later, shortly after dawn, Brenda awoke to find herself covered with garbage and discarded tires. Detective Wigginton felt that finding Brenda was a lucky break in the case. They now had a live victim who could identify an attacker – an attacker who may have also been responsible for Danielle’s murder. Detective Wigginton knew that the man was out there stalking his victims. He was stalking women, intending to kill them. However, she was unable to come up with a suspect. She had no idea that it was going to get worse.
On September 22, 1991, the killer claimed his third victim, twenty-eight-year-old Charlene Price. She had been beaten and strangled. He dumped her body in Behrman Park, within one mile of the spot where Danielle was found. On December 14, a fourth victim, as yet unidentified, was found near Behrman Highway, not far from where Danielle was found. She had been strangled. She was in her early twenties, was 5’2”, weighed 125 pounds, and had protruding front teeth.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, on January 4, 1992, the killer struck yet again. The nude body of twenty-nine-year-old Lydia Madison was found in an illegal dump site under the Greater New Orleans Bridge, eight blocks from police headquarters and 400 yards from the Superdome. Police soon learned that three other bodies had been found in a nearby jurisdiction which borders New Orleans, bringing the total number of victims to eight. The bodies closely resembled the ones found in the previous months, leading detectives to believe that the same killer may be responsible for all eight victims.
Seven of the eight women were found within a three-mile radius, all but one on the west bank of the Mississippi River. The killer has struck once a month, always strangling his victims, always leaving them nude, face-down, in or near illegal dump sites. All of the victims were poor, black women from New Orleans with slim-to-medium builds. According to Detective Wigginton, the victims led difficult lives. They were in vulnerable positions and were at risk to becoming statistics of murders and rapes. She hopes that she can help them by finding out who killed them. She is determined to get him.
Brenda is still afraid that the man will come back and kill her. She does not walk the streets anymore. In fact, she does not go anywhere unless it is to church or the store. And if she does go somewhere, her mother or someone else will accompany her. If she is at home, she keeps her doors locked unless someone is there with her. She is afraid because she does not know where he is, but she knows that he knows her well enough that if he saw her, he would recognize her. She feels that she is living in fear every minute of the day.
The "New Orleans Serial Killer" has been described as a clean-cut and well-dressed black male, between 5'8" and 5’10” with a muscular build. He was in his thirties (in 1992). Authorities believe he is extremely knowledgeable about automobiles. He was last seen in the New Orleans area in October 1992. On the night she was murdered, Danielle was seen with the suspect outside a bar called Neva’s Rendezvous. He was driving a blue, late-model Buick Regal or Monte Carlo. He has also been seen driving an old-model, brown Chevrolet Nova and a green car.
- This case first aired on the October 21, 1992 episode.
- The surviving victim was given the name "Brenda" and was filmed in silhouette to protect her identity.
Results: Wanted. In mid-October 1992, "Brenda" spotted the man she believed was her attacker in a grocery store parking lot in Algiers. When he saw that she recognized him, he fled the area. From 1992 to 1995, at least eighteen more women were killed in the New Orleans area. Local police and the FBI suspect that they may have also been victims of the same killer.
In May 1995, New Orleans police and the FBI formed a task force to investigate the murders. In August, they announced that Victor Gant, a New Orleans police officer, was a suspect in the case. Specifically, he was suspected in the April 1995 murders of Karen Ivester and Sharon Robinson, who were believed to have been murdered on the same night by the same killer. A shoe-print tread next to Karen's body matched Sharon's shoe. Sharon was Gant's ex-girlfriend and she previously claimed that he had abused her. Karen was a friend of Sharon's and he reportedly held a grudge against her. He also matched the suspect sketch that was based on Brenda's description. He has never been charged and some believe that members of the police department may have covered up his involvement because he was a fellow officer. In August 1996, he was dismissed from the force.
In March 1998, another suspect, a former taxi driver named Russell Ellwood, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the cases of Cheryl Lewis and Delores Mack, two of the suspected victims who were found murdered in February 1993. Police noted that he was suspected in at least nine other murders. He became a suspect in 1994 after he was found hanging around the area where Cheryl and Delores's bodies were found. In the past, he had made several statements alluding to the fact that he had murdered prostitutes. While in jail on unrelated charges, he described in graphic detail how he drugged and choked prostitutes before dragging their naked bodies away. He later confessed to an investigator that he had taken a black female and "placed" her in the water.
Ellwood's ex-girlfriend testified that he had taken her to see two of his victims' bodies. Several prostitutes testified that he had given them drugs and then attacked them; these attacks took place around the time of the murders. Several witnesses reported seeing him with Cheryl several times prior to her murder. However, investigators later discovered that he was in Ohio at the time of Delores's murder, so the charges in that case were dropped. In 1999, he was convicted of Cheryl's murder and sentenced to life in prison. Since he is Caucasian, he is not believed to have been involved in some of the murders.
Gant remains a suspect in several of the murders, but he has not been charged. As of 2016, investigators have been working on testing evidence at the crime scenes for DNA. Investigators also believe that another suspect in the murders may still be out there who has never been identified.
- New Orleans Serial Killer on Wikipedia
- New Orleans Killer's unidentified victims
- Possible serial killer spotted - October 24, 1992
- 24 New Orleans Deaths Linked to Serial Killer - August 12, 1995
- Cop eyed as New Orleans serial killer - August 12, 1995
- Officer is Suspect in Killings in New Orleans - August 13, 1995
- Officer May Be Linked to 2 of 24 Serial Killings - August 13, 1995
- Early mistakes hampered investigation, experts say - August 28, 1995
- Officer a suspect in New Orleans deaths - September 5, 1995
- Police now the 'usual suspects' in New Orleans - September 7, 1995
- Dial 911 and speak to the prime suspect - November 15, 1995
- Cabbie is charged in killings; suspect booked in two of 26 similar murders - March 5, 1998
- Serial killer or taxi driving loser? - December 7, 1998
- State vs. Ellwood - February 28, 2001
- Detective Tries To Solve 25-Year-Old Serial Killer Cold Case - November 3, 2016
- Russell Ellwood on Murderpedia
- Websleuths Discussion of the case