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2 surviving victims fought off suspected Detroit serial killer, police say

Detroit serial killing suspect arrested

Police in Detroit have linked the deaths of three women found in abandoned houses and attacks on two other women to the same suspect. Deangelo Kenneth Martin was arrested Friday at a bus stop on the city's east side.

Martin was detained near where the crimes occurred; authorities called him a person of interest in the three deaths.

On Monday, Detroit police chief James Craig called Martin a suspect in the serial killings, and said the 34-year-old is also believed to have assaulted the two other women, both of whom fought him off.

"In both cases, these women fought and they live today," Craig said during a press conference.

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Deangelo Kenneth Martin Detroit police

One of the surviving victims was attacked in the same abandoned house where another victim was found dead, Craig said.

Craig said all five victims were linked to sex work, drug use, or both. Most of the victims were in their early 50s — another common factor among the crimes — though one of the surviving victims is 26, Craig said. Martin referred to a "signature" pattern linking the crime scenes, but declined to elaborate on evidence.

"We looked at patterns and similarities, and it was through that signature that we believed there was some connection," Craig said.

The Wayne County prosecutor's office charged Martin with raping and stabbing one of the surviving victims in a May 7 attack. He was arraigned Monday on one count of assault with intent to murder and four counts of criminal sexual conduct. Martin was remanded to Wayne County Jail and doesn't currently have an attorney, according to the Wayne County prosecutor's office.

A mugshot shows Martin, who police have described as homeless, with a large bandage over his right eye.

When asked whether murder charges are expected, Craig said, "We're confident he's connected to all the cases."

On March 19, Police first found the partially clad, decomposed body of a woman inside a building on the city's east side, Craig said last week. Investigators first believed she died of a drug overdose, but on May 20 a medical examiner ruled her death a homicide due to blunt force trauma. 

On May 24, in another vacant residence on the east side, police found a second woman's body, also partially clad and decomposed. When a sex worker last Wednesday found a third woman dead in another abandoned east side home, police noted similarities between the crimes and alerted the public to a possible serial killer. Craig has said police believe the women may have been lured to the homes, where they were sexually assaulted and killed.

While police believe the latest two deaths to be homicides, a medical examiner has not officially ruled on causes of death, Craig said. Craig said the bodies had gone unnoticed for different periods of time in the abandoned homes, and the partial decomposition led to difficulties in determining how the women died.

Police identified two of the women found dead as Nancy Harrison, 52, and Trevesene Ellis, 53. The third woman, 55, has been identified but police are withholding her name until her family has been notified. Craig said another woman found dead may also be linked to Martin, but investigators have not made an official link. Craig said he expected to have more information within the next several days.

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Detroit Police Chief James Craig answers questions during a press conference, Friday, June 7, 2019, at the Detroit Police Headquarters in Detroit, addressing the police response to a suspected serial killer. AP

Craig described sex workers as a marginalized community who are often reluctant to speak to police and may not be in regular contact with family who may otherwise report them missing, posing a challenge for investigators. He said police reached out to the community to let them know to use extreme caution and to avoid abandoned buildings.

"We let them know, we care about you, we want you safe," Craig said. "As a result of that, we started getting tips and information on where we needed to go."

He said one of the surviving victims was initially reluctant to give information to police, but both are now cooperating.

The attacks have led officials to step up their efforts to board up and eventually renovate or demolish the city's 2,000 remaining vacant homes, which police say can be hotbeds of criminal activity. A team of 40 officers began clearing abandoned homes on the east side Friday, searching for more possible victims before crews will work to board them up, according to Mayor Mike Duggan.

"One of the things that's troubling is that it has been days and in one case weeks before the bodies were discovered, so that raises the possibility that there could be another vacant house on the east side that may have a victim," Duggan said. "We have no reason to believe that, but we need to check it out."

Some 19,000 vacant homes have already been demolished citywide since 2014, but officials will work to have the 1,000 vacant homes on the city's east side boarded up by the end of July and the remaining 1,000 homes across the city boarded up by the end of September, Duggan said.

"We have to remove the blight from this community," Duggan said. "It has been a plague on this city for far too long."