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"Philadelphia Strangler": Police Urge Residents Not to Act as Vigilantes

"Philly Strangler": Police Urge Residents Not to Act as Vigilantes in Search for Suspect
Composite Sketch of Suspect (Philadelphia Police Dept.)

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) Philadelphia police are urging residents not to take matters into their own hands in the search for a serial killer who authorities say sexually assaulted and strangled three women, and possibly attacked three others.

Authorities said Tuesday that DNA linked the death of 27-year-old Casey Mahoney to the slayings of 35-year-old Nicole Piacentini whose body was found Nov. 13 in the rear of an abandoned building and Elaine Goldberg, 21, who was found beaten and raped in a trash-strewn lot Nov. 3.

Three other women reported surviving sexual assaults in the area, two of whom said they were choked into unconsciousness.

Residents of Kensington, who once severely beat a suspected rapist based on a police sketch, are outraged and have posted hundreds of comments and theories about the ongoing case on a Facebook page titled "Catch the Kensington Strangler, before he catches someone you love."

One post falsely identified a suspect, which led to an infuriated crowd outside the man's home. Police arrived at the man's home moments later and stressed that residents should call authorities instead of becoming vigilantes.

"We will not tolerate anyone taking vigilante action," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey warned. "If you see someone suspicious, call 911. We will get there. We will handle."

So far, police only have a composite sketch and a grainy surveillance photo of the possible suspect. Mayor Michael Nutter offered $30,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the assailant. Separately, the local Fraternal Order of Police and Councilman Frank DiCicco have offered $7,000 for help simply leading to an arrest with a DNA match.

"We strongly believe that someone - possibly in the neighborhood - someone, somewhere in the city of Philadelphia knows who this person is, or knows about them," Nutter said Tuesday just steps from where Piacentini's body was found. "We are serious about getting this psycho off the streets."

Once a middle-class neighborhood of row homes, a few miles northeast of downtown, Kensington has evolved into high-crime area cluttered with open-air drugs and prostitution, but it also boats a promising future as young homeowners and artists move in, attracted by the affordable prices.

Police have made 120 arrests with people involved in prostitution in Kensington since Nov. 19 and obtained DNA swabs from many of them, Deputy Commissioner William Blackburn said. More than 40 have been cleared, and tests are pending on the rest.

Authorities say all three of the homicide victims were described as struggling with drug addiction.

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