TULSA, Okla. — A Texas man suspected in the cold-case killings of two women and two girls 20 years ago fits the profile of a serial killer because he chose his victims by gender and age, and derived pleasure from the control he exerted over them before they died, criminal experts and law enforcement officials said Friday.
William Lewis Reece, 58, is charged in the deaths of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston, 17-year-old Jessica Cain and 12-year-old Laura Smither.
Reece also is suspected, but not charged, in the death of 20-year-old Kelli Cox, whose remains were discovered outside Houston and identified last year. Reece was already serving a 60-year prison sentence in Texas for kidnapping when he led police to graves where Cain and Cox’s remains were found.
All four victims disappeared over a four-month period in 1997. Johnston was from Oklahoma, while the three others were from Texas.
Oklahoma prosecutors announced Thursday they would seek the death penalty in the Johnston killing, and Reece has pleaded not guilty. He faces two more counts of murder in Galveston County, southeast of Houston, but authorities say those charges in Texas are on hold pending the outcome of Reece’s Oklahoma trial.
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady declined to comment on Reece’s case Friday, but described Reece as a serial killer because his actions were “truly horrific.”
Catherine Hammarsten, Reece’s attorney in the Oklahoma case, did not return a call seeking comment Friday.
Joseph Cillo, a professor of criminal justice at St. Leo University in Florida, said Friday that Reece fits the profile of a serial killer because he apparently followed a pattern of choosing young females and left behind little evidence.
“Serial killers are generally known as pattern killers,” said Cillo, who is teaching a class on mass murderers and serial killers. “If Reece has (killed) four young females, it makes it a pattern.
“I would assure you this guy had a sexual connection with the deaths,” he said.
Reece worked construction and took jobs in the Houston area and Oklahoma, according to Kathryn Casey, author of the 2015 book, “Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields.” He was imprisoned in Oklahoma for a decade for sexually assaulting two women and then moved to Houston when he was released because a sister lived there, she said.
“He was out of prison for one year, from October 1996 to October 1997, and during that time he’s been linked to four different murders,” said Casey, who labeled Reece “a serial sexual predator.”
Cillo said it took years for authorities to link Reece to the killings because “serial killers are very good at one thing: they don’t generally leave a lot of evidence behind.”
Johnston’s body was found a day after she disappeared in Yukon, Oklahoma, while Cox’s remains were found last year in a pasture near Houston after Reece led investigators to the spot.
But even that action of leading authorities to the site is one of the hallmarks of a serial killer, Cillo said.
“He took them to his trophies; each one of these victims is a trophy,” Cillo said. “You would be amazed that many serial killers visit the site where the bodies have been buried or dumped many times because it brings back a connection.”
Kathy Dobry, the mother of Tiffany Johnston, said the years have brought endless frustration as the investigation into her daughter’s death stalled.
“I pushed every year on Tiffany’s anniversary that something needs to be done, and we finally got something done,” said Dobry, who credited new leadership at the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in the search for her daughter’s killer.
New DNA testing resulted in a partial match that led investigators to Reece, she said.
Warren reported from Dallas.