Detroit police arrest person of interest in serial killer case

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Deputy Chief Todd Bettison and Detroit police officers search abandoned houses Friday, including this one at 17862 Saint Louis in Detroit, in search of additional victims of a serial killer. After the searches, Detroit city workers boarded up the buildings.

Detroit — Police have arrested a person of interest in connection with the deaths of three women believed to be the work of a serial killer, Chief James Craig said Friday evening.

The chief identified the arrested man as Deangelo Kenneth Martin. 

“The Headquarters Surveillance Unit hit the east side and arrested him at a bus stop,” Craig said. 

He was taken into custody at 7:30 p.m. in the area of Seven Mile and Gratiot, police said. 

Craig declined to immediately release what evidence officers collected to indicate Martin, 34, could be responsible for the three killings.

The chief also said investigators have identified the woman whose body was found Wednesday in an abandoned house on Mack.

"Preliminarily, she's a 55-year-old woman," Craig said, although he withheld her identity because her family had not yet been notified.

Deangelo Kenneth Martin

Craig said the identification of a person of interest will not impact a search of vacant homes on the city's east side that was announced by the chief and Mayor Mike Duggan at a press conference Friday morning at Public Safety Headquarters.

"We're still going to do our work," he said. "We will continue searching for more bodies."

During a press conference earlier Friday, Duggan said: "There's a possibility there could be another vacant house on the east side with a victim inside. We have no reason to believe that, but we have to check."

Craig said police might deploy cadaver dogs to aid in the search. "I hope we don't find any more bodies," he said. 

Deangelo Kenneth Martin

More: Possible serial murders shine light on Detroit's vacant homes

After the press briefing, Craig said he also may enlist the aid of FBI experts who profile serial killers.

Duggan said 40 neighborhood police officers will be deployed in teams of two to search the abandoned houses. 

"Once DPD has certified each house (is empty), our eight board-up teams will go out and board up those houses," said Duggan, adding the teams will work six days a week on overtime.

The goal is to have every vacant house on the east side boarded up by the end of July, and all the abandoned houses in the city boarded up by the end of September, Duggan said.

After a woman's body was discovered Wednesday in an abandoned house in the 3000 block of Mack, Craig said detectives made connections between that case and two earlier homicide victims whose bodies also were discovered in vacant houses.

Because of the ongoing case, Craig declined to give further details about the similarities between the cases.

The first victim was found March 19 in an abandoned house on the 2000 block of Coventry. A second woman's body was discovered May 24 on the 13000 block of Linnhurst.

The victims were identified as Nancy Harrison, 52, and Travesene Ellis, 53.

Craig asked the community for help identifying the most recent victim, who was found in the house on Mack.

"What we know is that the victim is an African American female, approximately 5-feet tall, roughly 100 pounds," Craig said. "We don't know her age. She has a short-cropped Afro hairstyle."

Only one of the victims, Harrison, has been determined by Wayne County medical examiners to be a homicide, Duggan said, but he added Craig wanted to inform the community as soon as investigators realized the three deaths may have been the work of a serial killer.

"It's not often you see a police chief stand up and say to the community 'I think we have a serial killer' without a cause of death, but he thought it was important to inform the community, so he went out publicly ahead of confirmation (of cause of death). I commend the chief and everyone in the department for being so decisive," Duggan said.

During Friday's press briefing, the mayor stressed the need to quickly raze some 18,000 abandoned structures in the city, which are breeding grounds for crime.

"This week, we knocked down our 18,000th vacant house," Duggan said. But, he added, the federal program that funds the demolition comes with restrictions.

"We can only demolish houses in certain zones or houses the Land Bank owns," he said. "As I proposed last week, we want to go out for a $200 million bond issue" to demolish the city's remaining abandoned structures.

Detroit Police officers search abandoned houses  Friday, including this one at 17862 Saint Louis in Detroit, in search of additional victims of a serial killer.

"We can sell those bonds because of the city's improved financial situation, without taxing citizens. And we can get every abandoned house in this city torn down in the next five years."

Craig said because the victims found in the vacant houses were prostitutes, it presents investigators with a "significant challenge."

"We know many times sex workers are invisible in our community," the chief said. "Often times, the family has not seen these individuals for weeks or months, and they're not likely to report them missing.

"We have been getting tips from the community, and we're not going to let up until we find this violent, predatory criminal."

During Friday's press briefing, Duggan and Craig were flanked by members of the Detroit 300 community group, who have been searching abandoned structures on the east side since Craig announced Wednesday there might be a serial killer on the loose.

"This is an effort that’s on a scale like never before," Detroit 300 spokesman Martin Jones said. "The information that can help us solve the majority of these crimes is within our community — it's a matter of getting people to speak up. DPD cannot do this alone."

Craig asked citizens to refrain from going inside abandoned houses, asking that they call police instead.

To request a Detroit house be boarded up, call the city at (313) 267-4600.

Anyone with information about the identity of the third homicide victim, or information about a possible suspect is asked to call Detroit police at (313) 596-2260.

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN