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Kneeling bodies, DNA common thread in suspected serial killings

George Hunter
The Detroit News
DeAngelo Kenneth Martin was charged in the assault Monday.

Detroit — As police investigated the deaths of three women whose bodies were found in abandoned houses on the city's east side, they noticed an eerie signature:

The bodies of the women, all in their 50s, were found in a kneeling position, and condoms were left nearby, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Those similarities led detectives to believe the homicides were the work of a serial killer, sources told The Detroit News.

Investigators have collected DNA evidence from the condoms left at the three crime scenes that came back to one man, sources said.

Detroit police chief James Craig said he didn't want to comment on the ongoing investigation, other than to say: "We strongly believe all these cases are linked."

Police say Deangelo Kenneth Martin is a suspect in the killings.

Prosecutors Monday charged Deangelo Kenneth Martin, who police say is a suspect in the killings, in connection with a separate case -- the sexual assault of a 26-year-old woman who escaped her attacker. 

That alleged victim is not among the three deceased women who were found in abandoned houses on Detroit's east side recently, whose ages were 52, 53 and 55, Craig said.

"On  May 7, 2019, at 1:40 a.m. at a house on the east-side of Detroit it is alleged that Martin stabbed and sexually assaulted the (26-year-old) victim," a press release from the prosecutor's office said.

Detroit police officers search an abandoned house at 17862 Saint Louis  Friday, in search of additional victims of a serial killer.

Martin was arraigned Monday in 36th District Court on one count of assault with intent to murder, and four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. 

As of Monday afternoon, Martin had not been assigned an attorney, Wayne County assistant prosecutor Maria Miller said.

Police arrested two men Friday in connection with the case involving the 26-year-old — Martin and another man, who was later released.

The first arrest, not Martin, came days after a second woman, whom Craig said was "in her 50s," told detectives a man had abducted her on June 3.

The woman told police Martin pulled her inside an abandoned house — which was later determined to be the same house in the 3000 block of Mack where one of the three bodies was found earlier, Craig said at a press conference Monday. 

According to sources, the woman told investigators the man choked her until she passed out. She said she woke up while the man was raping her, and that she was able to stab him. He fled, and she called police, sources said.

Investigators followed a blood trail, which led to a spot near the first suspect, sources said. After police arrested the man, the victim picked him out of a lineup — an identification police now believe was in error.

Despite the arrest and lineup identification, detectives who weren't convinced they had the right man continued investigating the case, sources told The News.

Hours later, members of the Headquarters Surveillance Unit, which hunts people wanted for violent crimes, arrested Martin at a bus stop on the city's east side. He had stab wounds that were consistent with the woman's story that she'd stabbed her attacker, sources said.

Craig on Friday referred to Martin as a person of interest in the killings of the three women found in the abandoned houses. On Monday, the chief called him a suspect, although he has not been charged in connection with any of the three homicides.

Martin is scheduled for a probable cause hearing in the alleged sexual assault of the 26-year-old woman June 20 and a preliminary exam June 25 before Judge Lynise Bryant-Weeks of 36th District Court.

Martin's DNA was on file with police after it was collected following his arrest in 2009 on charges of receiving a stolen vehicle, according to the Wayne Circuit Court's website.

Martin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years of probation, although he violated his probation in March 2010. He pleaded guilty to a probation violation and was sent to the Wayne County Jail.

On Aug. 10, 2009, the day Martin pleaded guilty to receiving the stolen vehicle, Wayne Circuit Judge Edwin Ewell signed the order to collect a DNA sample from the defendant, according to the court website.

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, about seven miles away. 

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

Police said they've possibly identified the third victim as a 55-year-old woman, although they withheld her name, pending family notification.

In addition, Craig said during his press briefing there's a possibility a 64-year-old missing Ferndale woman, Debra Reynolds, could be another of Martin's victims.

Police continued searching abandoned houses for more bodies Monday, Craig said. The search was launched Friday, with plans for the city to board up the vacant dwellings after they've been searched.

Craig said 17 houses were boarded up Friday; 35 on Saturday, and he said 55 more were anticipated to be secured by the end of the day Monday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said at a press conference Friday his goal was to have all the abandoned houses on the city's east side secured by the end of July, and that he hoped to have all the city's abandoned houses boarded up by the end of September.

Detroit News Staff Writer Oralandar Brand-Williams contributed.