Monday, December 27, 2010

Risky Business

by Pat Brown

Prostitution is the world's oldest profession and also the most dangerous. Recently, we have had a spate of homicides with victims who put their lives at risk to earn money in the sex trade. Yet, interestingly, the last few times I commented on these homicides, the television shows I was on decided not to report this aspect of these women's lives; the idea is not to lessen the horribleness of the crimes by insinuating that they deserved what they got or that they are less important as victims than a student, a churchwoman, or a middle- or upper-class professional woman.

I can appreciate the concept of presenting a victim of violent crime in a rosier light; she is someone's daughter, sister or mother, and she is loved by her family regardless of her choice of activity. But, it is also a damaging and dangerous concept. Damaging because it can prevent useful information from being offered that might lead to the killer, and dangerous because other women involved in prostitution in a certain jurisdiction might not get the warning they need to avoid being the next victim of a dangerous predator.

Three recent cases I have commented on come to mind.

One is the "Lady in the Suitcase" crime out of East Harlem, New York City. A chilling video of a man dragging a suitcase along the streets of the city has been broadcast repeatedly with the hope someone will recognize the leather-jacketed man who left the suitcase on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building and then just walked away. The name of the victim was known very quickly and not likely because she had her ID on her. Betty Williams, 28, has been arrested some fourteen times in her life. Arrests which include drug involvement, theft, and trespassing. She spent jail time on Rikers Island, which indicates to me she has had a rough life and deals with some tough characters. It would be important to find out whether she has dabbled in prostitution. As it stands, we have no information indicating this, but serious drug users often need to earn money in a hurry. If prostitution is one of Betty's activities, her killer could be a john or not. If she hasn't worked on the streets, then he could be a boyfriend, a drug dealer, or a fellow drug user. The truth will help focus the investigation.

While it is always a possibility that Betty was grabbed off the street by a man who had no connection with her or her activities, it is highly unlikely. The fact that her body was found in the suitcase fully clothed, strangled, and with trauma to the head indicates she was in her killer's apartment and that the crime was not premeditated. Usually when a victim ends up in a piece of luggage, it means the murderer did not plan to kill the victim, which is why he got stuck with a body in his home. Then, he had no way to get the body out of there without being noticed, hence the need for zipping up the victim in a suitcase and toting her down the stairs or elevator and out of his residence.

So, Betty probably knew her killer, and why she might have been in his apartment is very important to figuring out who the perpetrator is. If one wants useful tips, it helps to give people information that will lead them to link someone to the victim or some activity they have in common. Keeping Betty's background a secret is not going to help get justice.

We also have two serial killers on the loose who are clearly targeting prostitutes. One, the "Kensington Strangler," is in the Philadelphia area. Even though the first two victims were both prostitutes, and DNA from the killer matched in both crimes, no warning went out to women working the streets that they could be next. Consequently, a third prostitute became the victim of the same serial killer.

Up in Long Island, a serial killer appears to be getting his victims off of Craigs List's adult service ads. Yet, when I did a TV show on the topic, two of the possible victims were identified, respectively, as a tourist and a local woman. It sounded like some guy was grabbing women off the street as they walked home, or was using some ruse to get them into his car. But this was not accurate. The women were running ads on Craigs List and were going to someone's home to provide their services. Knowing this and getting this information out is crucial in identifying this sexual psychopath and letting women know not to respond to customers in the vicinity of the dump site where four bodies have been found on an isolated beach. Or, at least not to go without letting the john know that his information is being recorded and that the woman is going to have a driver waiting in the car for her.

Not all risky behavior is the reason for women becoming victims, but sex, drugs, and alcohol tend to top the list, and we need to know if these issues are linked to victims so we can catch their killers. We also need to know if they are overly kind, naive, or happy-go-lucky because these not-so-bad behaviors can also put a woman in a situation where she becomes the unlucky victim of a psychopath who catches her in his evil little web. All behaviors are important to recognize in both the victim and the perpetrator; the truth will get someone arrested and put away, hopefully, for good.


Pat Brown said...

A man has been arrested for the murder of Betty Williams. He lives three blocks from where he dumped the suitcase with her body in it. He has a history of drug arrests, as does she, and he states paid her for sex. So, turns out, he was a john which proves the point it is important to know if a woman is involved in prostitution or not.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, it is important to know whether the Victim is a prostitute. Such a thing is highly necessary for a variety of reasons.

Though I will admit it's not likely that many of the prostitutes out there are going to change their operations due to fear of whatever serial killer of the week might be on the prowl,since most in the profession are well aware of the high risk nature of their situation beforehand. (their need for money whether to score drugs or simply survive is stronger than their sense of preservation which would compel them to be more cautious.)

I like you Miss (or respectively Mrs.) Brown, you want others to care so much that you go out of your way to increase social awareness on these matters, yet I must be the pessimist here and say most are pricks who couldn't care less about invisible women getting butchered. Add that to the fact most police are either overworked, undereducated, or simply lazy ass incompetent morons and you have a dilemma which I see no solution for anytime soon. Good morning ma'am.(J.Stephen.H)