OFFENDER SIGNATURE, and The Case of David Vasquez/Timothy Spencer
In 1984, Vasquez pled guilty to the murder of a 34-year-old Arlington, Virginia, woman. The woman had been sexually assaulted and died of ligature strangulation. The killer left her lying face down with her hands tied behind her back. He used unique knots and excessive binding with the ligatures, and a lead came from the wrists to the neck over the left shoulder. The body was openly displayed so that discovery offered significant shock value.
The offender spent considerable time at the crime scene. He made extensive preparations to bind the victim, allowing him to control her easily. His needs dictated that he move her around the house, exerting total domination over her. It appeared that he even took her into the bathroom and made her brush her teeth. None of this behavior was necessary to perpetrate the crime; the offender felt compelled to act out this ritual.
Vasquez had a borderline I.Q. Believing this would make it difficult to prove his innocence, his lawyers convinced him that he would probably receive the death sentence if the case went to trial. Instead, Vasquez opted for life imprisonment by pleading guilty.
Three years later, in 1987, police discovered a 44-year-old woman lying nude and face down on her bed. A rope bound her wrists behind her back, and a ligature strand tightly encircled her neck with a slip knot at the back. It continued over her left shoulder, down her back, and then was wrapped three times around each wrist. Forensics revealed that she died of ligature strangulation, and that she had been sexually assaulted. The offender left the body exposed and openly displayed. He appeared to have spent a considerable amount of time at the crime scene. This homicide occurred 4 blocks from the 1984 murder.
David Vasquez had been imprisoned 3 years when the 1987 murder occurred. At the request of the Arlington, Virginia, Police Department, the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) conducted an extensive analysis of these two murders, a series of sexual assaults, and several other killings that occurred between 1984 and 1987. Eventually, the NCAVC linked these offenses through analogous signature aspects of another local suspect. Physical evidence later corroborated this connection and determined that the “calling card” left at the 1984 homicide did not belong to David Vasquez. As a result of this finding, the Commonwealth of Virginia released Vasquez from prison and exonerated him of the crime.
Timothy Spencer, “The Southside Strangler” was arrested, tried, and convicted for two other rape-murders. He was never formally prosecuted in the Vasquez incident because he already had been sentenced to death. The United States Supreme Court denied Spencer’s request for a new DNA test. On April 27, 1994, Spencer became the first person in the United States executed on the basis of DNA testing.
(photo: Timothy Spencer)