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Cops Finally Made an Arrest in the Tampa Serial Killer Saga

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, a former college student who worked at McDonald's, has been arrested in connection to a string of four fatal shootings.

by Drew Schwartz; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
29 November 2017, 7:43pm

Tampa Police Department via AP

On Tuesday, police arrested a 24-year-old in connection with a chilling string of murders that left Tampa, Florida, locals and police afraid they had a serial killer on their hands. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, a former college student, will be charged with four counts of first-degree murder, bringing a 51-day, all-hands hunt for the suspected killer to a close.

The search began after 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell was fatally shot in Seminole Heights—a small, working-class Tampa neighborhood—at the beginning of October. Over the next few weeks, three more people were shot and killed within half a mile of the slaying in similar circumstances—including Monica Hoffa, 32, Anthony Naiboa, 20, and Ronald Felton, 60. According to CNN, none of the victims were robbed, and each were seemingly shot at random.

Police received more than 5,000 tips related to the killings, but each led to a dead end until Tuesday afternoon. That's when Donaldson walked into the Seminole Heights McDonald's, where he worked, and asked his manager to hold onto a bag while he ran an errand, the Tampa Bay Times reports. After realizing that the bag contained a loaded handgun, the manager reportedly alerted a cop sitting in the restaurant. When Donaldson returned to the McDonald's, police were waiting for him and took him to the station for questioning.

According to WFTS, police found clothes in Donaldson's car similar to those worn by the man suspected of killing Mitchell, who was caught on a surveillance camera—including an article of clothing stained with what looked like blood. Location data on Donaldson's cellphone linked him to the sites of the killings, according his arrest affidavit. And police firearms experts said the bullet casings recovered from three of the murders were fired from Donaldson's Glock pistol.

"We've had other guns, but we knew this was the one," Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a press conference. "Now the work begins to shore up the case and get a full prosecution."

The minimum sentence for first-degree murder in Florida is life in prison. If convicted, Donaldson could face the death penalty.

"The real goal is to let the people of Seminole Heights be able to get a good night's sleep," Dugan said. "It's been 51 days that they've been terrorized in their neighborhood and it is about letting these families know that we're going to bring this person to justice, and letting this neighborhood get some rest."

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Howell Emanuel Donaldson III​