On September 12, 59-year-old Bruce Cofield was gunned down on the street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Two days later, 49-year-old dishwasher Donald Smart was killed on his way to work at a local cafe roughly five miles from the previous incident. Word soon spread that some kind of serial killer targeting black men might be on the loose in the city. Police began a manhunt for a suspect with a military-style haircut and a tactical vest who was said to hunt civilians from his car at night.
On Tuesday, one week after the first attack, cops charged 23-year-old Kenneth James Gleason with first-degree murder in connection with the killings. Gleason is also suspected of firing three shots through the front door of a black family's home in his own neighborhood, though no one was hurt in that initial incident, which preceded the two murders. Police have yet to officially allege any hate crimes, though a Baton Rouge Police spokesperson did say on Sunday that "there is a strong possibility that [the killings] could be racially motivated."
Somewhat more ominously, an anonymous police official told the Associated Press Tuesday that a copy of an Adolf Hitler speech was found in Gleason's home.
There does not appear to be any relationship between the two deceased men. Both were both shot from inside a car by someone who, after initially striking them down, approached to fire more rounds from closer range. The murders were initially linked by a national ballistics database, according to the Advocate; Gleason became a person of interest because his red sedan with shiny wheels matched a vehicle seen in video footage taken from at least one of the crime scenes. His DNA has since been found on at least one of the shell casings, the AP reported.
A college dropout, Gleason was actually taken into custody this past Saturday for possession of human growth hormone (HGH) and marijuana, which were discovered by police seeking to gather evidence to charge him with homicide, according to the Advocate. He was released the next day before being arrested again for allegedly stealing The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy from a bookstore. He was released and then booked a third time once the cops had gathered what they needed to issue an arrest warrant for the two homicides.
Gleason's cousin told CBS that he had never liked guns but did recently ask for bow-hunting lessons. The accused does not appear to have a criminal record beyond traffic violations, nor any social media accounts under his name.
Tonya Stephens, whose house Gleason is suspected of shooting up before the murders, told an Advocate reporter that her younger son often spotted the 23-year-old sleeping shirtless in his car. Her older son also reported seeing Gleason yelling at a woman outside of his house before speeding off in the same vehicle. Public records show that Gleason lives with his parents—listed in those same records as a production manager at the Louisiana State University Press and an orderly at a hospital.
Stephens expressed shock that she might have lived next to a killer, and has since bought a gun and installed a security system around her home. She said she "[wanted] to cry" but was relieved that Gleason was off the streets—a sentiment echoed by the Baton Rouge Police during their Tuesday press conference.
"I feel confident that this killer would have killed again," interim police chief Jonny Dunnam said.
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