Police in Tampa, Florida are hunting an apparent serial killer who they believe shot and killed at least four people in the last six weeks.
The latest victim, a 60-year-old man named Ronald Felton, was found shot to death in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood early Tuesday morning.
“We are treating [the death] as though it is related until we rule otherwise,” interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said Tuesday.
The other three victims — Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, and Anthony Naiboa — were found shot to death in the same neighborhood over a period of 11 days in October. Police have yet to identify a connection between any of the victims beyond the fact that the first three were all shot near a bus stop, and the fact that there was no indication that any of them had recently argued with somebody or were involved in crime.
Investigators do believe, however, that the killer is a local.
“Whoever is doing it, they’re familiar with the neighborhood and they’re able to vanish very quickly,” Dugan told reporters Tuesday. In October, he also warned Tampa residents that, “Everybody at this point is a suspect. If you are out there walking alone, you are either a suspect or a potential victim.”
Officers spent the day Tuesday searching the neighborhood, and though they have few clues to go on, a witness there described the suspect as a tall, slim black man. Cops previously released a grainy video that shows someone described by police as a “person of interest” running through the neighborhood the night that Mitchell was killed.
If all four Tampa killings are in fact the work of one individual, that person would qualify as a serial killer; under federal law, a murderer is classified as a serial killer if they kill on three separate occasions. Despite their outsized importance in pop culture, however, serial killers are in fact vanishingly rare. A 2005 analysis published by the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit found that they’re responsible for less than one percent of all murders in the United States each year. John Douglas, the former chief of the FBI’s Serial Crime Unit, estimates that there are likely between 25 and 50 serial killers operating in the United States at any time.