|Terry Bills torso was found inside a Niagara Falls vacant house. Identification was made through a tattoo.
|Loretta Gates was murdered in 2012 in a manner not dissimilar to Terry Biils.
Agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Research and Instructional Unit are among those working on a possible connection between the dismemberment murders of Terri Lynn Bills, 46, and Loretta Jo Gates, 30, here.
Among other things, the FBI Behavioral Research and Instructional Unit is home to specialists whose job it is to “profile” potential suspects in serial murder cases.
Is there a serial killer on the loose in Niagara Falls?
Officially, no one will say. But off the record, all agree the probability is high.
The headless body of Bills was found by a passerby a week ago today in the basement of an abandoned house located at 1129 Willow Ave.
Crystal Frizzell, 33, said she was taking a shortcut through the backyard of the abandoned old house when she and her companion noticed a foul stench emanating from within.
Braving the dark with the flashlight app on her Smartphone, Frizzell ventured into the dilapidated structure.
“It was bad. We were joking, ‘It smells like a dead body or a rotten cat or something,’ ” Frizzell said. “I looked, and when I turned to the basement to look down the stairs, the body was right there.”
Involuntarily, Frizzell began to shake and cry, she said.
“I could tell it was decapitated. You could see the neck bone where it was cut,” she said. “I ran out of the building, across that field, and I was throwing up in the next field.”
Frizzell ran to a convenience store on 13th Street and called 911, she said.
Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto confirmed that the FBI had been called in to assist with the case.
“Absolutely, this is a terrifying situation. There is no way to sugar-coat it, but it is highly unusual,” he said. “We are sparing no expense in terms of manpower. Our criminal investigation division (members) are all working on it, as well as our crime scene bureau and any other specially trained officers.”
DalPorto also confirmed that it was likely that the woman had been killed elsewhere about a week earlier, her body dumped in the abandoned house where it was discovered this past Tuesday. But he hedged when asked whether the killings, described as “eerily similar” in some media reports, were related.
“It’s so early in the investigation, it’s hard to say either way,” he said.
In the week that has passed since the gruesome discovery, the whereabouts of Bills’ head, hands and feet remains a mystery. She was identified by a unique tattoo she wore on her torso.
The situation was much the same in 2012. When the torso of Loretta Jo Gates was spotted by a tourist aboard the Maid of the Mist floating in the waters of the Niagara River just below the falls.
The case originally fell under Canadian jurisdiction, and Niagara Police Inspector Jim McCaffrey told reporters the woman had been murdered, but declined to reveal the cause of death. McCaffrey said authorities have asked police in New York and Ontario to review missing persons files and have asked for the public’s help in identifying the remains.
“They went down to Niagara Falls and filed a missing person’s report,” Loretta’s father, Art Gates, told the Reporter at the time. “The next day the state troopers wanted us to go down with her hairbrush and toothbrush and do a DNA on her and see if the body they found was Loretta because there were a lot of similarities. Official word came down that Friday, the day they found the arm and leg,” he said.
A fisherman spotted the body parts downriver near Devil’s Hole late Thursday, but it was already too dark to begin a search. The Niagara Parks Police called in a crew from the Whirlpool Jet Boats tourist concession and the grim recovery was made the next day.
A couple of days later, there was another gruesome discovery. This time the scene was Duck Island, a wooded islet set in the middle of Hyde Park Lake.
A couple taking their usual morning walk along a remote pathway noticed a plastic bag at the water’s edge. Pulling it up, they recoiled in horror when they saw it contained a human head and hand. They belonged to Loretta Jo Gates.
She’d been beaten and stabbed 30 to 40 times prior to being butchered, police said. Because the body parts had been in the water, it was impossible to determine whether she’d been sexually assaulted.
The condition of Bills’ body was much the same, sources close to the investigation confirmed.
Crimes involving dismemberment are rare and highly complex and may include an explosive concoction of emotion and rage, according to Dr. Erica Hutton, a criminal psychologist specializing in profiling.
The most common kind of homicidal mutilation is referred to by forensic specialists as “defensive” because the motive is to assist in hiding or moving the body, getting rid of evidence or making identification of the victim more difficult.
The killer is usually psychopathic and has the ability to blend in with normal society. This type of personality can appear normal and calm, and even be eager to help investigators, Hutton said.
It turns out that Gates and Bills were acquainted. They knew each other through a familial relationship with Scott Martin, Gates’ boyfriend and the father of two of her children, and the only person ever questioned by police in connection with her horrific murder.
“I don’t want to relive it. I didn’t do it. I loved the woman; she gave me two beautiful children. But there was a lot of suspicion and I am disappointed in how they treated me,” he said. “They treated me horribly and I am very disappointed in the Niagara Falls Police Department.”
News reports that followed his eight-hour questioning by detectives in the case were erroneous, he said, adding that if the police consider him a suspect, they’ve got the wrong guy.
“I was not in custody, I went in willingly,” Martin said. “They came to my house with no search warrants, no papers, and I let them search whatever they wanted to. I gave them my vehicle willingly. They trashed my vehicle, sprayed all sorts of whatever they use looking for blood, DNA, or whatever, and left my car a mess.”
It is a commonplace of police procedure that, when a woman is murdered, suspicion first falls on the man she was having a relationship within the absence of any other viable suspects. And when a history of domestic violence is involved, it becomes a no-brainer.
But Martin was never charged with anything in connection with Gates’ death, despite the FBI’s involvement with that case as well. He had an alibi that proved airtight, aside from the lack of forensic evidence in the case.
“I was helping some friends at the Jazz Festival in Lewiston that night and after I worked until two in the morning, then I went and picked up my son and went home,” he said. “I didn’t have my daughter that night.”
Witnesses backed up Martin’s alibi. Is it possible that he slipped away, drove up to Niagara Falls from Lewiston, murdered Loretta, washed up and changed his clothes and then drove back to Lewiston without anyone at the festival noticing?
It doesn’t seem likely.
“I don’t know how many times I have to say it,” Martin said. “They are not going to find anything because I wasn’t involved. They can run every test they know to man and it’s not going to help.
And with Martin in the clear turned out to be highly unlikely that anyone would ever be charged in the Gates murder, or that the heinous slaughter of a drug addicted street prostitute here would ever be brought up again in a city so wrapped up in tawdry tales and high crime.
“It’s not every day in your life that the cops think you’re a murderer. And I’m very upset that someone would even point a finger in my direction. They are so unhappy with their own lives they have to try to ruin somebody else’s,” he told the Reporter. “The court of public opinion does not bother me. What do I care what somebody says about me? I don’t need anybody out there. I am worried about my children.”
While some have seen the fact that Martin also happened to know Bills as some sort of additional evidence against him, it seems unlikely that anyone would harbor enough antipathy against two connected women, and want to point the finger of guilt so badly in his own direction, to kill and dismember them in identical fashion.
There’s a monster out there, and while the murders of Terri Lynn Bills and Loretta Jo Gates have already been unofficially attributed to him, there are likely others to be found in the files of various law enforcement agencies along the Niagara Frontier.
Unidentified bodies and parts, missing women, other corpses discovered over the past decade or so in abandoned houses and businesses from Silver Lake to Youngstown.
And the questions remain. We know of only three people who had the answers, and two of them are dead.