The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton
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Mentally, young Danny Figueroa never came of age. At 26, he liked to hang around with adolescent boys, but there was nothing sexual about his interest in the youths. Instead, he seemed to be in search of playmates, youngsters who would share his fantasies of high adventure and the paramilitary games he liked to play around his home in Perris, California, south of Riverside. He taught the boys to camp and hunt small game with BB guns, but when he went out hunting on his own, the young man leaned toward other weapons, other prey.
On May 13, 1986, Reynold Johnson was shot and killed at his home in Hemet, California, ten miles east of Perris. The single round, which struck him in the chest, had been fired from a high-powered rifle. Witnesses recalled a stranger in the neighborhood, attired in military green, but the police were left without a motive or a suspect in the crime.
May 29. Ray Webber, age 19, was working on his brother's ranch, in Riverside County, when the sniper struck again. Coworkers found him slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup truck in San Timoteo Canyon, skull shattered by the shotgun blast that took his life. Again, the victim had no enemies; there seemed to be no motive for his murder.
Five days later, an illegal alien was crossing a lettuce field in Imperial County, bound for El Centro and friends who would drive him to Los Angeles, when he was suddenly confronted by a man in uniform. He mistook the tall man for an agent of the Border Patrol, but instead of arresting the Mexican, his assailant raised a gun and shot him where he stood, leaving the victim for dead. He crawled to the highway, where a passing motorist stopped and drove him to a hospital in El Centro. Recovering, he offered sheriff's deputies a fair description of the gunman.
Officers patrolling the vicinity found Danny Figueroa, dressed in camouflage fatigues and carrying a rifle. They disarmed him and recorded his denial of the shooting, skeptical of Figueroa's claim that he was merely a survivalist, rehearsing field maneuvers in anticipation of society's collapse. Surprisingly, their witness hedged at naming Danny as the gunman, and their suspect was eventually released for lack of evidence .
June 8. At Indio, some forty-five miles east of Perris, Robert Jimenez was shot three times while barbecuing in his own back yard. A fourth shot struck him as he crawled back toward the house, to call police. By now, it was apparent to authorities in Southern California that they had a random sniper on their hands, and he was not afraid to kill.
June 17. In Redlands, twenty-five miles north of Perris, Mary Langerich, 72, was reported missing by her husband when she failed to return after taking their dog for its morning constitutional. Three hours later, searchers found her body in the brush beside a gravel road, shot five times in the back with a small-caliber weapon. Witnesses reported sightings of a young man, dressed in paramilitary garb, close by the murder scene, and officers stopped by the Figueroa home to question Danny on June 21. His family reported that he had been "camping" in the desert for the past few days; they had no firm idea of when he might return.
Around the neighborhood, detectives turned up several boys who had accompanied Figueroa on his forays to the desert. All thought highly of the murder suspect, reporting that he "wore jungle stuff like Rambo and acted real cool." It was apparent that their suspect knew the territory, and the search became a week-long siege, complete with roadblocks, tracking dogs, and helicopters sporting infrared scopes, designed for seeking body heat on foreign battlefields. At every turn, the fugitive confounded his pursuers.
Figueroa's luck ran out June 28, when hikers spotted him in Reche Canyon, barely two miles from his home. Converging helicopters sighted Danny, trying to conceal himself in grass and brush, maintaining contact while a squad of twenty deputies with automatic weapons closed the ring on foot. Arraigned in San Jacinto on the second of July, for Reynold Johnson's murder, Figueroa would face other charges in the days to come. Convicted on three counts of murder in June 1987, he drew a prison term of 66 years to life.
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