Why Law Enforcement Is Worried Stockton, California May Be Home To A New Serial Killer

Stockton, California, a Central Valley city of about 300,000 people (per City-Data), has quite a bit of violent crime for a city its size, including a murder rate that is well above average compared to the rest of the country. Between 2006 and 2019, the city has had years with as few as 24 homicides, or as many as 71.

However, over the course of a few weeks in the summer and fall of 2022, according to NBC News, the city saw five homicides that appear to be interconnected, possibly pointing to a serial killer on the loose in the city. Further still, ABC News reports that another murder, in Oakland (75 miles away) months earlier, may also be connected to the Stockton killer. 

Further still, a Stockton woman shot days after the Oakland murder, survived her injuries, according to KCRA. The murders, and the one shooting in which the victims survived, all happened under similar circumstances and appear to lack a clear motive. And about all authorities have in the way of any evidence or leads is grainy security camera footage that may show a suspect, may show a witness, or may show a victim. "By definition, you could probably very well call this serial killings," said Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden.

The Murders And An Attempted Murder

Between July 8, 2022, and September 7, 2022, five people were murdered in Stockton, according to the San Joaquin County medical examiner's office, via NBC News. Paul Alexander Yaw, 35, a homeless white male, was the first Stockton victim; he was murdered on July 8, his estranged mother claimed that he had been at an unidentified park when he was killed. Salvador Debudey Jr., 43, a Hispanic male was killed on August 11, according to ABC10; he was alive when officers arrived on the scene but life-saving measures failed to save him. Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Hispanic male, was killed on August 30. Juan Cruz, a 52-year-old Hispanic male, was killed on September 21. Lawrence Lopez Sr., 43, a Hispanic male who was also experiencing homelessness, was killed on September 27. All of the killings took place at night or in the early morning hours, according to ABC News.

On October 3, according to a KCRA report, authorities announced that an Oakland murder and an Oakland attempted murder were connected to the Stockton murders. These two crimes happened months before the Stockton murders, going back to April 10, 2021, when a 40-year-old Hispanic man was killed in that city. Also in Oakland, on April 16, 2021, a 46-year-old Black woman (per The New York Times) was shot multiple times; she survived her injuries. Police did not say why they connected these two crimes to the Stockton crimes, although they said that they had a "person of interest" in both sets of crimes. 

Why Police Think It's The Work Of A Serial Killer

Serial killers, according to Crime Museum, generally carry out their crime sprees over the course of weeks, months, or even years or decades, taking a break between each murder. That certainly appears to be what is going on in Stockton and possibly Oakland, in that the six murders and one attempted murder have taken place over the course of about a year and a half, with the last spate of five Stockton murders taking place over the course of a few weeks.

Further, there appears to be no clear motive for the crimes. Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said, via NBC News, that none of the victims appeared to have been relieved of cash or jewelry or other belongings, ruling out the possibility of these crimes having been robberies. Nor are the areas where the victims were killed known to be associated with gang activity. "It's just element of surprise," McFadden said.

These crimes do not appear to be racially motivated, either. According to KCRA, though five of the victims were Hispanic, another was white and the survivor Black, likely ruling out the possibility of these being hate crimes, Stockton police said.

A 'Person of Interest'

In a September 30 Facebook post, the Stockton Police Department announced that they had identified a "person of interest" in the city's (and possibly Oakland's) recent murders. "Our investigators have reviewed many hours of video surveillance. They believe they located a person of interest in this investigation. Please see the attached photograph," McFadden wrote, referring to the image above.

The image is grainy at best and doesn't reveal the individual's face. Further still, it remains unclear if the person is a suspect, a possible witness, or even a possible victim.

Meanwhile, police have offered a $75,000 reward for any information that might help identify the murderer, while Stockton Crime Stoppers has added an additional $10,000 to the reward fund. Further still, according to The New York Times, a local business proprietor contributed another $10,000 to the reward fund, meaning that an individual who helps police identify the murderer could stand to collect as much as $95,000.

On the Stockton Police Department's Facebook page they are urging anyone with any information that could help the investigation to reach out to law enforcement or Crime Stoppers. Police also ask that residents remain vigilant, avoid dark, isolated areas at night, and try to "travel with a friend" when possible.