Wednesday, October 1, 2008
The Tamiami Strangler
The southernmost tip of U. S. Highway 41 runs from Tampa, Florida to Naples, then across the Everglades to Miami. Along most of its 250 miles, travelers might catch a glimpse of deer, alligators, snakes, even an occasional Florida panther. It’s a scenic route long known as the Tamiami Trail.
Once Highway 41 reaches Miami, it runs into Little Havana. The road is no longer scenic: it’s flanked by low-rent motels, porno shops, strip joints, abandoned buildings, and desperate souls who sell their bodies for one more high. In the mid-1990s, it was along this street that a monster lurked.
On June 26, 1995, neighbors at a small apartment complex heard a woman screaming and banging the walls inside an apartment. Police were called and quickly broke into the unit. There they found a woman bound with duct tape. She was a prostitute, she admitted, and she’d willingly accompanied a man there for sex. Once inside, her john, identified as Rory Conde, had repeatedly raped her. When he left, she used the opportunity to create such a ruckus that she was rescued.
In the apartment, a detective noticed a green beeper similar to one stolen from a prostitute who’d been murdered. In fact, a series of at least six murders had been linked by DNA to one killer. The press, never at a loss for a phrase, had dubbed him the “Tamiami Strangler.” Conde was taken into custody and held as a possible suspect. After his DNA matched samples taken from the bodies of all six victims, he confessed.
For many years, Conde had been addicted to prostitutes. Even after he married and had two children, he continued indulging his habit. One day, he picked up a girl and brought her home. While there, Conde dressed her in his wife’s lingerie and had sex with her. He filmed the episode and his wife later found it. She immediately left him, taking the children with her.
Instead of blaming himself for the breakup of his marriage, Conde blamed prostitutes.
On September 15, 1994, he picked up a prostitute along the Tamiami Trail in Little Havana. While having oral sex, Conde discovered the prostitute was actually a man. Enraged, he strangled the transvestite, Lazaro Comesana. Court documents described what Conde did after the murder: “Rory explained that he killed Comesana out of his anger about Comesana’s deception and his belief that [his wife] and children had left him because of his use of prostitutes. He described kneeling over Comesana’s body for 10 minutes while he blamed him for the loss of his wife and children. He then made the sign of the cross over Comesana’s body.”
He then redressed the body, placed it in his car, and drove to a middle-class neighborhood. There he dumped the corpse in an area where it would be quickly discovered the following morning.
The same routine would be followed with each victim until Conde was caught.
Detectives recovered DNA from the body of Comesana but had no real clues to follow. When the next victim, Eliza Martinez, was also strangled, redressed, and dumped in a middle-class neighborhood, police suspected a serial killer was on the loose. They retrieved DNA from Martinez and matched it to the same person who had left semen on Lazaro Comesana, confirming their suspicions.
Conde stated that after the first murder, he became paranoid. He thought he would be arrested at any moment and even missed work the next day. Eventually, he convinced himself that police had no evidence. After the murders, his rage would subside but would eventually boil up inside him again until he was ready to explode.
His next victim was Charity Nava. After murdering her, he decided to leave police a message. “Rory decided to write on Nava’s back with black magic marker,” court documents read. “He wrote ‘Third’ because this was his third murder. Under this he wrote: ‘I will call Dwight [a well-known local T. V. news anchorperson] C.H.A.N. 10.’ Under this he wrote ‘See If You Can Catch Me.’ Under this he wrote ‘N y R,’ meaning his mother, Nadia, and him.”
Nava was also dumped in a residential area along the Tamiami Trail. Although Conde never called the television station, by now the local media was agog with its new serial killer. The pathetic prostitutes who’d been murdered were even graced with “sweetheart” stories sympathizing with their plight.
Wanda Crawford was the next victim. She, too, was dumped alongside the Trail. Necole Schneider was next. She was strangled and dumped within a block of Conde’s wife’s house.
His final victim was Rhonda Dunn. She struggled mightily but was overpowered and strangled. While most of his victims were chosen because they happened to be available, Dunn was taken because she was a look-alike for his wife.
Conde’s confessions to the murders put to rest any lingering doubts that he was the killer. His DNA matched all the victims, making his trial a foregone conclusion. The beeper found in his apartment proved to be that of Charity Nava.
Conde was sentenced to death for the murder of Rhonda Dunn and to life in prison for the other murders. He currently resides on Florida’s death row. His appeals have consistently been denied.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 7:00 AM