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.


schn0562 said...

"The pathetic prostitutes who’d been murdered were even graced with “sweetheart” stories sympathizing with their plight".

Necole Schneider was my aunt. I was nine when she was brutally murdered. I only met her a couple of times because she lived so far away, but even from the brief encounters I had, I know she was much more than a "pathetic prostitute". She was a beautiful young woman from Minnesota and she had a big heart and a warm smile. She had two small children at the time of her death, and she loved them very much. She was the kind of person who leaves a lasting impression. She was sweet, kind and gentle and she did what she had to do to make sure her children had food to eat and shelter to sleep under. She was murdered less than a week before her youngest child's birthday.

Your comments are like daggers in the hearts of the many people who loved these women. They were people who loved and were loved. They deserve much more than "sweetheart stories" and I'm sure if they had been given the choice, they would have wanted to live their lives rather than end up a name tacked on to a serial killers rap sheet. Respect these women and do not further victimize them while they are not even able to defend themselves.

Robert A. Waters said...

You're right, of course. None of the victims deserved to die and all had families who mourned their deaths. Thanks for the insight. Robert

Unknown said...

true - none of the victims deserved to die! however, being a prostitute is a poor and dangerous choice of profession... they made that choice to do that instead of a normal job to make ends meet. it pays more, but a lot of danger comes with that. pathetic may be the wrong word - but still, she chose to do that, nobody else forced her to do anything like that. i can't imagine having a child and putting myself in danger by being a prostitute... i would take less pay with a medial fast food job, etc. think about it... it wasn't meant to be a hurtful comment i'm sure.

schn0562 said...


In response your comment, I can tell that you do not know a lot about prostitution. I understand, most people don't. The first thing that I would like to say is that women that are involved in prostitution, rarely make a lot of money. Stripers can make a lot of money is they work at a club that sees a lot of business. Unless a woman is a high price "call girl" whose clients are govenors and other high rollers. Also, most times, women who are involved in prostitution ARE forced into it by "boyfriends" or pimps who consequently take their money.

Finally, my comment didn't have anything to do with justifying prostitution. It was about the tone of this blog that characterizes these women as less than human. It's great that you are able to make the choice to not "put yourself into danger". I'm glad your life, circumstances and upbringing have afforded you with those choices, but every single person deserves respect. Furthermore, victim blaming is deplorable, and honestly you should be ashamed for even suggesting that these women had any part in their demise by "putting themselves into danger".

I hope you can educate yourself further on this issue.

techno said...

I knew Rhonda. We were good friends. I met her when she was having some serious drug problems, but as time went by she recovered. Many times I bought her food, taco bell was her favorite.
Then for a period of time she went missing, and I later found out she was locked up. When she appeared again she looked really good, had gained weight and was quite optimistic about life.
A month or so later, this creep killed her.
Most of these girls have had hard lives. Most used drugs too and were subject to abuse of many kinds.
So if anything, we have to have compassion for them and understand that they are victims of society. I dont expect everyone to agree with me, but I can care less. I keep her memory and I have many times prayed for her.
I can only imagine the terror she must have gone through on the last moments fighting off this savage.
Rhonda, may your soul rest in peace. I will never forget you.

Eddy said...

Lazaro Comesana (the transvestite) I was his best friend. My name is Buster and we had such an awesome teenage life! Unfortunately, as we got older he met up with people who did heroin and you can take it from there! But what I will say is that he really wasn't a transvestite; I mean he was a normal guy. What I do know for a fact was that week before he got murdered he had a plane ticket to be with his wife and new born daughter in Pakistan. That was his plan; he figured he will go out and get high before he was to leave and clean up his act. What a shame things had to happen the way it did.

Katherine said...

Buster send me your number on this blog, this is Laz wife.

Unknown said...

I am very disturbed by this Rhonda was my First love and girlfriend thru High school.I never really knew what happened but this puts some closure to my head...
Rich Rawley

catjy56 said...

I am saddened by the way these girls and guy had to die. the qay they earned their living took away nothing from the person they were inside. each one pf them had a heart that beat inside of tjem and feelings and family and friends. i am sorry for the way they had to die and each of them had so much to give this world but were taken before they could complete their vision

catjy56 said...

I am truly sorry that these women and man never had the time to finish thier time on earth. we have all done things we are not proud of but that doesnnt take away from how we feel inside. dreams and plans that never materialized sometimes the only way that we can see things is the way they are right now not the plans we have for our future those are the things that we will keep in our sights

Unknown said...

I actually met Rory Conde at my house in Miami, he worked with my husband for 18 months. One day my husband asked Rory to give him a ride home because his truck was in the shop. I knew something was wrong with this person because he could not look me in the eye while speaking, he just looked down to the ground. I told my husband after Rory had left that there was something I didn't like about him. After Rory left, I found a brown bag he had left on my couch so I told my husband about the bag, when we looked in that bag it contained 5 beepers, I didn't understand that. The next day I saw Rory on the local news stating there was a man hunt, I about hit the floor, I called the police, turned the beepers in and much to my surprise, they belonged to the girls that he killed. I'm glad they caught him, he is where he should be!!!

Unknown said...

Very well said