DNA cold case: Suspected Florida serial killer charged in 2016 death, tied to 3 more

Credit: AP Photos

Credit: AP Photos

A Florida man suspected of being the “Daytona Beach Serial Killer,” who killed at least four women over the span of a decade, has been charged with the 2016 homicide of a Palm Beach County woman, and genetic genealogy is being credited with his capture.

Robert Tyrone Hayes, 37, was arrested Sunday at his West Palm Beach home. He is charged with first-degree murder in the strangulation death of Rachel Elizabeth Bey.

Hayes has also been tied by DNA and ballistics to the 2005 and 2006 shooting deaths of Laquetta Mae Gunther, 45, Julie Ann Green, 34, and Iwana Patton, 35, more than 200 miles away in Daytona Beach, according to authorities. He has not been charged in the Daytona Beach slayings, but charges are expected.

Credit: Daytona Beach Police Department

Credit: Daytona Beach Police Department

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"We have been able to take what we believe is a serial killer off the streets," Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said Monday during a news conference. "Had we not done this, we're pretty sure that he would have killed again."

Daytona Beach police officials said detectives there are looking into the possibility that Hayes was responsible for the Jan. 2, 2008, killing of Stacey Gage. No physical evidence links him to that crime.

Authorities also believe there may be additional victims Hayes has not yet been tied to.

"I believe you'll be hearing a lot about Robert Tyrone Hayes in the months to come," Special Agent Troy Walker, of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Monday.

Hayes' neighbors were stunned by the arrest, according to The Associated Press. Hayes, a cook who graduated from Bethune-Cookman University in 2006 with a criminal justice degree, lived in an apartment in the Pinewood Park neighborhood with a woman and their toddler daughter. It was not immediately clear if the couple is married.

Credit: Google

Credit: Google

"He was always friendly with me," neighbor Craig Brown told the AP.

Authorities believe Hayes, who is being held without bond, targeted prostitutes and drug users.

The AP reported that the shootings in Daytona Beach caused a panic that led some of the area's prostitutes to help detectives. They memorized license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions of anyone they deemed to be suspicious, the AP said. Volunteers from a local ministry also worked to warn people of the apparent danger lurking on the streets.

The known killings stopped for a decade -- until Rachel Bey. Court records show that Bey, a 32-year-old known prostitute who worked an area of West Palm Beach, was strangled March 7, 2016, and dumped on the side of a highway.

A close friend told police she’d last seen Bey walking toward the intersection she usually worked around 2 a.m. the day she was killed. Bey was fully clothed at the time and carried her cellphone.

Credit: Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County

Credit: Crime Stoppers of Palm Beach County

Her naked body was found about six hours later by a road worker along Beeline Highway just west of Jupiter, several miles from where she was last seen alive. Her clothes and cellphone were missing.

Bey’s autopsy showed that, besides being strangled, she had been severely beaten. She had fractures to her jaw, multiple broken teeth and defensive injuries to her arms and hands that showed she fought for her life.

DNA evidence was found during a rape examination, and DNA was also found on the back of Bey’s left hand, where her killer would have grabbed her to drag her to the spot where her body was found, the affidavit says.

Lab workers were able to obtain a complete DNA profile from the semen, the affidavit says.

In December 2016, detectives assigned to Bey’s case were notified that there was a DNA hit in CODIS, or the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, tying the genetic profile in Bey’s case to that obtained in the Daytona Beach case.

Watch Palm Beach County officials discuss Hayes' arrest below. 

According to the court records, the profile found on Bey's body matched that left on two of the three women killed in Daytona Beach. Authorities there said DNA evidence linked Bey's killer to the slayings of Gunther and Green.

Additionally, ballistic evidence at the scene of two of those killings showed the women had been killed with the same .40-caliber weapon. Daytona Beach officials said Patton's killing was linked to the others through that forensic evidence.

Hayes was developed as a potential suspect in the killings through genetic genealogy, the same technique that resulted in the arrest of the suspected Golden State Killer in California last year. Since then, dozens of other cold cases have been solved using public genealogy databases that contain thousands of customers’ DNA profiles.

Four of those case have taken place in Florida, according to Lori Napolitano, the FDLE's chief of genetic genealogy.

Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Napolitano explained that cold case suspects are identified by comparing their DNA profiles to those of potential family members found in the databases.

"Investigators upload the crime scene DNA profile of the suspect and receive a list of matches," Napolitano said. "Those matches are people who share DNA with the suspect. The more DNA they share, the more closely they're related."

Two companies allow law enforcement to use their databases: GEDMatch and Family Tree DNA.

"Killers like Robert Tyrone Hayes are the reason genetic genealogy is so important to public safety," Walker said Monday. "Without genetic genealogy, predators like Mr. Hayes will continue to live in our neighborhoods, visit our parks, our libraries (and) restaurants and go to our nightlife and entertainment districts to continue to hunt for victims."

Napolitano offered condolences to Bey’s brothers, who attended Monday’s news conference.

"Please know that we worked countless hours on her case to bring it to resolution and to give Rachel the voice that she lost," Napolitano said.

Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

One of Bey's brothers, Aliahu Bey, described his sister in 2016 as a "loving and caring girl" who got caught up with the wrong crowd as a teen. At one time a certified nursing assistant, she ended up working on the street after getting deeper into drugs.

"We all wanted to rescue and steal her away (from Florida)," Bey told The Palm Beach Post at the time. "But we knew that choice had to be hers. And she wanted to have that kind of change."

In their last phone conversation, Bey told the Post, his sister asked when she would get to meet his children. She told him "life was hard, but that she was trying."

The probable cause affidavit states that Hayes lived in Daytona Beach when the initial three killings took place in late 2005 and early 2006. His home was in the same area in which all three women were last seen before they were killed.

In March 2016, when Bey was slain, Hayes lived about a mile from where she was last seen alive in West Palm Beach.

“Hayes was questioned twice during the initial stages of the Daytona Beach murders due to him owning a .40-caliber firearm,” the affidavit states. “Hayes purchased the firearm at the beginning of December 2005, with one of the murders then occurring Dec. 26, 2005.”

Read the probable cause affidavit for Robert Hayes' arrest below.

Robert Hayes Probable Cause Affidavit by National Content Desk on Scribd

Hayes told Daytona Beach investigators the following March that he had given the gun to his mother, who lived in West Palm Beach.

“However, Hayes also reported a 40-caliber firearm as being stolen from his vehicle in Riviera Beach, Florida, in December 2006,” the affidavit states.

Phone records showed that Bey’s missing cellphone remained sporadically active in the days after she was killed, the court records show. The cell tower that facilitated the majority of that activity was the cell tower that also covered Hayes’ home.

Agents with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s Fugitive Task Force were watching Hayes Friday when they spotted him smoking a cigarette as he waited for a bus near his home. After he discarded the cigarette butt and left, they collected it and sent it for DNA testing, the affidavit says.

The DNA obtained from the butt matched the profile found on Bey and from two of the Daytona Beach victims, the document states.

Watch Daytona Beach police officials discuss Hayes' arrest below. 

The AP reported that Gunther was the first of the Daytona Beach victims killed. Her body was found the day after Christmas 2005 in a gap between an auto parts store and a utility building.

Green was found Jan. 14, 2006, on a dirt road at a construction site and Patton was found Feb. 24 on a separate dirt road. All three women were shot in the head and left naked and lying face down.

Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri credited Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood, who was police chief in Daytona Beach at the time of the killings, with pushing the department to embrace the type of technology that led to Hayes' arrest.

"Before that, we didn't really know much about technology or embrace technology," Capri said. "Without that type of forward thinking, we might not be here today."

Chitwood said solving the slayings of Gunter, Green and Patton was the only thing left undone when he left the position of police chief.

"I just can't tell you how proud I am of Chief Capri and how proud I am of the men and women of the Daytona Beach Police Department," Chitwood said.

Bradshaw said during his own news conference that it was a "fantastic team effort" that led to Hayes' arrest.

Florida 7th Circuit State Attorney R.J. Larizza said charges against Hayes would be forthcoming in the three Daytona Beach homicides. No decision had been made as of Monday on whether authorities would seek the death penalty.

"These were brutal crimes and the State Attorney's Office is very fortunate to have the caliber of law enforcement folks that we have working these cases," Larizza said. "It's not just working the streets anymore. It's working with DNA. It's working with technology.

“We are truly in a brave new world.”

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