Traffic Arrest Snares Suspect in 3 Murders
Multiple-murder suspect Billy Ray Waldon, placed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List a month ago, was identified Thursday by San Diego police, three days after they arrested him in Pacific Beach after stopping him for a traffic violation.
Waldon, 34, was the subject of a nationwide manhunt after being linked to a spree of violent crimes late last year, including the Dec. 7 shooting of a mother and daughter in Del Mar Heights and the Dec. 20 shooting of a University Heights man.
Waldon was pulled over at 3:50 a.m. Monday after police noticed that the taillights were out on the 1965 Ford Mustang he was driving, said Cmdr. Larry Gore of the San Diego Police Department. After the car was stopped him in the 1500 block of Garnet Avenue, Waldon fled on foot for several blocks before being apprehended by officers, Gore said. A dagger was found nearby, police said.
But it was not until Thursday morning that Waldon, who had told police that his name was Stefan Midas, was positively identified from an FBI poster by Detective Gerald Berner, who had been assigned to the investigation.
According to Gore, Berner thought Waldon looked familiar, but was unable to place him. “It woke him up in the middle of the night, but he couldn’t figure it out; finally it came to him that it was Waldon,” Gore said.
Thursday morning Berner finally made the identification, which was confirmed by a fingerprint check with the FBI, Gore said.
Waldon, whose photograph had been widely circulated both in the San Diego area and nationwide, had changed his appearance substantially, shaving off his mustache and allowing a goatee to thicken into a beard. Neither of the arresting officers recognized him, Gore said.
Had he not been identified, Waldon probably would have been arraigned and released by the end of the week, Gore said.
A complaint was filed against Waldon on Dec. 23 seeking 16 separate felony counts in San Diego area crimes, including three for murder, one for attempted murder, one for rape and seven for robberies. Additional felony counts are to be filed against Waldon at his arraignment, scheduled for today.
Police alleged that Waldon shot and killed both Dawn Ellerman and her daughter, Erin, in their Del Mar Heights home on Dec. 7, then set fire to the house to conceal the crime, according to police.
Waldon was identified by police as the suspect in a third slaying on Dec. 20. In that incident, police chased a car through city streets. When the car police were chasing had a flat tire, the driver ran from police. During the chase the driver shot and killed a bystander, John Copeland, 36, and wounded another man. During the ensuing seven hours, 150 officers, supported by three helicopters and police dogs, hunted for the suspect in nearby canyons. Despite being spotted several times, the suspect eventually escaped.
Several days later, Waldon, who was born in Oklahoma, was reportedly seen in Tahlequah, Okla., leading police to believe he had left California. Since then, San Diego police had received several tips regarding Waldon’s whereabouts, but none led to his apprehension, according to Gore.
Waldon was also being sought by authorities in Tulsa, Okla., in connection with a similar string of violent crimes allegedly committed in November, 1985. At that time, Waldon is alleged to have killed one person and wounded several others in a shopping center. Before the Tulsa shootings, Waldon had no previous known record, Gore said.
“We were very surprised that he was still in the area. He had to know that he was badly wanted here and that his photograph had been distributed,” said Thomas M. Kuker, FBI assistant special agent, who attended Thursday’s press conference where Waldon’s arrest was announced. Waldon’s picture had been transmitted nationwide and several leads had been investigated before the arrest, Kuker said.
San Diego police are now investigating several other crimes to which Waldon may be connected, Gore said. While the vehicle Waldon was driving had not been reported stolen, police are investigating that possibility.
Waldon was raised by his grandmother in Tahlequah after being abandoned by his mother when he was 5, the FBI said. His father has never been identified.
He was graduated from Tahlequah Senior High School in 1970 and he entered the Navy several years later. After being stationed in several bases, but not in San Diego, Waldon was discharged in 1984, according to the FBI.
Despite his lack of higher education, Waldon showed a great facility for languages and technical tasks, speaking Esperanto, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese and Cherokee and working as an electronic warfare technician and a deep sea diver. Waldon also traveled extensively in Europe and the Far East, according to the FBI.
Immediately before his Tulsa crime spree commenced, Waldon had been active in the Esperanto Society, a Quaker pacifist organization that espouses world peace, the FBI said.