Aerial Scanner to Be Used in Hunt for Murder Victims in Sacramento

Times Staff Writer

Widening their search for possible victims of a suspected serial killer, police next week will fly a helicopter equipped with infrared scanning equipment low over neighborhoods where six bodies have already been uncovered, it was announced Friday.

Sacramento Police Chief John F. Kearns told reporters that a decision was made to employ infrared technology--used most prominently in the investigation of mass murderer Juan Corona--because of "indications that more victims may yet be discovered" buried or stuffed into the interiors of homes either lived in or once renovated by the man suspected of committing the crimes.

A 43-year-old handyman, Morris Solomon Jr., is in custody and will be arraigned Monday in the murders of the six, all found at houses where Solomon lived or worked in the aging community of Oak Park. Two are still unidentified, while the remaining four victims were young women, three of them prostitutes, police said.

Sacramento County Dist. Atty. John Dougherty said his office will charge Solomon with special circumstances of multiple murder, a finding necessary for seeking the death penalty.

Criminal History

In a press conference at police headquarters, Kearns also disclosed that police knew as early as a year ago that Solomon was a registered sex offender with a long criminal history. At the time, Solomon had called police to report that he had found the first victim stuffed into a closet at a house he was renovating.

But Kearns said a decision was made not to arrest Solomon at the time "because we didn't realize that he was a prime suspect until the third homicide," which was discovered earlier this week.

"We did not have enough information to keep that individual in jail," Kearns said. "It's one thing to go out and arrest someone for murder, as was done in another jurisdiction, and then have him walk right out of the jail and murder again."

According to police and prosecutors, Solomon has a criminal record dating to 1969, including a conviction for felony assault and false imprisonment of a prostitute. He was treated for about one year at Atascadero State Hospital in connection with a sex offense and released in 1973. He was charged with the murder of a masseuse in San Jose but acquitted when a prosecution witness did not appear for trial.

'Bizarre Cases'

Although cause of death has not been determined for any of the six victims found in Sacramento, Kearns said evidence at the homes where the first two bodies were found "indicated possible strangulation, sexual assault and drug usage." Kearns would not elaborate on details other than to call the killings "one of the most bizarre cases of multiple homicide I've encountered in my 31 years" on the police force.

The infrared equipment that will be used by police beginning Monday to search for more victims is designed to detect heat radiation from decomposing bodies, even if buried under several feet of earth. Investigators used similar equipment in the 1971 murder case of Corona, in which 25 bodies were found in an orchard near Yuba City, Calif.

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