Riverside County sheriff's investigators believe that the body of a young woman found in an industrial park alley Friday could be the 16th victim in a series of murders of prostitutes throughout Southern California the past six years.
The woman's nude body was found at 6:45 a.m. in the 1700 block of Sampson Avenue, a few miles from Interstate 15. A number of the bodies have been discovered near the interstate in the southwest portion of the county, officials said.
"We're assuming it (is connected), but it's not a total given at this time," said Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. Bill Reynolds. The identity of the victim has not been released.
Of the other bodies, nine have been found in Lake Elsinore, three in the city of Riverside and three in unincorporated communities of Riverside County, Reynolds said. All the victims were nude or partially nude; most were believed to have been prostitutes who used illegal drugs. The last victim before Friday was found in Lake Elsinore on July 4, he said.
The most recent victim was found face down near a cinder-block wall by the owner of a trucking company as he came to work, said Corona Police Sgt. Timothy Slane. Police believe that the body had been dumped in the alley only a short time before.
Jim Tyhurst, 32, owner of T&T; Wholesale Trucking Co., said one of his employees came through the alley at 6:15 but saw no body. About 15 minutes later, Tyhurst said, the employee "heard the sound of a vehicle turning around in the gravel."
Slane said the body had "no visible signs of trauma." Most of the other victims have been strangled or stabbed. A Riverside County coroner will perform an autopsy today.
Investigators refused to elaborate on connections between the latest case and the others, fearing that it would jeopardize their search for leads.
"At this point, we're not going to discuss any of the similarities," Reynolds said. "We're at a very sensitive point in the investigation. Every single piece of evidence is critical."
Half a dozen Riverside County sheriff's investigators at the Lake Elsinore substation are working on the case, along with an expert from the state Department of Justice. The FBI also has provided forensic assistance, Reynolds said.
Investigators also have been in contact with investigators in San Diego and Orange counties, comparing information on similar unsolved homicides.
In addition, they have talked to detectives in search of the so-called Green River killer, who is suspected of murdering as many as 49 women in Washington state.
"I don't know if this brings us any closer," Reynolds said. "We're just taking every bit of evidence, hoping it will be the magic key to solving these crimes.
"It's getting stronger and stronger," he said. "We have to be confident that it will be solved and that this guy will be put away. But it's not something that we're talking about tomorrow or next week."
Investigators are compiling a "victimology" kit, which describes each victim. They also are keeping descriptions on women in the area with similar backgrounds who could be victims, Reynolds said.