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Woman Describes Finding Mother’s Body : Hearing: Ring from victim has been linked to accused serial killer Cleophus Prince Jr.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Michele Mosquiera knew something was wrong the moment she put her key in the front door of her apartment. The dead bolt was not locked.

She had been away a week, staying with friends, and, shortly after she opened the door, Mosquiera saw that none of the lights were on, contrary to her mother’s habit of leaving at least the kitchen light illuminated.

But at 11:30 at night in May, 1990, a Sunday, her mother, 38-year-old Elissa Naomi Keller, was nowhere to be seen. The smell in the apartment was overpowering.

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Mosquiera, then 17, proceeded to her room with her belongings. Although she had not turned on a light, the glare from outside the apartment building allowed her to see large dark spots on her bed. The blanket, always on top of her bed, was covering something on the floor.

“The blanket was covering my mom,” Mosquiera testified in court Tuesday in the sixth day of the preliminary hearing for accused serial killer Cleophus Prince Jr.

“It covered her except for her face and feet and she looked like she had been cut across the eyes,” Mosquiera said. “It scared me, and I screamed and ran into the living room.”

Police later recovered a gold nugget ring from Prince that they say belonged to Keller, who lived with her daughter on Trojan Avenue in East San Diego, just a block away from the Top of the Hill apartments were Prince lived. Prince had moved into the apartment 15 days before Keller was murdered.

The nugget ring had been a gift to Mosquiera from a former boyfriend. She said it scratched her finger, so she quit wearing and it and gave it to her mother, who never took it off.

An acquaintance of Prince who lived in the Top of the Hill apartments testified Monday during his preliminary hearing that Prince bragged, “I took her out,” when a group of men were discussing the killing.

Prince is charged with the murders of six women, all of whom were stabbed in the University City, Clairemont and East San Diego areas close to where Prince or his girlfriend lived. Prosecutors say that stabbings to the chest and blood drippings from the knife form a pattern common to each of the murders.

He is also charged with 26 other counts, among them burglary and attempted burglary.

Mosquiera, who came to court Tuesday with her grandparents, broke down briefly on the stand when describing how she found her mother on May 21, 1990. She reached for tissues and dabbed her eyes but quickly recovered her composure.

Defense attorneys offered no cross-examination.

After the murder, six rings and several necklaces and bracelets belonging to Keller were missing, Mosquiera told police. An imprint of a Nike Air Jordan athletic shoe was discovered atop Keller’s stereo speaker. Police recovered such a shoe from Prince.

Outside the courtroom, Mosquiera said she was “sort of relieved” when police showed her the nugget ring last year because it proved that they were closer to solving the murder.

“I want whoever killed my mother to be tried, and I want them to go to jail,” she said.

After staring directly at Prince, and he at her, Mosquiera still had a hard time believing he could have slain her mother. Originally, Mosquiera believed a former boyfriend of her mother’s might have killed her.

“He (Prince) didn’t look like somebody who would do something like that to me,” said Mosquiera, who had been attending the Sawyer College of Business until her mother’s death.

Barbara Haluskey, Elissa Keller’s mother, said she still is skeptical that Prince is the killer.

“I wish they would find the right person,” she said. “I don’t know that they have enough proof as far as my daughter is concerned.”


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