For three days after the first slaying in the Clairemont-University City serial killings, construction worker Christopher Jon Burns languished in a cell in County Jail, accused of murdering his fiancee.
And for months afterward, Burns remained a suspect in the minds of investigators, even though the district attorney failed to issue a homicide complaint, citing insufficient evidence.
Burns was let go despite lingering doubts about his relationship with Tiffany Paige Schultz, whose work as a nude dancer was a source of conflict with Burns.
Burns showed up in court Wednesday, this time on the side of prosecutors as he testified in the preliminary hearing of Cleophus Prince Jr., the 24-year-old Alabaman accused of stabbing to death six women--including Schultz--between January and September of 1990.
He said that, on the morning of Jan. 12, the day Schultz was killed, he went to work in the morning and returned home in the late afternoon to the apartment he shared with Schultz and a male friend.
Schultz was not home, and Burns said he thought nothing strange about finding the roommate’s door closed. Several hours later, about 8:45 p.m., Burns said, his roommate came home and opened the door to his bedroom.
There, Burns said, he, his roommate and one other friend found the body of Tiffany Schultz, stabbed more than 50 times in what investigators say was by far the most brutal of the six slayings.
Wearing a Western shirt and an earring in his left earlobe, Burns lost his composure in describing the grim discovery. His voice cracked, and soon, he was crying. Tears then gave way to sobs, as Burns recounted seeing Schultz’s limp body and the walls splattered with blood.
As Burns cried, so, too, did Ramona Schultz, the victim’s mother, who had come to the hearing from her home in Northern California.
“I kneeled down next to her and touched her hand,” Burns said. “Her hand was cold. Her whole body was stiff. We were all pretty hysterical at that point. I said, ‘What do we do?’ And my roommate said, ‘We need to call the paramedics.’ So I went in and called 911.”
The call led to Burns being taken to police headquarters, where he was grilled for hours and finally jailed.
He was released three days later but not eliminated as a suspect until April, 1990, after 18-year-old Holly Suzanne Tarr was stabbed to death in her brother’s Clairemont apartment, in the same neighborhood where Schultz and 21-year-old Janene Marie Weinhold were killed in much the same manner.
Witnesses described seeing a knife-wielding black male running from Tarr’s brother’s apartment.
Prince sat impassively through Wednesday’s hearing, wearing a polka-dot shirt and doodling on a piece of paper.
He rarely looked up, even when his mother, Dorothy Prince, testified later in the day.
Defense attorney Barton C. Sheela III repeatedly hammered away at Burns’ story, implying that Burns wanted someone other than himself blamed for Schultz’s death.
Sheela asked Burns whether the couple had ever argued over pornographic magazines and drugs, and whether during one confrontation he had tied up Schultz with rope so roughly that she was left with bruises. He also asked Burns if he had waved a knife at Schultz in the midst of a disagreement over her job at Les Girls, a Midway District club.
Burns denied having anything to do with drugs, knives or the rope, but conceded that Schultz’s discovery of a pornographic video and magazine that belonged to him precipitated two separate spats.
At one point, Sheela said, “Wouldn’t it be nice for you if someone else were blamed for (Schultz’s) murder?”
Burns said he and Schultz often argued about her moonlighting at Les Girls. Burns said Schultz, a 20-year-old English major at San Diego State University, was sometimes followed home after dancing at the club.
The couple and their roommate lived in the Canyon Ridge complex on Cowley Way in Clairemont, next to Buena Vista Gardens, the sprawling apartment complex where the second and third slayings took place. Canyon Ridge is owned by the same company, and the two complexes share a swimming pool.
Five weeks after Schultz’s death, on Feb. 16, 1990, 21-year-old UC San Diego student Janene Weinhold was found stabbed to death in her Buena Vista Gardens unit on Clairemont Drive, two blocks from where Schultz had lived. Prince lived on the same street as Weinhold.
On April 3, 1990, Holly Tarr, an aspiring actress from Okemos, Mich., was stabbed to death while visiting her brother during spring break.
Prince is also accused of stabbing to death Elissa Naomi Keller in her East San Diego apartment--a block away from where he lived at the time--in May of 1990, and then stabbing to death Pamela Gail Clark, 42, and her 18-year-old daughter, Amber, in University City.