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DNA links Florida prison escapee to four California killings

A man who escaped a Florida prison in 1977 only to be recaptured three decades later in the Inland Empire is now suspected of killing at least four women in Southern California during his years on the run.

Larry D. Hubbard was arrested by Ontario police on an outstanding Florida escape warrant in May 2007, and died following an attempted suicide after he was returned to Florida.

But Los Angeles cold case homicide detectives say they have now linked Hubbard through DNA testing and other evidence to the slayings of four women, each found strangled and abandoned in open fields.

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“It is a very interesting case that spans decades ... it is a pity that he died before we could finally catch up with him,” said LAPD Robbery Homicide Capt. Billy Hayes.

Hubbard’s first alleged victim, Sonia Smith, a 25-year-old sometime prostitute, was found dumped near an industrial wasteland in South Los Angeles on Aug. 19, 1980. She was naked and her feet and wrists were bound. Police believe his second alleged victim was Phyllis McClinton, whose body was found Nov. 4, 1980. Both were strangled.

Two decades later, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department investigators found 45-year-old Vanessa Williams’ naked body in a Pomona field. Two months later, the body of Christine Fields, 27, was also found in a field. Both women had been strangled.

In July 2007, the state’s DNA database produced the first solid evidence that three of the women were killed by the same person. But it provided only a DNA connection and no name.

As LAPD cold case detectives in 2010 began to crank through the potentially solvable cases, they reviewed Smith’s murder book and found information linking her death to McClinton’s killing that same year.

Detectives back then had developed a potential suspect in the McClinton killing, after a prostitute in November 1980 accused a man of trying to choke her and then bind her in a way similar to the way McClinton had been found. But this woman managed to escape, and she identified Larry Hubbard as the attacker. He was arrested and charged with false imprisonment. He got six months in prison.

Hayes said it was a time before vast computer databases, so Hubbard was not identified as being a fugitive from Florida.

Eventually, Hubbard, 54, was arrested at his San Bernardino workplace and extradited back to Florida. Within days, Hubbard attempted to hang himself, and he died of complications several months later.

LAPD Det. Luis Rivera last September requested a sample of Hubbard’s blood from the Florida coroner. A few weeks ago, detectives said they finally had the last piece of the puzzle: a DNA match.

richard.winton@latimes.com


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