PHOENIX (AP) - Officials with various Phoenix area police departments say they have evidence linking a 35-year-old man already charged with killing his mother and stepfather to seven additional homicides that occurred in a three-week span in late 2017.
Cleophus Cooksey knew some of the victims, but officials with police in Phoenix, Glendale, and Avondale say investigators are still trying to determine motives for at least some of the killings.
Cooksey was arrested Dec. 17 for the shooting deaths of his mother and stepfather and he’s jailed on two counts of first-degree murder and one of being a felon in possession of a weapon. He was rebooked into jail Thursday in the seven additional homicide cases, said Sgt. Jonathan Howard, Phoenix Police Department spokesman.
Cooksey is being held, in isolation, on a $5 million dollar cash bond. A number of details were withheld by police who cited the ongoing investigation.Cooksey previously served time in prison for manslaughter and armed robbery.
Officials said investigators were able to use evidence from shell casings to connect at least some of the killings.
Howard said a combination of physical and forensic evidence and witness statements enabled investigators to link Cooksey to all the killings.
“I’m just proud as heck that he’s off the street,” said Glendale police Chief Rick St. John.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said new technology allows police to get results of ballistic checks within hours instead of weeks and to more easily find connections between cases.
“It means crimes get solved more quickly,” Stanton said.
The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives provided support for the local agencies’ investigation, officials said.
Police officials say Andrew Remillard and Parker Smith were Cooksey's first victims. Both were found, shot dead, in a parking lot near 15th Street and Indian School Road, just days after Thanksgiving.
About a week later, the second victim, Salim Richards, was found dead. Police say Richards' gun was stolen, and it was that gun that linked Cooksey to several other killings, over the next few weeks.
Some victims may have been targeted, but others appeared to be random.
"We expect there are people within our community that have additional information that will be able to help us piece this together, relationships and motives," said Sgt. Howard.
The victims are mostly men, but include two women: Cooksey's mother and Maria Villanueva. Villanueva was kidnapped from an apartment complex in Glendale, and her body was found the next day, near 3rd Street and Buckeye. According to police, there were signs of a sexual assault.
Cooksey was arrested on December 17, after police were called to a home near 13th Street and Highland, where the bodies of his mother and stepfather were found.
"At the end of the day, what this came down to is a patrol officer answering a call and doing the right things," said Glendale Police Chief Rick St. John.
People living near where Cooksey live say they didn't get a good feeling about Cooksey, and are grateful he's been arrested.
"I'm just so thankful that God was with my daughter on that night, because she could have been dead," said Barbara Mays, who lived next door to Cooksey.
According to court documents, Cooksey lived with his ex-girlfriend, Liliana Vasquez, her sister, and her brother, who police say was Jesus Real.
Mays never really spoke to Cooksey, but recalls a time he walked into her house, while her daughter was home alone cooking. She says he ended up leaving, shortly after barging in.
"It makes me feel kind of eerie, because my husband really adamant about keeping the doors locked," said Mays.
Neighbors said they sometimes heard noise from the house, but didn't know the residents very well.
"They kind of kept to themselves," said one man.
Police recently arrested three women, in connection to Real's murder. They are Cooksey's ex-girlfriend, Liliana Vasquez, her sister, Griselda, and Desaree Coronado, the girlfriend of the victim. Court documents show they removed the victim's cell phone from the scene, denied having the phone, when asked about it. They face charges ranging from of hindering prosecution, tampering with evidence, and making false reports to law enforcement.