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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Does New Britain Suspect William Devin Howell Have Any Other Victims?

This blog post will be short and to the point. I will expand on it more in my upcoming book, Murders in Connecticut, which will discuss the New Britain Serial Murders, along with other recent murders in Connecticut, some of which remain unsolved.

In a televised interview with Chief Investigative Reporter for Channel 8 News, David Iverson, dated May 14, 2015, I mentioned the similarities between the recent findings of skeletal remains behind the shopping mall in New Britain, Connecticut, and the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus, whose remains were found alongside Route 8, Exit 41, in 2006. Jessica went missing from Waterbury on July 31, 2004. The question that Iverson posed to law enforcement on my behalf was: "Where was William Devin Howell on July 31, 2004?" More specifically, I wanted to know if Howell was incarcerated at that time. If so, he could be ruled out as a suspect in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus. However, if Howell was a free man living in Connecticut in late July 2004, then there is a chance that he may have killed Jessica Muskus and investigators definitely need to delve into the possibility.

This week, I obtained and reviewed voluminous court records, including affidavits that trace the whereabouts of Howell prior to the murder of Nilsa H. Arismendi, a heroin user and prostitute, in July 2003, up until the present time. Howell is currently incarcerated with a conviction of Manslaughter 1 for Arismendi's murder. He was detained for active violation of probation while living in North Carolina on January 30, 2004. He was extradited to Connecticut on February 19, 2004. He entered Cheshire Correctional Institute (CCI) on February 20, 2004.

Court records indicate that Howell had a fight over the phone with his then girlfriend, Dorothy Holcomb, on July 5, 2004. The fight had to do with activities that occurred in his blue van, where Arismendi's blood was discovered. There is no mention of Howell's whereabouts after the date of that prison phone call until May 16, 2005, at which time he was arrested for the murder of Arismendi and re-admitted the day following to CIC. He was thereafter transferred to several other facilities until accepting a plea for Manslaughter I on January 30, 2007.
Howell's van, courtesy of

Where was Howell on July 31, 2004, the day that Muskus went missing? Today I received the answer to my question, at least in part. According to documents just received via facsimile from CIC, Howell was discharged from CIC on July 22, 2004 and was a free man until his arrest in May 2005. In my mind, he is a viable suspect in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus and police need to look into the possibility.
The Channel 8 Interview can be found at the link below.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Prayer for Mildred Alvarado

A random cemetery in small-town New England. Mary's feet are frozen in the snow. Still, she does not flinch. She is framed by a blue-grey winter sky; her stone hands pressed together in urgent supplication for the souls of the buried bodies in her midst.  It's almost dusk. Whitened wisps of clouds descend upon the shadowy hills. In this silent setting of tombstones and crosses, Mary's billowing form towers above the rest.
Mildred Alvarado's feet were also frozen in the snow. When her lifeless body was discovered at the ravine in Harwinton on January 20, 1989, Mildred's shoes had been removed. The killer must have kept them as a souvenir to mark his morbid fait accompli.

Mildred also wore no coat. Winters in Northwest Connecticut can be brutal, in terms of the cold. A tee-shirt and denim vest are hardly sufficient. Did the killer keep Mildred's coat, as well as her shoes? It's likely that Mildred was killed in an indoor location, or in the killer's vehicle, after taking off her coat.

How the Alvarado family wants Mildred remembered. 

The first thing you notice about Mildred Alvarado in her mug shot is her enormous glasses. It was the late eighties, after all, and spectacles on steroids were all the rage. But even by those outdated standards, Mildred's glasses were extraordinarily large. A single mother of four children, Mildred could pass for a teenager in this photo. Her wavy dark hair is messy; her bangs need trimming. Unlike Karen Everett, Mildred Alvarado's eyes are lifeless and without hope. At age 30, Alvarado had no doubt seen more, and suffered more, on the streets of Waterbury, Connecticut.

At the time of her death, Alvarado's life was in shambles. First off, she had bad taste in men. The two fathers of her children had long arrest records for drugs and neither one lived with Alvarado and the children. To make matters worse, Mildred had a serious addiction to heroin and supported the habit by selling her body. With her earnings going directly into her veins, Mildred had no money to pay her rent or support her children. Her neighbors at 45 Long Hill Road in Waterbury complained about the heavy traffic going in and out of Mildred's apartment. Fed up, Mildred's landlord, Geri Havard, evicted her and the children from the premises.

Now homeless, Mildred was forced to leave her two younger children, ages one and three, in the care of her grandmother. She hoped to get her life together. She had been a nurse's aid before turning to the needle. Maybe she could get clean and pursue that path again? Like most heroin addicts, Mildred desperately wanted to be free of her nightmarish addiction.

Unfortunately, the odds of successful remission and a productive future are not on the side of the typical heroin addict. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry finds that heroin addicts have only a 50 percent survival rate. The most common causes of death are drug overdose (21.6 percent), followed by homicide, suicide and accidents (19 percent), liver disease (15.2 percent) and cardiovascular disease and cancer (both at 11.7 percent). In Mildred's case, the tremendous stress of being a lower income, single mother of four children would also make her highly susceptible to relapse.

Though Havard had recently evicted Mildred, he described her with compassion following her death. "You could see when she'd sit outside with her boys, she really wanted to be with her kids" he told a reporter for the Republican American in November 2008. "She was the type of person your heart would go out to."

In the end, Mildred Alvarado, ravaged by heroin, was a loving mother who had been dealt a rotten hand in life.

Fly to Mary now, Mildred, as if in a dream.
Fall upon her snow covered feet and give to her the horror of your final moments on this earth.
In a mad frenzy, you convulsed and choked for air and all you could think about was your children, your poor children... You would never see them again.
Give to her your rage. Her serenity is your strength.
Now climb upon that pedestal, your bare feet touching upon hers, and rest yourself within that frozen, holy fire. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Is Suspected Serial Killer William Devin Howell Linked to the Unsolved Route 8 Murders?

On Monday, law enforcement officials announced the discovery of four dismembered bodies behind a strip mall located at 593 Hartford Road in New Britain, Connecticut. FBI cadaver dogs sniffed out the various spots behind a Subway franchise, a hair salon, and a liquor store last month. Excavators then arrived to dig up the remains.

It wasn't the first time that skeletal remains were found in those fifteen acres of wooded land, which is swampy and inaccessible by cars. In August 2007, a man looking for a place to hunt contacted the police to report finding a human skull. Exhaustive searches ensued, and at least fifty bones were retrieved. In the years that followed, the victims were identified as Diane Cusack, 53, of New Britain, Joyvaline Martinez, 23, of East Hartford, and Mary Jane Menard, 40, of New Britain.  
Victims: Cusak, Martinez, Menard

Also on Monday, law enforcement agents revealed the identity of one of the four bodies found this April. Twenty nine year old Melanie Ruth Camilini was last seen with two men in Waterbury on January 1, 2003. Monday would have been her forty second birthday. She leaves behind two children.
Melanie Ruth Camilini

At Monday's news conference, Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane said that law enforcement was "confident" that they had found the suspect responsible for all seven of the murders. He reassured reporters that the suspect was not presently a threat to the community, meaning the suspect was either dead, or incarcerated.

On Tuesday, the suspect was identified as William Devin Howell, a 45 year old currently serving an 15 year sentence for the murder of Nilsa Arismendi, a Wethersfield woman, back in 2003.
William Devin Howell
Arismendi was last seen entering Howell's blue van at the Stop and Shop parking lot in Wethersfield. Police found Arismendi's blood, and the blood of another unidentified woman, in Howell's van. Arismendi's body was not found for several years. Howell subsequently accepted a plea deal under the Alford doctrine, which permits a defendant to maintain innocence while conceding that the state has enough evidence to successfully pursue a conviction. Arismendi's body was very recently identified as one of the four additional bodies found behind the shopping mall in April 2015. This certainly goes far in helping investigators to conclude that Howell is the likely suspect in the deaths of the other victims.
Howell is in prison for the murder of Nilsa Arismendi, above.

Additionally, another body was recently identified as that of Danny Lee Whistnant, a forty four year old cross-dressing prostitute from New Britain. To date, six of the seven bodies have been identified. The unidentified DNA in the blood of Howell's van discovered alongside the blood of Arismendi may lead investigators to identifying the final unidentified body.
Danny Lee Whistnant of New Britain

The unfolding story of four additional bodies being found in New Britain has made national news in recent days. Consequently, many readers of The Route 8 blog and local media outlets have contacted me with one pertinent question: Is William Devin Howell, the suspect in the New Britain murders, also the Route 8 killer?

My answer: perhaps- especially with respect to the unsolved murder of 22 year old Jessica Muskus, who went missing from Waterbury in July 2004. Where was Howell at that time? His van carrying the blood of Arismendi had been seized by police in April 2004, but was Howell a free man when Muskus went missing? Muskus's skeletal remains were discovered along Route 8, exit 41, in November 2006.

There are distinct similarities in the unsolved murder of Jessica Muskus, and the murder of the most recently identified victim in New Britain, Melanie Ruth Camilini. Both women were drug addicts. When Arismendi went into Howell's van, she intended to get drugs. Both women lived in Waterbury during the same time period, relatively speaking, and were last seen alive in Waterbury. Their bodies were likely dismembered in one location, probably in a vehicle or the killer's home, and then disposed of in a remote, wooded local. The killer was cunning enough to place the bodies in areas that allowed years of decomposition to take place before discovery, thus making any kind of successful forensic analysis nearly impossible. Additionally, both women had long hair. In fact, all of the Route 8 victims and the victims from New Britain had long hair. According to retired state detective Dave Carey, little things like the hair length of the victims can actually mean a lot. It makes up the killer's "signature."
Jessica Muskus

The location along Route 8 where the body of Jessica Muskus was discovered was only a short distance from the site in Campville where the bodies of other Route 8 victims were found in the late eighties. Muskus's skull was found at the foot of a steep embankment, detached from her other remains in a manner similar to that of the remains found in New Britain.

Whether Howell could be considered as a suspect in the earlier unsolved Route 8 murders of Everett, Alvarado, and Ubiera, is yet unknown. Those crimes took place between 1988-1993, when Howell would have been in his late teens and early twenties. He was certainly old enough to have committed the crimes, but was he still living in Virginia, his state of origin? When did Howell come to Connecticut to do odd jobs and cut grass for homes and businesses in the greater Hartford area? It's likely that the facts do not point to Howell's involvement in the earliest Route 8 murders. My upcoming book, Murder in Connecticut, will further discuss another suspect who was investigated at length in the deaths of Everett and Alvarado but never charged.

Connecticut is a geographically small state. Drive ninety minutes or less in any direction and you are over the border, or into the ocean. In the short space of nine years, from 1985 to 1994, there were nineteen unsolved killings of female prostitutes and drug addicts within the state’s modest limits. For this reason, a task force was created in 1992 to determine whether there were one or more serial killers at work.

In October 2014, a new task force was created, highlighting 52 unsolved homicides, missing persons, and unidentified remains cases that have occurred throughout the state. With respect to the New Britain strip mall murders, Connecticut offered $150,000, the largest award in the state's history, for information leading to the arrest of the UNSUB (police jargon for unidentified suspect).

In the book “Mind Hunter”, FBI Special Agent John Douglas writes that the solution rate to homicide in America was over 90% as recently as 1960. Since then, despite great advances in forensics and technology (including big-brother style surveillance in even the most "private" of places), and increased police power, the murder rate has been going up and the solution rate has been going down. Strangers are murdering strangers at a steadily increasing rate, and such crimes are extremely difficult to solve. 

So how did police determine that Howell was the culprit? Given that the remains of the New Britain victims were skeletal and exposed to the forces of nature for many years, it is likely that Howell either confessed, or a fellow inmate at the Garner Correctional Institution ratted him out. Serial killers are known to boast about their misdeeds, after all. Alternatively, a friend or acquaintance may have contacted law enforcement and snagged the vast award. Apart from a confession or inside information being provided, I can't see how the skeletal remains found would turn over any DNA evidence, nor that such findings would give officials the confidence displayed in a recent press conference.

To date, Michael Ross, "The Roadside Strangler", is the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut's history (not counting the myth of the Winsted Wildman.)
Sketch of The Winsted Wildman 
Howell rivals Ross as most prolific killer in CT

Michael Bruce Ross

Ross confessed to killing eight women between 1981-1984 and he was put to death in 2005. If William Howell is in fact the killer of all seven individuals found behind the strip mall in New Britain, then will assume the title of Connecticut's Most Copious LIVING Killer. If Howell is responsible for the murder of Jessica Muskus in 2004, or any of the Route 8 victims, he ties Ross with respect to the number of his alleged victims.

I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of all of the victims of these heinous crimes. Many of the murdered women found along Route 8 and in New Britain had problems with substance abuse, and some were involved in prostitution. They were basically victims twice over; first, of a drug epidemic that is sweeping through our nation and leaving only death and destruction in its wake, and then, of the monstrous minds who hunt out the vulnerable and discard their human remains like rubbish. But let us never forget, these women were mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. As a community, we mourn their deaths...