Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Shooting suspect fits the theory

Expert says he lives within 'wedge'

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The man suspected of 24 highway shootings lived amid a cluster of the targets - and he disliked the idea of moving away from there, a missing-persons report says.

That reaction fits a pattern common among serial criminals, an expert on such cases said.

About 61/2 hours before police identified Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, as their prime suspect on Monday night, McCoy's mother filed a Columbus police report. She said she had last seen her son around 4 p.m. Friday, when he left their Grove City home "upset over a possible move," the report says.

As of Tuesday, he remained at large. Police warn he has a history of mental problems and might be armed with a semiautomatic handgun. He is accused of firing into a house south of Columbus on Dec. 15; no charges have been filed in the other 23 shootings, one fatal.

If McCoy turns out to be the gunman who has struck in four counties since May - killing one car passenger and hitting two houses, a school and 20 other vehicles - his reluctance to leave the area makes sense, said Dr. Maurice Godwin, a North Carolina professor and scholar. Godwin has devised a computer program that helps pinpoint where serial criminals are most likely to live, based on patterns of their attacks.

"My research on 54 serial killers found a distinctive wedge-shaped pattern - and 80 percent lived within that wedge," Godwin said. While Godwin did not work on the Columbus case, he said the case fits his theory.

On a map, the Columbus-area shootings form a wedge, excluding the last documented shooting Feb. 14 in Licking County - and McCoy's home is located within that wedge. The idea of moving outside that familiar territory would be disturbing, Godwin said.

"If you had shot at that many people, and killed one - and were able to live in the middle of that with anonymity, how much confidence would that build up in you? A lot," he said.

At the apex of the wedge are the southernmost shootings, in Fayette County near the popular Jeffersonville outlet shops.

Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth on Tuesday said, "We have no indication he's been in the area," except for the vague descriptions from witnesses who spotted a gunman firing from two highway overpasses last month.

Since Monday, deputies had increased their patrols, he said.

Dorothy Bell, who lives near one of the Fayette County overpasses where witnesses caught a glimpse of the gunman, said, "If he's really the one who's been doing this, I hope they catch him - and if they do, I hope nobody else starts where he left off."

Although McCoy's mother told police her son had said he was going to GameWorks, a video-game and entertainment complex, "nobody recognized him from the photograph" that authorities circulated there and at all nearby businesses, said Clint Manny, a senior vice president for GameWorks.

Authorities have not said what evidence led to McCoy, but newspaper and television reports said relatives had given authorities at least one of his guns for testing - and that it was ballistically matched to some of the bullet fragments recovered from the shootings.

McCoy's parents could not be reached for comment Tuesday.


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