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Serial killer behind 9 slayings in Phoenix area, police say

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Arriving on the scene of a double slaying last month, Phoenix police took a man — the son of one of the victims — into custody, not knowing they were handcuffing a suspected serial killer.

Officers felt Cleophus Cooksey was acting strangely, perhaps trying to conceal something. They arrested him in the December 17 deaths of his mother, Rene Cooksey, and his stepfather, Edward Nunn, but that was just the beginning of a multi-jurisdiction investigation,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.

Cooksey would soon be linked to seven more killings in the Phoenix metro area over three weeks.

“Phoenix police officers arrested Cooksey and he’s been in jail since, but our detectives didn’t stop there. They kept digging because that’s what good police officers do,” Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said.

Using technology for forensics analysis, investigators linked Cooksey to a total of nine killings in Phoenix, Glendale and Avondale, the chief said.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said a decision on what charges Cooksey will face should come in the next few weeks, said spokeswoman Amanda Jacinto.

On December 28, Cooksey was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder and a count of possession of a weapon by a prohibited person, according to online court records. Those charges are related to the December 17 killings.

The killing spree began November 27 when police found two men — identified as Andrew Remillard and Parker Smith — in Phoenix, police said. Evidence at the scene pointed to Cooksey, Williams said.

On December 2, Cooksey allegedly killed security guard Salim Richards in Phoenix, the chief said. Richards was walking in Phoenix at the time he was killed, and the investigation suggests Richards knew Cooksey and that Richards’ handgun was stolen, police said.

In nearby Avondale, a man identified as Jesus Real was shot nine days later at an apartment complex, Williams said. Evidence in that investigation suggests Real’s sister had a relationship with Cooksey, police said

On the evening of December 13, LaTorrie Beckford, 29, was fatally shot at an apartment complex in Glendale, police said. Evidence indicated Beckford had contact with Cooksey that day, they said.

Two days later, Cooksey allegedly killed 21-year-old Kristopher Cameron in Glendale, and evidence suggests Cameron met Cooksey to conduct a drug transaction, police said.

Less than two hours after Beckford’s killing, Cooksey is suspected of kidnapping Maria Villanueva, whose sexually abused body was found in an alley in Phoenix on December 16.

“She, too, was shot to death and evidence from that scene points to Cooksey,” Williams said.