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Did Phoenix Have Yet Another Serial Killer in 2017?

Cleophus E. Cooksey Jr. is accused of nine murders.
Cleophus E. Cooksey Jr. is accused of nine murders.
Phoenix Police Department
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Exactly 254 days have passed since Phoenix officials declared they had charged the one of the most prolific serial killers in Arizona history, who they suspected of killing nine people.

Thursday, they did it again.

Phoenix police arrested 35-year-old Cleophus E. Cooksey Jr. on December 17, when he came to the door with blood on his hands. Police had responded to a shooting.

In that case, his mother and stepfather lay dead inside the central Phoenix home.

On Thursday, police said Cooksey killed seven other people in the three weeks leading up to the double slaying, bringing his total to nine.

The announcement came just two hours after lawyers were in court for the case involving Aaron Saucedo, the man police call the Serial Street Shooter. Saucedo is also accusing of slaying nine people, seemingly at random, in 2015 and 2016, earning him the nickname the Maryvale Shooter.

Saucedo is scheduled to go to trial in November 2019.

If proven, Saucedo and Cooksey would become as deadly as convicted Baseline Killer Marc Goudeau.

But Cooksey, a man with a violent past and a long career in prison and jail, could yet become Arizona’s deadliest killer.

“It’s a distinct possibility and a concern of our investigators,” Phoenix Police Sergeant and spokesman Jon Howard told reporters at Thursday’s announcement.

Unlike Saucedo and Goodeau, police believe Cooksey knew most of the people they now say he killed. And all of the alleged murders happened within a month.

Cooksey was released from prison on July 28, after serving 16 years on manslaughter and armed robbery convictions.

Exactly four months later, on November 27 at around 10:45 p.m., Phoenix police found two men dead in a car near 16th Street and Indian School Road. The men were friends: 27-year-old Andrew Remillard and 21-year-old Parker Smith.

On December 2, Phoenix police found a dead man near 44th Avenue and Indian School Road at around 7:45 p.m.. Salim Richards had been walking when he was shot. Police say Cooksey stole Richards’ gun during the attack.

On December 11, Avondale police responded at around 3:30 p.m. to shots at an apartment complex in the 500 block of East Harrison Drive. There, they found 25-year-old Jesus Real dead.

Just two days later, on December 13, Glendale police responded at 6:53 p.m. to shots near 55th Avenue and Camelback Road. Dead in a parking lot was 29-year-old Latorrie Beckford.

Another two nights, another shooting victim. This time, on December 15 at 7:22 p.m., Glendale officers found 21-year-old Kristopher Cameron in a field near 58th Avenue and Camelback Road. He died shortly after.

The next morning, December 16, Phoenix cops found the body of 43-year-old Maria Villanueva in a south Phoenix alleyway. Police think Cooksey picked her up in his vehicle near 58th Avenue and Camelback Road the night before. She was found near the 1700 block of South Third Avenue, partially dressed and with signs she had been sexually assaulted.

The next day, December 17, police responded to shots fired in the 1300 block of East Highland Avenue. That’s where Renee Cooksey, the suspect’s 56-year-old mother, and her husband, Edward Nunn, lay dead.

Cleophus Cooksey answered the door, and, police said, acted as if he had something to hide. He attributed the blood on his hands to cuts, which he showed the officer.

The officer, skeptical, arrested him.

He was booked in the Fourth Avenue Jail on the two counts of first-degree murder. Since then, Howard said Thursday, police have referred to prosecutors seven more recommended charges of murder, plus sexual assault, theft of a firearm, and probation violations.

Police said Thursday that they built their case on ballistics from each of the crime scenes, forensic evidence, witness statements, and cellphone records.

They asked the public to come forward with information, as they still have not pieced together all the relationships between Cooksey and the victims, nor have they established a motive for the deadly rampage, they said.

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