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* News: DNA links murder of Kristin to murder of California woman
Posted Aug 31, 2002
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Police say Arkansas case similar to California
By BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press Writer
Published 3:50 p.m. PDT Tuesday, August 27, 2002
MORRILTON, Ark. (AP)- From the Sacramento Bee

Police said Tuesday that forensic evidence linked the killing of a New Jersey woman at an Arkansas rest area in 2000 to the brutal slaying of a California woman four months later.

Kristin Laurite, 25, of Scotch Plains, N.J., was stabbed to death at an Interstate 40 rest stop on Aug. 25, 2000. DNA has now linked the case to the death of Jackie Travis, 49, of Merced, Calif., in December 2000.

"These two homicides were committed by the same person," said Carl Byrd, a special agent with the Arkansas State Police, at a news conference held near where Laurite's body was found.

Like Morrilton, Merced is on a major four-lane highway.

Conway County Sheriff Mark Flowers said there also are similarities between Laurite's death and an unsolved 1994 murder in Morrilton.

In that case, the unidentified body of a female was found near railroad tracks about three miles from the scene of the Laurite killing. No DNA evidence was available because the body was badly decomposed, Flowers said. That victim was also stabbed to death, he said.

"I don't believe this is the first time this person has killed, and I don't believe it will be the last," Flowers said.

He said the suspect is likely a transient who may be hitchhiking or riding trains across the country.

"The one thing that I think all three of these victims had in common was the vulnerability," Flowers said.

Travis previously lived in the Newport area, but authorities weren't sure whether her Arkansas connections had anything to do with the case.

Laurite was passing through Arkansas during a solo cross-country trip on her way to a job as a school teacher in California when she was killed.

California authorities linked DNA gathered at the Travis crime scene to the Laurite case.

Kermit Channell, forensic biology supervisor for the Arkansas State Crime Lab, said the DNA from Laurite's killing was submitted to a national database within a month of the crime. He said authorities also asked local and regional crime labs around the country to check their databases.

Detective Curt Gorman of the Merced Police Department said the DNA collected from the Travis killing was not complete enough to be submitted into the national database.

Gorman said the forensic match was made after the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department crime lab compared its genetic samples not in the national database with the DNA sample collected at the Laurite crime scene.

He said Travis was killed in her government-subsidized apartment in a crime- and drug-ridden part of Merced.

Gorman would not release details of the crime scene but said Travis was not stabbed to death.

He said it seems the killer may have known Travis.

"Somebody just passing through wouldn't make it to that neighborhood. It's off the beaten path," Gorman said. "And it never seemed random to me."

He said there was no evidence of forced entry into Travis' home. Police are also interviewing other Merced residents with Arkansas connections.

"My gut feeling is that this is possibly a past acquaintance of hers," Gorman said, adding that he hasn't ruled out that the killer may be from Arkansas.

He said he couldn't label the suspect a serial killer yet. He said the federal government defines a serial killer as someone who has killed at least three times.

"If this person hasn't killed since then, he's sure going to," Gorman said.

Gorman said several unsolved murders in the Merced area in the early 1990s may also be connected to the Laurite and Travis killings. He said DNA samples from those cases would be tested and compared to recent findings.

Laurite was sexually assaulted and stabbed 11 times with a small blade after stopping at the rest stop in her 1971 Volkswagen. Her body was found on a pond bank just north of the westbound rest area.

Laurite's family bought space on two billboards last year near the crime scene, asking travelers what they might have seen. Next to a giant photo of Laurite are the words, "Do You Know Who Murdered Me?"

Related links
· More about The Investigation
· News by Kristin Laurite's Fa

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