WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Florida man charged with the killing of a woman whose strangled body was dumped along a road three years ago is now a suspect in the shooting deaths of three other women in the state in the mid-2000s, authorities said Monday.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies arrested Robert Hayes on Sunday for first-degree murder in the death of Rachel Bey, whose body was found by a passer-by along a road three years ago. A judge denied him bail during a brief hearing Monday.
Court records show Bey, 32, was a prostitute and her jaw and several teeth had been broken by her killer. While Hayes, 37, has not been charged in Daytona Beach, police there said at a news conference Monday that he is a suspect in the killings of three women in 2005 and 2006.
“We believe we took a serial killer off the streets. We’re going to be looking for additional victims,” Palm Beach sheriff’s Capt. Michael Wallace said. He said investigators will focus on the span between the Daytona Beach killings in 2005 and 2006 and Bey’s death a decade later.
“If we hadn’t put this individual in jail, he would’ve done this again and we would have had another victim,” Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said.
Bey’s two brothers attended the Palm Beach news conference but declined to comment. The Palm Beach County public defender’s office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Bey had a long record for prostitution and was last seen by a friend walking along a highway at about 2 a.m. March 7, 2016, court records show. Her nude body was found by a road crew six hours later. Investigators said in court documents she had been killed elsewhere and dumped. Detectives said Hayes’ victims were chosen at random and investigators used a relative’s DNA found on a popular online database to track him down. They said a cigarette butt collected surreptitiously last week after Hayes caught a bus and testing after his arrest show 700-billion-to-1 odds that the killer is someone other than Hayes, 100 times the world’s population.
Hayes lived in an apartment complex on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach. Neighbor Craig Brown said Hayes worked as a chef and lived with a woman and their daughter, who was about 2-years-old. He said he didn’t know if Hayes and the woman were married. Brown said Hayes seemed like a normal, friendly person, and he was stunned by the news that he is a suspected serial killer.
“He was always friendly with me but until today I didn’t know his name,” Brown said.
The Palm Beach County public defender’s office declined comment. A man who answered the phone at a number listed for Hayes’ grandmother did not identify himself, but he said, “We have nothing to say.”
At the time of the Daytona Beach killings, Hayes was a student at the city’s Bethune-Cookman University. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in criminal justice, according to statement from the school.
It was only through advances in DNA technology that detectives were able to link Hayes to the Daytona Beach murders, Police Chief Craig Capri said.
DNA from two of the Daytona Beach cases matched DNA from the South Florida case, and ballistic evidence from the South Florida killing matched that from the third Daytona Beach case, authorities said. Detectives said all three Daytona Beach victims were shot in the head with a pistol and were found naked, face-down on the ground.
“All of these cases are linked by forensic evidence,” said State Attorney R.J. Larizza in Daytona Beach. “It’s no longer working the streets anymore. It’s working the technology, the DNA … It’s a brave new world.”
Daytona Beach detectives said they are looking for links between Hayes and a fourth murder victim in Daytona Beach, although they currently have no physical evidence connecting him to the crime.
The Daytona Beach killings caused such panic in 2006 that several prostitutes joined together to help with the investigation, memorizing vehicle descriptions and license plates, talking regularly with investigators and keeping a wary eye out for suspicious activity. For about a week, volunteers from a local ministry — including several homeless residents — distributed flyers and hygiene kits to those living and working on the street, urging people not to walk alone at night – a difficult task for prostitutes.
The first Daytona Beach body was discovered the day after Christmas 2005 when Laquetta Gunther, 45, was found in a gap between an auto parts store and a mostly empty utility building. Julie Green, 34, was found Jan. 14, 2006, on a dirt road at a construction site. The body of 35-year-old Iwana Patton was found Feb. 24 on a dirt road.
Police believe the victims willingly got into a car with the killer. Gunther had a police record for prostitution, but Green and Patton did not. Green had a record for drug possession. Patton had several arrests for battery.
Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Schneider reported from Orlando, Florida.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly gave Hayes’ age as 32, instead of 37. The Daytona killings were in 2005 and 2006, not 2015 and 2016 in one reference.