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NYC Police Play Down Fears of Serial Killer in Bronx Deaths

October 28, 1990 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ When a 10-year-old Bronx girl was found asphyxiated, her body dumped near a highway, the slaying raised new fears that a serial killer was on the loose.

But even though one man has a link of some kind to her and five other people killed in similar circumstances since 1986, police say that he is not a suspect. In fact, they say, there is no serial killer at work.

″There’s only one word to describe this case: bizarre,″ said Inspector Donald E. Moss, who supervises 20 investigators trying to determine whether the links between the deaths are coincidence or follow a pattern.

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In the latest case, Jessica Guzman was found dead Oct. 17, a week after she disappeared a few blocks from her home. The child’s body was found about five miles away, in a wooded area near the Bronx River Parkway.

Her death prompted a review of dozens of unsolved killings of young Hispanics in the Bronx borough over the past five years.

Among them are the slayings of two teen-agers who were found in 1989, also asphyxiated, also dumped along a Bronx parkway; and three young Hispanic women whose bodies were found in wooded areas near Bronx highways over the last four years.

Each of the victims had a link to a 29-year-old Bronx livery cab driver. He faces trial on unrelated charges of scalding and assaulting a girlfriend’s 3- year-old son, but police say he is not a suspect in the six killings.

Jessica was seen playing in the man’s car hours before she vanished. Another of the victims, killed last year along with a 15-year-old boy, was the driver’s niece. One victim was said to have dated the driver once; another dated a relative of his, the Daily News reported. The sixth was a friend of one of the other victims.

The cab driver denies any involvement. Police said he has a strong alibi for the night Jessica disappeared and is not a suspect in any of the cases.

For that reason, they have asked that his name not be published.

″He’s the obvious link, but it may be nothing but a coincidence,″ said Moss. ″It’s not uncommon for people in the Bronx to know more than one homicide victim, unfortunately.″

Police reject assertions that one person is responsible for the slayings.

″There is no serial killer and there is no linkage between these cases,″ said Deputy Chief Michael Philbin, head of Bronx detectives. ″We don’t have a suspect at this time.

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″There are significant differences among the cases. Normally, when you’re dealing with a serial killer, it’s ritualistic.″

Some of the bodies were badly decomposed, making it difficult to pinpoint a cause of death, which in turn makes the cases hard to link, police said.

Before Jessica’s funeral last Monday, two days after she would have turned 11, 150 people staged a 15-block ″barefoot march″ protesting the killings. More than 2,000 attended her funeral.

″It’s like living the same thing all over again. There are too many coincidences,″ said Ana Rosa. She is the grandmother of Heriberto Marrero, 15, the only male among the six victims. His body was found with that of 13- year-old Nilda Cartagena - the driver’s niece - in June 1989. Both were asphyxiated.

Annette Rosario disappeared in June 1986, on the way home from her 17th birthday party. She was last seen telephoning for a livery cab. An autopsy found her skull had been shattered.

Lisa Rodriguez, 21, one of Ms. Rosario’s best friends, had one date with the cab driver before she disappeared last June 14, the Daily News reported. Her body was so decomposed the cause of death could not be determined.

Shamira Bello, 14, was found strangled in July 1988, her half-naked body dumped in a park not far from where Annette was found. The Daily News said Ms. Bello had been dating a nephew of the driver.

53EST