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A timeline showing the string of killings Arizona authorities say were all committed by the same man—Cleophus Cooksey. Police say ballistics evidence and detective work linked Cooksey to all nine homicides. (Image: Courtesy of the Phoenix Police Department)

The diligence of a patrolman responding to a reported shooting, and the quick linkages of ballistics in a string of homicides, now have a serial killer behind bars awaiting trial, according to authorities in Arizona.

Cleophus Cooksey answered the door at 1320 East Highland Avenue in Phoenix with blood on parts of his clothes and person. He was promptly arrested for the shooting deaths of his mother and his stepfather, authorities said at a press conference Thursday.

But it was forensic firearms analysis and further detective work that identified Cooksey as a serial killer who had been counting up victims in cases that went unlinked for several weeks, they said.

“Our detectives didn’t stop there,” said Chief Jeri Williams of the Phoenix Police Department. “They kept digging—because that’s what good officers do. They kept working with our partner agencies, and they found more victims.”

The crimes, motives and modus operandi are still being pieced together, according to the agencies, which included the Phoenix, Glendale, and Avondale police departments, as well as the FBI and ATF.

Mugshot of Cleophus Cooksey. (Photo: Courtesy of the Phoenix Police Department)

In one case, Cooksey allegedly slayed the boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend. In another, he allegedly kidnapped a woman, sexually assaulted her and dumped her body in an alleyway. In yet another, the appearances of a drug deal led to another victim. The spree ended with Cooksey’s own mother and stepfather, they added.

The link between the first seven killings—which spanned from a double homicide in a car to the rape and murder on Nov. 16—were made through the National Crime Gun Intelligence Center. Officials said matches that normally took days were reduced to hours, with the addition of equipment right at the Phoenix Police premises.

Those tools were put in place with federal funding assistance in the months since the arrest of the Phoenix Street Shooter in May 2017, police said.

“It absolutely made a difference in this case,” said Sgt. Jonathan Howard, spokesman for the Phoenix PD.

It all began with the patrolman responding to the scene, Howard added.

“When he arrived at that home, he was confronted by Cooksey,” said Howard. “Cooksey had some blood on him and appeared to be concealing things. The officer did not stop. He continued to investigate, and ultimatey Cooksey’s mother Rene Cooksey and her husband Edward Nunn were discovered deceased of apparent gunshot wounds inside that house.

“He was arrested, and has been jailed since,” Howard added.

Then the firearms evidence began to connect the dots on the seven earlier killings:

  • Andrew Remillard and Parker Smith were found dead inside a car in a parking lot around 10:45 p.m. on Nov. 27. The suspect had fled the area before police responded to the call at 1550 East Indian School Road in Phoenix. No motive has yet been established, they added.
  • Salim Richards, a security guard, was shot and killed while he was walking in the area of 4030 North 44th Avenue around 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 2, police said. Cooksey, who Richards knew, stole property including Richards’ handgun, they added.
  • Jesus Real was shot multiple times in an apartment complex at 500 East Harrison in Avondale on Dec. 11. Real’s sister had some kind of relationship with Cooksey—giving police a person of interest.
  • Latorrie Beckford, 29, was gunned down at an apartment complex on North 55th Avenue in Glendale two nights later. Cooksey was later identified as being in the complex before the killing by witnesses.
  • Kristopher Cameron, 21, was expecting to engage in a drug transaction with Cooksey on Dec. 15 at North 58th Avenue in Glendale when Cooksey shot him around 7:22 p.m., police said. Cameron was still alive at the scene when police arrived, but died en route to the hospital. Digital forensics and other evidence tie Cooksey to the scene, police added.
  • Maria Villanueva was kidnapped from an apartment complex less than two hours later at an apartment complex down the street from the Cameron slaying, they said. She had arrived in a car to the complex, but was confronted, and then left in the same car with Cooksey. Villanueva’s body was found in an alleyway at South 3rd Street in Phoenix the next day, and evidence showed she had been sexually assaulted.

When asked by a reporter at the press conference whether police could have found Cooksey earlier, Howard said the investigative work had been completed fast.

“To solve nine homicides in three weeks is outstanding,” said the sergeant. “Crimes occur throughout the world daily. Suspects take steps to avoid detection.”

Cooksey, an aspiring rapper, was released from prison about 18 months ago. He had served 16 years behind bars for an armed robbery in which a co-conspirator ended up dead. Police believe there is a “distinct possibility” that Cooksey may have other victims out there, and ask anyone with information to call the Phoenix, Avondale, or Glendale police. 

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