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S.L. POLICE SAY EVIDENCE COULD LEAD TO CHARGES IN 3 MID-1980S SLAYINGS

SHARE S.L. POLICE SAY EVIDENCE COULD LEAD TO CHARGES IN 3 MID-1980S SLAYINGS

Salt Lake police believe they may now have enough evidence to seek murder charges in connection with the unsolved slayings of three young women in the mid-1980s.

Investigators plan to meet with the Salt Lake County attorney's office "in the near future" to see if prosecutors believe there is enough evidence to file criminal charges, said homicide detective Charles Oliver."We're going to do some more homework on it and try to put everything together," he said. "Then we're going to present it again and see what they say."

The case includes the killings of Christine Gallegos, 18, shot and stabbed near Derks Field; Carla Maxwell, 20, shot while working as a clerk in a Layton 7-Eleven store; and Lisa Strong, 25, shot while walking home near Kensington Avenue and 800 East.

Shortly after Strong's death, forensics experts linked the three deaths after determining that bullets recovered from the bodies were fired from the same .38-caliber handgun, which has not been located.

A task force investigated the slayings but was dissolved in 1989 after the lead detective announced he was "100 percent sure" the killings were committed by Paul Ezra Rhoades, an Idaho man on death row for killing three people in southeastern Idaho. Prosecutors, however, refused to file charges against him and Rhoades denied killing anyone in Utah.

At least part of the latest investigation, which began in 1991, is apparently still focused on Forrest Whittle, who is serving time at the Utah State Prison's Gunnison facility for an unrelated aggravated sexual assault.

Documents filed in court indicate that a witness in Florida implicated Whittle in one of the homicides. Mike Staples also implicated his friend Whittle in one of the homicides but later recanted after being told he could be charged with being an accessory to the homicide.

But Staples again pointed the finger at Whittle in a recent story in the Private Eye magazine. Reporter Chris Smart was scheduled to meet with detectives Tuesday morning.

"We want to talk to him (Smart) to see what Staples told him," Oliver said.

"A lot of it (the new evidence) will be based on some interviews, and Staples is one of the main players."

Family members of the three victims have repeatedly pushed investigators to solve the crimes and have accused police of letting politics get in the way of finding the truth.

The investigations have been complicated by lawsuits from former police officer Frank Hatton-Ward and two members of the now-disbanded Crime Analysis Unit, who have claimed for years that Staples and Whittle were involved in the homicides.