DENVER — Investigators following the cold-case deaths of women from more than 30 years ago have linked three of them to a convicted triple murderer who a prosecutor said Wednesday could have been responsible for as many as 20 slayings.
District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said Vincent Groves, who died in prison in 1996 at age 42, was tied by DNA to the 1979 killings of women found strangled and partially nude in an alley, an industrial park and a bathtub in Denver. Police used a DNA profile of Groves they recently found from an old murder investigation and linked it to the three separate crime scenes, authorities said.
Groves was serving a life sentence for the 1980s strangling of two young women. He had been released on parole in 1987 after serving five years in prison for killing a third woman in suburban Denver.
"This is the guy who destroyed people's lives, destroyed families. These families deserve answers," Morrissey said. "Sometimes in our cold case program the individual is still alive and we're able to bring them to justice."
The 1979 slayings of Emma Jenefor, 25; Joyce Ramey, 23; and Peggy Cuff, 20, bore strong resemblances to Groves' past killings and the disappearance of a woman that Groves was suspected in, police said. Groves would target women he knew who were addicted to cocaine or prostitutes he picked up on Colfax Avenue, a street in Denver historically known for prostitution, said Morrissey and Mylous Yearling, cold-case investigator for Denver's police department.
Groves strangled most of his victims; many were found nude or partially clothed, left in the mountains west of Denver, alleys and fields outside the city, police said.
Authorities launched a task force in the late 1980s to investigate a string of slayings after authorities began finding an average of a body a month, all possibly killed by the same person, Morrissey said. At that time, Grove was suspected of up to 20 killings between 1979 and 1988, he said.
More DNA testing is pending to determine if Groves is linked to other victims, Morrissey said.
Groves' DNA profile was recovered from the case file related to 17-year-old Tammy Woodrum. Groves brought her body in a camper to a suburban Denver police department in 1981, authorities said.
He returned to prison in 1990 for the slayings of Juanita "Becky" Lovato, 19, and Diane Montoya Mancera, 25.
Police had circumstantial evidence linking Groves to three slayings in the late 1970s, including Ramey, and one missing woman, Morrissey said. They also suspected Groves of four additional slayings, including Lovato and Mancera, after his release from prison.
"When he got out in the late 1980s, he started his killing again," Morrissey said.
Yearling — one of an eight-member cold case team in Denver — described Groves as intelligent and able to coax women into compromising situations. He grew up in a quiet suburb northwest of Denver in a yellow ranch house, the son of a music teacher and a military serviceman, Yearling said. He worked as a security guard and as a supervisor for an office building cleaning crew and traveled around the city, Yearling said. Groves went to church regularly, and his prison record lists his religion as Adventist.
"This caught his family by surprise," Yearling said. "His family doesn't believe that he committed these crimes."
Neighbors outside Groves' family home said the family moved out in 2010. A man who said he's related to Groves declined to comment. Other family members could not be reached.
Prosecutors declined to release the names of victims' family members, and efforts by The Associated Press to reach them were unsuccessful.
Court documents show that three of Groves' victims managed to escape. After a hitchhiker broke free in 1982, police found two knives, an opened liquor bottle, a pair of women's underwear and a piece of electrical cord with a slip knot tied to one end of it in a search of his car, according to a court document.
When Groves was dying in prison, detectives asked him to share the fate of his victims, but he refused, Morrissey said. Prison officials declined to say how he died.