A man toting axes, a shovel and bleach when he was killed by a female escort he met online had been stopped, interviewed or investigated by police in as many as 20 states and is being looked into for possible links to unsolved disappearances or slayings of women around the US, authorities said Monday.
West Virginia authorities are trying to circulate information to see if Neal Falls, of Oregon, can be linked to any other crimes against US women.
Police say Falls was fatally shot July 18 as he attacked and choked the escort in West Virginia, and she grabbed his handgun off the ground and fired it.
Police found axes, knives, handcuffs, a shovel, bleach and other items in Falls' car, raising suspicions this wasn't the first time he had attacked a woman.
"The fact that he was 45-years old, and carrying tools like he was, and committing a crime that was so organised and so violent, it's unlikely that this was his first violent crime," Lt. Steve Cooper, Charleston police chief of detectives, told The Associated Press.
Cooper said Falls had a list of 10 other women in his pocket. Nine were in West Virginia; one was across the U.S. in San Diego. Similar to the West Virginia woman, whom police are calling Heather, all were escorts active online, he said. They are all still alive, Cooper said.
Heather had a separated shoulder, broken vertebrae, strangulation marks around her throat and other injuries, Cooper said.
So far, no history of major crimes in Falls' record has surfaced. However, police said records do show that authorities in as many as 20 states — from Arizona to Kentucky to Virginia — had some kind of interaction with Falls such as stopping him, running his vehicle's license plate or checking his federal Social Security number.
Police have said Falls rented a room in a Las Vegas suburb during a time when four prostitutes went missing.
Henderson police spokeswoman Michelle French said Monday that they are checking into any possible Falls connection to the May 2005 disappearance of 21-year-old Lindsay Harris. She was the subject of massive search, and her family from central New York helped comb the desert area where her rental car was last seen some 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. The case appeared on an episode of TV's "America's Most Wanted." Leg parts identified as hers through DNA testing were found three years later near Springfield, Illinois, more than 1,600 miles (2,500km) away.
Cooper said West Virginia police have also been communicating with authorities in a small southern Ohio city, where four women died in suspicious circumstances and two others are missing. He said there has been no evidence yet placing Falls there, but it's been considered because of the proximity to West Virginia — less than a two-hour drive away.
Cooper said police are still gathering information on Falls. It appears he was staying in his car, where he kept a pillow and sleeping bag, Cooper said.
"He had no cash, no credit cards," Cooper said. "It's a mystery how he had traveled across the country to us right now. There's something that we haven't discovered yet."