The Suitcase Murders
British long-distance cyclist Anthony Gunn was pedaling north along an isolated expanse of U.S. 27 into Palm Beach County as daylight began to fade on Monday, April 18, 2005. Gunn, who was biking through the southern United States, began looking for a suitable place to camp overnight.
As he searched his surroundings he noticed a large, blue Rubbermaid container partially hidden in the thicket of weeds by the road. Curious, he stopped, unclipped his shoes, wheeled his bike over, and pried open the corner.
Stuffed inside was the naked body of a woman.
"I saw a hand," he told a reporter. "It was a corpse ... it was sick."
The victim was white, five feet tall, weighed 110 to 120 pounds, and had sandy brown hair and a scar across her stomach. Investigators never identified the corpse, but certain things about the case were eerily familiar.
Twenty-six women with prostitution or drug-related arrest records have been brutally slain in the past dozen years in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. One was decapitated and had her heart carved out before she was dumped near a rural Miami road. Four women were strangled and set on fire. Another woman was decapitated and dismembered, her limbs scattered in New River, near Samuel Delavoe Park in Fort Lauderdale. Prosecutors successfully linked several of the murders to three serial killers Rory "the Tamiami Strangler" Conde, Fransico Del Junco, and Charlie Brandt who preyed upon South Florida prostitutes between September 1994 and March 1996. Fourteen of those cases remain unsolved.
Since 2000 the bodies of four victims have been found stuffed in containers and left near major roadways. Police believe at least two murders were committed by the same man, whom they have dubbed "the suitcase murderer."
He has never been caught.
"Serial killers don't just stop. They can't," says West Miami Police Department Capt. Nelson Andreu, who investigated six South Florida serial murder cases during his twenty-year tenure as a homicide detective with the Miami Police Department. "They might get killed, get deported, or they go to jail in another state and perhaps no one links them because there is no reason to, but they don't just stop. They have a killing machine cycle set up. They can't stop."
Shortly after dusk on Tuesday, June 20, 2000, 35-year-old Kim Dietz Livesey said goodbye to her roommate and left the peach-color duplex they shared in El Portal. Dressed in a blue top and a pale-color flowered skirt, the five-foot-six, 120-pound brunette walked down NE 95th Street, past the parked cars lining the sidewalk, and disappeared into the night.
She was supposed to meet her estranged husband, Mike Livesey, at 10:00 p.m. She never arrived.
Just after 8:00 a.m. the following Thursday, almost twenty miles away in Cooper City, an electrician and his girlfriend were heading northbound in rush hour traffic along Flamingo Road. As they passed Sheridan Street, they spotted a suitcase near the shoulder. The dark brown luggage seemed to be in good condition, so they pulled their white pickup over to the grass some ten feet away. The woman got to the bag first, but it was too heavy for her to lift. When the boyfriend realized he couldn't lift it either, he wondered what could possibly be weighing it down.
He folded back the top of the 30-inch-wide canvas case and recoiled in horror. Wedged inside in a fetal position was the body of Kim Dietz Livesey.
Blood caked her face. Her shoulder-length wavy hair lay in matted clumps across her battered flesh. She was naked. The only thing cloaking her pale skin were four tattoos.
She had been beaten to death.
Tucked inside the suitcase was a blood-stained blue top and a pale-color flowered skirt.
"I will never forget the image of that poor woman's body shoved into the suitcase," says former Cooper City Det. David Frisbie. "It's branded in my head."
In the six years he spent policing the tranquil town of Cooper City before Dietz's death, Frisbie had investigated burglaries, thefts, and harassing phone calls. He had never hunted a killer.
"Cooper City was a quiet place," he says during a recent phone conversation from his home in the Midwest, where he now works in construction. "We must have averaged about one murder every year."
That warm summer morning in June 2000, Frisbie became one of five detectives charged with identifying and capturing Dietz's killer. The five-member squad began the painstaking process of reconstructing her life to determine the people, places, and events that led up to her disappearance.
"It didn't make any difference she was a prostitute," he says. "I related to her because when all this happened my son was a year-and-a-half [old] and my daughter had just been born. Kim had a daughter a similar age."
Despite a seemingly wild existence that began in Hialeah in 1965, the later stages of Kim Dietz's life suggested domesticated bliss. She was the youngest of four children, the only girl, and spent her youth the same way many people do: partying and playing. By age 29 she decided she'd had enough and enrolled in a Broward County rehab program. It was three years after embracing sobriety, at a "three-quarters" house in Hollywood, that she met her then-33-year-old future husband, Michael Livesey. "She was working there, taking care of kids, and we became friends," recalled Michael, "but I didn't even get a kiss for six months."
Two years later, in June 1998, the couple married. Kim was eight weeks pregnant with their first child. She was a manager for five General Nutrition Centers; he worked as an auto mechanic in Pompano Beach. When daughter Victoria arrived in January 1999 the couple was living in a three-bedroom home with a swimming pool in the back yard and manicured violet flower beds flanking the paved driveway in front.
"She was always a concerned neighbor," recalls Tammy Dalton, who lived next door to the Livesey family in Oakland Park. "She was always very polite, and Michael was a really great guy; he used to fix our car for us."
But according to family and friends, after her daughter's birth, Dietz suffered from postpartum depression and began using drugs again. "She would disappear to Miami for days and weeks at a time," said Debra, one of Kim's sponsors in Alcoholics Anonymous, who declined to give her last name. "Mike and I know that sometimes people make it and sometimes they don't, but when I think that Kim's never coming back I get really sad."
According to court documents, Michael Livesey began to fear for his daughter's security and safety. On May 23, 2000, he filed for divorce, citing "recent drug abuse problems and suicidal tendencies by mother."
Fourteen days later, in the middle of the afternoon, his estranged wife approached an undercover officer at Miami's Legion Park and offered to perform oral sex for $25. She was arrested, charged with soliciting an undercover officer, and booked into county jail. On June 13 she was released on the condition that she would enter a drug treatment facility in South Miami.
Dietz remained at the facility for less than 24 hours.
A few days later Michael received a call from her, and the conversation that ensued often replays in his head: "She said she was done partying and she wanted to come home." It was Tuesday, June 20, 2000. The couple arranged to meet at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at 10:00 p.m. that night near 79th Street and Biscayne Boulevard.
Dietz never showed up. Thirty-six hours later she was found dead.
On August 9, less than two months after Kim Dietz's body was discovered, a woman was walking her dog on the 5300 block of SW 31st Avenue in Dania Beach.
Approximately 50 yards south of the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office she noticed a bulging, four-foot-long black duffel bag in the grass by the road. She tugged the zipper down a couple of inches and saw the curve of a human spine. The details were chillingly familiar.
Wedged inside was the bludgeoned corpse of 21-year-old Sia Demas.
Blood caked her face.
Her shoulder-length wavy hair lay in matted clumps across her battered flesh.
She was naked.
The only thing cloaking her pale skin were four tattoos.
Morgue supervisor Dean Reynolds arrived for his shift at the examiner's office that day at 5:30 a.m. "By the time they had secured the crime scene and pulled her out it was probably about noon," recalls the lanky, blue-eyed Reynolds. "Her body was pretty fresh, not too badly decomposed, and I remember she was on her side," he recalls. "I ended up wheeling a gurney out, we were so close, and took her inside."
The second "suitcase murder" sparked one of the region's largest homicide investigations, staffed by approximately 30 investigators from the Broward Sheriff's Office; Cooper City, City of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and Hollywood police; and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
By the time the South Florida task force announced they had sought assistance from the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in Quantico, Virginia the agency credited with profiling some of the most sadistic serial killers of modern history investigators were all but certain they were looking for one man.
"Police departments don't like to panic people by saying there might be a serial killer on the loose," says Captain Andreu, an investigator on the Tamiami Strangler case. "But when we have a murder that even has the possibility of being a serial killer, we don't take any chances."
It wasn't until the early Eighties that law enforcement agencies nationwide began to accept the science of behavioral profiling as a valuable or even legitimate investigative tool. When FBI veteran Gregg McCrary joined the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) in 1985, he was among a mere handful of agents profiling criminals on a full-time basis.
Today the BSU has almost 30 full-time profilers, and McCrary is considered one of the world's foremost profiling authorities. Although he is unfamiliar with the details of the "suitcase murders," he furnished some observations about the killer.
"What did this guy do that he didn't have to?" he quizzes. "Every choice he made will give us insight into who he is. This guy had to have some place he took the victim and murdered her, and he's gone to the trouble of getting a suitcase, one large enough to fit a body. This is a very organized crime which points to a certain type of person. Does it look like he's done it before?
"Clearly this guy wanted the bodies discovered. Some killers want notoriety without the responsibility; they want to read about it in the papers; it gives them a sense of power," he adds. "And if I had to go statistically, this guy would probably be male and white, though we would never discount any physical evidence."
To determine the character and traits of an unknown offender, profilers analyze evidence left behind at a crime scene, McCrary explains.
"The goal is to help law enforcement develop suspects and prioritize the ones they have," says McCrary, who retired in 1995 after a 25-year career with the Bureau. "There is always going to be some skepticism about what we do," he adds, "but if it wasn't working, there wouldn't be a demand for it. Surveys we've done show 70 to 80 percent of law enforcement say our work was helpful."
Profilers also utilize victimology, the study of why certain people and lifestyles affect the chances of falling victim to a crime. But according to McCrary, street prostitutes are among the hardest to study, owing to the number of strangers they meet. He also claims they are among the easiest and most frequently targeted victims.
"In my experience," says Captain Andreu, "every serial killer has a mental picture of an ideal victim, someone who has a certain look, hair color, age. Generally that person doesn't come into their circle so they take the next best thing. Street prostitutes make easy victims. Most of them have drug problems, offer them $100 and their eyes will get so big they will hop in a car and let someone tie them to a tree if they're asked. They need the money."
Indeed, like the "suitcase murderer," some of the most notorious serial killers of all time have preyed on prostitutes, among the worst the "Green River Killer," Gary Leon Ridgeway, who butchered 48 Seattle-area women beginning in 1982. "I picked prostitutes," he said during his trial in 2003, "because I knew they might never be reported missing.... I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without ever getting caught." Ridgeway's murder spree lasted more than two decades despite the assistance of the FBI's best profilers.
In the twelve months following the Dietz and Demas murders, on the FBI's advice, South Florida investigators followed up on more than 250 leads. Det. David Frisbie says they spent more than a thousand hours combing pockets of Biscayne Boulevard between 36th and 79th streets known to be frequented by prostitutes. Investigators questioned every woman they met in the hope of procuring even the slightest nugget of information. Each girl was photographed and given a questionnaire to document her life on the streets.
"These women live in a brutal world," says Frisbie. "We'd take a picture of every girl and be back out there six months on and with the drugs, and alcohol, and getting beat up, we wouldn't even recognize her any more."
Tips were sparse. "We played every scenario over and over again, going through every minute detail," says Frisbie. "We literally went over thousands of possibilities."
When the leads dried up, investigators tried a different approach.
"We'd do john stings with the Miami police and question everyone regular guys, doctors, lawyers, anyone," Frisbie explains. "We took a DNA sample from each one and filed it away."
They left business cards with motel managers and street people. They contacted Interpol to check for similar cases committed overseas. They tracked down registered sex offenders in the area and knocked on their doors. They ran the two murders through the FBI's Violent Crimes Apprehension Program (VICAP) a nationwide database of crimes and victims to check for similar murders in other states. Cooper City police even gave a presentation to 30 South Florida police stations to see if any of the details might spark a new lead.
"We'd get a lead and get all fired up thinking this was our guy, then through DNA or fingerprints he was eliminated," says Frisbie.
One tip led police to the Knight's Inn at 3580 Biscayne Blvd., where manager Maria Rivaflecha claimed to have seen Dietz the night before she was killed. She also claimed to have found a grapefruit-size blood stain on the carpet of room 133.
Police descended on the motel, tore up the light green carpet, and painstakingly dusted each room for hairs and fibers.
Then Rivaflecha handed police another clue, the name of another local at the motel: 21-year-old Sia Demas.
Demas was born in Chicago but as a young girl relocated with her family to Hollywood, Florida, where she was raised.
Her mother, Pam Saiger who declined an interview with New Times described her daughter to local media as a sensitive girl who would bring home stray cats and dogs.
"Once she even brought home a stray man," Saiger told reporters. "She said, 'Mom, I feel sorry for him.'"
Saiger claims her daughter began abusing drugs as a teenager, grew addicted to crack, and eventually dropped out of high school. A string of arrests in Broward and Miami-Dade counties followed, for prostitution and possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
"Sia first came before me as a juvenile," recalls former Broward County Circuit Court Judge Melanie G. May, who presided over at least three Demas hearings. "I saw her many times over the years. She had a very supportive mother who also pleaded with me to give Sia another chance." Judge May, who left for the Fourth District Court of Appeal in 2002, says she got to know the five-foot-seven brunette well over the years. "To be quite honest, I felt sorry for her. She wasn't particularly attractive and always seemed so uncomfortable in her own skin."
In 1996 Demas gave birth to a son, of whom Saiger now has custody. But motherhood didn't stem her wild ways. In the years that followed a 1998 drug charge, she violated probation six times.
"It was sad because her mom kept trying to help her," says May, "but we would always find her hanging out in Tent City with these much older homeless men." In May 1999, May sentenced Demas to eighteen months in prison and ordered her to complete an eight-month drug treatment program and parenting course. "I felt it was the best thing for her," she says.
In a handwritten note Demas penned to May shortly before leaving prison, she said, "Sorry for all the trouble I have caused you. You have helped me a lot and I thank you, but you can believe me, I'm not going to mess up again."
Demas was released on July 2, 2000, after serving thirteen months in the Pembroke Pines facility. She was 21 years old. She was sober. She had a four-year-old son and a loving mother.
"I never stopped loving her," said Saiger. "I never stopped trying to help her. People think she was a throwaway person, but they forget she had a family who loved her."
Within two weeks Demas was begging friends for money. She wanted to buy drugs, according to family friend Joe Keane. "If she was a really bad person, I wouldn't have tried to help her," Keane told reporters shortly after Demas's death. Demas used Keane's Wilton Manors address on occasion to receive mail, but he refused to fund her addiction. "You can't help someone who won't help themselves," he said.
"Drug addiction is a chronic illness," says Chip Hobbs, who supervises South Miami Hospital's Residential Addiction Treatment Program. He is also a recovered crack addict, sober since 1984. "The drug literally hijacks the human being and their life and it tells them, öGo get more.' It tells a person what to do and when to do it. Forget the dangers, forget the consequences; addiction says, 'Go feed me.'"
On August 8, another prostitute, Nicole Bullard, told police she and Demas were on the 6700 block of Biscayne Boulevard. Shortly before 3:00 a.m. Bullard says a man in a dark color Chevy 1500 truck pulled up and flashed a wad of cash. She claims the pickup had tinted windows, an extended cab, a thin chrome sun visor, chrome rims, and big tires.
Demas climbed in next to the driver, whom Bullard described as a white male, approximately 40 years old, with a stocky build and a mustache. Twenty-four hours later, her battered body was discovered in Dania Beach.
The homicide cases of Kim Dietz Livesey and Sia Demas are still open.
The blood-stained carpet at the Knight's Inn turned out to have come from a menstruating dog. Like every other tip police investigated, it failed to lead to the man who killed the two young mothers.
To date, there are at least fourteen unsolved prostitute homicides in Miami-Dade and Broward counties for which investigators have no reliable eye witnesses, obvious suspects, or jailhouse confessions to help track the killer. None have been positively linked to the Dietz and Demas murders.
In the months and years since the murders, the bodies of nine more women were found dumped in various spots in and around Miami-Dade and Broward.
Two were discovered in containers.
In April 2001, the bludgeoned body of 26-year-old Rebeca Pena was found in a zippered suitcase floating in the Biscayne Canal beneath I-95 several blocks north of NW 151st Street. While police did not rule out the possibility that the case may be linked to the suitcase murders, domestic violence claims and a dispute over the parental rights of her three-year-old daughter reveal a history of physical and emotional conflict with Pena's former high school sweetheart, who fathered her child. Pena had never been arrested. The investigation into her murder is still open.
Although police never identified the Jane Doe discovered in April 2005 on the border between Broward and Palm Beach counties, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Lt. Jeff Andrews says they "could find no link to the prostitute homicides."
Yet the notion that a short while ago a serial killer who was never caught hunted for prey among South Florida's prostitutes does little to dissuade women today away from eking out a living on the streets.
"Tara" who declined to give New Times her surname is 21 years old. She stands five-foot-four and weighs approximately 105 pounds, her slight frame capped by an unkempt, sandy blond mane. Tara claims her biological father raped her before leaving the family's Alabama home when she was almost six years old. Most of her mother's subsequent stream of lovers, she alleges, also abused her. In July 2005 she ran away.
She now calls Miami home but has no permanent address. She is a self-described junkie and earns a living by sleeping with men for money. She says she once gave a blowjob for five dollars. She needed cigarettes.
"At least I am my own boss," she giggles, her blistered lips parting to reveal a mouthful of chipped, stained teeth. "I would rather be out here and be free than be trapped by bills and all that other stuff."
Her face would not look out of place on the cover of a magazine with a heroin chic caption: bony shoulders capped by bloodshot eyes encased by deep, dark circles, severely pronounced cheekbones. Sores cover her bony arms and fuzzy blonde hair carpets her matchstick legs.
As she shuffles along Biscayne Boulevard near 63rd Street on a recent Sunday night shortly before midnight, she chatters incessantly, toying constantly with the oversize Florida Marlins jersey cloaking her torso.
"You know what?" she chirps. "I made a promise that no man will ever get the better of me again. I mean, I'm not some stupid little kid anymore, I can take care of myself. I might be skinny but I am tough, and he's gonna have to be real smart if he wants to get me. I choose who I go with.
"And I got friends, we take care of each other, ain't nothing gonna happen when you got people looking out for you. They ain't gonna let nothing happen to me."
As she sauntered down the street, a pale green Toyota sputtered past. As the taillights disappeared into the night, Tara was completely alone.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.