In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a murderous siege gripped Baton Rouge and surrounding locales in southeast Louisiana. During that time span, more than 30 women were killed by unknown assailants, recalls David McDavid, mayor of Zachary, a small city north of Baton Rouge.
“Tensions were high,” McDavid tells A&E True Crime. “Women were taking self-defense classes, buying guns and buying tasers. People were scared. It was a tough time for a while.”
In 2003, authorities caught up to the man responsible for seven of the brutal slayings. At the time, McDavid was one of only two detectives in the Zachary Police Department. They were investigating the 1992 murder of Connie Warner and the 1998 disappearance of Randi Mebruer. Both women lived in the same Zachary suburb and had been attacked in their homes. The crime scenes bore several similarities, McDavid recalls.
An investigator with the Louisiana state attorney general’s office assisting McDavid on both cases obtained a warrant to collect a DNA sample from Derrick Todd Lee, a then-34-year-old St. Francisville, Louisiana resident with previous arrests for stalking and peeping into people’s residences. In addition to connecting Lee to the Warner and Mebruer cases, his DNA also matched samples taken from the crime scenes of five other female victims killed between 2001 and 2003.
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After fleeing to Atlanta, Lee was apprehended and extradited to Baton Rouge, where he was charged with the murder of Louisiana State University student Carrie Lynn Yoder.
Lee was never charged in the slaying of Warner and the disappearance of Mebruer, but he was convicted in two separate trials in 2004 for the murders of two other victims, Geralyn DeSoto and Charlotte Murray Pace. Lee maintained his innocence and never confessed, McDavid says.
In 2004 and 2006, Louisiana law enforcement arrested two other serial killers, Sean Vincent Gillis and Jeffery Lee Guillory, who murdered close to two dozen women.
“All along, this guy was in our area,” McDavid says of Lee. “Early on, we had clues he was involved in Warner’s murder and Mebruer’s disappearance, but we didn’t have any training on DNA. It was a tough learning curve. Years later, we were able to present enough evidence for a judge to issue the DNA warrant.”
Who was Derrick Todd Lee?
Lee hardly fit the typical loner profile of a serial killer, according to press accounts. After graduating high school, he settled down and married Jacqueline Denise Sims, with whom he had two children. Lee worked blue collar jobs, including as a pipefitter and a concrete finisher, according to McDavid.
Friends and neighbors described Lee as a friendly person and a womanizer despite being married. But he had a darker side that included a 1999 arrest on peeping Tom charges when he was accused of stalking a woman at an apartment complex. He also had an aggravated assault arrest in 2000 for beating his then-girlfriend with his fists, according to the Times-Picayune.
John Sinquefield, Louisiana’s deputy attorney general, was one of two state prosecutors to secure murder convictions against Lee in two separate cases. Sinquefield tells A&E True Crime that Lee talked his way into his victims’ homes.
“A lot of these places didn’t show any evidence of forced entry,” Sinquefield says. “He tried to be more of a charmer than a bully.”
Sinquefield prosecuted Lee for the first-degree murder of Charlotte Murray Pace, who was brutally killed in 2002, and the attempted murder of Dianne Alexander, a southeast Louisiana woman who survived and escaped a vicious attack by a man who came to her front door and asked to use her phone. Alexander was able to provide a physical description of her attacker, and the resulting sketch bore a striking resemblance to Lee, Sinquefield says.
“Dianne Alexander gave the jury the best example of how he got to his victims,” Sinquefield says. “He asked her if she had a portable phone he could use outside her front porch. As soon as she opened her door to give him the phone, he immediately changed his tone from being very polite and very nice. Within minutes, he was assaulting her.”
Lee didn’t get a chance to kill Alexander because her son showed up from school, causing the serial killer to flee, Sinquefield says.
Police believe Alexander is Lee’s only surviving victim.
Derrick Todd Lee’s Victims
Warner, a 41-year-old accountant, is believed to be Lee’s first victim, according to McDavid, Sinquefield and press reports. After disappearing from her home on August 24, 1992, her body was found about a week later near a lake. Any evidence that could lead to her attacker had been washed away by Hurricane Andrew, which hit Baton Rouge on August 26, McDavid says. She had been severely beaten and the cause of death was a skull fracture.
Six years later, Lee reignited his killing spree. Law enforcement authorities believe he abducted Mebruer on April 18, 1998, while her 3-year-old son slept in his bedroom, McDavid says. Detectives found blood throughout her home, which was about a block away from Warner’s house. At the time of her disappearance, Mebruer was 28 years old; her body has never been found.
Between 2001 and 2003, Lee viciously killed six more women. His victims were 39-year-old nurse Gina Wilson Green, 21-year-old college student Geralyn Barr DeSoto, 22-year-old grad school student Charlotte Murray Pace, 44-year-old antique shop owner Pamela Kinamore, 23-year-old Trineisha Dené Colomb, who was in the Army and planned to join the Marines, and Carrie Lynn Yoder, a 26-year-old grad student.
“All of these women were very attractive, accomplished and well educated,” Sinquefield recalls. “It was an absolute tragedy. They were very brutally killed. Some of them were raped, stabbed and strangled.”
Lee’s Trials, Convictions and Death
In August 2004, after a three-day trial, a jury returned a guilty verdict against Lee for the first- degree murder of DeSoto, who was beaten to death in her home on January 14, 2002. The conviction carried an automatic life sentence.
Three months later, another jury convicted Lee for the first-degree murder of Pace, who was killed on May 31, 2002, and the attempted murder of Alexander in the case tried by Sinquefield. During that trial, Sinquefield introduced evidence from the other homicides that helped convince jurors that Lee deserved the death penalty.
Lee spent the next decade filing appeals that failed. On January 21, 2016, he died from heart disease complications after being taken to a hospital. At the time, Lee was on death row in Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola.
“I was not disappointed to hear that he died of natural causes,” Sinquefield says. “That assured me he would never get out. I think justice was done for the victims.”