[Extremely Long Write-up] Charles Henry Williams, South Florida Serial Murder during the 1980s, and the birth of a modern police myth.This post was deemed to be "outside the topic of the sub" on r/serialkillers because Charles Henry Williams was a suspected, not convicted serial killer. This post is about both a killer, or many killers, but most importantly it is about the overlap of policing, science and prejudice that lives in the deaths it covers up. If you are not interested in the social commentary(shame) there is a list of suspected victims of the North Miami serial killer, news reports and files from the Miami-Dade ME office at the bottom of the post. Charles Henry Williams was a serial rapist and primary suspect in the deaths of as many as 32 women who ranged in age from 14 to 36, between 1980 and 1989. To the best of my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive writeup of his life and potential crimes. Over a decade, bodies turned up in cheap motels, parking lots, and alleyways often killed in the early hours of a weekend. Most had died of strangulation, often from behind and were found nude from the waist down. Four of the women were killed near the Williams family home in Overtown and a fifth was a neighbor. While not averse to comitting crimes in his backyard, Williams learnt to distance himself over time. Four others died in a north Dade County red light district where Williams used to hang out, and two other women were slain in the Brownsville neighborhood where Williams was known to visit seeking smoking partners. In at least six cases, witnesses had seen him with the victims shortly before they disappeared. The Unsolved Murders of Women in Miami Born on March 17 1956, not much is known about Williams' life. At the time of his arrest, 6'3 tall Williams was working as a bus mechanic. He had been convicted of sexual assault in 1977 and institutionalized for a few years. Further rape charges had been brought against him but resulted in acquittals and dropped or reduced charges. These arrests might explain some of the gaps in his activity as listed below. Williams' first known murder, the only one he was ever charged with occurred in 1984. A record of Williams time in custody during this period might help fill some gaps, such as his apparent dormancy throughout 1985 and in early 1987. From September 1986 on, bodies began to pile up. By October 1988, it was readily apparent that a serial killer was at work. At least five women had been found dead that month, two on the same morning. Williams' most recent felony charge at the time of his final arrest was for an October 1988 attempted murder and rape committed just hours and blocks from one of these crimes. For the next six months, dead bodies were found with alarming regularity. In January of 1989, police spotted and spoke to a man resembling Williams having sex with Anita Spires, who was found dead only a few minutes later by the same officers. In late spring 1989, three sex-workers came forward and reported being attacked in the same general area of Miami where victims had been found. They all told a remarkably similar story, although only two would eventually press charges. Prior to the attacks, Williams engaged all three of the women in conversation concerning purchasing cocaine or having sex for drugs. Williams then grabbed each of his victims in a tight chokehold from behind and dragged each of the victims to a secluded spot. The second of the two witness who testified said that she returned to her car in a department store parking lot to find Williams hiding in the back seat. After Williams grabbed her by the neck, she lost consciousness momentarily and awoke with her pants pulled down. Williams would have likely killed this witness if he had not been confronted by another man in the midst of the attack. The Arrest of Williams In early April 1989, shortly after the attack on the second witness, the killer's luck ran out. Police arrested Williams, first for possession of a crack pipe and subsequently on two rape charges. In the lead up to his arrest, five women were found murdered in an 11-day period, although one of these deaths would be removed from the list of suspected victims. He was convicted of one count of rape in 1990 and sentenced to 40 years. Immediately after his arrest, Williams was named as a suspect in first 17, and then a month later, 19 murders dating to September 1986, although in one case he may have been incarcerated at the suspected time of death. Eleven of the killings occurred in Metro-Dade’s jurisdiction, seven in Miami and one in Hialeah. By the time of his death a few years later, police claimed Williams may have started killing six years earlier than first suspected, with nearly a dozen other possible victims. In July of 1992, at age 36 Williams, was finally charged with murder in the 1984 case of 19 year old Patricia Johnson, whose partly clothed body was found in a vacant lot near Williams' mother's home in Overtown. Prosecutors had little physical evidence linking Williams to Johnson until police discovered samples of semen and saliva that had been misplaced at police headquarters for three years. The evidence was misplaced when pathologists reclassified all the cases of partly-clothed women found dead with their legs apart. Richard Souviron, a Miami dentist who linked the bite marks on a murdered Florida State University student to serial killer Ted Bundy, also studied Williams' dental records and concluded he bit Johnson. In his only interview, recorded in May 1993, Williams did not deny an earlier admission to having sex with "three or four" of the victims in the final hours of their lives, nor did he dispute witnesses placing him with six of the women. Williams however implied someone else killed the 32 and that he knew who, but couldn't say stating "the worst thing for a person that is doing time is to be a snitch. If you snitch and it's publicized, you are not safe." Williams, died at 7 a.m. Friday September 23 at Jackson Memorial Hospital's jail ward. He had been hospitalized since Aug. 27 suffering from AIDs. Nobody has bothered trying to count how many of his rape victims that survived the initial attack were affected by the disease. Williams' death came just 10 days before he was to have been tried for the murder of Patricia Johnson. "Excited Delirium" Astoundingly, this story gets even more enraging. How had Williams, been able to kill with near impunity for a decade? By now, the concept of the "less dead" is widely known. Criminologist Steven Egger, one of the people most responsible for popularizing this concept talks about it like this. "We don't spend a lot of time dealing with missing people who aren't particularly important; who don't have a lot of prestige. It's a public failing as well as a police failing, a common belief being that such people take big risks and get what they deserve." Most newspapers didn't see fit to cover their lives or deaths in any detail, so the dead appear in the clinical terminology of forensic science. All of the 32 victims were working class Black women. Most showed signs of recently having had sex, and in the initial ME reports, appeared to have little or no evidence of trauma on their bodies. Almost all had traces of cocaine in their blood and were known for prostitution, police reports said. For the murder victims in South Florida however, the victim blaming would go much further, and its consequences are still being felt today. Excited delirium or agitated delirium is a pseudo-medical condition that today serves as a cover for deaths in police custody and during arrests. Some of its most avid proponents have been lobbyists of Axon, the manufacturer of Tasers. A 2017 report by Reuters found that excited delirium had been listed as a factor in autopsy reports, court records or other sources in at least 276 deaths that followed Taser use since 2000, with diagnosis often based on a test conducted by Deborah Mash, a paid consultant to Axon. The American College of Emergency Physicians is the only major medical group to recognize the condition, and the 2009 white paper on it was funded by Axon, something the authors failed to note. The roots of this supposed condition however, are in cocaine and Miami Cops and medical examiners were stumped by the 32 corpses found from 1980 to the turn of the next decade. But it wasn't the work of a subtropical Jack the Ripper, declared Dr. Charles A. Wetli, who took his post as Dade County's second-in-command coroner in the late 1970s. At the time, his office processed two overdoses a week. Wetli, also a University of Miami pathology professor, co-authored a scientific paper about "death caused by recreational cocaine use" a revolutionary concept at the time. But it was more difficult to explain an influx of strange cases that began showing up on his gurney: subjects who had displayed incredible feats of resilience, strength, or anger before sudden death. Cocaine was found in their systems, but not enough to cause overdose. Wetli noted a profile. "It only happened in chronic users of cocaine, and predominantly in males," he says. "It's as if they're impervious to pain — to pepper spray, to batons, to nunchucks. You spray them with pepper spray and they just sort of look at you." Wetli and UM colleague David A. Fishbain found seven such cases — six in Miami-Dade and one in Palm Beach County — that had occurred during a 13-month period in 1983 and 1984. The resulting study pioneered excited delirium. The death cases read like classics of the syndrome: The female drug trafficker, the only woman in the study, who suddenly jumped out of a moving car. "You're trying to kill me. Please don't kill me. I have children," she begged of her boyfriend, who was driving, as she dove out the passenger-side door. She died after several police officers "subdued" her with handcuffs and ankle restraints. Or the 26-year-old man who fought with his boyfriend, stripped naked, and "ran about the apartment smashing a variety of objects," lacerating himself, before expiring in restraints at the hospital. And the cocaine freebaser who "began running down the street yelling and screaming unintelligibly." Cops struck him twice on the head with a heavy flashlight, but the medical examiner didn't find lethal injuries. In five of the seven cases, the subjects died in police custody. Wetli and Fishbain didn't know why excited delirium caused death, but they posited it might have had something to do with the increasing purity of street cocaine. Their only recommendation was that cops and paramedics "be aware of the potential for sudden death" in crazed subjects. A Botched Job Wetli was already treading on shaky ground, but the deaths of tens of women would call into question whether he was stretching the evidence to fit his theory. Autopsies "have conclusively showed that these women were not murdered," he told the now-defunct Miami News in 1988. Instead, Wetli posited that a female offshoot of the syndrome, involving the combination of sex and years of cocaine use, had caused the serial deaths. "For some reason, the male of the species becomes psychotic [after chronic cocaine use] and the female of the species dies in relation to sex." As he told the Miami New Times "My gut feeling is that this is a terminal event that follows chronic use of crack cocaine affecting the nerve receptors in the brain." But by 1992, police had begun to suspect Charles Williams. Wetli's boss, chief examiner Joseph Davis, exhumed several bodies for re-examination and found evidence of asphyxia, especially hemorrhaging in the eyes. Unfortunately, the bodies of suspected victims was the most evidence police could muster. By classifying the deaths as a result of excited delirium, Wetli had removed a need to conduct a more thorough investigation, hence the lack of hard evidence in most cases. He had also downplayed the possibility of a serial killer in general, and a dedicated taskforce to investigate the deaths came only after Williams' arrest. It was during the rush in mid-to-late 1989 to gather files on old cases of partly nude women found dead with their legs apart that Patricia Johnson's DNA evidence was misplaced. While a few cases, like that of Brenda Hernandez, killed by massive blunt-force trauma at the end of Williams' reign of terror in April 1989 were classified as homicides from the outset, these came at a point where Williams was escalating his violence, leaving clearer traces that Wetli could not miss like in the cases at the start of the decade. Going through the available case files, one finds repeated reclassifications by Joseph Davis of deaths initially recorded by Wetli. In most cases, the new diagnosis is asphyxia, with the previous conclusion left unclear. Were There Other Predators? Perhaps because there was so little physical evidence from earlier cases, or because police had found a name to pin on the deaths, the story of dead sex workers in 1980s Miami faded with Williams. As had been noted in 1989, Williams couldn't have been responsible for all of the deaths, with at least one occurring while he was in custody. The so-called Southside Slayer who was active in Los Angeles during the same period, turned out to be a set of at least five killers. Wayne Williams, conviction was used to put an end to the Atlanta child murder investigations, but did not end suspicion that there were other killers at work at the same time. Recently, the confessions of Samuel Little helped close the books on four South Florida homicides, including the death of Dorothy Gibson, a death for which a mentally handicapped man, Jerry Frank Townsend spent 22 years in prison. While Little's killings were earlier than those Williams likely committed, the possibility that one if not more killers escaped justice is chilling. Two of the six deaths Townsend was convicted of were eventually found to have been committed by Eddie Mosely, a predator who committed hundreds of sexual assaults and over a dozen murders in and around Fort Lauderdale over 15 years. Frank Lee Smith, also suffering from mental handicaps, spent 15 years in prison and died behind bars for another of Mosely's murders. This is another shocking case of South Florida law enforcement's failure, and I have posted a link to a documentary on the case below. Because of the eventual exoneration of Townsend and Smith, Mosely's case attracted brief attention and media coverage. The case of Charles Henry Williams, an equally vicious predator who may well have been Florida's most prolific killer reviewed no such attention. While police may have found a name to pin these crimes on, they didn't find a face. Today there are no publicly available photos of Williams, let alone his victims. In a 2010 interview, Wetli, who was in private practice in New Jersey, initially downplayed his theory. He had to make a diagnosis so that the bodies could be buried, he says. But then it became clear he still believed that death-by-sex might have killed those women 30 years ago. "It's certainly a possibility," he said. "The guy never went to trial, so we'll never know. The police had a commendable theory in suspecting him. But believing in something, and proving it, is another story." The story of one of the vilest criminals in the history of Florida, if not the nation, has been all but forgotten, unlike a fake condition that is still used to cover up the deaths of the poor and vulnerable. Hopefully, some readers can use the files linked below to start telling a fuller story of this American tragedy. Timeline of Murders/Incomplete List of Suspected Victims of Charles Henry Williams This list pertains to the original set of 19 post-86 victims identified by police and was compiled from the link at the bottom of the post. With one exception, nobody has been charges in any of their deaths. The names were acquired from the Dade County ME, via a Sunshine Law request in 2019. Dates refer to the discovery of a body, not the time of death. I have no information on the 12 possible pre-86 victims other than Patricia Johnson, whose date of discovery is not listed online. Likewise, I do not know which of these women was killed during a time when Williams was imprisoned. One of the pre-86 victims may have been named Sandra Jackson, born in 1968 or 1969, although this is possibly a misreporting of Patricia Johnson. Patricia Johnson, the only victim for whose murder Williams was charged. 1984. Gap/1985-Early 1986 Tammie Turner - September 30, 1986 Gap/Late 1986-Mid 1987 Winifred Samuel - July 27, 1987 Melanie Taylor - July 28, 1987 Edith Rozier, October - 02, 1987 Gap/Late 1987-Mid 1988 Sharmanita Grays - April 02, 1988 Linda Johnson - September 7, 1988 Joyce Henderson - October 14, 1988 Erica Edward - October 22 1988 Barbara Ann Black - October 24, 1988 Robin Renee Rolle - October 27, 1988 Barbara Anne Lattimore - October 27, 1988 Antoinette Burns - December 12, 1988 Anita Spires - January 22, 1989 Kimberley Stewart - January 30, 1989 Vanessa Harris - February 1, 1989 Carolyn Bodie - March 24, 1989 Angela Michelle Williams - March 26, 1989 Peggy Gooden - April 3 1989 Brenda Hernandez - April 4 1989 Sources https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/is-excited-delirium-killing-coked-up-stun-gunned-miamians-6367399 https://www.tampabay.com/archive/1994/09/26/rapist-murder-suspect-dies-of-aids/#:~:text=A%20convicted%20rapist%20suspected%20of,Jackson%20Memorial%20Hospital's%20jail%20ward . https://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article1929169.html https://fsulawrc.com/fall/flsupct/79487/op-79487.pdf https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19940926&id=lSAfAAAAIBAJ&sjid=P30EAAAAIBAJ&pg=5226%2C305515 https://www.upi.com/Archives/1992/07/30/Suspected-serial-killer-indicted-for-one-slaying/3075712468800/ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1320&dat=19890517&id=VktWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=MeoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6954,6355002 https://apnews.com/article/2692e88ed82a8027976aaf03a16f5a05 Case Files https://www.muckrock.com/foi/miami-dade-county-7318/casefile-charles-henry-williams-medical-examiner-71458/ Documentary on the Mosley Case https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4LMlwR7Kvo