Could 4 women's murders on the N. Freeway be connected?

Who killed four young women along the North Freeway in 1980? KHOU's Grace White takes a deeper look at these four cold cases.

They are gruesome murders. Women strangled and dumped on the side of the road. There are four cases with one thing in common: They all happened along the North Freeway in 1980, and police say they could be the work of a serial killer.

Under the twinkle of tail lights, someone hid a dark secret beneath the steady hum of the highway.

"You have brush, you have weeds, it is just the perfect breeding environment for dumping," said Cold Case Detective Darcus Shorten with the Houston Police Department.

She's made a career out of fighting for women.

"Working on -- I guess you would call -- voiceless women, people that had no voice or thought they didn't have a voice," Shorten said.

Now she's looking for new leads in the killings of four women, and three are still unidentified.

"There's a high probability, yes," said Shorten when asked if it could be the work of a serial killer.

As she was looking into one of the cases and trying to identify the woman pictured in her composite sketch, she noticed something connecting the four.

"You're dealing with high-risk victims," she said.

She's isn't the first to make a connection. The original HPD detectives found other women possibly connected.

"Come to find out, they were getting hits, and these hits were consistent to not only the location, but also the method of operation as well,"  Shorten said.

So far, they've connected four cases along I-45 North. One case where a woman was found murdered just north of the city limits of Huntsville.

The other cases are all closer to Houston. Another woman was found near I-45 & Airtex, and another woman just down the road near Greens.

The final case is in Houston. A woman was found near I-45 at Stokes Street near the 610 Loop.

"There were some identifiers and some specific items that was alarming that were consistent to each other," Shorten said.

Investigators are holding back some details but found all of the victims strangled and some were sexually assaulted the same way.

There is a sketch of the victim near Huntsville the Walker County Sheriff’s Office is still trying to identify.

"Maybe there is a loved one looking for them that has no idea this has happened," said Leticia Manzano with Houston Area Women's Center.

Its hotline gets 2,000 calls a year for help.

"All victims and survivors deserve justice. I think that's the number one reason to remember that they are human beings and that they are someone's sister, someone's mother or daughter," Manzano said.

"These are bad guys, these are monsters," Shorten said.

Investigators aren't sure how many people are involved. Now HPD, Walker and Harris County Sheriff's Offices are working together. Even using the F.B.I.’s nationwide database V.I.C.A.P. to link unsolved crimes.

"A person may not have talked in 1980, but they are more willing to talk now as they matured," Shorten said.

This detective's biggest priority is putting names next to the faces of the women who are still Jane Does so she can unlock the mystery of who they are and what happened before they were left for dead on one of Houston's busiest highways.

"I guess I'm just passionate about the fact that here you are, you are weak, you are vulnerable, you are being taken advantage of, and then you're being killed, and this cycle has to stop," Shorten said.

There are only two good sketches of the victims. If you know who they are, investigators want to hear from you. Call Crime Stoppers at (713) 222-TIPS or H.P.D.’s Cold Case Hotline at (713) 308-3618.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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