A potential serial killer who may be targeting the homeless in Stockton, and who also may have killed a homeless man in Oakland, has rattled nerves and set the unhoused population, especially, on edge.
It was not initially discussed by police earlier this week that a majority of the victims, if not all of them, of a potential serial killer in Stockton have been homeless. But multiple news outlets have now reported that at least four of the six known victims of this serial shooter were homeless, shot during overnight hours in areas with little surveillance camera coverage. Five of the victims were Latinx. And one woman who was shot in July 2021 and survived was also homeless — she was coming out of her tent at 3:20 a.m. when the shooting occurred. As the Chronicle reports, she has given the only description of the man who has yet to be given a serial killer's moniker — he was wearing a dark jacket and a COVID mask.
The shootings have been ongoing since early July, when 35-year-old Paul Yaw was killed on the north side of Stockton. But on Monday, authorities said they had connected two more shootings from a year earlier to the serial killer, apparently by ballistics evidence — the woman who survived, and Juan Miguel Vasquez Serrano, a 40-year-old Oakland man who was killed around 4 a.m. on April 10, 2021.
The Chronicle has a few extra details today about several of the victims, including Serrano, who is described by neighbors in the Seminary neighborhood of East Oakland as a car mechanic for hire who sometimes slept in the cars he was fixing. He was shot to death on the 5800 block of Harmon Avenue on what turned out to be an especially deadly day in Oakland, and details about the shooting were not previously publicized.
Another victim, possibly the killer's fourth, has been identified as Salvador Debudey Jr., who was a musician and graphic artist who had "fallen on hard times" and was camping by the Calaveras River when he was killed next to a Popeye's restaurant on August 11, 2022.
Was Serrano this killer's first victim? Are homeless people his primary targets? The homeless population in Stockton, which at last count was around 900, are especially nervous and feel especially vulnerable now if they aren't able to get into shelter.
"We’ve been sleeping in groups outside with rocks and sticks," says one homeless man in Stockton, Arturo Peña, speaking to the Chronicle. "We know we’ll likely not kill him, but hopefully we can slow him down if he attacks us."
Robert Lewis, a 65-year-old homeless man, tells the paper, "There’s a lot of craziness out here, and how can you tell [the killer] apart from the people screaming at poles and talking to themselves? If you’re killing people like that, you’re crazy too."
Lewis's girlfriend, 66-year-old Kim Jennings, tells the Chronicle that she's glad the two of them are currently sheltered at the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless, saying, "This place is a blessing."
The shelter is on the opposite end of town from where six of the total seven shootings have occurred. Police have not discussed any leads so far besides the grainy surveillance image of a person, seen from behind, released on Sunday.
Homeless people have been targeted by serial killers for many years — and for someone bent on random murder, unsheltered people make for fairly easy targets. A 30-year-old man was arrested in March in Washington, D.C., Gerald Brevard III, and charged with the murders of five homeless men in New York and D.C.
Late last year, a 25-year-old man in Miami was arrested on suspicion of two murders of homeless individuals.
San Joaquin County last dealt with serial killers when a burial ground was revealed in the rural town of Linden, just east of Stockton, by one half of the duo known as the Speed-Freak Killers, in 2012. Convicted killer Wesley Shermantine began revealing the locations of the victims of his and Loren Herzog's meth-fueled killing spree of the 1980s and 90s, leading authorities to a well on a property in Linden in 2012. Investigators proceeded to find around 300 bones there from at least 10 victims — and the Speed-Freak Killers are believed to have killed at least 15 people.
Photo via San Joaquin Continuum of Care