CHARLESTON, West Virginia » A man toting axes, a shovel and bleach when he was killed by an escort he met online had been stopped, interviewed or investigated by police in at least 20 states and is being looked into for possible links to unsolved disappearances or slayings, authorities said Monday.
West Virginia authorities are trying to circulate information to see if Neal Falls, of Springfield, Oregon, can be linked to any other crimes against women nationwide. Police say Falls was fatally shot July 18 as he attacked and choked the escort in Charleston, West Virginia, and she grabbed his handgun off the ground and fired it.
Police found axes, knives, handcuffs, a shovel, bleach and other items in Falls’ car, raising suspicions this wasn’t the first time he had attacked a woman.
“The fact that he was 45 years old and carrying tools like he was and committing a crime that was so organized and so violent, it’s unlikely that this was his first violent crime,” Charleston police Lt. Steve Cooper said.
Cooper said Falls had a list of 10 other women in his pocket. Nine were in West Virginia; one was in San Diego. Similar to the Charleston woman, whom police are calling Heather, all were escorts active online, he said. They are all alive, he said.
Heather had a separated shoulder, broken vertebrae, strangulation marks around her throat and other injuries, Cooper said.
No history of major crimes in Falls’ record has surfaced. However, police said records show that authorities in states including Arizona, Kentucky and Virginia had interactions with Falls such as stopping him, running his license plate or checking his Social Security number.
“We are sharing this information with law enforcement across the country in hopes that we may be able to help solve cold cases or bring closure to some families if Mr. Falls has been involved in anything like this before,” Cooper said.
Charleston police have notified southern Nevada authorities, who said they are investigating Falls’ possible involvement in a series of killings long believed to be connected. Police have said Falls rented a room in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson when four prostitutes went missing in the area. In three cases, young women working as prostitutes went missing and were found dismembered on the side of a road.
Henderson police spokeswoman Michelle French said they are checking into any possible Falls connection to the 2005 disappearance of 21-year-old Lindsay Harris. She was the subject of a massive search, and her family from central New York helped comb the desert area where her rental car was last seen 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. The case appeared on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” Leg parts were identified as hers through DNA testing three years after they were found off Interstate 55 near Springfield, Illinois, more than 1,600 miles away.
Las Vegas police confirmed they’re investigating the death of 25-year-old Misty Saens, whose partial remains were wrapped in plastic and cloth and were found off a road near the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in 2003.
North Las Vegas police said detectives are searching for 21-year-old Jessica Foster, who was reported missing from the Vegas suburb in 2006. A fourth woman was reported missing from Vegas in 2003, and her torso was found wrapped in plastic near the Nevada-California border.
Cooper said Falls had “many contacts with law enforcement” across the country.
“He has been stopped and investigated by the police in upwards of 20 states,” Cooper said.
He said Charleston police also have been communicating with authorities in the small southern Ohio city of Chillicothe, where four women died in suspicious circumstances and two others are missing. He said there has been no evidence placing Falls there, but it’s been considered because of the proximity to Charleston, less than a two-hour drive away.
Cooper said police are gathering information on Falls. It appears he was staying in his car, where he kept a pillow and sleeping bag, Cooper said.
“He had no cash, no credit cards,” Cooper said. “It’s a mystery how he had traveled across the country to us right now. There’s something that we haven’t discovered yet.”
Sewell reported from Cincinnati. Associated Press writer Sally Ho in Las Vegas contributed to this report.