DENVER (AP) — Authorities all along had the DNA evidence to link a convicted triple-murderer to three additional murders from 1979, and they say he could have been responsible for as many as 20 slayings.
But the process of developing an identifying DNA ” fingerprint” was still five years away when authorities say Vincent Groves killed a prostitute, a banker, and a store clerk.
By the time Groves had been let out of prison in 1987 and went on a suspected killing spree that left police discovering a body a month in and around Denver for about a year, authorities were still struggling with how to handle DNA. Colorado was the first state to require DNA but only from sex offenders in 1988 and the FBI’s national database was a decade away from becoming fully operational.
On Wednesday, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey announced that through federal grants for a cold case unit in the Denver Police Department and his office, four slayings had been solved though DNA matches.
Groves, who died in prison in 1996 at age 42, was tied by DNA to the 1979 killings of women found strangled and partially nude in an alley, an industrial park and a bathtub in Denver. Police used a DNA profile of Groves they recently found from an old murder investigation and linked it to the four separate crime scenes, authorities said.
“So often times, a serial offender can fly below the DNA radar screen, maybe leaving DNA, but because their criminal history occurred at a time when they weren’t eligible to go into the database or there was no database, they stay at large continuing to commit their crimes,” Morrissey said.
The 1979 slayings of Emma Jenefor, 25; a store clerk in a tony area of Denver; Joyce Ramey, 23, a suspected prostitute, and Peggy Cuff, 20, a banker, bore strong resemblances to Groves’ past killings and the disappearance of a woman that Groves was suspected in, authorities said. Police also linked Groves to the 1988 strangulation death of Pamela Montgomery, 35, a suspected prostitute found dead in an alley.
Groves would target women he knew who were addicted to cocaine or prostitutes he picked up on Colfax Avenue, a street in Denver historically known for prostitution, said Morrissey and Mylous Yearling, cold-case investigator for Denver’s police department.
Groves strangled most of his victims; many were found nude or partially clothed, left in the mountains west of Denver, alleys and fields outside the city, police said.
When he died, Groves was serving a life sentence for the 1980s strangling of two young women. He had been released on parole in 1987 after serving five years in prison for killing a third woman in suburban Denver.
Authorities launched a task force in the late 1980s to investigate a string of slayings after authorities began finding an average of a body a month, all possibly killed by the same person, Morrissey said. At that time, Grove was suspected of up to 20 killings between 1979 and 1988, he said. In one case from 1980, investigators had seminal fluid, but could only develop a blood type from the sample.
“It was frustrating in that we didn’t have DNA like we do now,” Morrissey said of their efforts.
More DNA testing is pending to determine if Groves is linked to other victims, Morrissey said.
“There’s families out there that deserve answers and that’s what this work’s about,” Morrissey said. “If they’re (the suspects) still there, still alive, we want to hold them accountable. So when they’re not still alive, we’re able to give families answers, tell them what happened to their loved ones.”
Groves’ DNA profile was recovered from the case file related to 17-year-old Tammy Woodrum. Groves brought her body in a camper to a suburban Denver police department in 1981, according to a court document, after his wife convinced him to turn himself in.
He returned to prison in 1990 for the slayings of Juanita “Becky” Lovato, 19, and Diane Montoya Mancera, 25.
Police had circumstantial evidence linking Groves to three slayings in the late 1970s, including Ramey, and one missing woman, said Morrissey, who unsuccessfully placed Groves on trial in 1988 for attempted murder involving a woman who had escaped.
Yearling — one of an eight-member cold case team in Denver — described Groves as intelligent and able to coax women into compromising situations. The 6-foot-5, 240 pound former athlete grew up in a quiet suburb northwest of Denver in a yellow ranch house, the son of a music teacher and a military serviceman, Yearling said. He worked as a security guard and as a supervisor for an office building cleaning crew and traveled around the city, Yearling said. Groves went to church regularly, and his prison record lists his religion as Adventist.
“This caught his family by surprise,” Yearling said. “His family doesn’t believe that he committed these crimes.”
Neighbors outside Groves’ family home said the family moved out in 2010. A man who said he’s related to Groves declined to comment. Other family members could not be reached.
Prosecutors declined to release the names of victims’ family members, and efforts by The Associated Press to reach them were unsuccessful.
Morrissey said that three of Groves’ victims managed to escape. After a hitchhiker broke free in 1982, police found two knives, an opened liquor bottle, a pair of women’s underwear and a piece of electrical cord with a slip knot tied to one end of it in a search of his car, according to a court document.
When Groves was dying in prison, detectives asked him to share the fate of his victims, but he refused, Morrissey said. Prison officials declined to say how he died.
Morrissey said Groves died of natural causes.
More Related Stories
- Jodia Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma death count confirmed at 24, 9 children
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11