Seattle arrest prompts concerns of ‘serial killer’ targeting homeless

Mar 5, 2024, 5:53 AM | Updated: 2:32 pm

serial killer homeless...

SPD vehicle (Photo courtesy of SPD)

(Photo courtesy of SPD)

An arrest in a Seattle homicide from earlier this month is prompting questions about the case’s potential links to similar crimes in the same area — and whether the city’s unhoused population is being targeted by violence.

A 25-year-old man, arrested on Sunday, is suspected of murdering a homeless man outside Town Hall in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood on Feb. 22.

“The victim was sleeping and then was attacked, in probably an unprovoked way,” Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief Adrian Diaz told reporters at a press conference Monday.

According to first appearance documents provided by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Daravuth Van, 52, had “a large gaping wound in his head and a significant pool of blood forming around him” when a passerby spotted him around 5 a.m. on Feb 22. The medical examiner later determined “a sharp blunt force object” fractured part of his skull and penetrated his brain. Van’s property, including a small amount of cash, was undisturbed.

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As detectives combed through surveillance footage from nearby businesses and department buildings, they identified a suspect seen walking past Van several times as he lay sleeping.

“After again confirming there were no witnesses, (the suspect) swung the weapon in a downward motion in the area where victim Van was laying,” the SPD report read.

SPD detectives spotted a person matching the suspect’s description Saturday morning at approximately 3 a.m. near Freeway Park, which sits less than 200 feet from Town Hall. The suspect took off, managing to get away. But during the chase, he dropped an ax, which Diaz said helped SPD compile enough evidence for a search warrant. With the help of a SWAT team, detectives arrested the suspect Sunday at his residence, not far from the Town Hall homicide scene.

According to Diaz, when detectives saw the suspect, they were already surveilling the area near the homicide out of concern there could be another potential attack.

“We know that the victim in this case is homeless,” Diaz said. “It is a concern that he was back out in the same location and potentially looking at targeting … we don’t know if it would be homeless, or anybody walking in that area during that time of night.”

Similar murders in same area of Seattle

At this time, Seattle police are not linking the suspect to any additional cases. But the circumstances of the Town Hall homicide — including the weapon used — bear similarities to recent attacks in the nearby downtown, Capitol Hill and Yesler Terrace neighborhoods of Seattle.

On Feb. 10, Seattle police responded to an alley in the 300 block of 12th Avenue, about a mile from Town Hall. A 911 caller reported a body in a pool of blood behind the offices of the Men’s and Women’s Chorus just before 7:30 a.m. Officers found a dead man “with obvious head trauma,” according to SPD’s blotter post.

A King County Medical examiner report said 68-year-old Paul Earnest Ewell was killed outdoors on the same day, at the same address. His cause of death is listed as “homicide due to multiple sharp force injuries of the head,” similar to the way Van died near Town Hall. Neighbors near the Men’s and Women’s Chorus office said Ewell was unhoused.

On Feb. 18, detectives responded to a body found in a vacant parking garage on Columbia Street downtown, half a mile from Town Hall. The victim, listed in the medical examiner’s report as 37-year-old Jared Alex Redding, died of “multiple blunt force injuries.” The report also indicated Redding’s body could have been there for over a week before he was discovered.

And on Feb. 25, just three days after Van was killed at Town Hall, a 32-year-old man was critically stabbed at Cal Anderson Park less than a mile away.

“Witnesses stated there was an altercation before the victim was stabbed by a male in his 20’s,” SPD stated.

Additionally, detectives identified the ax dropped by the suspect as one sold exclusively at Lowe’s home improvement stores. Video footage from the Lowe’s location at 2700 Rainier Ave S shows the suspect purchasing the ax on Feb. 9, less than a day before Paul Earnest Ewell was found dead in Yesler Terrace.

Are Seattle’s unhoused being targeted?

As of now, no arrests have been made in any of the cases, other than Van’s murder. At Monday’s press conference, Diaz fielded questions on whether the attacks could be connected.

“Does it appear that this suspect was deliberately targeting members of the unhoused population?” one reporter asked.

“It almost sounds like the beginnings of a serial killer,” another chimed in. “He didn’t know these people.”

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“That’s a good question that still is yet for us to develop,” Diaz responded. “Just like all other investigations, we look for previous cases to see if there’s any links.”

He did praise what he said was the “extraordinary” and “intuitive” work of the detectives. He emphasized that their continued surveillance of that area ultimately helped lead to the suspect’s capture.

“I think that potentially stopped what would be another homicide,” Diaz said.

A source within the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) told KIRO Newsradio on condition of anonymity that they have responded to at least three incidents in that area involving deadly violence towards unhoused people, all in the past month. According to the source, the circumstances of the cases were so similar that the FBI had been looped in.

However, a separate source within the SPD told KIRO Newsradio the FBI is not currently involved in the investigation.

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to the FBI office in Seattle for comment as information about the probe is still coming in.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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Seattle arrest prompts concerns of ‘serial killer’ targeting homeless