LOS ANGELES – A man is in custody on a cold case murder that occured in 2005 and after reviewing the autopsy report in the case he is charged with it prompted a review of two unsolved murders that have occured in the last year.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference earlier this month where they showed the public a photo of former teacher Charles Wright, who is charged in the 2005 death of Pertina Epps.
The autopsy report detailed she was found strangled and with plastic bags over her head and feet. It was noted she had a stab wound to her face and was found face down with her shirt up and pants at her ankles. The plastic bag on her head was secured by a belt that could have caused the strangulation. She was found partially clothed and according to the victim’s daughter, semen was found “all over” her body.
Wright was linked to her death based on fingerprint and DNA evidence allegedly left at the crime scene.
Authorities released his photo after they identified a second assault victim who shared the same profile as Epps of being a sex worker.
Two other women, who were classified as sex workers, also died under peculiar circumstances where there murders remain unsolved.
Mikeona Johnson was found in her car nearly 6 days after being reported missing in early 2021. Due to the state of decomposition the medical examiner’s office was unable to determine cause of death. The autopsy report only listed trauma to her rectum area. She was clothed but the dress she was wearing was raised.
Tioni Theus was found partially clothed on the 110 freeway earlier this year. She had a gunshot wound to her cheek and had two plastic bags over her head. She was also found face down and partially clothed. Both she and Epps were found to have money in their possession, Johnson did not.
The “grim sleeper” was a serial killer who was linked to the murder of 10 women in the South LA area. His crime spree lasted from 1984-2007 and it would take 14 years before he was arrested in 2010. He held a government job and was relatively liked by his neighbors.
In the mid-80s authorities became aware of a serial killer targeting Black women who were drug users and sex workers. All of the victims were sexually assaulted, stabbed, and strangled to death. Activists, particularly Margaret Prescod, were upset the residents in South LA weren’t being told about the crimes against the women. Somehow Lonnie Franklin became a person of interest and once authorities obtained DNA from a state database it was linked to his son who was too young to have committed the crimes which led them to his father. Undercover officers then followed Franklin and obtained his DNA from a restaurant he was eating at.
The authorities have not linked Wright to the deaths of either Johnson or Theus but it leads to a bigger question of whether there is another serial killer on the loose in LA that is preying on sex workers who are being sexually assaulted and murdered, and not particularly in that order.
It’s unclear how many other unsolved murders of sex workers are in the cold case files but hopefully the authorities are testing the DNA amongst all of these cases for clues.