Kansas City, Mo. No one in the run-down part of Kansas City east of downtown is under any illusions that their neighborhood is crime-free.
But the discovery of six bodies -- including those of at least four women with histories of drug use or prostitution -- has raised fears that a serial killer is now preying on the area that one activist calls the most decrepit in the city.
"It still hasn't stopped them from walking," said Misty Garner, a waitress at a neighborhood restaurant, of the prostitutes who often come into the 3 Friends Restaurant and Bar B Q to eat. "I seen them up and down here all day."
Since Thursday, five bodies have been discovered on vacant lots or near vacant houses or apartments; the first was found slain in July. Police continued their investigation Wednesday, and have yet to release a cause of death for any of the six victims. Forensic analysis of their bodies is ongoing.
Four of the victims have been identified, all women: Patricia Wilson Butler, 45, Sheliah McKinzie, 38, Darci I. Williams, 25, Anna Ewing, 42. The other two bodies were skeletal. Police Capt. Rich Lockhart said Wednesday that police were working with a forensic anthropologist and hoped to know more details -- including the age, height, weight and sex of those victims -- by the end of next week.
Police also are trying to determine whether the deaths were linked to other crimes, including a series of arsons in the area. Lockhart said a search of several areas with cadaver dogs failed to turn up anything Tuesday.
The four victims whose names are known all had criminal convictions for drug possession, one with intent to sell, according to state court records. Ewing also had a prostitution conviction in state and municipal courts. Municipal court records show Butler and McKinzie were convicted of solicitation, and Butler had been charged with "keeping a disorderly house" where drunkenness or prostitution were permitted. Police said two of the women were homeless.
Only one of the women had been reported missing before the bodies began turning up.
Police are looking into the women's lifestyle as part of their investigation, spokesman Tony Sanders said. "We do know they were involved with street activity," he added, without elaboration.
Standing at the hostess stand at 3 Friends, Garner said she was certain she talked to one of the victims days before she disappeared. The woman told Garner she was selling her body to pay bills and wouldn't do it forever. But Garner wasn't convinced.
"Just be careful," she warned.
Since the bodies began turning up, Garner no longer walks home after work. She waits and catches a ride from co-workers and worries about her 12-year-old daughter. "I'm even scared for my daughter walking to the bus stop," she said.
Down the street, prostitutes frequently solicit customers near an elementary school, moving out of view of the children when the youngsters head outside for recess, said a teacher at the school. Still, the news that a body had been found behind a brick building just across the street startled the staff.
"We were in shock," said Cheryl Hines, a Head Start preschool teacher.