- Mark Rein
A Spider on the Web in the Garden State
Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This blog highlights crimes researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
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Tiffany Taylor grew up in the public housing projects of Jersey City, rubbing elbows daily with violence and drug abuse. She was with two of her boyfriends when they were murdered during their teenage years. When she was 18, Tiffany made an escape attempt, moving to Orlando, Florida, and enrolling in college to study psychology and music. After two years, she got pregnant. The father was a ghost, and Tiffany was pulled back to the familiar Jersey Street life. She had trouble finding regular employment, so eventually, she endured sex work as a survival tactic.
By 2016, Tiffany was 30 years old. Street hardened and angry. She was turning tricks, hustling, and ripping off John's whenever she could. She bumped into the spider for the first time at a friend's house and, within minutes, knew what he was about. They wouldn't be friends. The spider felt differently. He began calling and texting Tiffany, begging her to meet with him, and when she said no, he told her, he would pay for sex. She told him he was too young to be involved in her world and he should run home to mama.
The spider was persistent, ignoring Tiffany's snub, continuing to message her to the point of harassment. Tiffany knew she had to teach the man-boy a lesson about respect, so she agreed to meet the spider at his place. When Tiffany arrived at the spider's, she almost couldn't believe it. The decor, the pictures on the wall - his place was actually mamas. No bullshit. She had the urge to ask him if she would have to escape out the window if his mother came home while they were fucking. Instead, she took the $200 he was waving in her face. Then she excused herself, saying she'd forgotten something in her car. She walked out and never looked back.
Seven months later, the spider ripoff largely forgotten, Tiffany was working at a motel, doing the sex worker gigs part-time. She started receiving texts from an unknown number. A man said he was interested in seeing her. Tiffany was careful in her communications, and because she didn't know him, she put him off for several days.
The man continued texting, promising to pay her what would be considered premium prices to have sex with him. Tiffany agreed to pick up her new client in her car. On the night of the meeting, the man got into her car wearing a neck gator, pulled up as a mask. He also had on black leather gloves and a hoodie. Tiffany wasn't alarmed by the mask or concealing clothing because she thought it appropriate for the weather. He also might not wanna be seen in the company of a call girl. They made small talk as Tiffany drove to a secluded location. When she put the car in park, the man attacked her, repeatedly hitting her head so hard she lost consciousness.
When Tiffany woke up, she found herself face down in the back seat. Her hands were cuffed, and her head was partially wrapped in duct tape. The attacker had his arm wrapped around Tiffany's neck as he raped her from behind. She could barely see or breathe. The chokehold controlled her movement and caused Tiffany to float in and out of consciousness.
At one point, Tiffany's mind swam back into focus. The assailant looked her directly in the face and pulled down his mask. It was the spider. Tiffany screamed as the man began an unhinged rant. He yelled and beat her at the same time. He was furious that she stole from him. The fact that she had rebuffed his overtures enraged him. He complained bitterly that no woman would have him unless they got paid.
For her part, Tiffany was terrified. She knew the spider was very close to killing her, so she started pleading. She told him she was pregnant. She told him the cuffs were cutting off her circulation. When the spider responded sympathetically, Tiffany realized there was room to negotiate.
Tiffany sensed that she was bargaining for her life. She warned the spider that he couldn't kill her because their messages were on a cell phone that she had left at the motel where she worked. If he did anything to her, that phone would lead the cops directly to him. Tiffany promised him that if he took her to the motel, he could take the phone.
The spider was convinced, and soon they were headed that way. While en route, Tiffany, who was double-jointed, slipped one of the handcuffs. She pretended to still be restrained when the spider pulled her from the car and ripped the duct tape off her head. The two, kidnapper and captive, walked arm in arm, following Tiffany's direction. Up the exterior stairwell, past the bank of security cameras, and along a balcony walkway. The spider was unaware that Tiffany was leading them to her friend's room. When they arrived at the threshold, Tiffany knocked on the door with her foot.
The friend answered, and Tiffany lunged forward through the crack, slamming and dead-bolting the door behind her. The spider, who was unprepared for the woman's sudden moves, began pounding on the door. Tiffany responded by pulling back the curtains from the window next to the door. She held up the wrist with one handcuff dangling free and yelled through the glass that the cops were coming. The spider fled into the night.
Tiffany did call the police. While she waited, she realized the spider had her car keys. She texted him, saying that she would not make a police report if he returned those keys. What she really wanted was for him to return to the motel so the cops could intercept him. The spider returned, leaving the keys on a stairway near Tiffany's room. He had come and gone before the police arrived.
When patrol officers from the Elizabeth City Police Department finally got there, Tiffany told them the whole story. The problem was they didn't believe her. One of the officers warned her that prostitution is a crime and if she persisted with her report, she would be arrested. Exasperated, Tiffany asked if they could help by removing the handcuff. They refused.
Samantha Rivera was terrified that they would find her sister dead in a ditch somewhere. That old saw, brought out by parents of young girls everywhere, was always scoffed at with an accompanying eye roll. But this was serious. Sarah Butler, Samantha Rivera's 20-year-old sister, had come home from Jersey City University on Thanksgiving break in 2016. On the day before the holiday, Sarah borrowed her mom's minivan to go see a friend. No word from her since then.
Samantha knew Sarah wouldn't miss the family dinner. So, when the turkey was brought out, the empty chair cast a pall. The usually boisterous family was left quietly wondering, hoping. Their mother, Laverne had already called around before the dinner. Sarah wasn't with any friends. She wasn't at the hospital, and she wasn't in jail. All they could do was what seemed reasonable. They reported Sarah and the minivan missing.
After Thanksgiving and still no Sarah, the family began to organize a search. Friends and family members spread out around town, looking in Sarah's favorite places and posting pictures of her wherever they could. As time passed, feelings grew more frantic. They were desperate.
On day four, there was a watershed moment. The minivan was found abandoned in Orange, an adjacent township. There was no sign of Sarah. The police were aware that something had happened. They took the minivan for processing, but there was no sign of the kind of active investigation the family wanted. Samantha and two friends decided they needed a catalyst for action.
Day four was also the day that they got into Sarah's social media accounts and began searching the history for clues. They found that on a site called Tagged, Sarah had been communicating with a person who went by the name Lil Yacht Rock. After a back-and-forth introductory conversation, Lil Yacht Rock offered Sarah $500 for sex. Sarah responded, "You're not a serial killer. Right?" Then agreed to an in-person meeting.
The Tagged conversation was the most promising lead that the searchers found on Sarah's accounts. They decided that Lil Yacht Rock needed to be unmasked. So, they created a fake profile they thought would appeal to him. Within an hour of profile posting, Lil Yacht Rock was sending messages and looking to meet in person. Samantha scheduled the rendezvous at Panera Bread in nearby Glen Ridge, giving them adequate time to make preparations.
In the hours after his response, Samantha Rivera found herself waiting in the lobby of the police department, frustrated. She wanted to scream. Sarah was out there somewhere. But to the people around her, it was a normal day. The police clerks who took her information didn't act with any sense of urgency. It was just a 'please have a seat and wait' kind of thing. Not like her sister was in danger, RIGHT FUCKING NOW!
While Samantha was waiting, lil yacht rock called her cell. She didn't answer on his first try. By the second, she had time to think about it. When he called back, Samantha was prepared to record the conversation. He didn't say much that Samantha cared about. Lil yacht rock sounded like a kid trying to be a player but just came off as an awkward, sleazy little fuck. It took all the restraint Samantha had not to yell into the phone and demand where Sarah was. Instead, she listened to his bullshit, gritted her teeth, and tried to sound sweet and enthusiastic. In the end, they confirmed the meet-up at Panera and hung up, leaving Samantha's trap in place.
When the detective finally appeared and pulled Samantha back into a private office, she vomited the story, beginning to end. She stressed that the man that she'd just gotten off the phone with Lil Yacht Rock was probably the last person to talk to Sarah. The detective, for his part, was sympathetic, impressed by the family search efforts. He expressed surprise at how quickly the suspect responded to the Tagged profile.
At the prearranged date and time, Samantha was eagerly, almost frantically, waiting on the sidewalk outside Panera. A young man pulled into the parking lot in a BMW. Samantha waved at him, and when he waved back, the detectives moved in. She was excited, feeling the rush of the chase and capture. The detectives told Samantha that she would have to leave after they grabbed Lil yacht rock, but she was too invested.
The guy turned out to be an average-looking black kid. She had built him in her mind to look like a monster, but he turned out just to look like he sounded on the phone. Samantha watched as detectives first talked to him in the parking lot, then moved the conversation into one of their cars. After what seemed like a very short time, lil yacht rock got out of the cop car, went back to the BMW, and drove away.
In 2016, a serial killer was working in Essex County, New Jersey. He was quietly monitoring internet sites, searching for vulnerable women. He was unique only in that instead of looking for his victims walking the street; he prowled social media sites. When he found a woman who fit his criteria, he tagged them.
On August 31st, 2016, Robin West traveled from her home in Philadelphia to New Jersey. She planned to stay with family and celebrate her 20th birthday, but immediately after arriving, Robin disappeared. The family, unsure if Robin had changed her mind about the visit and gone home, tried to contact her, but she never called back. Because of Robin's past, it was assumed that she had been caught up in street life and would eventually surface.
The next day, September 1st, 2016, firefighters in the city of Orange, New Jersey, responded to a burning abandoned home on Lakeside Avenue. The fire was hot and caused extensive damage to the structure. When fire investigators cleared the burned-out building, they found charred human remains. It took two weeks to identify Robin West's body using dental records. Investigators were suspicious that the case was a homicide, but the exact cause of death could not be determined due to the intensity of the fire. The only additional evidence from the initial investigation was a witness had seen Robin get into a car with an unknown man.
On October 22nd, 2016, Joanne Brown, a 33-year-old resident of Newark, New Jersey, disappeared. A witness later came forward who saw Joanne get into a car with an unknown man. On December 5th, 2016, Joanne's body was found by contractors working in an unoccupied house on Highland Avenue in Orange, New Jersey. Her head and face had been wrapped in tape. A jacket was tied tightly around her neck and had been used as a ligature to kill her.
Sarah Butler was a 20-year-old student going to Jersey City University, 45 minutes away from her parents' home in Montclair. Sarah had returned home for the Thanksgiving break. The day before the holiday, on November 22nd, she borrowed her mother's minivan to go see a friend and disappeared. The Butler's minivan was found on day four in Orange, a town adjacent to Montclair.
Sarah's sister, working with two friends, hacked into Sarah's social media, and found suspicious communications with a person calling himself lil yacht rock. They set up a meeting with a man at a local restaurant and contacted police. Investigators coordinated with the missing woman's sister. When lil yacht rock arrived for the meeting, detectives intercepted him. He turned out to be 20-year-old Khalil Wheeler Weaver, who worked as a security guard at a grocery store.
In a brief initial interview, Weaver admitted to having communication with Sarah Butler but said he didn't know where she was and denied any wrongdoing. Weaver gave investigators alibi information and left the meeting.
Within days of that meeting at Panera, on December 1st, 2016, Sarah Butler's body was found hidden under brush at the Eagle Rock Reservation, a nature preserve in West Orange, New Jersey. She had been strangled with a leg of her sweatpants.
In April 2016, 30-year-old Tiffany Taylor set up a meeting for sex with Weaver at his home in Orange, New Jersey. She only agreed to meet with him because he was harassing her, blowing up her phone, and demanding sex. After arriving at Weaver's home, Tiffany took Weaver's money and left without providing any service. After that incident, she blocked his communication and avoided him.
In November 2016, Weaver tricked Tiffany Taylor into meeting with him. During this contact, he assaulted Tiffany, rendering her unconscious, restraining her with handcuffs and duct tape, and sexually assaulting her. After the rape, Tiffany was able to escape and summon local police. When patrol officers from the Elizabeth City Police Department arrived, they didn't believe Tiffany's story and threatened to arrest her for prostitution.
Tiffany was stunned by how she'd been treated by the police after a man had just raped and tried to murder her. She decided survival wasn't enough. She needed justice. She took her story to the Essex County prosecutor. As it happened, Weaver's name was catching fire at that office, and they welcomed Tiffany with open arms.
The prosecutor coordinated with police detectives to properly investigate her assault. It turned out there was an enormous amount of corroborating evidence. In addition to the phone communications, Tiffany had bruising, marks, and other physical evidence that corresponded to her account. The Ritz Motel was able to provide very good surveillance footage that matched Tiffany's account, including the escape at the motel room door and, later, the return of Tiffany's car keys.
At first glance, Weaver did not give investigators the serial killer vibe. He was very young, clean, cut, and neatly dressed. During interviews, they found Weaver to be calm, cooperative, and even charming. When they looked into Weaver's background, they found that he'd grown up in a nice upper-middle-class neighborhood in Orange.
Several of his relatives were employed in law enforcement and government. The young man himself worked as a security guard, and people who knew him thought he aspired to be a police officer. Weaver admitted to knowing, even meeting with the women, that he was suspected of attacking. He told detectives that he'd eaten with Robin West and then dropped her off at a house. The specific house he referenced turned out to be only a couple of blocks from the fire scene where her body was. At the time of the interview, West was still considered missing. Her remains recovered from the burned house were still pending identification.
In the Joanne Brown case, the witness who saw her getting into a car was able to identify Weaver as the man Joanne left with. It turned out Brown's body was found in a building half a mile from where Weaver lived with his mother.
As the scope of Weaver's crimes started to come into focus in the Essex County prosecutor's office, the investigators decided to arrest him for the murder of Sarah Butler with the intent to charge additional crimes as their investigations were completed. The big day was December 6th, 2016. It began with a final interview, followed by the execution of search warrants. Among other items, detective seized three cell phones from their suspect's bedroom.
Although there was evidence that Weaver attempted to erase his digital footprint, he was not successful. Analysis of his online activity revealed he had conducted searches for how to drug people in unconsciousness and how to poison people. The cell phone activity contradicted Weaver's alibi claims, with tracking data clearly placing him in and around the crime scenes at critical times. An example of this is that Weaver was in the abandoned house on Lakeside Avenue for the placement of Robin West's body and the subsequent fire. The cell phone trace showed that he left the area for a short time and then returned to the house to watch it burn.
In Joanne Brown's case, the cell activity showed Weaver was the last person to talk to her on the phone. He picked her up and transported her to the house where she was found, spending a total of an hour there. For Sarah Butler's case, in addition to the damning digital evidence, Weaver's DNA was found in Sarah's fingernail scrapings taken at autopsy. Other circumstantial evidence was also seized. This included items found in Weaver's car, a bottle of lighter fluid, a body fluid cleanup kit, and zip ties.
In February 2017, Weaver was indicted on three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, and desecration of human remains. He was in custody for almost three years, awaiting trial. When the trial started, the prosecutor brought on a series of police detectives, forensic experts, eyewitnesses, and a victim.
The detectives laid out their analysis that Weaver repeatedly targeted black women who were poor, involved in sex work, and had unstable housing situations. An Essex County assistant prosecutor, Adam Wells, described that Weaver targeted women he felt were somehow less human, less valuable, and maybe wouldn't be missed. Weaver found and communicated with the victims on social media dating apps. After meeting the women, he would attack them, immobilize them, wrap their heads in duct tape, rape them, and strangle them with a piece of their own clothing. These assertions were supported by compelling circumstantial, direct, and testimonial evidence.
The most important testimony came from the surviving victim, Tiffany Taylor. The prosecutor presented that through Tiffany's account, which was corroborated by other evidence, the jury could see what the other victims had gone through but hadn't been fortunate enough to survive.
The defense tactic was twofold, exploit gaps in the evidence and claim a rush to judgment and frame-up of the defendant. An example of the first was that Robin West's body had been so badly damaged by the fire that a cause of death could not be pinpointed. The idea was if you don't know exactly how she died, how can you say the defendant killed her?
The second tactic was an assertion that the police and prosecutors had to pin the murders on someone, and the defendant was the scapegoat. The defense went further, saying Tiffany Taylor was a convenient witness for the prosecution because she had a personal beef with the defendant, was of low moral character, and was willing to say anything the prosecution wanted.
In the end, the Essex County jury took less than three hours to convict Weaver on 11 charges. All three counts of murder, attempted murder, sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, and desecration of human remains. The sentencing was scheduled and delayed numerous times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it finally proceeded on October 6th, 2021, several victims’ family members spoke. A representative of the Butler family gave a statement on their behalf. "We have lost a beloved member of our family, and there are no words for the pain and sorrow that we feel. Sarah was a happy, caring, and kind young lady who was adored by her family and friends. A freshman in college, Sarah loved to dance and was a lifeguard for the Y M C A. Sarah shined a light on this world that we will never again be able to replicate or replace." Sarah Butler's father said to the judge, "I hope you find it in your heart that you can give him the longest, maximum sentence. And I hope that he lives for a very long time, and they make him suffer every night in there like he made our girl suffer." Turning to Weaver, he said, "I hope you suffer, boy. Every night".
Robin West's mother wanted to emphasize that her daughter was different than what was portrayed in the trial, particularly by the defense. She said, "She will forever be and is my middle child. She loved music, loved to dance, loved to sing. Loved her family. Loved little children, loved elderly people. She loved dogs and all living things. Robin Daphne Michelle West did not, and I repeat, did not deserve to be strangled to death and set on fire to be left in a house. The world focuses on the last month of her life. She had a whole entire life before her demise. Hundreds of people were affected by her life and were saddened by her death."
No one could be present at the sentencing to speak for Joanne Brown. So the prosecutor spoke on their behalf. He said, "she was equally loved by her family and friends. She struggled throughout her life with homelessness, mental illness, and poverty. And nonetheless, and as I think we all see by observing this entire case, each life in this case mattered. Each of these victims mattered."
Tiffany Taylor gave a victim impact statement, saying that the attack had changed her entire life. She suffers from bouts of fear and paranoia and avoids social situations, but she is glad to be alive. Tiffany asked the judge to give Weaver a lengthy sentence. She noted that she is 100% certain that he is her attacker despite his repeated denials. She told the judge, "I hope you don't show him any remorse because he's not showing any remorse."
Weaver also gave a statement. He continued to deny committing any of these crimes. Weaver's public defender asked the judge for leniency based on his age and pointed out he had no prior convictions.
Judge Mark S. Ali was not moved by Weaver's protestations of innocence, pointing out that the convictions were based on the evidence provided during the trial from 42 witnesses and a thousand exhibits. The judge called Weaver a sociopath and that "this defendant absolutely lacks remorse. He thought all of the victims would not be noticed. He thought all of the victims would eventually be forgotten." The judge went on to say that nothing could compensate the victims and their families but that the sentence was a start. He said, "The purpose of this sentence is that the defendant never walks free in society again." The sentence was 160 years in prison. Under the No Early Release Act, Weaver must serve 145 years before he's eligible for parole.
Marcy: Let's talk about this case. Mark, I understand that there is a recent update to this case?
Mark: Yes. Weaver was charged in the murder of a 15-year-old girl, Mawah Doumbia. He was arraigned and pled not guilty just recently, October 26th, 2022. Obviously, he's still in prison, but he has that trial to look forward to and likely some years tacked onto his current sentence.
Marcy: Can you tell us a little bit about the facts of that case?
Mark: It's just like the others. The victim, Mawah, left home on October 7th, 2016, and she never returned, but her body wasn't found, and this is why it's separate from the others until May 2019 in an unoccupied house on Main Street in Orange, New Jersey. From what the prosecutor's releasing, they have the same kind of damning digital evidence as in all the others. He wrote her offers of cash for sex that were documented in the phone exchanges. So he's pretty screwed. Some of the prior acts are likely to make it into the new trial, so I don't think it's much of a possibility of beating this.
Marcy: Where does Mawah's murder fit with the other girls that where he was already tried in their murders?
Mark: In the events that we talked about, it would be the second. So, Robin West killed 8/31 of 2016. Mawah would've been 10/7 of 2016, followed by Joanne Brown. 10/22/ 2016. Tiffany Taylor, the only survivor that, occurred mid-November of 2016, followed by 20-year-old, Sarah Butler, killed on the 22nd of November 2016.
Marcy: But during his trial, the prosecutor did at least hint at Mawah's murder. Do you think that there could be more victims in addition to this new charge?
Mark: The Essex County prosecutor said after sensing when being asked about it, I'm gonna quote, "there certainly could be possibly others. In fact, there's one other case, at least one that we're looking at as a possible tie-in" end of quote.
I think that statement's clearly Mawah Doumbia. I kind of doubt they expect more because, when they charge, they start a clock on a trial. So I think if they were expecting more, they would've waited. With Weaver in prison, there's no urgency. They must have by now fully combed through all the digital evidence and know who he was in contact with. I think if there were additional victims and they were waiting for a body to be discovered, they would've put off starting the clock on a new trial.
Talking about that makes me think of other women who Weaver was probably in contact with. How would you like to be one of those to find out the guy you're talking to or the guy who's phone stalking you is a serial killer? Some of these technology-assisted crimes have to give you pause. I'm never gonna meet a woman online, but I have thought about the danger of selling things, like getting robbed after a Craigslist deal. After a career in law enforcement,I don't wanna get shot in the Walmart parking lot trying to unload my grandfather's rocking chair.
Marcy: You worked on Anchorage's homeless problem. You mentioned that these women are referred to as homeless. They don't live, maybe like most people think.
Mark: Yeah. So, while problems associated with homeless are often a policing concern, it's not a problem that police are well equipped to handle. As an aside note, it falls to police personnel regularly to handle problems that they're ill-equipped or just unable to adequately address. Police departments are often a catchall for services that seem important to somebody but can't be addressed either because of lack of funding, or because, you know, a particular problem happens after normal business hours. Here's an egregious example of what I'm talking about. There was a judge that we were dealing with that was fond of issuing orders that the cops will do this or that. Once that judge had a defendant who had psychiatric problems, and he was refusing to take his medication at night. The judge ordered the police will respond and force that man to take his medication. Now, we refused outright. Because it was way outside of our role and expertise. What really got us out of that is the liability of having cops come and force somebody to take medication. But there are a ton of things like that that are passed on to law enforcement simply because we're there and nobody else is available. For that reason, police departments have to push back on some of those additional tasks.
And so the homeless problem is one of those problems that cops can't fix, but people often demand we do something about. So, I was a supervisor of a crime suppression unit, but one of my tasks was to address issues of homelessness. When my team was called on to do something in that area, I referred to it as eating our vegetables. You know, it was a job we had to do before we could get back to our core mission as crime fighters.
But the foray into homelessness issues gave me a good understanding of the problem and an appreciation of how complicated these things could be to fix. But What people wanted from me, from the police department, was to make people and their problems disappear.
Marcy: You have something you said to people about that?
Mark: Yeah, and I've said it repeatedly. There were some really pissed-off people about the homeless problem. They literally wanted me to take people and make 'em disappear. Some of those problems were, I mean, they were justifiably angry but, but some of these people are really over the top. What I said to those people repeatedly was I have nowhere to put these people. We have nowhere to put them. I can't make them disappear. And you don't want a government who can make people disappear.
Marcy: So, in discussing homelessness, there is often conflict in the definition. There are several official definitions, and some of them are very narrow, and some of them are broader. Talk a little bit about the nuances between literally homeless and unstable housing.
Mark: When most people think of homeless or unhoused people, they generally think of what they see in many cities. People sleeping in cardboard boxes and sidewalks, maybe a cluster of tents under an overpass. And that's certainly one aspect.
But there are people who live in housing insecure situations, couch surfing temporarily, staying with friends or relatives. Lots of people cycle from having a place to stay and not having a place to stay or having to live in a car. And that makes life tough, holding down a steady job, particularly one that pays enough to afford an apartment, can be almost insurmountable. And you throw on top of that mental illness, addiction and you can see why situations like some of these women were in, in the story, how those happen.
Particularly people that are involved in the sex trade, some of these women have been exploited by other people, mostly men since they were little girls. In that situation, with that background feeling like you have only one thing to sell, and that has been taken from you for free since you were a child. It's easy to see why some women might turn to that.
When I'm thinking about homeless people, I've heard people say with disgust these people have cell phones. How homeless could they really be? They have a cell phone. You know, I like to point out in these women's cases, these phones are lifelines. In this case, keeping the phones working is how they made a little money. How they reached out to friends when they needed help.
Marcy: In thinking about sex work and the kind of sex work that was happening with the women victims, in this case, let's talk a little bit about the difference between sort of the traditional television portrayal of prostitution versus some of the sort of subsistence sex work that you referenced.
Mark: Just like in homeless situations, there are different variations. When I was a vice detective and later had a team in crime suppression. I became aware of the situation that young girls and very poor women sometimes get by through sex work or sex exchange. My team worked a project in the downtown area of Anchorage, where we did a lot of surveillance when the project started. We saw men basically prowling the area around the bus center because young girls, some runaways, would hang out there. They're just down the street from the Covenant House shelter. Talking to people down there, some of them sell themselves for cash or just a place to stay. This kind of thing isn't organized prostitution, you know, that people might see on the online or street, but it exists.
This is the situation that some of the women in this case face. Some of the media reports referred to them all as prostitutes, some all as homeless. None of these women fit into those two groups fully. What they all needed was money, and some were more in the homeless world than others. With Sarah Butler, the 20-year-old college student wasn't homeless or engaged in regular sex work. She needed money. What I do know from my time in vice is responding to men like Weaver is dangerous in terms of them being pulled fully into prostitution and falling under the control of a pimp.
Marcy: Do you think this is a new thing that's happening because of social media?
Mark: No, I don't think there's anything new about subsistence sex work. What I think social media does is allow these connections to be made much more easily.
Marcy: Let's talk a little bit about Weaver because he's not what I think of when I picture a cold-blooded serial killer. He's clean-cut, very neat, and he's only 20 years old.
Mark: Admit it, you don't like him because his name is Wheeler Weaver, and his screen name was Lil Yacht Rock. I tried to write that as many times as I could, to, just to get you to say Lil Yacht Rock at Wheeler Weaver. But that's why we trimmed it down to Weaver to make it easier on Marcy to read. But there was no saving her from Lil Yacht Rock.
Back to Weaver. He reportedly grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood among working professionals. Violent crime is present in all social strata. Who knows what this guy's personal life was like? It probably wasn't great, and we have more than hints that it was screwed up.
I've known personally two people who have been convicted of predatory type rapes. One, unfortunately, was a police officer, and one was a guy who was a community activist, a community patrol guy that happened to be in the area I worked most. Neither one of those guys was the kind of monster you can see from the next block over. Quite the contrary. Both had convincing facades, the cop who turned out to be a serial rapist. His facade was that he was a super straight arrow. Uber, religious.
The other was a guy. who cared enough about his community to drive around looking for problems, and he seemed like a model citizen from the outside.
Marcy: Let me guess. They violated the rule of toos.
Mark: Exactly. Obviously, I've talked about the rule of toos before. A detective I work with told me when he contacts people, he looks for when they seemed too something. I mean, not the number, too, as in t o o. It can be that they're too helpful or too forthcoming with information, or too hostile right off the bat. His belief and I found this to be true, is that the too is a tell, like in poker. My job as an investigator was to try and find out what the motivation for the too was.
Back to the rapists. I knew the officer. I might do an episode about him later, so I don't give too much information. He wanted everybody to believe he was so very pious. I later talked to one of his police recruits who said that that persona broke down a little when you got close and when you sit in a cop car with a guy for a month, you get close. There were indications that he wasn't the person he was trying to portray. So, in this case, too religious, too pious was a tell that he was concealing an alternate mindset.
With the community patroller guy. He was out all night cruising the area for a reason. Me, I was paid to do it night after night. I got the calls. I handled them. This guy's just driving around, hanging out in the neighborhood. After a while, I got the impression the guy just like the seamy side of the city at night. He wasn't really accomplishing anything. I think he was hiding what he really wanted to do, which was what he was convicted of. He was prowling, trying to find and pick up an intoxicated woman and raping her. His super dedication to being on the community patrol was just too much.
Marcy: And for the listener, community patrol in Anchorage is like a souped-up neighborhood watch.
Mark: Yeah, basically a group of people who are kind of loosely affiliated, neighborhood watch type, a little bit more aggressive. And the guy I'm talking about was well-known as a community activist and kind of a community guardian, but he was way more engaged than any of the other people. Way later, he'd turn up all hours of the night. And it was just, like I said, too much.
Marcy: It also appeared that Weaver thought about applying to become a police officer because some of his Google searches were police entrance exam practice test. Do you think he could have made it to be a police officer?
Mark: Well, with several of his family members employed in law enforcement. He was working as a security guard at a hotel and grocery store. I'd say he might have made a good candidate at first glance. I'd like to think that a rigorous hiring process would screen him out. The judge quite correctly called him a sociopath. So, he might have been able to get past the polygraph examiner. I think the psych would've tripped him up, but maybe not. I mentioned the police officer rapist. I'm glad Weaver wasn't already a police officer when he was nabbed. First, he would probably have learned something about digital forensics, could have covered his tracks better. And second, police officers who do crimes like that really destroy public trust, which makes it so much more difficult for the others of us who are trying to effectively do their jobs.
Marcy: Weaver was an idiot when he came to covering his tracks.
Mark: Yeah, and I'm glad he was. People, and I think he did, have this sense of anonymity when it comes to a digital footprint. And you are kind of anonymous because there's a ton of data out there. So, I think it's true that you can get away with all kinds of crimes without being detected. And I think that's why criminals who graduate to murder are surprised when they immediately get caught. Some people get away with lower-end crimes for years without serious consequences. Homicide's a different animal. Homicides get attention. As a detective, I was never pulled for my unit to work on a string of property crimes, but the reverse is true.
My last assignment as a sergeant was working street operations on a multiple murder drug task force. I was given my unit, the vice unit, and SWAT officers to supervise. That kind of thing only happens for homicides. With that kind of scrutiny on homicides, once a suspect's name is known, you're pretty much going down.
I think if Weaver had been a police officer or more mature when he started his murder spree, he would've been more difficult to catch. He learned from his first crime, the one with the fire. The burning building immediately drew scrutiny. The fire department responded. Later the news reported that a body had been found. He was smart to change his MO and not to punctuate each murder with a fire.
But Weaver's big early mistake was the digital trail. This would've been a much tougher case to make if he had been killing streetwalkers because the crimes wouldn't have been documented on the phones and social media accounts. He was convicted under a mountain of evidence that started with his text record and ended with the movements mapped out in cell data. The witnesses, DNA, and interview were just icing on the prosecution's cake.
Marcy: Well, don't shortchange the role of the ladies in catching him.
Mark: No, of course not. But before I talk about that, I'd like to mention that Samantha, Sarah Butler's sister did it just the way you would've. The meeting would've either been at Panera or better at Starbucks. I think we should own major stock in those companies by now.
Marcy: But you digress.
Mark: Yeah. The prosecutor credited both the Butler group and Tiffany Taylor for going above and beyond to help close these cases.
Marcy: Talk about what you said about the police letting Weaver go from Panera. That must have been torture for Samantha Rivera to watch.
Mark: I wanna talk about the broader involvement of citizens in police investigations, but I will say that from the media writeup, the Panera meeting was dramatized to the fact they let Weaver go after the contact. And I guess I allowed that to in my writeup also.<