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Suspect in murder of prostitutes speaks out

The two opposites of Miami's strangest multiple homicide investigation, the case of Charles Henry Williams:

Williams insists he was a sex-crazed crackhead. Period. Nothing more.

Police insist he was a sex-crazed crackhead -- who raped and choked to death as many as 32 women in Dade County in the 1980s.

In his first interview since police locked him up four years ago for rape, Williams said a few days ago that the police story is pure fiction.

"I'm a target so they can say they have a serial killer, " he said in a white cinder-block holding pen at Dade County Jail, his hands and feet in chains. "People don't know the whole story about me. I want a fair shake. I shouldn't ever have been considered a serial killer."

But what about the physical evidence against him, his admission to having sex with "three or four" of the victims in the final hours of their lives and witnesses placing him with six of the women?

Williams implied someone else killed the 32 -- and he knows who.

Who? He smiles. "The worst thing for a person that is doing time is to be a snitch, " he said. "If you snitch and it's publicized, you are not safe."

Prosecutor Susan Dannelly: "That's an interesting theory. Would I put any credence in it? Absolutely none."

Williams, 37, ex-bus mechanic, inmate No. 9293245, housed alone in a safety cell in Dade County Jail, already sentenced to 40 years for rape, faces the electric chair in one of the 32 murders.

If you use the authorities' count -- and they haven't proved it -- Charles Williams would go down as South Florida's most notorious serial killer. Worse than Jerry Frank Townsend, a mentally retarded carnival worker who confessed in 1980 to killing 23 women, most of them in Broward. Worse than Eddie Lee Mosley, also mentally retarded, suspected of killing nine women in Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s.

Almost all of the 32 women were black hookers who had been raped, strangled and left half-nude lying on their backs with their legs spread open. They were found in inner-city lots, abandoned fields, a motel stairwell, a meter room, a crack house, next to a Dumpster.

For several years, largely because of a wrong theory on the cause of death, hardly anyone figured a serial killer was on the loose. A pathologist in the Dade medical examiner's office believed that cocaine -- combined with sexual intercourse -- killed them.

But one victim died without a trace of cocaine. That's when police asked Medical Examiner Joseph Davis to personally review and re-examine autopsy reports. From the photographs of the bodies and tissue, Davis detected tiny bruises on the women's necks, and he linked the cases to the work of a murderer.

Police homed in on Williams. On his long rap sheet: seven rape accusations, four unproved. But several women charged that he choked them during the alleged attacks.

"All 32 cases fit Williams' " modus operandi, said Miami police Sgt. Tony Rodriguez, the city's lead investigator in the serial murder investigation. "We just have more evidence on some than others."

Or, enough evidence to prosecute him in one. That evidence is substantial.

In the 1984 asphyxiation of Patricia Johnson, 19, lab scientists recently matched Williams' genetic code to semen taken from Johnson's body. A forensic dentist, using dental records, linked a bite mark on Johnson's right breast to Williams' teeth. Williams has denied having sex with Johnson.

Prosecutor Dannelly is confident of her case. Told about Williams' interview, she asked if he had confessed. Told no, she said, "We don't need it anyway."

Williams' attorney, Leon Rolle of Miami, couldn't be reached for comment. The murder trial, originally scheduled for Monday, probably won't begin until fall to give Rolle time to prepare.

But Williams didn't want to wait until then. Keeping quiet, he said, hasn't done him any good. There's his 40-year prison sentence for a rape conviction in 1990, which is on appeal.

There's the upcoming Patricia Johnson murder trial and perhaps multiple murder cases.

And there's the effect of his reputation on his three children, who he said were being confronted by relatives of victims. "They say nasty things like 'Hey, your daddy killed my mother or my aunt.' What I'm trying to do is clear my name for their sakes."

On the night of April 14, Williams called radio station WEDR-FM during a teen talk program on crime.

Identifying himself as a prisoner suspected of killing 32 women, Williams told listeners that "once you got into the system, the penal system, the justice system, it was a difficult situation. It wasn't anything like how it was dramatized in the movies, " said program host James Thomas.

When The Miami Herald asked for an interview, he agreed immediately -- not seeking the advice of his lawyer.

Williams, an inmate with long fingers, long nails and smooth palms, sports a stubble of a goatee. Wearing prison-issue red pants, an unbuttoned red shirt, white T-shirt, a gold stud earring in his left ear and a white stretch cap that was knotted at the crown of his head, he rattled on for two hours about everything from nitty-gritty details in his cases to jail life.

He is one of six children raised solely by his mother, a cafeteria worker, "the only one in my family who stands by me now." He grew up in the Brownsville section of Miami. He graduated from Miami Jackson High School in 1975.

After high school? "I went to jail, " he said. Of the seven rape accusations, three were not prosecuted, one ended in an acquittal, and three led to convictions. In a 1986 series on career criminals, The Herald profiled Williams. Miami police detective William Hames then called Williams a pro at beating the system, knowing "what he can say and what he can't say."

This is what Williams says about the murder cases:

"First of all, I admitted to police that I knew some of the victims. That was my first mistake. . . . The police, the state attorney, everybody, they want a serial killer so it can be the first time they got a black person besides Wayne Williams that they can say is a serial killer."

Wayne Williams, no relation, is the convicted killer in the high-publicity Atlanta child murders. Prosecutors got him on two. He is suspected in 22 more.

"I did a lot of reading about his case. I watched the TV and everything. But you see he admitted that he killed one of those people. I ain't admitted that I killed no one. See what I'm saying?"

Instead, he said he attempted to explain to police what his life was like on the streets. He worked for the county as a bus mechanic and later as a kitchen worker at Coral Gables Hospital.

And for a while, in the mid-1980s, he sought to change his life with religion. "But I found myself sitting in church admiring the young ladies, and that takes your mind off the Bible. I went back to the world, started to do drugs and going around with women."

He said he was straight with women about his intentions. He credited a court-ordered sex offenders program for that.

For example: "If a young lady says to me, 'You got drugs?' the first thing I tell them is that I don't need no problems. I explain to them I've been to jail for rape before."

He said he repeated this line over and over to women -- to many of the "200 to 300" women to whom he made his drugs-for-sex deals from 1984 to 1989.

"What I tried to explain to police, if I had the drugs and I had the money, what motive did I have to kill females? Because if I had my drugs, I'm going to get my sex first, see what I'm saying. That's the way the gang goes in the community dealing with sex and drugs. If the person wants the drugs, they got to give, too. I admitted to them I had sex with three or four, but I didn't have no motive to kill them because they got what they wanted, I got what I wanted."

He talked at length about only one murder case, one in which he isn't even charged -- the April 2, 1988, killing of Sharmanita Grays, 16, at the Bay Point Motel, 3530 Biscayne Blvd. Grays was Williams' neighbor.

"She was an attractive young lady. She was dating a friend of mine, " Williams said. "She asked me if I could rent a room for her."

He agreed. At the motel, Williams, Grays and Grays' friend Aida Rodriguez rolled marijuana joints. Williams asked Rodriguez to go out for cigarettes. At the motel, Williams said, he sprinkled crack with the marijuana and the two smoked it.

"When the Spanish girl came back, I didn't open the door. She (Sharmanita) told me not to open the door. She didn't want her friend to see her smoking crack." Rodriguez told police that Williams was perspiring and acting strangely.

"I went to run an errand, checking on more drugs, " Williams said. "I got some more drugs and went back" only to find the door locked. A manager opened the door. Grays was asleep. Williams wanted money for the drugs and Grays told him to come back later, Williams said.

"When I came back, wasn't nobody in the room, so I laid back, snorted coke, watched TV, dozed off and police came knocking on the door."

Just outside the door, Grays' mostly nude body was found in a stairwell.

So who killed Sharmanita Grays? And who killed the other 31?

Williams answers indirectly. "If I see you kill this person one night we're together, if I didn't tell it then, the law says I can be charged with accessory to murder. . . . I'd be getting the same amount of time. And another thing, if I tell you 'OK, I know who killed so and so and I know what happened, ' and if that person has never been arrested beside auto theft or simple crime, . . . that guy will say I didn't commit the crime. And you know what they are going to do: prosecute me. My word won't be no good."

He said that since he has been locked up, three or four other prostitutes have been murdered in similar fashion to the 32 homicides.

"It happens all the time, and it's going to happen again, " Williams said. "I'm not the killer."

Miami's Sgt. Rodriguez: "What really distinguishes serial killers are types of ritualism. That is very, very distinct, like a personality trait. There is nothing more that tells about a person's behavior than an extensive crime scene, or a series of murders. There is a specific profile with Charles Williams. We've looked at the other cases, and we do not believe they are connected to the 32."

Rodriguez didn't want to spell out the difference. Williams challenges police to say why they are different.

In jail, Williams reads law books and thinks about the appeal for his rape case. In the interview, he talked at length about discrediting some of the witnesses who testified in the rape trial, but he always returned to the murder cases.

For one thing, he worries about his legal representation. Williams said he hasn't seen Rolle, retained by the public defender's office, since late January. "I don't think I can put my life on the line with him, " he said.

His life on the line. For Williams, that is a constant thought.

"I ran into a brother of one of the victims on the inside. He could have hurt me. I was lifting weights. He came up behind me, and he could have easily dropped some of the weights on me or could have stabbed me.

"But he said he had talked to his mama. And his mama told him, 'Let the court handle it.' "