DENVER — A man who died in prison in 1996 after being convicted of murdering three women also killed four others between 1979 and 1988 and might be responsible for as many as 20 homicides, authorities said.
Vincent Groves, a tall hulking athlete who played on a high school championship basketball team, strangled most of his victims, said Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey.
Groves was first convicted of second-degree murder in 1982 for killing Tammy Sue Woodrum, 17, and was released in 1987 on mandatory parole. In 1990, Groves was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Juanita "Becky" Lovato, 19, and 20 years in prison for second-degree murder in the death of Diane Montoya Mancera, 25.
By using DNA from one of those murders, crime analysts have since linked Groves to the slayings of Emma Jenefor, 25, Joyce Ramey, 23, and Peggy Cuff, 20, who were all strangled in 1979, authorities said. Strong circumstantial evidence also tied Groves to the 1988 killing of Pamela Montgomery, 35, said cold-case detective Mylous Yearling.
"We now know that he killed these four women. That's really important to the families of the victims. This gives them an answer," Morrissey told the Denver Post Tuesday.
"They were very surprised. They thought their cases had been forgotten," Yearling added.
Groves was a member of a star-filled basketball team at Denver's Wheat Ridge High School that lost 64-60 to Manual High School in the 1972 state title game, said Bert Borgmann, assistant commissioner of the Colorado High School Activities Association.
Later, he stalked the Colfax Avenue corridor, an area historically known for prostitutes, and different jobs also took him to locations throughout the Denver area, Yearling said. Some of the women Groves targeted were prostitutes, but others were acquaintances, he said.
Groves was intelligent and could coax women into compromising situations, Yearling said. While in prison from 1992 until he died on Oct. 31, 1996, prison officials described Groves as an "average" prisoner.
"He wasn't a troublemaker. He wasn't disruptive," Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti said.
Jenefor's body was found in her bathtub in March 1979, according to Lynn Kimbrough, spokeswoman for Morrissey's office. Ramey's body was found in an industrial park in July 1979, Kimbrough said. Cuff's body was found in an alley in November 1979, she said.
Nine years later, a witness last saw Montgomery with a man matching Groves' description driving a very loud, beat-up car that looked and sounded identical to his vehicle, Yearling said. Montgomery's body was found in an alley.
While trying Groves in 1988, Morrissey tried to present evidence that tied Groves to eight other assault and homicide victims around the Denver area, including Ramey. Groves was the last person to be seen with the victims before they were found dead or escaped. A judge refused to allow the evidence of other alleged crimes and the jury acquitted Groves at the time.
As part of a cold-case project funded with federal grants, Yearling said he was reviewing unsolved homicides when he realized the cases "were more than coincidences" and DNA evidence made the connection.
When Groves was dying in 1996 at age 42, detectives asked him to share the fate of his victims, but he refused, Morrissey said.
"This man destroyed lives. He destroyed families," Morrissey said. "We figured that he was killing two women a month. He was maybe the most prolific serial killer in the state of Colorado. I believe we'll link him to more."