- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

SANTA MONICA, Calif., March 4 (UPI) — Police said Tuesday that they were virtually certain that a jailed ex-convict had posed as a smooth-talking Hollywood photographer last month and lured a young woman who had aspired to get into the movie business to her death.

The body of Kristine "Kristie" Johnson, 22 as of last Friday, was found Monday in a ravine in the Hollywood Hills more than two weeks after she set out for what she believed was an appointment to have photos taken in connection with a specific film production.

No charges have been filed against the unidentified suspect, who was described as a convincing ex-con who apparently approached numerous women at a shopping center with a story about being a photographer involved in casting for movies.

"All of the people we know to have been approached in this manner said this person is a very convincing and very smooth con-type person," Santa Monica Police Chief James Butts told reporters Tuesday. "I don't think it was an issue of naivet. This person was a very convincing, predatory person."

Butts said the suspect would not be identified until formal charges were filed, although he was confident the individual had killed the part-time student and data-entry operator who hailed from western Michigan with high hopes of breaking into the movies in some capacity.

"He was convicted of two crimes involving females and the same M.O.," Butts said. "It was through an offer to audition for a photo shoot related to a specific movie production."

Johnson left her Santa Monica apartment on Feb. 15 after telling a roommate she was on her way to Beverly Hills to meet a photographer from a movie studio whom she had met earlier in the day while shopping in nearby Century City.

The search for the blue-eyed blonde was broken open Feb. 25 when her Miata sports car was located in the parking garage at the posh St. Regis Hotel where it had been left by an unidentified man who had casually tossed the keys to the valet and walked away.

The valet said the man matched a composite sketch based on the description provided by another woman who said she had an uncomfortable encounter in January with a man who had claimed to be a movie photographer.

In the January incident, Butts said, the alleged photographer asked the woman to bring or to wear a specific article of clothing and meet him in West Hollywood, which was a site about two blocks from the home where he was staying that was recently searched by police. The woman said the photographer became aggressive with her when she did not have the specified apparel; however, she had been prudent enough to have her boyfriend, a former law enforcement officer, with her. He then chased the man away after shaking him down for identification.

Butts said Johnson, who was found clad in underwear and stockings, had the same article of clothing that the woman in January had been told to bring. In addition, detectives had been able to verify that their jailed suspect had been at the Century City Mall at the same time Johnson was approached by the man believed to have eventually killed her.

When a reporter asked how the police chief believed the woman in January could "fall for the pitch" allegedly made by the suspect, Butts refused to characterize either woman as gullible.

"I don't think 'fall for the pitch' is an appropriate way to put it," the chief observed. "I believe she, like Kristie, felt this was a credible person and responded to what she thought was an opportunity."

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