- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Law-enforcement authorities apprehended Louisiana serial-killings suspect Derrick Todd Lee in Atlanta yesterday, the FBI said.

Mr. Lee was taken into custody about 8:30 p.m. by Atlanta police working as part of a joint task force with the FBI, bureau spokesman Joe Parris told reporters.

Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington said Mr. Lee, who was being sought in the slayings of five Louisiana women in the past 20 months, was arrested while he was wandering around a tire shop.

Earlier yesterday, police had traced Mr. Lee to a seedy motel near I-75 in southwest Atlanta but missed him by a few minutes.

The chief told reporters last night that his officers approached an unarmed Mr. Lee and arrested him without incident after he produced identification.

“We have taken a very dangerous person that is a serial murder suspect off the streets,” Chief Pennington said, adding that Mr. Lee could be sent back to Louisiana as early as today.

The manhunt came to a head in Atlanta yesterday after Baton Rouge police obtained an arrest warrant for Mr. Lee, 34.

FBI and Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents located Mr. Lee yesterday morning at the Lakewood Motor Lodge, where he had paid for a week’s stay with $135 in cash, and had captivated employees and other guests with his smoothness and generosity.

“This guy, he was handsome,” said Bubukutty Idicalla, the motel manager. “He would go to the ladies and say, ‘You married? You married?’”

One regular guest there said Mr. Lee grilled ribs and chicken, sharing with other guests and staff, and enticed women to his room with promises of cognac. Another said he quoted the Bible to her and others.

But Mr. Lee made two phone calls yesterday that cut short his stay. He borrowed the manager’s cell phone and called two numbers in the Baton Rouge area, which police quickly intercepted. When the FBI called Mr. Idicalla, the manager, and asked him whether he knew Mr. Lee, the manager said, “Yes, he’s here.”

By the time police arrived at the motel, Mr. Lee had just left, driven to a nearby train station by another guest. Mr. Lee told the manager that his mother was ill in Louisiana and he had to return quickly.

Mr. Lee, a hustler with a checkered background of arrests and convictions for violence against women, burglary, stalking and criminal trespass, had been suspected in a homicide and a disappearance in Zachary, La., a suburb of Baton Rouge.

But thanks to a DNA test administered to the suspect May 5, yesterday’s warrant charged Mr. Lee with aggravated rape and first-degree murder in the death of Carrie Lynn Yoder, 26, who disappeared from her home near the Louisiana State University campus March 3.

Miss Yoder was one of five area women slain in the past 18 months in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Police have said all five were slain by a person with the same DNA.

Some law-enforcement officials say they believe there may be more victims and that the attacks could extend back a decade or more.

Mr. Lee had not been a suspect in any of the five cases, though his name had been forwarded to the task force months ago by alert Zachary police, who thought his background warranted concern.

As is often the case in such investigations, the break in the case came almost by accident.

Early this month, acting on the tip of a relative who told police Mr. Lee had talked about the unsolved disappearance in Zachary five years before, Zachary police reported to a state investigator and the two agencies obtained a court order for his DNA to be tested.

Mr. Lee was under investigation in a 5-year-old Zachary case: the disappearance of Randi Mebruer, 28, who went missing from her home in April 1998. Police there also say they believe he killed another woman, Connie Warner, 41, also of Zachary, in September 1992.

But authorities in the small community could not accumulate enough evidence to make an arrest in either case, said Zachary Police Sgt. Ray Day.

On May 5, the same day the DNA was obtained from the suspect, Mr. Lee and his wife, Jacqueline, pulled their two children, 13-year-old Derrick Jr., and 10-year-old Doris, out of school, telling authorities they were headed for California. Their ranch-style brown brick home in St. Francisville, close to Baton Rouge and Zachary, was empty when police arrived there Monday.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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