Florida authorities have arrested a suspected serial killer believed to be responsible for the brutal murders of at least four women over the last 14 years.
Robert Hayes, 37, was arrested and charged Sunday night with the grisly 2016 murder of 32-year-old Rachel Bey, whose body was found along a highway in Jupiter, Palm Beach County Sheriff Rich Bradshaw announced at a Monday press conference.
“We’ve been able to take what we believe is a serial killer off our streets” Bradshaw said. “Had we not done this, we’re pretty certain he would have killed again.”
While Hayes has only been charged with one murder, he’s suspected in at least three cold cases in Daytona, Florida, after semen found on Bey’s body matched DNA discovered on other victims. All of the victims—LaQuetta Gunther, 45, Julie Ann Green, 34, and Iwana Patton, 35—were found within a mile of each other in remote or wooded areas, and they had all suffered a .40-caliber gunshot wound to the head.
Police said that after his Sunday arrest, Hayes’ DNA was linked to two victims who were murdered between 2005 and 2007. Authorities previously said two of the victims were discovered with semen on their bodies.
“At this point in time, we have not charged him yet...but we have linked him with forensic evidence to three of our murder victims,” Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri said Monday, calling Hayes a “disgusting serial killer.”
Police say Hayes may also be responsible for the murder of 30-year-old Stacey Gage, who was found fatally shot behind a church in 2008, but authorities have yet to find forensic evidence tying him to the slaying.
“We don’t know at this point in time if it’s related. We’re still investigating that,” Capri said, adding that the multi-county investigation is “a team effort to get closure for these families and get this killer off the streets.”
Authorities previously said Gunther, a painter, was last seen leaving her friend’s house on Dec. 24, 2005. Her partially nude body was found in an alleyway two days later, after she was shot “execution-style” in the back of the head.
On Jan. 14, 2006, her friend Julie Green was reportedly found dead in a ditch at a construction site. Green had also been shot in the back of the head. Patton, a 35-year-old nursing assistant, was killed a month later in a similar fashion, authorities said, and her body was discovered in a remote area off busy Daytona Boulevard.
Authorities said Monday that Hayes randomly targeted his victims, but it has been previously reported the three women all had a history of prostitution.
Hayes, who was a student at Bethune Cookman University, was interviewed by Daytona homicide detectives in 2006. Capri said he was questioned about purchasing a gun “around the time of the murders” but there was no “physical or forensic evidence” linking him to the slayings.
Unlike the other victims in Daytona, Bey was fatally strangled and found with multiple broken teeth and a broken jaw. Authorities believe she was dragged to the side of the highway where she was ultimately found on March 7, 2016, by utility workers.
Investigators said Hayes moved to Palm Beach County from Daytona Beach around the time of Bey’s murder.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement credited, DNA tests, genetic genealogy, and the diligence of local authorities for the arrest.
“Killers like Robert Tyrone Hayes are the reason genetic genealogy is so important to public safety,” FDLE spokesman Troy Walker said on Monday. “Without genetic genealogy, predators like Mr. Hayes will continue to live in our neighborhoods, visit our parks, our libraries, restaurants, and go to our nightlife and entertainment districts to continue to hunt for victims.”
Hayes, who was charged with first-degree murder, was denied bail at his initial court appearance Monday. It is not immediately known if he has a lawyer.