OAKLAND, California—The suspected serial killer first struck on a residential street in East Oakland. But his lone surviving victim insists the unidentified suspect, who is still at large, could have been stopped earlier if cops had only listened to her.
The first to die was Juan Miguel Vasquez Serrano, 39, who was homeless at the time of his murder. He had been living on the streets of the working-class Seminary district for about eight months, according to local resident John Smith, who told The Daily Beast that Serrano was known in the neighborhood for his skill fixing cars.
Smith and his wife, Sherie, were awoken by gunshots shortly after 4 a.m. on April 10, 2021, according to local reports. When police and emergency responders arrived, Sherie Smith watched as paramedics attempted to save Serrano’s life on the corner of Harmon Street and 57th Avenue, she said. But they could not.
After Serrano’s death, a woman and her daughter came to the block asking questions about Serrano. They were his wife and daughter, and they had no idea he was dead, Sherie said outside her home on Thursday. She was the one who told them. “I was emotional for the daughter,” she said.
At first, Sherie assumed the killing was a tragic one-off, part of the wider spate of gun violence in Oakland. Shootings are common in the neighborhood, she said, “It’s the norm.”
It was not until nearly 18 months later she found out that Serrano’s murder was only the first in a spree of serial killings that have terrorized the city of Stockton, some 70 miles from the street corner where Serrano died. Six people have been shot dead thus far; one was shot but survived. Most were Latino, many were homeless. And while cops have not homed in on a motive, Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said the killer—or killers—appear to be “on a mission.”
There haven’t been any confirmed robbery attempts, Officer Joseph Silva, a spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, told The Daily Beast earlier this week. And while detectives have released a grainy video clip of a person of interest, they “still don’t know if it’s just one, or two, or multiple suspects,” Silva said.
While the killings are frightening, Smith is glad that Serrano’s death has not been forgotten.
“His life mattered,” she said.
Only six days after the killer fatally shot Serrano in Oakland, he struck again in Stockton. But this time he didn’t manage to kill his victim. Now the survivor, Natasha LaTour, believes all the subsequent killings could have been prevented, if only the cops had taken her story more seriously.
On April 16, 2021, LaTour was camped in a tent at the corner of Park and Union streets, in an industrial area near the train tracks in Stockton. She was homeless at the time, and struggling with drug addiction, LaTour said in an interview with local news outlet 209 Times.
Around 3.30a.m., LaTour was standing outside her tent when she heard the sound of a train coming. At that moment, a person LaTour described as a man dressed in dark pants and a dark hooded sweater, his face covered by a black mask, came around the corner. He was holding a gun in his outstretched hand. The man didn’t say anything.
Immediately he began shooting, LaTour said. “I just saw flashes,” she told the 209 Times. Her only chance of survival was to try and run directly at him and try to reach the road, she said. As she approached, the man got down on one knee and continued shooting at her.
Seriously injured, and bleeding heavily, LaTour managed to crawl into the street. She had been shot at least nine times, she told the outlet. LaTour flagged down a passing car. “Please call 911, I’m dying,” she begged.
Police arrived on the scene, and LaTour was able to tell them the bare bones of what had happened. But LaTour says they spoke to her like she was “trash,” and were dismissive because she was homeless.
She woke up four days later at a hospital.
LaTour said no police ever visited her during her 12 days at the hospital. In May, after she was released, LaTour says she contacted the cops herself. Only then was a detective assigned to the case, LaTour said. In June 2021, that detective told LaTour that the gun used to shoot her was linked to a homicide in the East Bay, she said.
“They treated me as if it was a drug deal gone bad. As if I knew something that I wasn’t sharing. Throughout this process, ever since April, ever since I got out of the hospital, it was constantly me trying to reach them,” LaTour told the outlet, “They assisted me not at all.”
LaTour only found out that a serial killer was active in Stockton from news reports at the beginning of October. “I said to myself: these are the same circumstances,” LaTour said.
The Daily Beast’s attempts to reach LaTour via social media and phone on Thursday were unsuccessful.
LaTour, who has been sober since shortly after the shooting, now believes that had law enforcement taken her more seriously, the killer could have been stopped earlier. The Stockton PD did not respond to The Daily Beast’s inquiries on Thursday.
“Five people died because they didn’t listen to me,” she said.
Greta Bogrow’s son was the first of those five victims.
Bogrow is a nurse in Trenton, Texas, some 1,700 miles from where Paul Yaw, 35, was killed. With Yaw gone, Bogrow, 60, has now lost both of her two children.
“My only other child, I buried also, when he was a baby,” she told The Daily Beast, through tears.
Yaw, who was going through his own period of homelessness, was shot multiple times as he walked through the residential Holiday Park section of Stockton during the early-morning hours of July 8. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died.
Some 14 months had passed since LaTour was shot, and police say they don’t know why the killer, or killers, went dormant for so long before striking again. Bogrow said she doesn’t know what Yaw was doing when he died, why he was in that part of town, or if he was acquainted in any way with the person who took his life, explaining that investigators have told her only that a “person turned towards him and shot him multiple times.”
Bogrow and Yaw had been estranged for five years before he died, she continued, explaining that “personal differences” ultimately pushed them apart. (Bogrow provided context and backstory during her interview with The Daily Beast, but asked that the details not be shared publicly.)
“He chose a different life,” she said. “He chose to live out on his own… He was happy living his life the way he was… [but] in my mind, I kept thinking, ‘He's gonna come back. And he’s gonna be okay.’”
So when her nephew Nick called her one morning at work with unspeakably awful news, she couldn’t believe it.
“I thought, ‘No way,’” Bogrow recounted. “But it was true.”
In shock, Bogrow refused to accept that Paul was gone until his funeral later that month.
“Even until the day that we had his service, I kept thinking, ‘Maybe they have the wrong person,’” she said. “Because I’m in a different state, I never got to see the body until that day. And I saw him, and I knew.”
Yaw “would do anything for anybody,” and had “a big heart,” according to Bogrow. He was a father, with a 15-year-old son that she has not been able to locate since Yaw’s death. The boy, named William, “meant the world” to Yaw, and Bogrow is concerned about his emotional state in light of his dad’s seemingly senseless killing. She hopes the broad media attention the Stockton murders have gotten will help her find her grandson, so she can help him weather this horrifying turn.
Bogrow also worries about her seven siblings, nieces, and nephews, because “they’re all affected.”
“My 90-year-old dad is traumatized too,” she said. “It's just horrible. I don't wish it upon anybody. And thinking of all the other families that are affected, it’s just mindblowing that… anybody could do such a thing. It’s just out of my realm of thought process.”
As she continues to process what happened, Bogrow has found herself getting even more emotional now that cops believe her son died at the hands of a serial killer. Knowing that it was a random killing rather than something targeted makes it seem all the more senseless to her, she said.
It’s sometimes been hard for Bogrow to concentrate at work, but she simply pushes the bad thoughts out of her mind because she needs to stay focused on the job. She said she can’t imagine what Yaw went through in those final moments, not knowing if he was going to live or die.
At the same time, Bogrow knows that authorities will throw far more money and resources at a “serial killer” investigation, and are “working way harder than they would have been if it was just a homeless person that was killed… I’ve been talking to the detectives and it’s [a] pretty heavy [response].”
The last time she spoke with them was on Friday, when one of the investigators called to tell Bogrow that a suspected serial killer was at work. She had already heard the news on social media, however. The police have been “very, very forthcoming,” according to Bogrow, who said she “hasn’t let up” with her inquiries as to the investigation’s progress. Bogrow is also hoping the $125,000 reward that’s been offered for information leading to an arrest will tempt someone to say something they may not have before.
“I want people to just know that Paul was a good kid,” she said. “He was a fun boy, and he was always helping other people,” she said. “He was a big kid, he was six-foot-three, and he was always taller than everyone in this class. And when he would see people getting picked on by other kids, he would always stand up for the little guy.”
As the San Francisco Chronicle noted on Wednesday, the Stockton area was last terrorized by a spate of serial killings in 2012. Police believe as many as 70 people were murdered between 1984 and 1999 by Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine, who came to be known as the “Speed Freak Killers.” The pair were jointly convicted in 2001 on three counts of murder. Herzog was paroled and released from prison in 2010, but died by suicide two years later. Shermantine remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Back in Texas, Bogrow waits for answers, as patiently as she can.
“I’m not feeling bad for myself, I’m just pushing through,” she said, adding, “Be kind to everyone, because you don't know what they're going through.”