October 10, 1986
West Los Angeles, California
Suspected killer Michael Player (26) dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound
Between September 4 and October 9, 1986, at least ten men were killed by a person the press dubbed the Skid Row Slayer and the police called The Transient Killer. The victims were predominantly — but not exclusively — homeless men, killed while walking alone on the sidewalk or while sleeping outside in alleys or on park benches. All victims were killed by gunshot wounds performed “execution-style.” The moniker “Skid Row Slayer” was derived from the location of the majority of the killings; nine of the victims were killed in the Downtown Los Angeles neighborhood of Skid Row.
The neighborhood was not unfamiliar with violence toward its residence. In 1975, Vaughn Orrin Greenwood earned the similar nickname “Skid Row Slasher” after he slit the throats of people sleeping in alleyways. In 1978, Bobby Joe Maxwell, referred to as the Skid Row Stabber, was convicted of two of ten ritualistic murders in the area. And in 1984, Norman Bernard was convicted of the murders of three homeless people he killed because he “felt sorry for them and wanted to help them.”
On September 4, 1986, the Slayer’s first known victim, Rudolfo Roque, was shot to death. Several days later on September 13, Joseph Griffin was shot, as was Rogelio Sirven in a separate incident. The police officers who found Sirven believed he had been “beaten up” and “took [him] off the street” to one of their facilities. When Sirven complained of pains, he was taken to a hospital where he died on October 5. His autopsy revealed he had been shot.
On September 17, an unidentified man was shot and killed, Marshall Singer was killed on September 20, and David Towns was murdered three days later. On September 30, Christopher Boyle and Leon Gaines were killed in separate attacks. And on October 7, 8, and 9, Chang Kang, Wayne Ellis, and Terrance Dunn were each shot, respectively. Dunn survived his attack and was able to provide a description of his assailant to police.
Those affected by homelessness were especially precautious and frightened during the killing spree. Ramon Morgan told reporters, “So, the executioner’s got another one. We have no money, no valuables. What do we have? Why would someone want to kill us? Out here, all we have anymore is our lives. Everything else has been taken away from us. Why not that too?” Others who were unsheltered armed themselves and slept in shifts to avoid being left vulnerable.
On October 10, the day after Dunn was attacked, Michael Player’s body was found in the St. Regis Motel in West LA. He had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound delivered by a .38-caliber pistol.
The abrupt end of the killings caused police to suspect the Slayer either had left the area or had been apprehended on an unrelated charge. A search was conducted first in the county and city jails, then the coroners’ offices. In February of 1987, investigators revealed their suspect in the Slayer cases as Player. He was linked by ballistic testing to the final four murders — as well as Dunn’s attempted murder — by the .38-caliber pistol he had used to end his own life. Additionally, a pair of shoes found in his motel room matched a pattern left behind at one of the murder scenes, and Dunn positively identified Player based on his photograph. Investigators also revealed one of Player’s several aliases, Marcus Nisby, was a name offered in a tip regarding Roque’s murder. He had been questioned but was released when investigators were unable to gather enough proof to hold him.
No motive for the shootings has been determined, though investigators suggested robbery may have been at least a factor; Player had $3,000 (approximately $7,100 today) on his person when his body was found and he had had a history of committing robberies. The investigators did not offer a reason why they suspected someone would target homeless people to rob, however.
Smith, John Lynn. “Skid Row slayer a suicide?” The Sacramento Bee. February 6, 1987
Ramos, George and Yaro, Boris. “Dead Man Is Identified As Serial Killer of 10.” Los Angeles Times. February 8, 1987 (archived: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-02-06-me-889-story.html)
“Death is common along skid row.” The Montana Standard [Butte, Montana]. November 4, 1986
“Los Angeles killer preys on homeless.” The Post-Crescent [Appleton, Wisconsin]. November 3, 1986
Szymanski, Michael. “Skid Row’s ‘Executioner’.” The Charlotte Observer. October 25, 1986
Ramos, George. “Police Link 10th Victim to Serial Killer.” Los Angeles Times. October 17, 1986
“Man shot in park not serial killer’s victim, police say.” The Sacramento Bee. October 16, 1986
Freed, David and Ramos, George. “3 More Slayings May Be Tied to 4 Transient Deaths.” Los Angeles Times. October 8, 1986