Northern California authorities say they arrested a suspected serial killer before dawn on Saturday as he was seeking another victim.
Wesley Brownlee, 43, of Stockton was nabbed around 2 a.m. on Saturday at the intersection of Winslow Way and Village Green Drive — in essence, a bend in two roads near Panella Park in the northern section of that city. Brownlee was wearing dark clothing, had a mask around his neck, and was “armed with a firearm,” according to a report by Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA.
Police Chief Stanley McFadden said his officers caught Brownlee while the suspect was “out hunting.”
The chief said he believed his officers “stopped another killing.”
City Manager Harry Black, Mayor Kevin Lincoln, and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar were present to announce the arrest.
The assemblage of officials indicated that tips from the community and a lot of police work led to the capture of the alleged culprit.
“Our surveillance team followed this person while he was driving,” the chief continued. “We watched his patterns and determined early this morning he was on a mission to kill. He was out hunting.”
“His patterns were consistent with some of the patterns that we have seen,” McFadden explained as he referenced both the suspect and the string of murders.
Brownlee was “around parks, around dark places, stopping, looking around, moving again,” the chief said. “And at that point, we thought, for the safety of the public, it was best to take this person in.”
Authorities had previously released grainy nighttime surveillance video that they believed showed the suspect.
Homicide Series Update: Today Chief McFadden released a video of the “Person of Interest” in regards to this series. If you have any info, please call 209-937-8167. There is a $125,000 reward for info that leads to an arrest. pic.twitter.com/QLhcobVFJZ
— Stockton Police Dept (@StocktonPolice) October 5, 2022
As Law&Crime previously reported, police in Stockton began to link what at first appeared to be a series of unconnected killings — possibly dating to at least April 2021. Patterns emerged as the death toll added up with increasing frequency.
The Stockton murders all involved the unprovoked shootings of five men between July 8 and Sept. 27, 2022. All of the men were between the ages of 21 and 54. All of the ambush-type killings happened at night in what the authorities have described as poorly lit areas. All of the victims were alone when they were gunned down. One of the victims was parked in a car; the others were walking. All of the shootings happened within a four-mile radius.
Stockton is about an hour and forty minutes east of San Francisco.
According to the Associated Press, authorities came to believe that a sixth man who was killed in Oakland, some 70 miles away, may have died at the hands of the same suspect more than a year earlier in April 2021. A week after the Oakland slaying, a woman was wounded in Stockton, again by who police think might have been the same suspect.
Citing investigators, the AP said “ballistics tests and video evidence” were what “linked the crimes.”
Some of the victims were homeless, but “[n]one were beaten or robbed,” the wire service reported.
The “woman who survived said her attacker didn’t say anything,” the AP continued.
That means a potential motive has been difficult to determine or is perhaps unsettlingly nonexistent.
The Stockton murder victims have been identified as follows:
Paul Alexander Yaw, 35, was killed at approximately 12:31 a.m. on July 8 in the 5600 block of Kermit Lane.
Salvador William Debudey Jr., 43, was killed at approximately 9:49 p.m. on Aug. 11 in the 4900 block of West Lane.
Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, 21, was killed in a car at approximately 6:41 a.m. on Aug. 30 in the 800 block of E. Hammer Lane.
Juan Cruz, 52, was killed at approximately 4:27 a.m. on Sept. 21 in the 4400 block of Manchester Avenue.
The authorities believe Oakland murder victim Juan Miguel Vasquez Serrano, 40, a car mechanic, may be linked to the same killer, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I want to make this very, very clear to the people of Stockton, to the United States, and around the world: when the people of Stockton come together and we unite, we can get things done,” Mayor Lincoln said in a statement that heaped an ebullient dose of local boosterism onto the airwaves of KCRA. “Stockton will be a place where people can live, raise a family, and grow a business.”
According to records at the San Joaquin County Jail, the 6’2″, 165-pound defendant was booked at 3:48 p.m. on Saturday and is being held without bail.
Brownlee’s current charges include one count of murder, one count of carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle, one count of carrying a loaded firearm in public under specific circumstances, one count of owning or possessing ammunition as a prohibited person, and one count of being a felon or addict in possession of a firearm, according to jail data. All of the five charges are listed as felonies.
DA Salazar’s office is reportedly still contemplating a full set of formal charges.
A court date for the defendant has been scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at the San Joaquin County Superior Courthouse in Stockton, the jail records indicate.
The jail records do not name an attorney for Brownlee, and the AP said it was not immediately clear if he had one.
“The crime was solved because we’re Stockton,” DA Salazar said, again per KCRA’s coverage of Saturday’s press conference. “You don’t come to our house and bring this reign of terror.”
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