Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

Police: Notorious killer Oba Chandler's DNA links him to 1990 South Florida murder

Oba Chandler was executed in 2011 for the killings of a mother and her two daughters with investigators certain he had killed other women.

The facts of the triple murder portrayed a killer who enjoyed his work. In 1989, Chandler dumped the bodies of the Ohio women into Tampa Bay after binding their limbs and tying concrete blocks to their necks.

"He didn't cover their eyes because he liked tormenting them and seeing the fear in their eyes," said retired St. Petersburg Detective Cindy "Cindra" Leedy.

Investigators' suspicions about other victims were confirmed this week as police in South Florida announced Chandler had been linked by his DNA to the killing of a 20-year-old Davie woman abducted in 1990.

Cold case detectives said DNA evidence in the killing of Ivelisse Berrios-Beguerisse, who was asphyxiated, was recently retested using more sophisticated techniques than were available in the 1990s and proved Chandler raped and killed her.

"If not for Chandler's execution, he would be . . . charged with the murder," Coral Springs police said in a written statement.

"It wasn't a shocker to see his name come up," Coral Springs Detective Dan Cucchi said Tuesday.

Chandler, 65 when he died, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994 for the killing of Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, who were found floating in Tampa Bay in 1989.

The family was on vacation when Chandler lured them onto his boat, police said.

Their murders were the subject of a Tampa Bay Times series by reporter Thomas French called "Angels & Demons." French won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for the stories.

Hal Rogers, an Ohio farmer whose family was killed by Chandler, said in an interview he was not surprised to hear the news of another victim.

"I just knew he was one bad egg," said Rogers. "Some things take a while to come to light. They normally do eventually."

It took three years to crack the Rogers' case.

First their murders were linked to the rape of a 24-year-old Canadian woman two weeks prior. A local invited her on his boat and raped her. She survived.

A Tampa resident realized that the sketch of the rape suspect matched her neighbor, Chandler. Later, his neighbors realized that handwritten directions given to the Rogers family and later displayed by police on billboards also matched Chandler's handwriting.

But the task force investigating the murders was flooded with tips. It took more than a year before they focused on Chandler.

Cucchi said Chandler's name did not surface in the Coral Springs case until 1992 — after he was identified as the killer of the Rogers women.

Coral Springs police then learned that Chandler had lived 1.5 miles from the Sunrise mall in Broward County where Berrios-Beguerisse worked and was abducted.

Cucchi said police discovered Chandler abruptly left his home in Sunrise two or three days after Berrios-Beguerisse was killed.

"The landlady said he even left furniture behind," Cucchi said.

Berrios-Beguerisse did not return home from work after finishing her shift the night of Nov. 26, 1990. Her worried husband found her car in a mall parking lot and called police.

His wife's nude body was found dumped in neighboring Coral Springs a few hours later.

"Chandler was trolling for victims that night," Cucchi said.

Investigators took swabs from Berrios-Beguerisse's body. But tests by the Broward Sheriff's Office lab could not confirm any semen. The lab said the samples were not suitable for further testing.

Even had a DNA profile been created from the swabs in 1990, a sample of Chandler's DNA would not be taken by the state until his 1994 conviction for the Rogers' murders.

The swabs taken in the Coral Springs case were saved and, remarkably, had not degraded.

In August 2013, detectives decided to take another look at the investigative file.

The swabs were retested using modern techniques.

"We didn't have high hopes for it," Cucchi said.

The lab was able to confirm a match to Chandler, whose DNA was in a state criminal database.

Berrios-Beguerisse's family declined to comment.

Pinellas investigators believed Chandler was linked to other abductions and rapes dating as far back as 1963. But retired Pinellas prosecutor Bruce Bartlett said time decreases the chances of solving other cases.

"Chandler was a pretty sharp criminal as criminals go," Bartlett said. "He was good at covering his tracks."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

     
 
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