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Police say they have "Tamiami Strangler'

A 30-year-old father of two angry over the breakup of his marriage has been arrested as the "Tamiami Strangler," a serial killer who preyed on prostitutes working along the Tamiami Trail in Miami, police said Monday.

Rory Enrique Conde, a building supply salesman, admitted picking up the six streetwalkers _ five women and a male transvestite _ and killing them at his Miami apartment, Metro-Dade police said. Conde was held without bail on six counts of first-degree murder.

The slayings had terrorized prostitutes along a stretch of low-rent motels and strip malls on the edge of middle-class Hispanic neighborhoods along the Tamiami Trail, a major east-west thoroughfare feeding downtown Miami.

The news media dubbed the killer the "Tamiami Strangler" because he preyed on prostitutes in the area and dumped their bodies in neighborhoods just off the road, which becomes U.S. 41 and cuts across the Everglades to the Gulf Coast.

After five months without a solid lead, a homicide task force investigating the serial killings got its big break June 19, when a prostitute, whom Conde had bound with duct tape, beaten and sexually assaulted, managed to partly free herself and scream and pound on the walls of his apartment until police were called, police spokesman Juan Del Castillo said.

It was the 4,919th tip in a case that generated more than 5,000 leads.

Investigators obtained a DNA match by comparing samples taken from last week's victim to samples taken from the murdered prostitutes, Del Castillo said.

Conde, who had been jailed on assault charges from the June 19 attack, then confessed to the prostitute killings and further evidence was found in his apartment, a block off the Tamiami Trail, Del Castillo added.

In all, investigators said, Conde was linked by by DNA evidence to five of the six victims.

"He gave a detailed confession and admitted to picking up all of the victims," Del Castillo said. "He'd take them to his apartment, have sex with them and strangle them there."

The killer then would wait until the early morning when he would dump the bodies in residential neighborhoods near the Tamiami Trail, Del Castillo said.

In at least one case, the killer had scrawled a message on the body of his victim.

The only motive offered by police was problems Conde was having with his estranged wife. The Colombian-born man had lived in the Miami area since he was 6 months old.

Conde's wife of seven years, Carla, left him last July. Some of her concerns revolved around his "strange sexual urges and a liking for prostitutes," said Sgt. Felix Jimenez, a supervisor of the homicide task force investigating the murders.

She took the couple's two children, Rory Jr. and Lydia. Conde told police his anger over their separation led to the murders, which started two months after she left.

"All the killings were the result of feelings he had about his wife leaving him," Jimenez said. "He blamed the prostitutes for his wife leaving. In my opinion, they were an easy way for him to vent his frustration."

Criminologists say prostitutes are the No. 1 target of serial killers. In many cases, they say, prostitutes are a symbol of bad women everywhere to men who hold grudges for some past mistreatment by a girlfriend, wife or mother.

Carla Conde, 23, was in seclusion with relatives and could not be reached for comment. Detectives had called her Monday morning to tell her that her estranged husband was under arrest.

Conde, a slight, freckle-faced man with close-cropped curly black hair and a mustache, was picked up by police Friday at the home of relatives in suburban Hialeah.

He had a record of spousal abuse and shoplifting charges, but no sexual crimes in his past.

Metro assigned 100 officers and spent nearly $2-million on the case.

By accident, the first victim, Lazaro Comesana, 27, was a transvestite, said Methvin. His body was found on Sept 17, 1994. "He was surprised to find out the first victim was a white male," the detective said.

Five more victims soon followed: Elisa "Daphne" Martinez, 44, on Oct. 8; Charity Fay Nava, 23, on Nov. 20; Wanda Cook Crawford, 38, on Nov. 25; Necole Schneider, 28, on Dec. 17; and Rhonda Dunn, 21, on Jan. 12.

_ Information from the Associated Press, Reuters, Knight-Ridder Newspapers and Times files was used in this report.

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