Adeline McLaughlin, an 84-year-old widow, was sexually assaulted and smothered with a pillow in 1983. Deborah Kisor, a 31-year-old mental patient, was assaulted and strangled four years later.
The brutal killings of the two women remained unsolved for years. St. Petersburg detectives submitted DNA samples for testing in the late 1990s, but had no luck.
Now, advances in DNA technology have given police the evidence they need to arrest the man they say killed both women: Tony Ables, a 51-year-old St. Petersburg man already convicted of two other murders and currently serving a life sentence.
Police said Ables is a serial killer who may have committed more unsolved homicides.
"We do suspect there's a high probability that there's more he's responsible for than what we've been able to link him to so far," said Maj. Michael Puetz.
For now, Ables faces one additional charge of first-degree murder. Kisor's killing is not being prosecuted by the State Attorney's Office because she was involved with Ables, which complicates the case, police said.
Sgt. Mike Kovacsev, who heads homicide investigations, said Ables didn't want to talk to police.
But Clyde Ables, 74, Tony's father, said he was saddened by the latest accusations.
"Its hard on me, and I know it's hard on the victims' families," he said. "I feel for them."
Tony Ables moved to St. Petersburg as a child, and had seven brothers and sisters, Clyde Ables said. Tony's mother abandoned the family in the 1960s, an event his father said placed terrible strains on the children.
Until then, Tony was an outgoing, friendly kid who was a good violin player, he said. But he began running away when he was 13 years old, and often disappeared for months.
He was still a teenager when he was convicted on a first-degree murder charge in 1971, at age 16. He was sentenced to life in prison, but released 12 years later, and did construction work, like his father.
Five months after Tony Ables' release in 1983, police found Adeline McLaughlin's body in her apartment at Ten Eyck Hotel, a downtown retirement community overlooking Mirror Lake. The apartment was burglarized, and an autopsy showed she died of choking and asphyxiation.
Ables racked up more arrests on petty crimes in the next few years. Then, in 1987, children playing in the woods found Deborah Kisor's partially clothed body near Roser Park. She was strangled.
Ables ran into more trouble when he was arrested on a first-degree murder charge in 1990, accused of beating Marlene Burns, his 48-year-old girlfriend, until she died. In 1992, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Last year, St. Petersburg homicide detectives submitted DNA samples recovered from various unsolved homicides to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
They recently received confirmation that the evidence recovered from McLaughlin's body and Kisor's body matched with Ables, who provided a DNA sample after he was convicted of a felony in 1992.
Ables was brought Tuesday to the Pinellas County Jail.
"The investigators spoke to the families, and it was nice to give them closure," said Sgt. Kovacsev. "Unfortunately, the DNA testing back then wasn't as sophisticated as it is now."
Police said Wednesday they had closed another unrelated cold case because of new DNA analysis. Edith Marker, an 84-year-old resident of Green Mobile Home Park, was robbed and killed in 1990. The man police say killed her, Edward Pate, died of AIDS in 1992.
Puetz said advancements in DNA analysis had "opened a whole new world" to investigators.
"I don't think there's any way that Mr. Ables would have been identified as a suspect in these cases if it wasn't for the technology," Puetz said. "The technology keeps getting better and better."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8472.