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Tipster claims her leads about serial killer suspect were ignored
Posted on November 12, 2003
Attorney Karl Koch (right) listens Tuesday as Collette Dwyer of St. Francisville discusses how South Louisiana serial killer suspect Derrick Todd Lee of St. Francisville allegedly stalked her. Dwyer said she repeatedly tried to give investigators Lee's name in the months three women were killed but says she was turned away because authorities said they were looking for a white man. Lee, who is black, was arrested in May after a nearly yearlong investigation into the deaths of six South Louisiana women. (AP Photo/The Advocate, Bill Feig)
BATON ROUGE - At least three women might be alive if a St. Francisville woman's warnings to authorities about accused serial killer Derrick Todd Lee had been heeded, the woman claimed Tuesday.
Colette Dwyer said she called the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Multiagency Homicide Task Force five times and talked with other authorities numerous times concerning her suspicions about Lee, a St. Francisville resident who spent time in prison for stalking her.
But her alerts were ignored because the task force was convinced it should be looking for a white man, she alleged.
"It took too many lives to get this solved," Dwyer said at a press conference, flanked by her husband, Alan Dwyer, and attorneys Karl Koch and Danny McGlynn. "Every time someone was killed, I just knew it was him."
Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade, who led the task force hunting the serial killer, issued a statement Tuesday evening admitting investigators had focused on reports of a white man driving a white truck with a naked woman slumped over in the passenger seat.
Englade said the task force received Dwyer's tip on Sept. 4, 2002, and sent an investigator to look at Lee's truck after she noted it was white. But the investigator who examined the truck said it did not match the suspect vehicle.
"Based on the priorities of the task force and cumulative information to date, Derrick Todd Lee was not DNA tested. This was a direct result of the witnesses reporting at that time that the suspect was a white male, which the task force considered to be very reliable," he said in the statement.
Once DNA testing determined the killer likely was black, investigators reviewed Dwyer's tip and searched for Lee but could not find him, Englade said.
Dwyer said she's been going through counseling trying to erase guilt she feels because Pam Kinamore of Baton Rouge, Trineisha Dené Colomb of Lafayette and Carrie Lynn Yoder of Baton Rouge were killed after she alerted police to Lee. She said her counselor suggested she tell her story to help her emotional well being.
"You shouldn't feel guilty. It's not your fault," Sterling Colomb Jr., Trineisha Dene' Colomb's brother, told Dwyer after the press conference.
"It's aggravating, knowing that the tip was there and they didn't follow up on it," Colomb said in an interview. "If they had, it would have saved my sister. They didn't want to listen to anybody's tips. They were looking for a white guy.
"They messed up a lot," Colomb said of the task force. "They could have caught this guy way ahead of when they did. If they had done their job, my sister would be alive right now."
Lee's trial in connection with the slaying of Charlotte Murray Pace of Baton Rouge is scheduled to begin in March. She's one of six women Lee is accused of raping and killing.
Dwyer said she first called police the day after Pace was killed May 31, 2002, and suggested that Lee be questioned. She said she had a strong feeling it was him.
She said she also called after Pam Kinamore's body was found and again was rebuffed. She said that during the investigation she also called state police, the sheriffs' offices in Lafayette, St. Martin, West Feliciana and East Baton Rouge parishes, the attorney general's office and several local police departments.
Dwyer said Lee hung around where she worked and came to her house numerous times before and after she had him arrested for stalking in 1999.
He pushed his way into her house, sat in a chair and talked to her about wanting to love her, she said. He tried to get her to accompany him to Lafayette, where no one knew them.
She said he told her he liked white women like herself because "black women wanted so much from him. He wanted to take care of me."
She said she never returned his affection.
"St. Francisville was his safety zone. If I had gone with him across the river, I think I would have been his first victim.
"I'm here, I guess, because God wasn't ready for me," she said, tears welling in the corners of her eyes.
Dwyer said she's not surprised police found no signs of break-ins at the victim's homes because "he's very, very quiet. He'll get up on you and you'll never know it. He's just there."
Koch said that his firm is not representing Dwyer or any of the victims' families in any type of legal action and that Dwyer is not seeking the reward offered for information leading to the arrest of a suspect.
Dwyer said that Englade brought up the issue of reward money when she met with him after Lee's arrest.
"I told him 'Chief Englade, if I have to claim the reward money to make you acknowledge that I did this and I had other people call, then that's what I would have to do'," she said. "'I called you and told you I had fear because several times he came back'."
"The truth is very important to Colette," McGlynn said, adding that making her story public could lead to police taking tips more seriously in future investigations.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.