Nevertheless, the obscured story of handyman Morris Solomon Jr. has to be one of the most interesting tales untold as it is one of the most horrific yarns in the annals of American crime. The handyman's misdeeds, when briefly brought to the public's attention, virtually reminded society that killers continuously come in all colors, shapes, and sizes.
Solomon was convicted of killing six young women, ages 16 to 29, in the Sacramento, California, neighborhood of Oak Park between 1986 and 1987. The handyman's grisly method of murder left detectives and medical examiners mystified. The identification process of his victims' remains was distinctly a laborious assignment, too.
The victims -drug addicts, prostitutes, and devout mothers - were stuffed in closets, hidden under debris, and arguably, one court judge strongly considers, buried alive. In retrospect, the handyman was first accused of murder in the mid-1970s; and authorities suspect him to be linked to four more homicides in Sacramento.
Solomon - once declared as a "Mentally Disordered Sex Offender"- is now on death row in Northern California's San Quentin State Prison awaiting execution. The unassuming handyman's 18-year reign of terror includes a record of sexual assaults, attempted kidnappings, and separate despicable sex acts performed strictly for humiliation.
In The Homicidal Handyman of Oak Park: Morris Solomon Jr., author and journalist Tony Ray Harvey recounts the black serial killer's dysfunctional upbringing, atrocious crimes, and hardly noticeable court trial.
Harvey's book also provides explicit crime scene photos, the history of the death penalty system in the state of California, the city of Sacramento's drug culture in the mid-1980s, and exclusive prison interviews of the mild-mannered handyman.
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The Homicidal Handyman of Oak Park: Morris Solomon Jr.The Sexual Crimes & Serial Murders of Morris Solomon Jr.
By Tony Ray Harvey
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Tony Ray Harvey
All right reserved.
Chapter One3445 4th Avenue Wednesday, June 18, 1986
"Hand*y*man (han'de man') n., pl.—men : a person hired to do various small jobs, esp. in the maintenance of an apartment building, office building, or the like."
The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Page 867 Random House Inc., 1987
The vacant, three-level house at 3445 4th Avenue, right off 35th Street in the historical neighborhood of Oak Park, looked dreadfully sinister as it did hopelessly dilapidated. Along with visible debris in every direction, empty beer cans, broken wine bottles, opened condom packages, and dirty used syringes were scattered everywhere on the house's front landscape. The city of Sacramento had previously declared the house inappropriate for human habitation.
Unsuitable as it appeared, the condemned pigsty proved to be—at least through the eyes of nearby neighbors—a popular hangout for degenerates, prostitutes, homeless and helpless alcoholics who had gravitated to it over a period of time after it was officially abandoned.
The guilty parties would purchase alcohol at the P.J. & W. liquor store right next door, and then swallow it down at the empty house as if it was the neighborhood's exclusive watering hole for the downtrodden. When the sun set in the west for the night, wild activities in the interior of the house took place well before dawn. But on one full day, and possibly many more too, the wrongdoings had to cease instantly.
There was a good reason why the violators had to depart the premises for the rest of the day. The structure's present condition was on the verge of potentially changing from bad to acceptable.
Charles E. Sinkey and Associates, a faction of real estate investors who specialized in restoring condemned properties, had plans of refurbishing the neighborhood's eyesore. The firm successfully found a person who was willing to make the repairs.
On Wednesday, June 18, 1986, Carl Patilla loaded up his green-colored Chevy truck with carpenter tools and building supplies to begin work on the 4th Avenue house. Patilla, who lived nearly a mile away on Broadway and 43rd Street, anticipated an extremely hot day that normally looms all over the Sacramento Valley during the summer season.
In the Sacramento region, the weather is well known to have a string of days exceeding triple-digit temperatures that could continue periodically throughout the summer. Within seconds of leaving a cool air-conditioned facility, the scorching desert heat on the outside could make it nearly impossible to escape the rays of the glistening sun, and the dry air difficult to inhale.
Patilla knew of the meteorological characteristics of the Sacramento Valley's weather all too well. The skilled handyman who specialized in home renovations also knew that occasionally it was best to start work as soon as possible before the heat became unbearable to work in as the day progressed.
Patilla, a 42-year-old African American and veteran of the Vietnam War, was dutifully proud of his professional trade he acquired at an early age. Labor jobs kept hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in his pocket as well as a roof over his head if needed. To say the least, he was gifted to do this type of work.
Patilla had kept employment in the field of carpentry all over Northern California. He lived in California cities and towns such as San Jose, Santa Clara, Oakland, San Mateo, Berkeley, Stockton, and in the Sacramento River delta town of Isleton. The handyman had lived in Isleton for a few years right up until he graduated from Rio Vista High School in Solano County.
Patilla also had the opportunity to work in the states of Arizona and Texas in the early 1980s. Without a doubt, the 5-foot-8, 145-pound black man was a handyman in every aspect of the title. Wherever there were houses to be built or worked on, most likely, Patilla was going to find them.
After drifting up and down the Pacific Coast and selected places near the Mexico border, Patilla decided to move to Sacramento where his mother, Carrie Solomon, had been living for a few years. The handyman lived in the "River City" for a while in the late 1970s, but personal issues surfaced and they eventually ushered him out of Sacramento for more than 36 months.
When he was able to return to the Sacramento Valley, the carpenter worked on several houses in Oak Park and various residences in parts of South Sacramento. Patilla's humble attitude and diligent work were often a payoff for cash or an agreement to rent out one of the properties from landlords who saw a hard-working man trying to earn his living in the golden state of California.
Shortly after 8:00 A.M., on that 18th day of June, Patilla pulled up in his truck to the blighted house on 4th Avenue. As the handyman walked up 10 steps of a staircase to unlock the front door he noticed a strange, yet foul smell.
Patilla paid no attention to the familiar reek since he had experienced such odors in other old houses he had worked on in the past. One thing was for sure; the handyman knew this smell was not a demented odor coming from an empty bottle of Wild Irish Rose or cheap bottle of malt liquor.
The handyman proceeded to walk back to his vehicle to retrieve a piece of carpet when he saw a woman across the street waving at him. They engaged in a brief conversation when the woman walked over to Patilla and his truck. The individuals departed after the discussion ended.
Patilla, with the carpet in tow, walked back up the stairs of the house where the distinctive smell met him again. He suddenly dropped the rolled up carpet, and then began running through the vacant four-bedroom house to find where and why the potent odor had a deathly aroma.
Covering his mouth and nose with one of his hands and opening door after door with the other, Patilla halted in his tracks when he reached the last bedroom in the back of the house. The handyman walked in the room slowly, approached the closet, and then opened the thin door just slightly enough to see a loosely-dressed black woman lying face up in an "eagle-spread" position, a local newspaper had described.
On the verge of regurgitating, Patilla ran out of the bedroom coughing hysterically as he looked for the quickest exit, which was the back door of the house. The handyman bolted down the two flights of stairs on the east side of the house.
Shaken and disturbed, Patilla asked a man and woman sitting in a car in front of the house did they know where he could find the nearest phone to call the Sacramento Police Department. The handyman was sure that the person he saw in the closet was in fact a dead woman.
Shortly after homicide police Detective Thomas Daniel Lee arrived at the scene around 9:00 A.M., Carl Patilla introduced himself, and then promptly directed the investigator to the rear of the house to enter through a side door. Detective Lee put on a mask to avoid the horrible stench as he walked down the right side of the house with Patilla.
Detective Lee observed everything in his sight that he possibly could before entering the house. The detective also kept a close eye on the calm Patilla. When Detective Lee reached the back room of the house, he saw a young black woman dressed in a black jacket and a white sweater-like dress with black spots.
Detective Lee also glanced at a pair of panties on the floor near the body that looked torn, and the dress that was pulled up exposing the woman's pelvic area from the waist down.
In Detective Lee's mind, it was possible that this woman was sexually assaulted and murdered. It was also clear to Detective Lee that the dead woman, who also had a faded blue headband on her forehead, was dragged to her present location from another part of the vacant house.
In the second bedroom, near the front of the residence, Detective Ralph William Coyle, who arrived at the crime scene shortly after Lee, found a clear two-inch smoking pipe that had a little pot at the tip to hold smokeable contents for inhaling.
Detective Coyle had already been with the Sacramento Police Department for almost eight years and working homicide detail nearly three years for the force. When Detective Coyle saw the deceased female in the closet, he observed something he had certainly seen more than 10 times.
"Specifically notable to me was a distinct line and indention around the neck from a portion that was visible to me which appeared to be a ligature mark," Detective Coyle said.
By this time, Sacramento police officers arrived to the crime scene followed by pathologists from the Sacramento County Coroner's Office. When a popular reporter from KOVR-TV pulled up in a company vehicle, more and more people from the neighborhood crowded around the house on 4th Avenue with hope of finding out who the dead person was inside the house.
While Patilla was leaning up against one of the patrol cars in front of the house, Sacramento police Sgt. Bob Burns and Detective Lee approached the handyman. The pair asked Patilla to meet with detectives at the Hall of Justice later on that afternoon to discuss his grisly discovery.
After the female television reporter for KOVR-TV interviewed Patilla about how he found the dead woman's remains, the journalist turned to Sgt. Burns to verify the cause of death. Sgt. Burns said the body, in the advance state of decomposition, appeared to have been deceased for two or three days, and he stated the cause of death could not be determined at the present time.
"We're treating this as a homicide," Sgt. Burns said. "We suspect foul play primarily because she was disrobed. She was nude from the waist down," concluded Sgt. Burns, who, with his square jaw and full-set of gray hair, looked like the comic book detective Dick Tracy in his early 50s.
After an autopsy report was completed at the Sacramento County Coroner's Office, dental records identified the woman as 22-year-old Yolanda "Yo Yo" Lynette Johnson.
At the 3445 4th Avenue crime scene, homicide detectives collected a dry substance from Yolanda's inner right thigh. When the dry matter was tested at the Sacramento County Crime Lab, it was determined to be semen, and with great significance, the material was supplied by someone else other than Yolanda.
Barely in its infancy, a new form of forensic science was looked at as an important tool to link a suspect to a crime. In order to search for the truth in Yolanda's death, the use of DNA technology was one way to identify potential culprits whose deoxyribonucleic acid could match evidence left at the scene of the crime.
In reference to a document prepared by the Office for Victims of Crime, an organization, established by the 1984 Victims of Crime Act to supervise diverse programs that profited from victims of crime, DNA is a "fundamental building block" for a person's entire genetic information and hereditary characteristics. An individual's DNA is exactly the same in cells and does not alter at any time during the person's life span.
It's a "blueprint passed on to us by our parents," the April 2001 document prepared by Kathryn M. Turman stated.
The individual's saliva is also the same DNA in the person's blood. DNA is planted in skin tissue, sweat, bone, hair, earwax, mucus, urine, semen, and vaginal or rectal cells. Some parts of the DNA reveal an individual's characteristics such height, bone structure, and eye and hair color.
But if collected from a crime scene, a DNA sample was used for "evidentiary purposes only." As the tool's importance in forensic technology grew, the crime-fighting technique would soon be labeled "DNA fingerprinting."
The reason why the excretion found on Yolanda's thigh was key trace evidence is on account of its use a couple of years before in Great Britain. DNA fingerprinting exonerated a suspect in two rape cases and a murder situation that the police figured were committed by the same individual.
In that regard, DNA testing done within a population of 5,000 men discovered a match and implicated the person responsible for the crimes. With the current circumstance in Oak Park, the matter was all about getting samples from suspects followed with a test of the DNA evidence. The only drawback in the mid-1980s was that the scientific process could take months. In this particular case there was a long period that nearly took a year before results were supplied.
Officials at the coroner's office also found high levels of cocaine in Yolanda's liver, though they sincerely found no cause of death. In conclusion, the skilled examiners ended up reporting that there was no evidence of foul play.
When Patilla met with investigators at the Hall of Justice later that evening, the handyman told them the same version he had told the KOVR-13 television news reporter, Joan Edmundson.
"As soon as I walked into the house I detected a bad odor," said Patilla who was wearing a leather hat with paint spots on it and a white, sleeveless KFMK-98 Radio tee shirt. "At first I thought it was a dead cat. But when I walked into the bedroom, the odor became heavier. I opened the closet and she was lying face up."
There were many bystanders at the empty house on 4th Avenue. They knew who the dead person was and suggested to Edmundson that the victim was a prostitute. When Edmundson asked Carl Patilla if he knew that the black female was a hooker he responded, "It wouldn't be right ... to call her a working girl."
Criminal records indicated that in the past Yolanda was arrested and charged with prostitution. A neighborhood hair stylist/cosmetologist by trade and mother of three children, Yolanda was booked on a prostitution charge nine days before she was found dead in a closet on 4th Avenue.
In fact, Yolanda had a track record of criminal arrests and convictions dating back to 1984. Theft, prostitution, and parole violations kept Yolanda in and out of the Sacramento County Main Jail.
About three weeks before her sudden death, Yolanda's mother took her to the University of California Davis Medical Center, locally known as UC Davis Medical Center, to be treated for possible Hepatitis; a virus commonly known to cause liver inflammation. Yolanda arrived at the hospital with sickly yellow eyes, extreme physical fatigue, nausea, and other severe symptoms.
Patilla said he didn't recognize the dead woman in the closet, but when the police showed him a picture of Yolanda he suddenly identified her as a prostitute he called "Lisa" or "Yo Yo."
Patilla first met Yolanda when he was renovating a residence at 4327 Broadway. He denied having sexual contact with Yolanda and said it was probably five to seven days before June 18, 1986 when he last saw the young woman.
After jogging his memory during the interview—which was being tape-recorded—the handyman finally came up with another conclusion in reference to Yolanda.
"I dated her back in January 1986," Patilla said to the detectives in regards to his relationship with Yolanda. "She ripped me off for 20 bucks."
In addition to his confession, Patilla revealed something of more significance to the police that he had not disclosed after he found Yolanda's body earlier in the day. Carefully avoiding arrest for four outstanding warrants where the bail amount totaled $2,500 (one charge was for soliciting prostitution), investigators gained knowledge from Carl Patilla that he had concealed his true identity.
The Oak Park handyman who specialized in refurbishing houses real name is MORRIS SOLOMON JR. Carl Patilla, the name Morris used to hide his birth name, is the handyman's older brother's true identity. Morris was smooth and confident when he gave the police and Edmundson his brother's name at the crime scene on 4th Avenue. He had used it before when he found himself in a jam.
Several hours after the discovery of the body, Sacramento homicide detectives Ralph William Coyle and Flossie Crump (±) interviewed the handyman at the Hall of Justice. The police officers wanted to first make clear to the handyman that he was not under arrest before they started asking questions about his detection of the corpse.
Detective Coyle: "OKAY ... uhmm ... Morris ... just to clarify in my mind the reason why you gave us the name ... uhmm ... the name you gave us earlier ..."
Detective Crump: "Carl ..."
Detective Coyle: "Yes, Carl ... because you were afraid of the warrants you had?"
Morris: "Yes, sir."
Detective Coyle: "I just checked on the warrant and you have four warrants."
Detective Coyle: "As far as I'm concerned, right now, I'm not going to arrest you unless I have to with regard to the tickets. I just called the county jail and I think you can be cited. They are all misdemeanors and they all qualify for citations. The only reason we would arrest you is if we had to. So as far as I'm concerned you are not under arrest or anything. I just wanted you to know that up front."
Excerpted from The Homicidal Handyman of Oak Park: Morris Solomon Jr. by Tony Ray Harvey Copyright © 2012 by Tony Ray Harvey. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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