The Killers in Apt. 1083?
08/21/2006 at 01:00 AM EDT
Around the Windscape apartment complex in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, Ariz., Dale Hausner was known as an affable, hardworking guy. What endeared him to one neighbor was the way he doted on his 2-year-old daughter Rebecca, who has serious medical problems and has to be fed through a tube in her stomach. "He was always on the playground with her," says the neighbor. But in the first week of June, Hausner, 33, took in a roommate, Samuel Dieteman, and the neighbor immediately turned wary. "I didn't like the guy from the first time I laid eyes on him," she says of the burly, rough-hewn Dieteman, 30. "He was just real creepy."
The assessment of both men now looks charitable. Late on Aug. 3, scores of Phoenix police officers and sheriff's deputies descended on the Windscape to arrest Hausner and Dieteman, alleged killers who have terrorized the city and its surrounding areas for the past 14 months. All told, the Serial Shooter, as the gunman or gunmen were known, was linked to the killing of seven people and the wounding of 18, most of them pedestrians or bicyclists picked off at night on deserted city streets. "These are the two monsters we have been hunting," proclaimed Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. Still, locals can't drop their guard: In a surreal twist, Phoenix has been simultaneously plagued by another serial predator, known as the Baseline Killer, who since last September has murdered eight people, all of them shot, and who has so far eluded capture. (See box below.)
The arrest of Hausner and Dieteman was the culmination of a vast police effort over the past year. Clues in the shootings were scarce. As an added wrinkle, the Serial Shooter was thought to be responsible for the killing of several dogs and horses. The only lead was a vague description of a light-colored, four-door sedan seen in the vicinity of some of the killings. Evidence started to fall into place in June when the two became suspects in two arson incidents at Wal-Mart stores, with surveillance cameras capturing them and Hausner's silver Camry sedan. Then, on the night of July 30, a Sunday, Robin Blasnek, 22, left her home on foot to visit her boyfriend and was fatally shot. The next day cops connected the dots, linking the arson car with the Serial Shooter, and immediately put Hausner and Dieteman under 24-hour surveillance. "They went out Tuesday and we followed them; we had undercover vehicles all over," says one law enforcement source. "We were going to shoot them if they tried to shoot anyone."
For panicked residents, many of whom had stopped going out at night, the arrests offered a first wave of relief. "I was terrified for my kids," says Christina Cooper, the mother of two boys. "One of the killings took place in my girlfriend's neighborhood."
The arrests shocked acquaintances of the two suspects, especially those who knew Hausner. For the past several years he worked as a custodian at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, while also working as a freelance photographer, often shooting professional boxers. Elena "Baby Doll" Reid, a top-ranked female boxer, modeled for Hausner and socialized with him and his then girlfriend. "I can't believe it," says Reid of the allegations. "He seemed like a nice, normal kind of person." In a jailhouse interview after his arrest, Hausner insisted to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, "I feel very sorry for the families of the people who were hurt, but I didn't do it." He suggested that Dieteman—who allegedly confessed to the crime spree and implicated Hausner—had used his car and guns without his knowledge. "He is someone with a low-self-esteem problem," Hausner later said. But a police spokesperson said that there was evidence against both.
The motive for the spree was still largely a matter of speculation. In his statement to police Dieteman allegedly called the killings "random recreational violence," and said that he and Hausner had taken turns shooting victims. What is clear is that Hausner's life had taken several tragic turns over the years. In 1994, according to newspaper accounts at the time, his then-wife evidently fell asleep at the wheel of the car, which plunged into a creek near Corsicana, Texas, killing Hausner's two young sons, Donovan Spiker, 3, and Jeremiah Hausner, 2. Dale, who was in the car, attempted to rescue them, but could not. In a letter to friends he wrote on the tenth anniversary of the boys' death, he talked of his "extreme guilt" and how he had battled "serious depression." In divorce papers, though, his ex-wife Karen Ann Hausner painted a more sinister picture. She said in 2002 that Dale, whom she called emotionally "unstable," had once taken her to the desert and showed her the shotgun that he was going to use to kill her.
Dieteman, meanwhile, piled up a startlingly long police record. Cops in his home state of Minnesota count some 40 brushes with the law, ranging from DWI to domestic violence. Dieteman's estranged then-wife requested court orders of protection at least twice, including one filing in 2001 when she said he had threatened her, saying that he "could hide a body" in the desert, where "nobody would find it." One expert on serial killers, Dr. James Alan Fox, suggests that the two brought "out the worst in each other." "Especially where killing is a sport, as it appears to be in this case," says Fox, "the sport can be that much more thrilling with a teammate."
None of that, of course, made any sense to the loved ones of the victims of the Serial Shooter. At the funeral for Robin Blasnek, who worked as an office assistant, her parents, who lost another daughter, 15-year-old Rachel, to a fatal car accident in 1996, talked about how their beloved Robin had struggled to overcome attention deficit disorder, other learning disabilities and emotional troubles to become a happy and charming young woman. "I will never kiss my sweet baby's cheek again, not in this life, at least," said her father, Steve. "It hurts. Oh, it hurts."
At the time of the arrest, police recovered a garbage bag the suspects were throwing out that contained a spent .410-gauge shotgun shell and a map showing where the victims had been killed. Initially the Serial Shooter had used a .22-caliber rifle in the attacks. To the consternation of police, a newspaper article disclosed that the rifle's slugs would be relatively easy to match. After that, the Shooter switched to a shotgun, which is harder to trace. Says serial killer expert Dr. James Alan Fox: "We think of serial killers as loners, but that is not always the case."
They came from all walks of life and from many parts of the sprawling Phoenix area. On the night of March 14, Liliana Sanchez-Cabrera, 19, was shot to death by the Baseline Killer after her first day of work at Yoshi's restaurant. Kibili Tambadu, 17, whose family fled the civil war in Sierra Leone, was hit by the Serial Shooter while carrying groceries on May 2. "This has taken away my trust," says Tambadu, who has since recovered. "I don't feel safe."