Susan Mustafa, true crime author, describes how DNA testing in Louisiana was impacted by serial killings and her process for writing.
My name is Susan D Mustafa. I’m a true crime author. I’m the co-author of The Most Dangerous Animal of All, Searching for my Father and Finding the Zodiac Killer with Gary L Stewart. I’m also the co-author of Blood Bath with Tony Clayton and Sue Israel about the life and crimes of Derrick Todd Lee and Dismembered, written with Sue Israel, about the life and crimes of serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis.
In the case of Derrick Todd Lee in south Louisiana, many of the witnesses to his crimes saw a white man in a white pick-up truck in the vicinity of the murder scene. Because of this, police ruled out all other suspects and warned everybody in the public to be leery of white men in white pick-up trucks. Well, it turned out through Tony Frudakis with DNAPrint Genomics determined through genetic ancestry profiling that the suspect in the serial killings in Baton Rouge was 85% sub-Saharan African, which changed the whole course of the investigation. In the next year, Derrick Todd Lee was caught, and he was linked to the murders of several women through DNA.
Derrick Todd Lee was convicted of the murders of Charlotte Murray Pace in East Baton Rouge Parish and Geralyn DeSoto in West Baton Rouge Parish, but he was linked by DNA to the murders of seven other women, however, four other women, police strongly believe, that he was the prime suspect on those, and in the book Blood Bath we have actually (through a timeline of his life) linked him to several more. So, although he was linked by DNA to seven, convicted of two, we have him at seventeen in the book. This case changed everything about DNA analysis in Louisiana. When Randi Mebruer was killed in the town of Zachary in 1998, a trash can liner on her car port contained blood samples and semen samples. At the time, DNA testing was cost prohibitive. The Zachary Police Department could not afford the $5,000 it would have cost to test that DNA. So many more women lost their lives because of that simple fact.
Now, the Louisiana legislature, because at the time that Derrick Todd Lee was praying on South Louisiana, Sean Vincent Gillis was also killing women (8 to his credit) and Jeffrey Lee Guillory was suspected of at least 10 murders of prostitutes in North Baton Rouge. Because of these serial killings, the Louisiana legislature has decided to pour money into its state agencies for DNA testing to become so much more advanced, because everybody in Louisiana realizes that women have lost their lives because of this. So that’s how it’s changed the culture. And the next thing I know, I go from writing about musicians and artists and all the happy things in life to researching serial killers. When I did the Derrick Todd Lee one, it was a very difficult thing to do emotionally to see the crime scene photos, to get to know the victim’s families. I often wondered why I was doing it as I was going through the process. Pam Kinamore was a victim of Derrick Todd Lee, and her mother helped me out a lot with that book.
One time I called her and said, “Lynne, why am I doing this? You know, I’m having such a hard time with it. Why am I doing this?” and she said, “Susan, you’re doing it for me. I want everybody to know how beautiful my daughter was and what a monster this man was.” And after she said that it’s like you know what?
And so I really started focusing on the victims when I write. It’s all about their lives. A lot of true crime books don’t do that. They focus just on the killer. Every victim gets at least a chapter. I want my readers to know who these women were and how important they were to our communities.
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