CHARLESTON, S.C. - When Charleston County police caught up with Lucius Crawford on a spring day in 1977, the 24-year-old ex-con told them he was grateful they'd stopped him from hurting more women.
Crawford had approached five women in less than a week's time and plunged a knife into each one after chatting them up on the street.
After stabbing his last victim three times in the chest in North Charleston, he sauntered over to his sister's house for a bite to eat. But thoughts of the police closing in tugged at his mind.
"I am glad you all caught up with me because I could not sleep at night because I thought the police were outside," he told investigators in a written statement after his April 19, 1977, arrest. "Then I sometimes say to myself, you done messed up. I say to myself, if you commit a crime, you have to pay for it, and then I asked myself why do you do this thing?"
Some 35 years later, investigators in New York are asking Crawford that same question as they try to sort out three slayings tied to the former Charleston man.
When NYPD detectives went to his basement apartment in Mount Vernon on Tuesday to question him in connection with Nella West's October 1993 slaying, they found a fresh body in his apartment, that of 42-year-old Tanya Simmons. Both had been stabbed to death, police said.
Crawford has a long history of violence toward women, and he has spent nearly half his life behind bars because of those crimes. In Charleston alone, he stabbed up to 10 women in a series of attacks in the 1970s.
At the time, Crawford lived with his family in a tiny, weathered bungalow on Echo Avenue in Union Heights, a hard-luck neighborhood just a few miles from Charleston's tourist-friendly downtown. His parents are said to be dead now, but the current occupant of the home, Mabel Keels, still recalls Crawford. She wasn't surprised at all to hear he was in trouble again.
"Lucius, his mind has always been bad," she told the Post and Courier of Charleston.
A DANGEROUS WEEK
The 1977 stabbing spree earned Crawford a 24-year sentence in South Carolina. He was out in 14, moving to New York upon his release. Just eight months later, he was arrested in White Plains on a charge of third-degree assault for punching an ex-girlfriend in the mouth.
Court records from the 1977 cases document the brutality of the attacks.
The spree began during a visit to downtown Charleston in which Crawford stabbed two women on April 8 of that year.
The first woman, 28, did nothing more than make the mistake of walking toward him, he told police. "When she got close to me, I stabbing her [sic] and just walked off on down Columbus Street," he said.
Crawford told police he ran around the corner but later came back to check on his victim, who had been taken away with a wound to the abdomen. So he started walking around the city some more.
"Then I came across the second girl," he said. "She was walking down Hanover Street toward me, and when she got up to me, I had my blue jacket over the hand in which I had my knife. I stabbed her and kept walking down the street."
His second victim, 17, also was stabbed in the abdomen, police said.
Crawford caught a bus home but returned the following day to stroll and play pinball. During the visit, he encountered a 17-year-old girl standing in the front yard of her home. He tried to start up a conversation.
"I don't know what we were talking about," he later told police. "I had the knife in my hand all the time but it was dark and I don't think she saw the knife. I started stabbing her. I think I stabbed her three or four times, and then she ran into the house."
The girl's brother ran out with a brick in his hand and demanded to know why Crawford had stabbed her in the back, hip and arm. "I wanted to fight him or cut his throat but I think if I had a fight with him the police might get me," Crawford told investigators.
So instead, Crawford took off and grabbed a bus home.
TWO MORE WOMEN FALL
He laid low for a few days before attacking a 14-year-old girl he encountered as she took a shortcut between two homes on her way to an elementary school. The teen told police a strange man approached her and stabbed her as she tried to walk away.
Crawford later would tell investigators he had asked the girl if he could walk with her and be her friend. She told him she already had enough friends. "I told her, 'That's alright [sic], we still are friends no matter what happens,' " he wrote in his statement to police.
He kept walking with her until they neared the school. "After we came out of the path, we started talking and I got about 2 inches in front of her and she didn't see the knife," Crawford told police. "Then I turned around and stabbed her. I then walked away and went down the railroad tracks on Accabee Road and went home."
He went after his final victim of the spree the next day. Crawford told police he spotted a 34-year-old woman he had seen a few times.
The woman told police that Crawford, whom she didn't know, asked to walk with her and stabbed her in the chest when she refused.
Crawford, in his statement, recalled the incident this way: "I started walking with her. She did not see the knife because I had it in my right hand and it was a pocketknife. After I talked with her, I was not making any headway and I hated to see her leave. So I took my knife and stabbed her three times."
A police informant would later finger Crawford as the man responsible for the stabbings. The victims, all of whom survived, then identified him from a police lineup. Crawford expressed relief at being caught. But as his lengthy record shows, the arrest did little to curb his appetite for the knife.