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Mount Vernon slay suspect Lucius Crawford arraigned in Tanya Simmons killing

Mount Vernon Police Department crime scene investigators gather

Mount Vernon Police Department crime scene investigators gather evidence from a basement apartment at 7 Beekman Ave. in Mount Vernon, the residence of alleged serial killer Lucius Crawford. (Dec. 5, 2012) Photo Credit: Xavier Mascarenas

The suspect in a Mount Vernon slaying confessed to killing three women in Westchester County and New York City, crimes that were part of a decades-long history of brutal attacks against women.

"This is the closest thing to a serial killer that Mount Vernon has seen in a long time," Police Commissioner Carl Bell said of 60-year-old Lucius Crawford.

Crawford, who spent 28 years in prison, found himself back in jail Tuesday after New York Police Department detectives knocked on his door at nearly the same time as Mount Vernon police. They didn't find Crawford but instead the woman police say was his latest victim in a multiyear string of slayings.

Tanya Simmons, 42, lay covered with a sheet, stabbed nine times in the chest.

During a Wednesday arraignment in Mount Vernon City Court, Crawford stood stone-faced before Judge Mark Gross, his hands cuffed behind his back and wearing jeans and a blue hospital gown. He is being held in Westchester County Jail without bond on a second-degree murder charge.

Three women, who declined to identify themselves, left the courtroom in tears.

According to police, Crawford confessed to killing Simmons and two other women: 23-year-old Learonda Shealy of Yonkers, who was stabbed and left in a stairwell at 57 Walsh Rd. in September 1993, and Nella West, 38, in Riverdale, the Bronx, in October 1993.

Finding Simmons' body -- and nabbing Crawford soon after -- was the result of police work and luck, cops said. A cold-case detective at the NYPD's 50th Precinct station house recently had reopened the West case and came up with a DNA match: Lucius Crawford.

When the detectives realized Crawford was living in Mount Vernon and discovered Yonkers police also were looking at him in another slaying, they went to Crawford's Beekman Avenue apartment at 1:05 p.m. Tuesday, an NYPD spokesman said.

They found Simmons' body and an electronic ankle bracelet belonging to Crawford, who was on parole for a 1994 attempted murder conviction in Westchester County.

They called Mount Vernon police, who were already on their way to Crawford's apartment, spurred by a call Crawford himself made to police in which he posed as a neighbor calling about a "disturbance" in the basement apartment.

"We did show up almost simultaneously," Bell said of the NYPD detectives and Mount Vernon cops. Crawford "had made the phone call that brought us there. And luckily, the [detectives who were] there basically said, 'Here's who you're looking for.' That cut down the time of us actually finding out who lives in the apartment, identifying who we were looking for."

Crawford's criminal history dates back to the early 1970s, including more than 28 years in prison: 14 years for the 1994 attempted murder of a woman in Westchester County and 14 years in South Carolina for a stabbing spree in which he knifed four women in five days.

"He befriends [his victims] and he ends up attacking them," Bell said Wednesday. "He has anger issues."

Crawford and Simmons had quarreled about a cellphone and a shopping cart, police said.

"He lost control and stabbed her," Bell said.

A half-dozen detectives and crime scene technicians shuffled in and out of the house Wednesday, carrying sealed brown paper bags of evidence to a police sport utility vehicle parked across the street from the two-story stucco-sided home in which Crawford lived in a one-room basement apartment.

Crime scene investigators packed up a few minutes after 4 p.m. Wednesday, toting tool boxes and other items, and told reporters they would return to the multifamily house on Thursday to continue cataloging and removing evidence from Crawford's apartment.

Some neighbors, like 48-year-old Roddy Foster, said they weren't surprised. Foster has lived at Beekman Avenue with his wife and three school-age kids for 12 years.

Foster said he didn't know Crawford but believes there are too many low-income rentals in the neighborhood.

"It's low-rent housing," he said. "You're bound to get a few bad apples."

Landlord Andre LaGuerre said he'd never seen Crawford with a woman. Crawford was often alone, LaGuerre told News12, and he didn't have a steady job. Although LaGuerre said he saw Crawford performing odd jobs, like yard work for neighbors, he paid his monthly rent by money order. LaGuerre said he believes the rent money came from Crawford's mother.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said that based on Crawford's history of violence against women, Long Island detectives were alerted to a possible connection to their yearlong investigation into the remains of 10 people, including eight women, in the area of Gilgo Beach. Suffolk County detectives, however, said a connection to that case was unlikely.

Crawford is still under parole supervision. He was released to parole from Sing Sing prison in February 2008 and was to remain under parole supervision until May 2014, according to state records.

Antonia Gibbs, 47, of Mount Vernon, said she walks past the house where Crawford allegedly killed Simmons on her way to work every day and said she was concerned for her safety. She questioned why he was released on parole.

"How could they let that man out of prison after hurting all those women?" Gibbs asked. "He's obviously got a problem with women, and I'm about the same age as the woman he killed. It doesn't make sense ... a guy like that walking the streets."

Crawford is due back in Mount Vernon City Court at 2 p.m. Monday.

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