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A delivery man found the first body behind a Dairy Queen in 1992 in the Spring Branch area of Houston, Texas. The victim, a petite Hispanic woman, had a cut on her mouth and a bite on one breast. She appeared to have been choked to death.
A handmade tourniquet used to choke her was still wound around her neck. Evidence showed that she’d been killed in another location and dumped behind the fast-food chain.
The medical examiner determined the woman had been strangled and sexually assaulted, investigators told “Mark of Serial Killer,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen. Evidence was collected, including the victim’s fingernail clippings that could hold DNA material.
As detectives worked the case, the father of 21-year-old Maria del Carmen Estrada, who’d gone missing, came forward. Investigators confirmed the identity of the tourniquet victim as Estrada.
Police canvassed the area where Estrada lived and worked and cross-checked DNA evidence with the sex crimes unit but came up with no leads. The case went cold.
Two years later, on August 7, 1994, 9-year-old Diana Rebollar disappeared after walking to a grocery store a few blocks from her house. The girl arrived at the shop and bought some sugar but never made it home.
Her body was eventually found in an abandoned warehouse. She was lying face up with a tourniquet cinched around her neck. She had been sexually assaulted.
“It was profoundly disturbing to me,” Officer Arturo Meija of the Houston Police Department told producers. “I had a young family and two little girls myself. Who could do this?”
Investigators recognized the similarity between Rebollar’s murder and Estrada’s. Detectives dug deep to try to come up with leads in either case.
A year later, on July 6, 1995, KPRC assignment editor Barbara Magana Robertson received an anonymous call from a man who said there was a serial killer at large in Houston. He told her the location of where a body could be found along with details about the scene.
When sheriffs responded to the location they found the body of a young woman. There was a ligature around her neck. Decomposition made it difficult to determine if she had been sexually assaulted. Authorities were unable to identify the victim using fingerprints, but a missing persons report led police to determine that it was 16-year-old Dana Sanchez. She was last seen on her way to visit her boyfriend.
With three victims murdered in the same way, investigators reckoned with the fact that they were likely dealing with a serial murderer. A task force was formed to find the killer.
“Using a tourniquet is an incredibly easy and effective way of torturing somebody,” forensic psychologist Joni Johnston told producers. “This particular killer does seem to need a lot of power and control. A tourniquet is the ultimate control in terms of torturing somebody and prolonging their agony.”
Investigators narrowed the focus of their search to sexual offenders, but were unable to come up with a suspect.
Ten years after Estrada’s body was found, Lt. Danny Billingsly of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office took charge of the homicide unit. He doubled down on efforts to find the tourniquet murder, according to “Mark of a Serial Killer.” That included looking for forensic leads and taking advantage of advances in DNA analysis. Using a sample of genetic material from Estrada’s fingernail clippings, a DNA profile was developed and submitted into the DNA database.
A match was found to a potential suspect who’d flown under detectives’ radar: Anthony Allen Shore, who had worked for a telephone company and was a musician. He was a registered sex offender with a history of abuse.
After being picked up by officials, Shore initially denied killing anyone. But after hours of dodging guilt, Shore spilled everything. “I have crazy thoughts. I have these sick, sick notions,” he is heard saying in a taped police interrogation.
Shore detailed how he killed Estrada, Rebollar, and Sanchez. In a shocking twist, he also admitted to killing 15-year-old Laurie Trembley in 1986. He told authorities that he’d strangled him with a cord and hurt his hand in the process, which is why he turned to the tourniquet as a murder weapon.
Although Shore confessed to four murders, he was tried only for killing Estrada. Prosecutors recognized that as the strongest case, one for which they had DNA evidence. Shore’s trial began in 2004, where his long history of sexual violence came out.
“Shore’s daughters testified about being abused, drugged, and molested by Shore,” reported nbcnews.com. His wife and former girlfriends testified that he drugged and raped them, choked them while having sex, used drugs, and kept pornography of young girls.”
Shore was found guilty and sentenced to death. At the age of 55, he died by lethal injection on January 18, 2018.
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