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'I Took Lip Prints From Him': Atlanta Police Used This Clue To Catch a Multiple Murderer
In 2001, an Atlanta hamlet was terrorized by a serial shooter. Notes he left at crime scenes helped lead to his capture.
The Atlanta suburb of East Point is known for its safe small-town vibe. But in the spring of 2001, the community was terrorized by a series of shootings.
On March 1, 52-year-old Cynthia Rolle was found dead in her car by her son. She had been fatally shot multiple times through the driver’s side window as she sat in her driveway, according to “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.
Police found no sign of a robbery and the victim’s purse was still in the car. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation CSI team carefully processed the car to preserve forensic details, finding various items, including a piece of paper with the hand-written word “Jack” on it.
“I took pictures of it,” said Peter McFarland, a retired member of the GBI.
He found no shell casings, though three 40 caliber bullets were recovered from Rolle’s body. Investigators now knew the type of murder weapon used in the slaying.
Investigators learned that Rolle, a probation officer for the state of Georgia, was active in her church and was regarded as personable and level-headed. Detectives reviewed Rolle’s cases for signs of disgruntled probationers but found none.
Detectives worked the case from every angle for five weeks. Then, on April 8, there was another shooting in the community. Roger Orr was shot while standing at the door of his East Point home and survived.
Orr told producers that he ran to get his shotgun, but the assailant had fled. “I grabbed the phone and called 911,” Orr said.
Detectives tried to get any information they could from the victim, who was rushed to the hospital. “Mr. Orr could not provide us any details of the shooter because it happened so fast,” said Tim Barge, a now-retired East Point Police Department detective.
But a 40 caliber shell casing was found outside Orr’s front door, as well as a piece of paper on which a note had been written in yellow highlighter: “I was locked up for six weeks, someone must pay.” On the other side was the word “Jack.”
As investigators collected evidence at the Orr crime scene, a 911 call about a shooting two miles away came in. The latest victim, 41-year-old Antonio Stepney, had been shot in his car while at a stop sign.
Stepney managed to get out of his vehicle and made his way to a nearby house. The resident called 911, but Stepney died from his gun wounds.
Detectives found Stepney’s car backed up to a curb and still running. At the scene, they found five 40-caliber casings, which were immediately taken to the GBI for testing. Police additionally found a sheet of paper with the word “Jack” on it. “When I saw that note my immediate thought was this is definitely connected to Mr. Orr,” said Barge.
The note with “Jack” written in highlighter at the Rolle crime scene was a third point of connection. Ballistics testing showed that casings recovered from the Orr and Stepney crime scenes were fired from “the exact same weapon,” investigators said.
Like Rolle and Orr, detectives looked into Stepney’s background and found that he was a well-liked “people person” with no enemies.
But what tied the victims together? Police took “a deep dive” to uncover any “Jack” the victims knew. “We came up with nothing,” said Barge. “We were back at square one.”
“It felt as if this individual was trying to antagonize law enforcement,” said journalist Shaunya Chavis. “Is it really a Jack? Is it someone who is trying to throw off law enforcement?”
Then, on April 12, a bullet was fired into the East Point home of Barbara Northern, who was visiting with her mother. “They heard a gunshot,” detectives said. “The window shattered and her TV just exploded.”
Investigators found a 40 caliber casing and a slip of paper with the word “Jack.” On the other side, a note told police to count their body bags.
“We had a serial shooter who had already killed two people,” said Barge. A shadow of fear fell over East Point.
Detectives continued to try to connect the dots between victims. At the same time, CSI teams scoured the “Jack” notes for forensic evidence showing that the shooter had left his mark in some way.
Lip prints on the notes indicated that the shooter had put the notes in his mouth. “It was explained to us that lip prints are as unique as fingerprints,” said Barge. DNA extracted from the lip prints were fed into a nationwide database but no match was found.
Shortly after midnight on April 24, Rosa Lewis was shot several times in the parking lot of her East Point home. Detectives found no “Jack” notes, but 40 caliber casings at the scene matched the other shootings
Investigators learned that Lewis, like Rolle, was a probation officer. The women worked together. Detectives interviewed a witness who said she heard gunshots and saw a blue Dodge speed away from the Lewis crime scene.
As they had done earlier, police looked for disgruntled probationers as they worked to determine the shooter. They were unable to turn up any leads. But they did discover that Lewis had recently gone through a divorce.
Police went to the home of her ex-husband, 44-year-old William Charles Lewis, outside Atlanta to notify him that Rosa had been shot. As they knocked on his door, Lewis pulled up in a car that matched the description of the vehicle that had fled the crime scene.
Lewis, a youth minister, appeared disheveled and failed to inquire about Rosa, who managed to survive her wounds. “Not once did he ask how she was,” said Barge.
Inside Lewis’ home, police saw printer paper, a black magic marker and a yellow highlighter next to each other. The items are common enough, but the pieces of the mystery were adding up.
Investigators took Lewis and his teenage son to the East Point police station to be interviewed. The teen said he didn’t know his mother had been shot, nor did he know where his father had been earlier.
Lewis denied shooting his ex-wife and other victims. With no confession and only a circumstantial case mounting against Lewis, detectives knew they needed physical evidence to get a conviction.
Phone records placed Lewis near each of the crime scenes at the times of the shootings. Another key piece of evidence came from an unusual source. “When he was arrested, I went to the store and bought some lipstick,” said McFarland. “I took lip prints from him.”
Investigators also secured a warrant for Lewis’ DNA, which was found to match the evidence on all of the “Jack” notes. It was suspected that the notes were used to throw them off.
Lewis was charged with 26 separate counts related to the shootings, according to legal documents. He pleaded guilty to the murders of Rolle and Stepney, and the attempted murders of Orr and Rosa Lewis.
Lewis was given multiple life sentences with no chance of parole.
To learn more about the case, watch “The Real Murders of Atlanta,” airing Fridays at 9/8c on Oxygen.