CHARLESTON, West Virginia (AP) — A man toting axes, a shovel and bleach when he was killed by an escort he met online had been stopped, interviewed or investigated by police in 21 states and is being looked into for possible links to unsolved disappearances or slayings, authorities said Monday.
West Virginia authorities are trying to circulate information to see if 45-year-old Neal Falls, of Springfield, Oregon, can be linked to any other crimes against women nationwide. Police say Falls was fatally shot July 18 as he attacked and choked the escort in Charleston, West Virginia, and she grabbed his handgun off the ground and fired it.
Police found axes, knives, handcuffs, a shovel, bleach and other items in Falls’ car, raising suspicions this wasn’t the first time he had attacked a woman.
“The fact that he was 45 years old, and carrying tools like he was, and committing a crime that was so organized and so violent, it’s unlikely that this was his first violent crime,” Lt. Steve Cooper, Charleston police chief of detectives, told The Associated Press.
Cooper said Falls had a list of 10 other women in his pocket. Nine were in West Virginia; one was in San Diego. Similar to the Charleston woman, whom police are calling Heather, all were escorts active online, he said. They are all still alive, Cooper said.
Heather had a separated shoulder, broken vertebrae, strangulation marks around her throat and other injuries, Cooper said.
So far, no history of major crimes in Falls’ record has surfaced. However, police said records do show that authorities in as many as 20 other states — from Arizona to Kentucky to Virginia — had some kind of interaction with Falls such as stopping him, running his license plate or checking his Social Security number.
“We are sharing this information with law enforcement across the country in hopes that we may be able to help solve cold cases or bring closure to some families if Mr. Falls has been involved in anything like this before,” Cooper said.
Charleston police and Nevada authorities have been in communication. Police have said Falls rented a room in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson during a time when four prostitutes went missing.
Henderson police spokeswoman Michelle French said Monday that they are checking into any possible Falls connection to the May 2005 disappearance of 21-year-old Lindsay Harris. She was the subject of massive search, and her family from central New York helped comb the desert area where her rental car was last seen some 30 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. The case appeared on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.” Leg parts identified as hers through DNA testing were found three years later off Interstate 55 near Springfield, Illinois, more than 1,600 miles away.
“Any leads that will come to us, we’re going to follow up on,” French said, declining to discuss details.
Cooper said Charleston police have also been communicating with authorities in the small southern Ohio city of Chillicothe, where four women died in suspicious circumstances and two others are missing. He said there has been no evidence yet placing Falls there, but it’s been considered because of the proximity to Charleston — less than a two-hour drive away.
Cooper said police are still gathering information on Falls. It appears he was staying in his car, where he kept a pillow and sleeping bag, Cooper said.
“He had no cash, no credit cards,” Cooper said. “It’s a mystery how he had traveled across the country to us right now. There’s something that we haven’t discovered yet.”