HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An East Coast drifter who authorities say killed seven people in Connecticut during a 2003 series of slayings and sexual assaults while driving a van he called the "murder mobile" pleaded guilty Friday in connection with six of the slayings.
William Devin Howell, 47, pleaded guilty to six counts of murder during a hearing in New Britain Superior Court. He is expected to be sentenced to 360 years in prison on Nov. 17.
The Hampton, Virginia, native was previously convicted of manslaughter in one victim's death and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The guilty pleas Friday confirmed that Howell is the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut history — not including the killers in mass shootings like the Newtown school massacre.
The bodies of all seven victims were found buried in a wooded area behind a strip mall in New Britain. Three bodies were found in 2007, and the other remains were discovered in 2015 when authorities went back to the site.
New Britain State's Attorney Brian Preleski on Friday praised a task force of local, state and federal authorities that investigated the killings.
"We express our sincere thanks to all who have worked so long and so hard on this difficult investigation, and we again express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of these innocent victims," Preleski said.
All seven victims disappeared in 2003, when Howell was mowing lawns and working other odd jobs in central Connecticut. They were identified as: Joyvaline Martinez, 24, of East Hartford; Diane Cusack, 53, of New Britain; Mary Jane Menard, 40, of New Britain; Melanie Ruth Camilini, 29, of Seymour; Marilyn Gonzalez, 26, of Waterbury; Danny Lee Whistnant, 44, of New Britain; and Nilsa Arizmendi, 33, of Wethersfield.
Howell sexually assaulted three of the women and kept one of the bodies in his van for two weeks, sleeping next to the body and calling the victim his "baby," according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Howell also told a cellmate "there was a monster inside of him that just came out, described himself as a "sick ripper" and called his van the "murder mobile," according to the warrant.
When authorities searched Howell's prison cell in 2015, they found notes referencing a serial killer memorabilia website and a newspaper article about Florida's death penalty, court records show.
The seven killings topped the Connecticut body count of serial killer Michael Ross, who killed six women in eastern Connecticut and two in New York. He was executed in Connecticut in 2005.
Connecticut no longer has the death penalty.