HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Police on Wednesday identified two more of the seven people whose remains have been found behind a shopping center, including a woman whose disappearance in 2003 led to a manslaughter conviction and prison sentence against a man now suspected in all the killings.
The remains of Nilsa Arizmendi, of Wethersfield, were identified, marking the first time prison inmate William Devin Howell was officially connected to the serial killer investigation, New Britain police Chief James Wardwell said. Wardwell previously had said police believed one person killed all the victims.
Wethersfield police Chief James Cetran credited investigators from his department and a task force of law enforcement officials from several agencies that was formed to investigate the suspected serial killings.
"I'm quite pleased with the complete circle that has been made with the discovery of Nilsa's remains," Cetran said.
Officials also announced that another victim found behind the New Britain strip mall was identified through forensic testing as Danny Lee Whistnant, who also went missing in 2003. Whistnant, 44, lived in New Britain, according to police missing-person reports.
Authorities said the families of Arizmendi, 33, and Whistnant, 44, are asking for privacy as they mourn.
Wardwell said investigators never gave up because they knew justice had to be achieved for the victims, who were "always so much more than Jane Does or John Does."
"We are saddened that we bring these loved ones home under these circumstances, but we pray closure and healing will come to these families," he said.
The remains of six of the seven victims, who all disappeared in 2003, have been identified. The others include Diane Cusack, 53, of New Britain; Joyvaline Martinez, 24, of East Hartford; Mary Jane Menard, 40, of New Britain; and Melanie Ruth Camilini, 29, of Seymour.
Three victims' remains were discovered by a hunter in 2007 in the woods behind the strip mall, which is down the street from a major shopping mall. The remains of the four other victims were found last month after an FBI dog was taken to the woods and alerted officials to a specific area.
Drug use has been a main connection among most of the victims, police and court documents say.
Arizmendi was last seen in Howell's van in Wethersfield in July 2003, police said. Her boyfriend said he and Arizmendi had previously done crack cocaine with Howell at a motel and they went to see him the night Arizmendi disappeared to buy drugs, according to court documents.
Howell, a drifter with a lengthy criminal record, was arrested in North Carolina in 2003 and returned to Connecticut, where he is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Arizmendi's death.
Howell, who was cutting lawns and doing other odd jobs in the Hartford area in 2003, has not been charged in any of the other killings. His lawyer in the Arizmendi case declined to comment. It's unclear whether he is being represented by an attorney now.