Colorado cold-case investigators have linked a convicted murderer who died in prison in 1996 to four more slayings -- and say he may have been responsible for a score of others as well.
Vincent Groves, 57, known for playing on a championship Colorado basketball team in the 1970s, strangled most of his victims, Denver Dist. Atty. Mitch Morrissey told The Times.
“In my 30 years experience, he is the worst home-grown serial murderer,” Morrissey said, noting that Ted Bundy, believed to be responsible for several Colorado slayings, was more prolific overall.
Bundy, convicted of three slayings in Florida and put to death in 1989, reportedly confessed before his death to more than 30 murders in various states. Some believe the number was much higher.
Groves was first convicted of second-degree murder in 1982 for killing Tammy Sue Woodrum, 17, but was released in 1987 on mandatory parole -- and kept killing.
“He became even more prolific after he got out of prison," Morrissey said.
In 1990, Groves was sentenced to life in prison for killing Juanita "Becky" Lovato, 19, and to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder in the death of Diane Montoya Mancera, 25.
When Groves was dying in 1996, detectives asked him if there were additional victims, but he refused to cooperate, Morrissey said.
“He wouldn’t admit it, right up until the end,” the district attorney said.
Morrissey, who worked with California officials on the Grim Sleeper investigation, said his investigators joined Denver police in reviving the cold cases associated with Groves after they turned up new DNA evidence under a federal grant in 2010.
The grant had allowed them to review about 250 unsolved homicides that occurred between 1970 and 1984.
“There was kind of a pattern that emerged as to women who were being strangled," Denver Police Cold Case Det. Mylous Yearling told The Times. “Many of the cases had matching DNA.”
Groves' DNA was not in a national database, Yearling said, but the nearby Lakewood Police Department's cold case unit had it on file from a slaying in 1981.
That DNA helped posthumously link Groves to the slayings of Emma Jenefor, 25, Joyce Ramey, 23, and Peggy Cuff, 20 -- all strangled in 1979.
Also, witness accounts tied Groves to the 1988 killing of Pamela Montgomery, 35, Yearling said, including someone who last saw Montgomery with Groves and another witness who saw her body dumped in an alley from a car matching Groves'.
Groves stalked Denver's Colfax Avenue corridor, and his job as a supervisor of commercial cleaning crews across the state gave him opportunities to strike, Yearling said. At one point, investigators found a kit in his car that he used to bind, gag and strangle women, Morrissey said. Some of the women Groves targeted were prostitutes, but others were acquaintances.
“He was opportunistic. If the chance presented itself, he took it,” Yearling said.
At 6 foot 5 and close to 230 pounds, the former athlete made a powerful predator.
“He was in a position to use his size against most women,” Yearling said.
Yearling said that even though Groves is dead, solving the cases has helped give his victims' families closure.
“They’re surprised that we’re contacting them and then they’re grateful that the cases have been resolved,” he said of the families.
Morrissey said investigators have circumstantial evidence linking Grove to up to 26 additional homicides.