The Unsolved Phoenix Serial Killer Case

Composite Sketch of the Phoenix Serial Killer
Phoenix Police Department

 In 2016, many of the residents of Phoenix, Arizona have been living under the threat of a serial killer who has been randomly shooting at people. Dubbed the “Serial Street Shooter" and the “Phoenix Serial Killer,” the person responsible for at least seven deaths seems to pick his victims at random, but not the neighborhoods where the killings have taken place.

According to Phoenix police, the shooter has been targeting low-income areas, in particular on the west side in the neighborhood called Maryvale. Since the 1980s, Maryvale has been inundated with drug dealers and violent gang activity.

The Attacks

Armed with a semi-automatic shotgun, the killer first shot multiple times at a 16-year-old on March 17, 2016. The boy was walking near 1100 E. Moreland Street at around 11 p.m. when he was sprayed with bullets. The boy was wounded but survived the attack.  

On the following night, the shooter went after a 21-year-old male, shooting him multiple times and wounding him. Right before being shot, the victim was merely standing by his car that was parked on 4300 N. 73rd Avenue.

Nearly two weeks later, on April 1, Diego Verdugo-Sanchez, age 21, was shot and killed at around 9 p.m. while he was standing outside the home of his pregnant fiance and her family off of 55th and Turney Avenues. According to witnesses, the shooter drove by the victim and began shooting at him, then sped away. No one recognized the shooter or why anyone would have a motive to murder Verdugo-Sanchez.

Early in the morning on April 19, 55-year-old Krystal Annette White was found shot to death and lying in the road at 500 N. 32nd Street. Police discovered her body while doing a welfare check after being called by nearby residents who reported hearing gunshots.

On June 1 at 9:50 p.m., 32-year-old Horacio Pena had just arrived home from work and was outside his house at 6700 W. Flower Street when he was struck by bullets multiple times and killed.

Ten days later, on June 10 at 9:30 p.m., 19-year-old Manuel Castro Garcia was killed outside his home. A police officer who was in the area heard the gunshots and rushed to the street, but the killer was already gone.

On June 12 at 2:35 a.m., the shooter sprayed a round of bullets at an unoccupied vehicle at 6200 W. Mariposa Drive.

Around 30 minutes later, 33-year-old Stefanie Ellis and her 12-year-old daughter Maleah were outside their home near 63rd Avenue and McDowell Road when they were shot multiple times and killed. A family friend, 31-year-old Angela Linner, was also shot and managed to cling to life at the hospital for three weeks before dying.

Ellis' neighbors reported hearing at least nine rounds of gunfire, then seeing a man flee the scene in a light-colored car.

On July 11, the shooter attempted to kill a 21-year-old man and his four-year-old nephew who were inside a car. Fortunately, neither the man or the boy were wounded.

At first, the police did not think this shooting was related, but after a month of investigation and putting together the information given by witnesses, it was determined that the case was linked to the Phoenix Serial Killer.

Top Priority

Finding the person responsible for the shootings has become a top priority for city officials, although there are currently no active leads for investigators to follow up.

The man that survived the July 11 attack helped police put together a composite sketch of the suspect which was released on August 3. He has been described as either a light-skinned Latino or Caucasian male with dark hair who is in his 20s. He is said to be around five feet, 10 inches and lanky.

Investigators believe that the man has access to at least two vehicles. One was described as a white Cadillac or Lincoln and the second car is a black older model 5-Series BMW.

The Investigation

Investigators have not identified a specific motive for the shootings. The shooter appears to pick his victims randomly, without race, sex or age being a motivating factor.

What has been determined is is that the shooter targets unsuspecting people who are inside their cars or standing outdoors at night, either by their homes or at a friend's home. The shooter drives up to his target, shoots the victims, then drives away. He did get out of his car to shoot the three victims during the June 12 attack.

FBI Profiles the Shooter

Former FBI profiler Brad Garrett told that, because the Phoenix serial killer shoots his victims at close range, he is likely a "thrill killer" who is seeking "intimacy" in his attacks. He went on to say that the shooter might be "inserting himself into the investigation" or attending community meetings about the shootings.

In two of the attacks, witnesses say the shooter yelled something at his victims.

"One of the things for him, maybe, is 'If I can get the person to look at me...', it makes it even more fearful, or heinous on his part.  And it inflicts more fear in the victim before they get shot," said Garrett.  "If they turn around, see him, and see a gun and get shot, that's far different from just getting blindsided," said Garrett.

Police Release 9-1-1 Calls

On October 19, the police released recordings of 9-1-1 calls that relate to the case, hoping that the 9-1-1 might lead to additional tips that could help them solve the case. So far investigators have received 3,000 tips, but since the July 11 shooting, few calls have come in.

By releasing the 9-1-1 calls, police hope to kick-start the tips coming in again. Police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard said that it will be tips that come in from people in the community that will ultimately give them the break that they need to solve the case.

"We are doing everything we can, forensically," Howard said. "The information that will give us a break in this case will come from witness testimony in this community."


The Phoenix Police Department and the FBI are offering a combined $50,000 reward for information that leads to the capture and arrest of the Phoenix serial killer. 

Contact the Phoenix Police Department Violent Crimes Bureau at 602-261-6141 or Silent Witness at 480 W-I-T-N-E-S-S if you have any information.