Not Hannibal Lecter, just some low-life with a porn obsession.

Prostitutes Aid Ill. Serial Killer Probe

By JAN DENNIS : Associated Press Writer

Jan 29, 2005 : 7:34 pm ET

PEORIA, Ill. — For more than a year, Larry Bright lured prostitutes and drug addicts to the converted garage where he lived behind his mother’s house, prosecutors say. There would be sex, maybe drugs. Then he would turn violent.

If the women were lucky, they got away. But in at least eight cases, authorities say, he killed the women, then dumped their bodies along rural roads or burned them to ash and bone in a backyard pit.

It was the women who escaped Bright’s clutches, many of them prostitutes or others on the fringes of society, who helped lead a task force to him, authorities say.

So far, Bright has been charged with only one of the slayings, but prosecutors say he confessed to seven others and they are gathering evidence to support more charges. Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.

At his first court appearance this past week, the 38-year-old former concrete worker told a judge: “I just would like to plead guilty, sir.” The judge told him to consult with an attorney first.

The bodies of strangled and asphyxiated prostitutes and drugs users began turning up along rural roads around Peoria four years ago — one in 2001, another in 2003, then four last year. Despite Bright’s statements, the earliest one remains unsolved.

Under pressure from Peoria’s black community — all six of those victims were black and four other black women were missing — investigators formed a task force to find what they feared was a serial killer.

Bright had no documented history of violence, although he had spent three years in prison for burglary in the 1980s and had a few other brushes with the law, authorities say.

“He was one of those people who just wouldn’t stand out,” said State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz in adjoining Tazewell County, which has been included in the search for bodies.

But Lyons said Bright apparently developed an obsession with pornography involving blacks, and became a regular customer among black prostitutes in this blue-collar collar city of about 120,000 people. Bright is white.

Lyons said Bright’s name came up again and again as more than 1,000 tips poured in. That led authorities to about a half-dozen prostitutes who told them about barely escaping with their lives after sex with Bright turned violent, Lyons said.

Bright’s name also surfaced as police investigated the September slaying of 40-year-old Linda Kay Neal, the only case in which he was charged.

Customers at a bar where Neal was a regular identified Bright as a man she was with the night she disappeared. But he was “one of many people on the radar screen at that point,” Lyons said.

“When all is said and done, it was those tips from the public and police hitting the streets that solved the case,” said Tazewell County Sheriff Bob Huston.

Bright was arrested in December, when tips to the task force led to charges of drug possession and aggravated unlawful restraint alleging he held a prostitute against her will and threatened her with a gun.

Bright’s DNA matched evidence found on Neal’s body, said attorney Joe Borsberry, who had represented Bright on the earlier charges.

Prosecutors said Bright had denied any link to the killings until police prepared to search for remains Wednesday on his mother’s property. Lyons said Bright likely wanted to spare his mother more pain.

In court this past week, Lyons told the judge that Bright had picked up Neal outside a bar on Peoria’s south side, in an area frequented by prostitutes. He said they went back to his home, drank and had sex.

Then Bright strangled her, Lyons said. He drove her nude body to a remote area near Hopedale, and used a leather shoelace tied around her neck to drag her body to the edge of the Mackinaw River.

Other victims he cremated in a backyard pit, burning them for up to two days with pieces of wood, then disposed of the ash and bits of charred bone in rural areas, Lyons said.

Umholtz thinks Bright feels some remorse, illustrated by his unsuccessful effort to plead guilty.

“My impression is he also wanted to bring about some closure for the victim’s families,” Umholtz said.

Victims’ families said Bright’s confession ended long months of uncertainty.

“Everything happens for a reason; why we’ll never know,” said Willie Sanders, stepfather of 41-year-old Brenda Erving, whose body was found in October in rural Peoria County. “We have to deal with it the best we can.”

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