Williams resident Jose Perez, of Basque ancestry, was 67 years old on the night of Feb. 1, 1965. He was a retired sheepherder who lived alone.
The body of Perez was found the next day. He had been murdered -- beaten with his own cane, his throat cut and with 36 stab wounds to the left side of his chest.
The right front pocket of his pants was turned out, but his wallet and $160 in cash were not touched. Investigators found a zipper pull at the scene with the marking “CSC,” from a “tanker” or flight jacket sold in Los Angeles in the early 1960s.
His case is still listed with the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office as unsolved.
But there is a suspect in the case, according to sheriff’s office cold case squad investigator Joe Sumner. His name is Vaughn Orrin Greenwood, and he is known by the nickname of “Skid Row Slasher.”
Convicted of killing nine middle-aged to elderly men who were down on their luck, Greenwood is still alive and serving a life sentence in prison in California.
“That’s who we’re looking at now,” Sumner said. “He’s considered a strong suspect.”
The cold case unit is currently trying to solve nearly 40 cases in the county like Perez’s. Sumner, who retired from the National Park Service in 2007 as a criminal investigator, came onto the cold case unit in 2008.
1964 LA MURDERS
According to media reports of the time, Greenwood was born in 1944 in Pennsylvania and was raised in foster care. He left school in the seventh grade and spent most of his adult life traveling by jumping rail cars. He made a living as a migrant worker.
Greenwood’s name came to the attention of Coconino County investigators in March 1965 after sending out a “teletype” to other law enforcement agencies describing the Perez murder. The Los Angeles Police Department responded.
The LAPD response stated Perez’s murder reflected, “... a similarity of (modus operandi), and the probability of the same perpetrator as two murders that occurred in LA on Nov. 13 an 14, 1964.”
Greenwood was the suspect. He had a history of carrying a concealed weapon (knives).
At the time, though, the initial investigation into the Perez murder focused on a number of Williams locals. No “viable” suspect was ever developed in the case, Sumner said.
In the intervening years, several murders attributed to Greenwood, and the methods of killing and the ages of the victims bore a striking resemblance to the Perez murder, Sumner said. (see related timeline)
He and fellow cold case unit investigator Chuck Jones went to California to interview Greenwood about the Perez murder in the summer of 2010. They went prepared with information provided by FBI profilers, who compiled all of the known cases likely associated with Greenwood. FBI experts witnessed the interview.
“We were the first ones to talk to him in 35 years,” Sumner said. “At first he was irritated.”
Sumner and Jones did all the talking. Greenwood talked very little, and the most interesting reaction the two got from Greenwood was when they showed an exterior photo of the Perez residence in Williams.
“He said, ‘Where is it?’” Sumner said.
They told him Williams area. Sumner said Greenwood looked up, away, smiled and said, “‘Oh, yeah. I don’t want to talk about anything in the past.’”
They interviewed him for three hours.
Added Sumner: “He never copped to anything. He denies everything.”
The next day, they tried to talk with him again, but he refused. After that interview they did get though, Sumner said he left with the a solid impression.
“We felt he was definitely involved.” The FBI profilers who witnessed the interview agreed.
The zipper pull seized at the scene was checked for DNA and fingerprints, but neither DNA nor fingerprints were found on the zipper pull to tie Greenwood to the Perez murder, Sumner said.
STILL IN CONTACT
Greenwood is in the California Department of Corrections Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. He has been in prison for the last 38 years and is now 70 years old.
Sumner said Greenwood gets no visitors. He receives no mail. He does not have a cell mate because of previous assaults he’s committed on cellmates.
Sumner said he still keeps in contact with Greenwood through writing. Greenwood doesn’t answer, but Sumner said he knows Greenwood reads the notes he sends.
“We would like to try an interview again,” Sumner said.
He added: “At this point, it almost has to be a confession.”
If anybody has information about this case, contact the sheriff’s office cold case division at 774-4523, or visit the Facebook page.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at 556-2262 or email@example.com.