A man arrested for the 2016 murder of a Florida woman has been linked by DNA evidence to three more killings believed to have been the work of a serial killer, officials said.
Rachel Bey, 32, was found dead on the side of a highway by a road crew on Beeline Highway near Pratt Whitney Road on March 7, 2016. She was found naked and had reportedly been strangled and suffered a broken jaw and teeth.
Results from a sexual battery kit yielded a male DNA profile that investigators said they ultimately connected to Robert Hayes, a 37-year-old West Palm Beach man detectives said they previously suspected in the murders of three other women.
Julie Green, 24, Iwana Patton, 35, and Laquetta Gunter, 45, all were fatally shot in Daytona Beach between late 2005 and early 2006. Hayes had bought a gun similar to the one used in their killings and police questioned him at the time, officials said.
No charges were filed against him in those cases, and Hayes, then a student at Bethune-Cookman University, would go on to graduate with a degree in criminal justice, the school told the Associated Press.
But police again would find themselves turning to Hayes, thanks to advances in genetic genealogy, a new strategy that has helped identify suspects in dozens of cold cases across the country in recent months, authorities said.
“Without genetic genealogy, predators like Mr. Hayes will continue to live in our neighborhoods, visit our parks, our libraries, restaurants and go to our nightlife entertainment districts to continue to hunt for victims,” Troy Walker, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, told the Washington Post.
After results from Bey’s sexual battery kit police said linked Hayes to her death, a national database allegedly tied him to the Daytona Beach cases. Investigators tracked Hayes and collected a cigarette butt he allegedly discarded, which further confirmed their suspicions, the Post reported.
Genetic material collected from Bey’s case is more likely to belong to Hayes than “any other human on the planet,” Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Capt. Michael Wallace said Monday. “We have our guy.”
Hayes is being held without bond at the Palm Beach County jail. He so far has only been charged with Bey’s death. Officials said they have a “strong indication” Hayes was involved in the three older killings.
Officials said they are working to retrace Hayes’ steps in an effort to identify additional victims, if there are any.
The body of a fifth woman, Stacey Gage, was discovered badly decomposed in Daytona Beach in early 2008, likely killed in late 2007 under similar circumstances, WESH reported. Police have not linked her death to the others, according to WESH.
All four known victims were involved in sex work at the time of their deaths.
“If you didn’t know of her past and her life on the street, you would never have guessed she was anything other than wonderful,” Bey’s brother, Aliahu Bey, told the Palm Beach Post shortly after her killing.
Rachel had gotten caught up in drugs and had a history of run-ins with the law, but was trying to improve her life at the time of her death, her family said. She first was exposed to drugs as a teenager, but worked on bettering her situation and made strides in pursuing a career.
She became a certified nursing assistant and worked in the home-care and nursing home industry and appeared to be doing well.
Though many of her relatives had left the area and moved on, Rachel chose to stay in Florida and eventually her old habits returned.
“We all wanted to rescue and steal her away,” Bey said. “We knew that choice had to be hers. And she wanted to have that kind of change.”
In his last conversation with his sister, Bey said the pair talked about her finally taking a trip north to meet his children for the first time.
“[Rachel] said life was hard, but that she was trying,” Bey said.