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Monday, July 11, 2005
[ Julie: Portrait of a Serial Killer's Victim ]

On Monday, July 11th, Cory Morris was found guilty of strangling five women to death. These crimes took place in Phoenix's Garfield neighborhood between Sept. '02 and Aug. '03. Below is a (slightly edited & updated) version of an article I wrote for
blogcritics at the time of Morris' arrest. Reprinted now, lest we forget...

A string of killings in the downtown Phoenix area, in which most of the victims were women with prostitution records and found to have cocaine in their system at the time of death, may have finally come to an end.

A suspect, Cory Morris - dubbed the "Crackhead Killer" (or alternately, "Garfield Strangler") by the media - has been arrested and confessed to at least five of the murders.

The arrest followed the discovery of victim #6's body in the RV where Morris, now charged with three of the slayings, had been living. His last victim was so badly decomposed it has taken this long to identify her.

From an 'Arizona Republic' article ("Stench, maggots, clues in home of alleged serial killer", 4/17/03):

"This is the motor home where Morris, 24, lived and where police believe six women died after Morris lured them there with money and drugs. Morris reportedly told police he strangled five of the women during sex, and has been charged with murder in three of their deaths.

According to court records, Morris told police he kept some of the decomposing corpses in his motor home for days before dumping them in his central-city neighborhood."

Morris told Phoenix police detectives he killed the women during sex by using neckties, a nylon strap, his hands and a victim's hair extensions. Investigators from Oklahoma are now conferring with their Phoenician counterparts, in the hopes of closing the case on four murders with similar modus operandi in that state.

Ironically, just prior to his arrest, Morris' boss had teased him about the killings (from 'Arizona Republic', 4/14/03):

"On a ride to the trailer that police believe Cory Morris shared with a corpse, his boss cracked a joke about a serial killer stalking a central Phoenix neighborhood.

"Man, when are you gonna quit killing these girls," joked Jimmy Seagrave, owner of the bar Fat Cats, where Morris worked.

"He said, 'Dude, that's just wrong.' "

But enough about the confessed killer. All too often in our society, the killer is glorified - think Henry Lee Lucas or Ted Bundy - while the victims are reduced to nothing more than a matter-of-fact brief mention in the local press, often based on a soon-to-be closed police file ready to gather dust.

This is a story about his last victim.

Her name was Julie Castillo.

The first time I met her, she said she was in her mid-30s. I would've guessed mid-50s and, even then, I was giving her the benefit of the doubt. Her frail, emaciated body seemed to be at death's door. Her rough-hewn hands matched her prematurely wrinkled face. The lines in her face were almost a road map to her uncontrollable drive to drink. Blue and brown blotches tracking down her arms spoke of being railroaded by hard drug use. Her shoulder-length brown hair, sun-bleached blonde in places, was unkempt.

While I didn't know Julie very well - only having met her about a half dozen times - my good friend, James, did. James is one of the few Christians I know who actually tries to live by the principles set forth by Christ. In other words, he is no hypocrite.

On more than one occasion, I've seen or heard of James lending a direct helping hand to the homeless and down-and-out in our neighborhood - expecting absolutely nothing in return. Julie Castillo was one such person he had tried to help. With food, free cigarettes from time to time, and the occasional dollar or two.

Although Julie had a mother in the Pacific Northwest, she didn't want to return home, deciding, instead, to remain on the streets of Phoenix - rather than returning to a place where her stepfather also lived. The same man whom she claimed had repeatedly molested her as a child.

She was a mother herself, with two children. She was especially proud of her teenaged daughter, with whom - even though she had lost custody years ago - she still communicated semi-regularly. Her daughter had told her recently that she wanted to wait to have sex until she was married.

Julie, meanwhile, had been arrested for prostitution on more than one occasion - so her daughter's declaration was especially touching to her.

A mutual friend of James and I had once taken Julie home with him, paying for her "services". This friend, for obvious reasons, shall remain nameless. For days thereafter, Julie kept showing up at his house. She evidently thought they had made a deeper connection beyond that of the prostitution business arrangement. Perhaps he had been kinder than most and, being desperate for some love or simple comfort - something most everybody can relate to - she returned to fill that void in her soul again. Eventually, Julie had to be warned not to return, lest the police be called.

Julie had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at an early age, and one can only imagine how much this had affected her life-choices.

Julie was also a self-admitted heroin addict.

One month prior to her death, she had called James from jail - after being arrested on yet another prostitution charge - begging him to bail her out. She had been in lock-up for almost two days, and the withdrawal symptoms were getting pretty bad.

James refused and, in jail, - the last place one wants to "kick" - Julie got off heroin. She had been held for six days; just enough time for the junk to work it's way out of her system to where she'd feel halfway normal again.

She apparently stayed "clean" for at least a few weeks thereafter, and reportedly even attended one Narcotics Anonymous meeting, but the long arm of addiction - and the street - can just as easily snatch you back as not.

As revealed during the trial, she agreed to have sex with Morris for $15 and a warm place to spend the night. According to reports, she had drugs in her system at the time of death.

Julie's body was still on the floor of the camper when Morris was arrested, covered with maggots, her eyes and part of her face gone.

One can only wonder what she must have been thinking the night she and Morris were having sex. When he slipped a strap, or grasped his hands, around her neck and choked the life out of her.

Just a few days earlier, James had warned her to be careful, reminding her about the string of killings in the neighborhood, and how she fit the victim profile.

"Don't worry," she had replied, "I can take care of myself." She then added, "Don't forget to pray for me the next time you're in church, James!"

As she struggled for breath in Morris' RV a few nights later, his body weighing heavily upon hers, I wonder if she thought, "This can't be happening to ME!" Or perhaps, "Oh please, God, if you let me live, I'll try to lead a better life."

While we may one day learn what the killer was thinking while his victims suffocated, perhaps in a
news article during the trial (or later TV-movie), Julie's final thoughts are now lost forever - in much the same way she went through life... as that another "lost soul".


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