By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) - A 50-year-old man was arrested on Saturday in the murder of a Detroit woman whose body was found in a trash dumpster, a crime that touched off what police called a "horrible rumor" that a serial killer was lurking in the Motor City.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig told reporters at an impromptu afternoon news conference that minutes earlier detectives had taken the suspect, James Quill Cockerham, into custody in the death of 26-year-old Elizabeth Candice Nichole Laird.

"I appreciate our friends in the media for really dispelling a horrible rumor that was circulating across the city that there was a serial killer and that he had dumped five bodies in dumpsters across the city," Craig said.

 

"That was absolutely false, you knew it was false and we only ask that if you didn't hear it from the Detroit Police Department, it's probably not so," he said. "We are transparent. We don't hide things."

Laird's remains were found in a dumpster outside her gated apartment complex on the city's east side on Wednesday, following reports that she had earlier had what police called a "negative encounter" with an unknown man.

An autopsy determined that Laird, who was studying to be a nurse, was slain by "compressive asphyxia", which refers to crushing a victim until they can no longer breathe.

The crime touched off whispers on social media that a serial killer had been at work in the city and that law enforcement officials were keeping secret the discovery of more bodies.

The Detroit Police Department took to its Facebook page on Friday to squelch that speculation and call for the public's help in finding Cockerham, who detectives had named a person of interest in the case.

It was not immediately clear if Cockerham was represented by an attorney as of Saturday afternoon as news of his arrest spread across Detroit.

Craig said in January that homicides had declined in the city in 2018, marking the second year in a row of declines in the city of some 675,000 people.

In 2018, there were 261 criminal homicides, he said, compared to 267 in 2017.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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