Police believe an Arizona man charged in Nevada last Friday with the brutal 1979 murder of Julia Woodward could be a serial killer. He is now the chief suspect in the killing of a cocktail waitress who disappeared from Circus-Circus Reno a year earlier.
Authorities have said they are examining multiple cold cases in Nevada and Arizona stretching back decades for possible connections to Charles Gary Sullivan, 73, who was arrested in August close to his home near Payton, Arizona.
Prosecutors believe Sullivan killed 21-year-old Woodward 40 years ago in Reno and left her body in a shallow grave in the desert, where it was discovered a month later.
Advances in DNA testing helped link Sullivan to items retrieved from the crime scene, police said.
Jeannie Smith Murder
The body of 17-year-old Jeannie Smith was found less than a quarter of a mile from Woodward’s. Both women had died from severe blows to the back of the head.
Sullivan was considered a person of interest early in the Smith investigation.
In 2008, The Reno Gazette-Journal reported that police had linked the two murders, but had no suspects at that time.
In 1982, The Reno Evening Gazette reported that, including the Woodward and Smith murders, in the past 11 years there had been seven unsolved killings of women in the wide desert valley that encompasses Stead, Lemon Valley, Sun Valley Panther Valley, Cold Springs, and Black Springs.
On October 27, 1978, the day she went missing, Smith was on a day off from her waitressing job at Circus Circus, but had visited the casino to meet with friends.
She was last seen around 9 p.m. when she left the casino with a man named “Chuck.” A composite sketch of “Chuck” made from witness descriptions at the time bears a remarkable resemblance to photographs of Sullivan from the same period, prosecutors say.
Slipping Through the Net
According to ABC Arizona, in 2007 the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip that Sullivan had killed an 18-year-old woman who had worked at Circus Circus as a waitress in 1978 or 1979. The caller said he believed Sullivan had committed similar crimes in Nevada and Idaho.
Meanwhile, also in 2007, Sullivan was arrested in California after picking up a hitchhiker, taking her to a remote spot, and tying her up before telling her he was going to rape her. The victim escaped by cutting the ties around her ankles and ran for help.
Sullivan was convicted of false imprisonment and criminal threats, but cleared of kidnapping. He was ordered to register as a sex offender in California.
Sullivan had been living quietly with his wife in a log cabin on a dirt trail outside Payton when law enforcement caught up with him.
A neighbor, Leilah Duncan, told KNXV his wife is standing by him.
“She loves her husband, and she says she’s convinced and told me that he would never do such a thing, and she is going to defend her husband,” said Duncan.
Sullivan is being held without bail in Washoe County, Nevada.