Suspected serial killer appears in Illinois court; family claims mix-up - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 7:13 am
Suspected serial killer appears in Illinois court; family claims mix-up

12:17 p.m. update: Dr. Anthony J. Garcia's relatives on Tuesday hired criminal defense attorneys Alison and Robert Motta, a husband-and-wife team based out of Chicago and Aurora, Ill.

Alison Motta said Garcia's family was "sure this is a mix-up.

"They fully support him and are certain this is not what it appears."

Motta was en route to Jonesboro to meet with Garcia for the first time. Once that happens, she said, he'll appear in court again, most likely on Wednesday. Then they'll decide what to do about extradition to Omaha.

Garcia is scheduled to appear in court again at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.

* * *

12:25 p.m. update: Dr. Poonam Sharma, the interim chairwoman of the Department of Pathology at Crieghton University, expressed relief Tuesday that an arrest has been made in four slayings now blamed on a former Creighton resident.

Sharma said last night, in the hours after Omaha police announced the arrest of Dr. Anthony Garcia, she spent time with Dr. William Hunter, a member of her staff and the father of one of the slaying victims.

She described Hunter "as a brave man. All the memories have come back."

* * *

12 p.m. update: Dr. Anthony J. Garcia made a first appearance in Union County Court in Jonesboro, Ill., on Tuesday morning. Presiding Circuit Judge Mark Boie read the Nebraska charges against Garcia, who came into the courtroom in gray-striped jail scrubs and chains.

Garcia told the judge he had not spoken with an attorney. Boie then said he would not proceed with the question of extradition until Garcia could do so.

Garcia has been charged in Douglas County Court with four counts of first-degree murder. He also was to appear on suspicion of drunken driving and unlawful use of a weapon.

Garcia is being held in the Jackson County Jail in Murphysboro, Ill.

The Illinois State Police pulled Garcia over Monday. Authorities say he was intoxicated and had a .45 in his car. His blood-alcohol content was not immediately available.

Troopers were assisted by FBI agents from Omaha and Springfield, Ill.– Caleb Hale, The (Carbondale, Ill.) Southern

* * *

Fearing more killings, police pounced to arrest Garcia

When Dr. Anthony J. Garcia exhibited what was viewed as erratic and insubordinate behavior, Creighton University officials booted him out of his pathology residency in 2001.

Omaha police believe that a festering grudge born in that firing ultimately led to four homicides tied to the two people most responsible for the termination: the then-chairman of the pathology department and the head of the department's residency program.

And had Garcia not been arrested on a highway in rural Illinois on Monday, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer thinks still more could have died.

“We did not feel this individual would stop unless an arrest was made,” Schmaderer said in a late afternoon press conference. Schmaderer said he saw in the murder suspect “the elements of a serial killer.”

Among the things police are actively investigating is whether the 40-year-old suspect, a resident of Terre Haute, Ind., could be tied to any other deaths.

The arrest of Garcia Monday morning as he was driving in Union County, Illinois, provided a sudden turn in a pair of sensational double homicides that had baffled Omaha police: the March 2008 deaths of 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and 57-year-old Shirlee Sherman, the son and house cleaner of Creighton pathologist William Hunter; and the deaths this May of Creighton pathologist Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary, both 65.

* * * * *

Video: Omaha Chief Todd Schmaderer press conference

Video: Garcia's former supervisor: "He was very pleasant"
Photo gallery: Double homicide victims

* * * * *

So short was Garcia's stint in the pathology department, and so much time had passed since his exit from it, that he apparently didn't emerge as a suspect after the 2008 killings. Police did not interview him at that time.

“The first time we talked to Dr. Garcia physically and in person was today,” Schmaderer told The World-Herald.

But the two-month work of a task force Schmaderer formed in the wake of the Brumback deaths, with officers going through “file after file,” ultimately led to the development of Garcia as a suspect, the chief said. Police have evidence that Garcia traveled to Omaha around the time of the 2008 and 2013 killings, Schmaderer said.

Garcia, who was not married, was licensed to practice medicine in Illinois and appears to have recently worked as a physician in Chicago. He was arrested without incident by Illinois state troopers Monday. He appeared to be intoxicated and had a .45-caliber handgun with him.

Garcia had been a resident in the Creighton pathology program from July 2000 until June 2001, when Hunter and Brumback terminated him.

News of the arrest provided a measure of relief to people associated with Creighton's pathology department, which has 12 faculty members, and to the families of the victims.

“Obviously, we're relieved,” William Hunter said in a brief interview, declining further comment.

Brad Waite, the brother of Sherman, said he had begun to doubt that her murder would ever be solved. “We're relieved they got the guy,” he said.

But he said it's unfortunate two other people had to die before police were able to make an arrest in her murder.

“The Hunter family would like to express its gratitude to the Omaha Police Department and the task force formed by Chief Schmaderer. The family has every confidence in the OPD's ability to bring the investigation to completion. The Hunter family hopes now that Thomas' soul will now be at peace.''
— Claire, William, Tim, Rob, & Jeff Hunter

“I am extremely thankful they have actually caught somebody. It's awful what he did to my brother and sister-in-law. I'm glad the Omaha police and FBI were working so diligently to figure out who had done this."
— Carol Brumback, sister of Roger Brumback

“Creighton University and particularly the School of Medicine and department of pathology are grateful for the work of the Omaha Police Department and the special task force in these investigations. ... We continue to keep those affected by these events in our thoughts and prayers. And we continue to pray for all of the special task force members still executing search warrants throughout the country.''
— The Rev. Tim Lannon, Creighton University president

“That's tragic,” he said.

Garcia was arrested on suspicion of four counts of first-degree murder and use of a weapon to commit the murders, but any charges in the case are pending.

It had not been the intention of police to arrest Garcia on Monday. Officers had traveled to Terre Haute with plans to serve a search warrant on his home today. Police had been monitoring Garcia's movements.

But for reasons Schmaderer would not detail, circumstances led to the decision to make an arrest Monday. Schmaderer said he did not believe that the suspect knew he was being monitored by law enforcement.

He was being held Monday night in Jackson County, Ill. Law enforcement officials are expected to seek his extradition to Omaha.

When the Brumback homicides were discovered in May, police immediately began pursuing possible links between them and the 2008 deaths. William Hunter headed the residency program, working closely with all the medical school graduates who came to Omaha to study in that program. And Brumback, as chairman of the department from 2001 to 2010, was Hunter's boss and would have likewise been known to all the residents.

On March 13, 2008, William Hunter returned after work to his home near 54th and Davenport Streets and made a horrific discovery: the bodies of his son and Sherman. Both had suffered multiple stab wounds to the neck.

Neighbors later described having seen an olive-skinned stranger slowly driving a silver or gray sport utility vehicle past the Hunter home and then parking a block away. Wearing a dark suit and white shirt and carrying a dark-colored briefcase or satchel, he approached the Hunters' front door and was let inside.

A short time later, the man calmly walked back to his car. Police have told the Hunters that the killer left behind little physical evidence beyond bloody knives.

Police pursued hundreds of leads and at least 10 suspects in their investigation. They initially looked into associates of the house cleaner to see if there was a possible motive to kill her. They identified individuals who played online video games with Thomas Hunter, and they also tracked his bus drivers.

In addition, they looked into a half-dozen former Creighton medical students and residents who may have left the university disgruntled — Garcia apparently not among them. Police tracked residents to locations as far away as Mexico and Canada.

Police also asked for assistance from the FBI in 2008. An FBI criminal profiler at the time said the slayings appeared to be random homicides, possibly committed by a transient serial killer.

Leads didn't pan out, the investigation yielded no arrests, and the case went cold.

But those 2008 deaths got a fresh focus in the wake of the Brumback killings.

A piano mover arrived at the Brumback home near 114th and Shirley Streets on May 14 to find the front door unlocked, a large-caliber gun clip on the threshold and Roger Brumback's body just inside. Police found his wife's body inside, too. Autopsy results later revealed that Brumback had been shot to death, his wife stabbed. There were no reports of suspicious activity preceding the killings.

The task force Schmaderer formed days after the Brumback killings was composed of more than a dozen Omaha police detectives and FBI investigators, and it also received assistance from the Nebraska State Patrol.

“At my original press conference, when I announced the formation of a task force, I made the statement I would not want this task force coming after me,” Schmaderer said Monday. “Today, I am able to provide a sense of closure to the victims' families, Creighton University and the Omaha community.”

Word-Herald staff writers Roseann Moring, Todd Cooper, Alissa Skelton and Robynn Tysver contributed to this report.

The Victims

Photo gallery: Double homicide victims


Previous coverage


Double slaying: Piano mover saw unlocked door and gun clip

Omaha police looking for any link between two slaying cases

Investigation of double homicides is casting wide net

From the archives: Boy, housecleaner killed; police beef up Dundee patrols but think it's 'isolated incident'

From the archives: Victims' friends, family stunned; no motive in slayings

Contact the writer: Henry J. Cordes

henry.cordes@owh.com    |   402-444-1130    |  

Henry's a general assignment reporter, so he could end up writing just about anything, though he usually focuses on public policy matters affecting the state, region or nation.

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