ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Investigators think they may have uncovered a serial killer in Alaska after linking a gun used by a man who opened fire on cops to five other slayings earlier this year.
Anchorage police first encountered James Dale Ritchie, 40, on a downtown street early on Nov. 12 when they approached him for questioning while searching for a man who had stiffed a cab driver on a fare.
When Officer Arn Salao asked Ritchie to stop, he drew a gun and opened fire, unloading six shots. Salao hopped out of his patrol car and returned fire. Sgt. Marc Patzke then arrived on the scene and starting firing at Ritchie, striking him four times in the legs and torso and killing him.
Salao was hit multiple times, with one bullet lodging in his liver. He was expected to live, police said.
When investigators recovered Ritchie’s weapon, a Colt Python 357 revolver, ballistics testing linked it to five unsolved fatal shootings in the Anchorage area dating back to July.
“We know from our investigation in the last 78 hours that the gun used to attempt to kill officer Salao was the same gun used in five other homicides here in Anchorage in 2016,” Anchorage Police Chief Chris Tolley said.
The first case dates back to July 3, when two bodies on a bike path. The victims were identified as Jason Netter and Brianna Foisy. The slugs were determined to have come from a Colt Python 357, police said.
On July 29, cops received a call reporting gunshots and discovered the body of 21-year-old Trayveonkindell Thompson on a residential street. He had been shot multiple times from the same Colt Python 357 and his bike had been stolen. Using witness descriptions and surveillance footage, cops were able to issue a police sketch and a basic description of the suspect as a 6-foot-3 man wearing a camouflage jacket.
On August 28, police were called by a woman who found a man who’d been shot along a bike trail. Investigators searching the area soon discovered a second man who’d been fatally shot underneath a pavilion.
They were identified as Bryant De Husson and Kevin Turner. Investigators determined that the victims did not know each other and appeared to have been killed separately. Very little evidence was discovered at the scene, but ballistics matched the fatal shots to the same weapon as the earlier killings.
Police say Ritchie had a lengthy rap sheet for drug, burglary, reckless driving and weapons arrests and was jailed multiple times on parole violations.
Investigators say while the gun ties all the cases together, it does not definitively prove that Ritchie was the killer in all of them and the investigations is ongoing.