Earlier this week, Stockton police arrested a suspect in connection to a string of killings in the Bay Area which occurred between April 10, 2021 and September 27, 2022 in Stockton and Oakland.
Wesley Brownlee (43), a truck driver, was taken into police custody around 2 a.m. on Saturday while driving around with a handgun. Detectives observing Brownlee’s patterns say that he was “on a mission to kill.” Brownlee has a criminal history in Alameda County and has lived in several cities in the vicinity of Stockton.
Brownlee is currently being held without bail as he awaits his trial. The minimum punishment for the charges he faces is a life sentence, and the maximum punishment is the death penalty.
Detectives say that they have been able to connect a series of seven shootings in Stockton and Oakland, with the first one occurring on April 10, 2021, the next occurring a few days later, on April 16, 2021, and the rest occurring between July 8 to Sept. 27 of this year. At least three of the victims were homeless and most of them were Latine.
Juan Miguel Vasquez Serrano (39) was the first victim. He was shot and killed in Oakland at 4:18 a.m. on April 10, 2021. Serrano, a homeless resident, was well liked and known locally as the neighborhood car mechanic. Residents, who sometimes gave Serrano a place to sleep in their cars, were shocked, especially when they learned that the police had connected his death to six other killings 70 miles away in Stockton.
On April 16, 2021, a few days after Vasquez Serrano’s death, Natasha LaTour (46) was shot and injured in Stockton outside of a tent. There had been no prior interaction between the victim and the gunman, and LaTour told investigators that the perpetrator was wearing a mask and a hoodie. LaTour was in the hospital for four days in a coma, but she made a recovery and immediately went to the police, who had not visited her when she was in critical condition.
LaTour, who is the only surviving victim of these attacks, described the perpetrator as being around six feet tall, wearing dark clothing, and looking like “the Unabomber without glasses.” Police noted that his posture was extremely upright.
In an interview with 209 Times, LaTour said that police treated her “like trash” when she tried to tell her story, dismissing her claims as a drug deal gone wrong. LaTour believes that if police had listened to her, five more deaths could have been prevented. Between July 8 and Sept. 27, Paul Alexander Yaw (35), Salvador William Debudey Jr. (43), Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez (21), Juan Cruz (52), and Lorenzo Lopez (52) were fatally shot.
Most of the murders were committed in dark areas with no witnesses, and detectives had difficulty retrieving surveillance footage, pointing to their theory that the victims were likely ambushed while walking alone late at night. Importantly, they were not robbed, which investigators say shows that the perpetrator was a killer “on a mission.”
Ballistics tests show that the same gun was used in all of the killings, which contributes hard evidence to show that the string of deaths are linked. However, police cannot explain why so much time passed — over 400 days — between the killer’s second and third attacks.
Police do not believe that the murders were gang-related or hate crimes.
Residents of Stockton, as well as the Bay Area at large, are reeling from the killings and many report feeling afraid to go out after dark. After the arrest, the city can breathe more freely.
These events follow a general trend of an overall increase in crime, specifically violent crime, in the US following the Covid-19 pandemic. Murder rates have risen by almost 30% in the last two years, and assault rates have risen by 10%. Over 75% of murders in 2020 were committed with a firearm. Murder and assault rates have risen by almost equal numbers in urban and rural areas. Authorities and social scientists are struggling to pinpoint the root cause of this dramatic increase in violent crime.
If you witness any concerning events, you can call 209-937-8167 or email email@example.com to submit tips.