Twenty-year-old Sarah Butler may still be alive today had the police not ignored a woman’s claim that she was attacked by 23-year-old alleged serial killer Khalil Wheeler-Weaver, reports suggest. The woman, who police suspected of being a former sex worker, claims that she was held hostage and choked in the fall of 2016 in Essex County.
One week after reporting the attack, prosecutors allege that Wheeler-Weaver, 22, kidnapped and murdered another woman.
Two months prior to the woman’s claim, New Jersey police reportedly interviewed Wheeler-Weaver as the last person to see a murdered woman alive.
“No One Would Care” if They Disappeared
According to a report on The Washington Post, Wheeler-Weaver targeted his alleged victims because they were black sex workers battling homelessness, mental health issues, or both. These were women that “no one would notice if they disappeared.”
The woman who claims to have been attacked by Wheeler-Weaver, identified as T.T. in court documents, says she was handcuffed and her mouth duct-taped shut before being raped and almost strangled to death. The woman claims that police were more concerned about whether or not she was a sex worker than the attack itself.
During testimony at Wheeler-Weaver’s trial, a New Jersey police officer confirmed that he did not originally believe T.T.’s claim because she waited an hour to report the incident. This is a common complaint about law enforcement’s treatment of sex workers.
“It is tragic that an officer’s error in judgment led to a fourth victim. Unfortunately, since sex work is illegal, police often don’t take violence against sex workers seriously,” according to Robert Weinberg, a criminal defense lawyer, and former prosecutor. “Sex workers are treated as second class citizens, often experiencing sexual assaults, violence and police harassment.”
Wheeler-Weaver Met Sarah Butler a Week After Attacking T.T.
One week after the attack on T.T., Wheeler-Weaver allegedly met up with Butler, a New Jersey City University student, who had agreed to have sex in exchange for $500. Her body was later found at Eagle Rock Reservation under a pile of leaves and sticks.
The arrest of Wheeler-Weaver was the result of community action. After Butler’s body was found, friends and family tracked down Wheeler-Weaver after poring over his messages to Butler on the Tagged app. They created a fake profile on the site, luring Wheeler-Weaver with the promise of sex to an in-person meeting. Wheeler-Weaver was arrested when he arrived for that meeting.
Wheeler-Weaver was arrested five days after Butler’s appearance.
In a message exchanged between Butler and Wheeler-Weaver, the young woman said, “You’re not a serial killer, right?”
He was “Calm” and “Helpful”
Two women, Robin West and Joanne Brown, were allegedly seen with Wheeler-Weaver just before they were found dead. Brown’s and West’s bodies were found in abandoned New Jersey homes. One of the women was strangled, one burned.
Robin West’s body was found on September 21, 2016. The abandoned building had been set on fire.
When interviewed by police, Wheeler-Weaver said he took West to dinner to celebrate her birthday. Authorities described him as “calm” and “helpful.”
Wheeler-Weaver allegedly showed police where he claims to have dropped off the victims, even going as far as driving police to all of the places he took Butler prior to her disappearance and death.
Location tracking information on Wheeler-Weaver’s phone places him at the address of the home where West was found dead before the fire.
West had been strangled with a jacket, and her nose and mouth had been covered with tape, according to a detective’s affidavit.
Her body was reportedly so badly burned that it took two weeks to identify her through dental records.
Prosecutors say that Wheeler-Weaver took Interstate 280 west, and then circled back to watch firefighters put out the blaze.
The remains of Brown were found December 5, 2016 at a vacant home. Brown was struggling with mental illness and homelessness, according to testimony from her mother.
A Fight for Her Life
During Wheeler-Weaver’s trial, T.T. recounted her terrifying ordeal. She recalled waking up in the back seat of a car, her mouth duct-taped shut. She claimed she was “choked back to sleep.”
She managed to convince Wheeler-Weaver to take her to a motel to retrieve some belongings. There, she locked herself in a motel room and freed herself and called 911.
Disturbing Cellphone Searches Emerge
At trial, prosecutors introduced hundreds of pages of records detailing how Wheeler-Weaver used his cellphone to find information on creating date rape drugs, killing people using bleach and ammonia, and how to knock a person unconscious.
Records also show that Wheeler-Weaver sought ways to erase online evidence and information on how to become a police officer.
Wheeler-Weaver worked as a security guard at a grocery store and hotel at the time of the alleged killings. He grew up in a middle-class home; his father a police detective in East Orange, and his uncle a police officer in Newark.
Wheeler-Weaver has been charged with three counts of murder, three counts of desecration of human remains, aggravated arson, attempted murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping.
“He Doesn’t Fit the Profile of a Serial Killer”
Hearing the gruesome details of the murders revealed by authorities, many of the victims’ families were baffled. Wheeler-Weaver was very young at the time of the alleged attacks. Many say that he doesn’t fit the profile of a serial killer.
Wheeler-Weaver’s attorneys argued that the victims “put themselves in vulnerable positions.” They contend that the defendant cooperated with investigators, which is “not the conduct of a guilty individual.”
Wheeler-Weaver’s public defender, Deidre McMahon, argued that the defendant told police where he had last seen the victims, and that they were alive and safe at the time.
“What happened to them afterward is not at the hands of Mr. Wheeler-Weaver,” McMahon said.
The cellphone records were damning evidence for Wheeler-Weaver, but the case may not be as “open and shut” as it may seem.
Prior to the trial, McMahon had argued that her client’s statements should be removed from evidence because he was not read his Miranda rights. Judge Alfonse Cifelli ruled that the client wasn’t a suspect in a criminal investigation – it was a missing person’s case – when he spoke with officers voluntarily.
The judge further allowed prosecutors to introduce video footage of Wheeler-Weaver speaking to detectives after his arrest for Butler’s death, after which he had waived his Miranda rights.