Suspected serial killer tells police he was unfamiliar with Seminole Heights neighborhood

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After a 51-day manhunt, police have made an arrest in four murders in the Seminole Heights area.

Late Tuesday night, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced the arrest of 24-year-old Howell Emanuel Donaldson III. Donaldson is charged with the murders of Benjamin Mitchell, Monica Hoffa, Anthony Naiboa and Ronald Felton.

Donaldson was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon at the McDonald’s restaurant he works at in Ybor City.

According to the arrest report, a Tampa police officer was at the McDonald’s when a worker came up and said Donaldson had given them a McDonald’s food bag with a .40 caliber Glock inside of it. The witness also told the officer Donaldson said he wanted to leave the state. During a news conference on Wednesday, Chief Dugan said he cannot thank that employee enough.

Donaldson had left the restaurant before police were notified, but returned and was detained by officers.

After being taken into custody, Donaldson gave officers permission to search his car and his phone and allowed them to examine his gun.

“Donaldson was cooperative, but would not tell us why he was doing this,” Chief Dugan said. 

Donaldson told police he purchased the Glock firearm and ammunition from Shooter’s World on East Fletcher Avenue in September, according to the arrest report. He also told officers he was the only one with control of the firearm since the purchase.

“Donaldson admitted he owned the gun, but did not admit to the murders,” Dugan added.

During his conversation with officers, Donaldson said he was unfamiliar with the Seminole Heights neighborhood and didn’t have any association with anyone in the area.

When officers showed Donaldson evidence from the investigation that indicated his ties to the murders, Donaldson denied an explanation and requested an attorney’s presence.

Investigators who searched Donaldson’s cell phone found location data storage known as “significant locations.” The data revealed an address on East Frierson Avenue and indicated three days of recorded times and activities that correspond with when the first three murders happened.

Police say the three dates and times were Oct. 9 between 8:47 and 9:02 p.m, Oct. 11 between 8:18 and 8:42 p.m. and Oct. 19 between 7:51 and 7:58 p.m.

Call detail records were also obtained and showed that within minutes of the first three murders, Donaldson’s cell phone was geographically associated with cell towers in the area.

Officers searching Donaldson’s car found clothing similar to what was seen being worn by the suspect in surveillance video taken the night of the first murder. The arrest report says officers also found a suspected blood stain on the clothing.

FDLE officials who examined the gun said casings found at the scene of the first three murders were fired from the Glock firearm. The casings that were found at the fourth murder scene were not available, but police had previously identified them as being fired from the same gun as the first three murders. Police say the recovered Glock was loaded with a magazine containing five unfired rounds of SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber ammunition.

Investigators later discovered Donaldson had purchased the gun on Oct. 3 then picked it up on Oct. 7. He also bought a 20-round box of SIG brand Smith and Wesson ammunition on Oct. 7, according to arrest documents.

According to the arrest report, police found two fired SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings at the scene of Mitchell’s murder on Oct. 9. Mitchell was shot four times while waiting at a HART bus stop on North 15th Street near East Frierson Avenue.

Surveillance video was later released, showing a person walking in the area before the murder, then running from the scene within 25 seconds of the murder. A witness also called 911 right after the killing and told officers she saw a black male running away from the scene.

Two days later, on Oct. 11, police were called to North 11th Street near East Orleans Avenue for the report of gunshots in the area. Hoffa’s body was found Oct. 13 in an overgrown lot in the area. Police say she was shot three times and died. Five fired SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber cartridge casings were found at the scene.

According to new paperwork, one of Hoffa’s friends told police he was on his way to meet Hoffa on Oct. 11 around the same time the gunshots were reported. The friend said he never met up with her and never heard from her.

Naiboa was shot in the head and killed on Oct. 19, according to court paperwork. He was walking along North 15th Street when he was killed. Investigators found one SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber fired cartridge casing at the scene.

Almost a month later, Felton was shot and killed early in the morning on Nov. 14 while he was crossing North Nebraska Avenue. Police say they found four SIG brand Smith and Wesson .40 caliber fired cartridge casings at the scene.

A witness was able to describe the suspect in Felton’s murder as a black male about 6-feet tall with a thin, strong build. Police later released surveillance video from a nearby business.

MORE ON SEMINOLE HEIGHTS ARREST:

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