William Devin Howell, a drifter who has been imprisoned for eight years, may be Connecticut's most prolific killer in nearly three decades, authorities say.
Howell, 45, is accused in six killings. He kept the body of one woman for two weeks in a van he called the "murder mobile," according to newly released court documents. He allegedly said "there was a monster inside of him" and described himself as a "sick ripper," the documents say.
The documents, released after Howell's arraignment Friday on multiple murder charges, detail police allegations of his involvement in the deaths and disappearances of six women and a transgender man.
Howell has been imprisoned in Connecticut since January 2007, when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2003 death of Nilsa Arizmendi. The 33-year-old woman was last seen getting into Howell's 1985 Ford Econoline van in July 2003. At the time of the plea deal, authorities hadn't located Arizmendi's remains, but they did find her DNA in Howell's van.
In August 2007, a hunter walking in a swampy area behind a New Britain strip mall stumbled upon the skeletal remains of 24-year-old Joyvaline Martinez, 40-year-old Mary Jane Menard, and 53-year-old Diane Cusack. New Britain is southwest of nearby Hartford, the state's largest city.
The discovery sparked fears of a possible serial killer, but authorities had few clues to pursue.
Interest was renewed in December 2014, when investigators said Howell, eight years into his 15-year manslaughter sentence, confessed his involvement in the strip mall cases to his cellmate at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville.
In April, Howell's cellmate provided police a map of the area behind the strip mall and said Howell had buried additional victims there. Howell called the spot "his garden," the cellmate told police. The site yielded Arizmendi's remains, along with those of 26-year-old Marilyn Gonzalez, 29-year-old Melanie Ruth Camilini, and 44-year-old Danny Lee Whistnant.
According to the court documents, at least three of the women were raped by the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Howell. One of the women was sexually assaulted with an automotive shock absorber, the documents allege.
Howell told his cellmate he kept the body of one victim in his van for two weeks, because it was too cold outside to bury her, according to the documents. He said he nicknamed the body "baby" and slept next to it until he cut off the fingertips, dismantled the bottom jaw and disposed of it.
Authorities said the victims had drug use in common.
"They all should have known they were going to die because of the lifestyle they were living," Howell told his cellmate, the court documents allege.
Martinez's sister, Sandra Martinez, told WTVR News that Howell is a "monster."
"She didn't deserve it," Martinez said. "No one deserves to go through the torture that he put her through."
Investigators found DNA from six of the victims inside Howell's van, as well as several videotapes that contain footage of Howell having "bizarre" sex with women, the documents say. Police said they have yet to identify two women who appear on those videotapes.
Authorities are investigating whether Howell is connected to unsolved crimes in other states.
According to The Connecticut Post, Howell, a native of Hampton, Virginia, was arrested several times in his 20s for drug-related crimes. He later drifted to Connecticut, where he worked odd jobs and mowed lawns. He spent time in Florida and North Carolina, where he was arrested in the Arizmendi case.
"These types of investigations are never closed," New Britain Police Chief James Wardell told WTHN News on Friday. "As new information comes forward, we explore. We never say the book is closed on any case like this."
Howell, who did not speak at Friday's hearing, is scheduled for a formal arraignment on Oct. 28. His defense attorney, William Paetzold, has not indicated whether Howell intends to plead not guilty.
"At this point, there's been no evidence presented, no trial and no challenge of the evidence by the defense," Paetzold told The Hartford Courant after the hearing. "It's taken 10 years for the case to come to this point, notwithstanding that they've had his van all this time."
Conviction on the new charges would make Howell the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut since Michael Ross. Ross was convicted in 1987 for the murders of four of the eight women he confessed to killing. He spent 18 years on death row before he was executed by lethal injection.
Connecticut no longer has the death penalty. Howell faces a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.