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Coincidences' could connect killings in Clayton, Bibb counties

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Homicide detectives in Clayton and Bibb counties are comparing notes, connections and uncanny coincidences in the murders of two women.

Melissa Peters Rushing, a 36-year-old woman, was found off a logging road in Bibb County, early in the morning on Aug. 7, beaten to death and set on fire. The case sounded familiar to Clayton County Police Department detectives, reminding them of Kennoa Janelle Fitzpatrick, a 19-year-old woman found at the end of a dead-end street in College Park in 2002, beaten to death and set on fire.

Capt. Richard Gandee called the Bibb County Sheriff's office, after hearing about their recent murder, and the two departments are now cooperating, comparing case files, said Lt. George Meadows, spokesman for the Bibb County Sheriff's office.

"We're not sure how far the connection goes," Meadows said. "Right now, it's pretty coincidental."

Coincidences include:

· Both deaths were caused by blunt-force trauma.

· Both bodies were set on fire, after the women were killed, a tactic delaying identification.

· Both women were black, unemployed and lived in Macon.

· Both women were with one particular man at the time they were last seen alive.

Allegedly, the man drove with Fitzpatrick to Atlanta, and returned to Macon alone. Fitzpatrick was last seen at the Greenbriar Mall, and "left the area with a black male individual," according to a missing person report filed in Macon. Allegedly, the Macon man also was with Rushing when she was at a Wal-Mart the night before her body was found on fire.

Neither agency has charged the Macon man, and the possible connections are, at the this point, just being considered.

Clayton County detectives are saying the connections could be significant, according to department spokeswoman, Sonja Sanchez. Police think the connections could be a break in a case that was basically "cold," for five years.

It wasn't until 2007 that police found Fitzpatrick's name, connecting her with a missing person's report and matching her DNA to her mother's.

According to The (Macon) Telegraph, Rushing's body was drenched in accelerant. Witnesses, driving down the logging road, thought they were reporting a brush fire. The 36-year-old woman was identified by her three tattoos.

Meadows downplayed the possibility of a serial killer, saying the Bibb County detectives were following other leads as well, and would consider "any tip that comes in."

Clayton County police have looked at the possibility a serial killer was responsible for Fitzpatrick's death before. She is one of four young women murdered and set on fire in Clayton County, between 2002 and 2007.

When a 17-year-old girl was killed and set on fire near Blalock Lake in June 2007, detectives sent the set of case files to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Behavior Science Unit for review. Police officials said they didn't think a serial killer theory could really be supported, but there were enough similarities and unanswered questions to check.

The FBI didn't find anything substantial connecting the four cases.

Fitzpatrick's death was the first one of that type in Clayton County, and had the fewest leads. After five years, the victim was still a "Jane Doe."

If the "coincidences" in the murders of both Macon women are actual connections, detectives hope they can close the 19-year-old's homicide.