Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Clairemont Killer

Prince's Profile

It's unusual to have a black serial killer, let alone one who crosses racial lines to murder white women. Those who knew Prince well said that he seemed to be obsessed with sex and often bragged about his relationships with white women. Yet there was no evidence that he'd had an altercation with a white woman that might have made him angry enough to kill. In fact, there was no indication from anything in his entire life history that he'd become a killer. As such, staff writers at the San Diego Union-Tribune penned a long article about how Prince did not fit the psychological profile offered by the FBI when they'd examined the crime scenes.

Miramar Naval Patch
Miramar Naval Patch

As investigators learned more about Prince, they heard many acquaintances say that he was a polite young man and that despite growing up in a rough neighborhood in Alabama, the oldest of eight children, he'd never had a brush with the law and had stayed away from gangs. He'd been an average student who enjoyed sports, had completed high school, and had joined the Navy in 1987, being stationed at the Miramar Naval Air Station. There, he'd run into trouble when he stole a postal money order. He received a sentence of nearly a month in the brig, was fined $466, and was eventually discharged in October 1989. But as far as anyone could tell, that had been the extent of his issues with the law. But that was only because he'd managed to operate surreptitiously. In fact, once he moved to San Diego, he'd been quite busy with thefts and burglaries.

His father, Cleophus Prince, Sr., also had a criminal record. He'd served time in prison for second-degree murder (which he told reporters had been done in self-defense), and had been arrested after he got out for rape, later reduced to assault. Thus, Prince had a role model.

However, both of his parents insisted that the police had the wrong man. Their son, they said, was not capable of murder, let alone serial murder. They were certain he was being framed. In fact, he had shown no anxiety at all, the police had admitted, during the hour and a half he'd been questioned upon his initial arrest.

"That [crime spree] is the work of a psycho person," Prince Sr. was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune, "someone who has no mind to think." He couldn't imagine that his son could do such things. The boy had always been polite and obedient, he insisted. There had to be some mistake. "I imagine he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Prince's attorney, Roger Appell, claimed that Prince looked nothing like the composite drawing made from a woman who'd been accosted by a man police believed was also the killer. But the claim that he was the first known serial killer to have crossed racial lines, in the hope to show the improbability of the situation, was not true.

Apparently in California, Prince had gotten a job but was soon laid off, so he'd turned to burglary, which he found easy to accomplish. He enlisted some accomplices, and they donned socks to go in and rob homes without leaving fingerprints. Yet the socks were similar in pattern to the bloody honeycomb marks left on doorknobs where murders took place. A history of burglary is often a precursor to rape and murder.

In the end, it was physical evidence in one incident and profiling in the others that formed the prosecution's case.


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