Connecticut Serial Killer William Devin Howell: An Examination Of His Violent Crimes

Jailhouse photo of serial killer William Devin Howell
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News & Politics
Sarah Guy

Many who knew William Devin Howell thought of him simply as the guy next door. A hardworking landscaper who would pick up odd jobs, most people would never have imagined that he was secretly committing unimaginable crimes.

Over time, Howell's true nature would be revealed thanks to a string of unusual occurrences and he would one day become known as one of the most prolific serial killers within the state of Connecticut.

Early Life

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William Devin Howell was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1970. According to Howell, he had been raised by a "good family in a good home." In a televised interview, he stated that there had not been any abuse or molestation, nor had he killed any animals as a young boy.

Even though his formative years were thought to be relatively calm, Howell would develop increasingly violent ideas and tendencies as time passed.

Troubling Behavior Starts

Photo of serial killer William Devin Howell
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After entering adulthood, Howell began weaving in and out of the legal system due to drug-related charges. Of course, this would not be his last brush with the law.

During these years, he also stated that he had been plagued by rape fantasies. Even though he had been able to suppress them for some time, the voice couldn't be quieted forever. After a particular fight with his then-girlfriend, he allowed his anger and dark ideas to take center stage. This would be the first of many horrific decisions that Howell would make before his ultimate arrest.

Initial Disappearance

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On July 31, 2003, Brenda Torres visited the local police station to speak to law enforcement about her sister's disappearance. At that time, she informed them that she had not heard from her sibling, Nilsa Arizmendi, 33, for a week.

She also informed them that Arizmendi, who had been working in the sex industry and had been an active heroin user, was staying at a local motel with her boyfriend around the time of her disappearance.

After police began looking into the case, they learned hat her boyfriend, Angel Sanchez, was a convicted drug dealer. While this may have initially muddied the investigation, Sanchez ultimately passed a polygraph test. From there, he became a key part of linking Howell to his crimes.

Investigation Begins

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After Sanchez was cleared, he informed police of his connection to Howell. Around the time of Arizmendi's disappearance, the couple had allowed Howell to stay overnight with them at their hotel so that the three could smoke crack together.

He also shared that the last time he had seen Arizmendi was around 2:30 AM on July 25, 2003 as she was getting into Howell's dark blue van. After tracking down the vehicle, officials learned that it had been registered to Howell's girlfriend, Dorothy Holcomb. However, according to her parents, Howell had recently purchased the van, which he would later call his "murder mobile," for $400.

Processing The Van

Photo of serial killer William Howell's blue van
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The link to Howell and his van proved to be a pivotal moment in solving Arizmendi's case. However, it would be some time before he was officially held accountable. On Nov. 28, 2003, a sheriff in North Carolina pulled him over for a violation. At that time, investigators convinced them to hold him until they could travel from Connecticut and serve him with a warrant for violating probation.

During the long ride back, Howell asked why they had come such a long way for a misdemeanor warrant. After hearing that it was linked to Arizmendi, he seemed surprised and stated that he wanted to remain silent until his attorney was present.

Police eventually located a bloodstain in the back and confirmed the presence of her DNA, along with other unidentifiable samples and videotapes showing him having "bizarre" sex with various women. Following the discovery, Howell was arrested in connection with her disappearance.

Despite the lack of hard evidence aside from the circumstantial forensic link, Howell opted to take a plea deal for first-degree manslaughter in 2007, which resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years.

Life In Prison

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Following his incarceration, Howell had only been officially linked to the disappearance of Arizmendi. However, this would soon change.

Just weeks after Howell accepted the plea, a hunter discovered the bodies of three missing women in a wooded area behind a strip mall that he would later refer to as his "garden." Cadaver dogs were then brought in and were able to locate four other women.

During his time in prison, Howell had also started confessing to similar crimes. Calling his alter ego "The Sick Ripper," he told his cellmate, Jonathan Mills, that he would pick women up in his van and bury them in the woods behind the mall. Eventually, DNA from six of the seven victims would be located inside Howell's van.

New Charges And Ultimate Conviction

Jailhouse photo of serial killer William Howell
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As a result of the new mountain of evidence, Howell was charged with multiple capital felony murders, making him one of the most notorious serial killers in Connecticut's history. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to six of the murders. Reportedly, he was hoping for the death penalty, but capital punishment had been abolished within the state, so he was instead sentenced to 360 years behind bars.

Following his conviction, he stated that he did not believe that he was a supremely troubled person, despite the horrifying nature of his actions. "I mean, I committed monstrous and heinous crimes, but my true character isn’t a monstrous and heinous person,” he stated in an interview after his conviction.

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