PORT ARTHUR, Texas – An ex-convict was arrested Friday and identified as the prime suspect in the slayings of three elderly women whose bodies were found stuffed in their closets this week at their homes in this industrial city.
A fourth woman fought off her attacker and later picked Gary Sinegal (search), 40, out of a police lineup.
Authorities would not comment on a motive but said that nothing of significant value was missing from the homes and that there was no immediate evidence of sexual assault.
"We think he was picking a soft point or someone who was extremely vulnerable," said Deputy Police Chief Raymond Clark.
Sinegal was charged with burglary in the fourth attack, Clark said. He was not immediately charged in the slayings, and denied any involvement, police said.
One of the victims, an 82-year-old woman, was found dead on Monday of what police said were blunt force injuries. The two other victims, 81-year-old Louise Tamplin and 86-year-old Margie Gafford, were found on Thursday in another area of town.
The two women lived within several streets of one another and in the same neighborhood as Sinegal. The causes of death in those cases were not immediately released.
The fourth victim, Brenda Choate (search), 59, had been working in the yard Thursday and went inside to find that her purse had been disturbed. A man knocked her down and kicked her, and she fought him off, according to her husband, Robert Choate, who tearfully described seeing his wife covered in blood.
Brenda Choate told police her attacker fled on a bicycle, and police said investigators seized a bike they believe the suspect was riding.
Police said they were already questioning Sinegal when they got a call from a repairman who discovered Gafford's body.
Sinegal was convicted in 1981 of choking and stealing $3 from a 77-year-old woman whose yard he had offered to rake. He was sentenced to prison in 1984 for an armed robbery and served 20 years before being paroled last year.
Port Arthur (search) is a city of 56,000 people about 90 miles east of Houston, on the Gulf of Mexico.