For decades, people in this scenic Mississippi River town have been haunted by the thought that a man who killed five women here could be walking free.

A police investigator took home a copy of the case file when he left the force, reading it at night to see if any clue had been missed. A son of one victim collected books on serial killers, desperate to learn how they thought, while a friend of another victim visited psychics in hopes of learning the killer's identity.

The obsessive hunt for answers came to an end Monday when murder and rape charges were filed against Timothy Krajcir, 63, who is already serving time in an Illinois prison on unrelated sex crime charges.

Prosecutors say Krajcir, a man with a long history of sex crimes, has admitted killing nine people in cold cases dating back at least 30 years. Five of the women were killed here, and another was killed in Illinois. Police won't reveal the location of the other three killings until they bring charges in those cases.

For residents of this town of 37,000 about 100 miles south of St. Louis, Krajcir's confession ends years of speculation that a killer might still be living nearby.

"It's absolutely the greatest feeling you can ever imagine," said Jim Smith, the Cape Girardeau detective who helped break the case.

Krajcir, originally from Allentown, Pa., pleaded guilty Monday in Illinois to first-degree murder in the 1982 strangling of a Southern Illinois University student. Later in the day, he was charged here with five counts of murder and three counts of rape.

Cape Girardeau Police Chief Carl Kinnison said Krajcir also admitted to three killings "in other jurisdictions." Police would not elaborate, but Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle said they were not in Illinois or Missouri.

Krajcir was sentenced Monday to 40 years for the Illinois killing. He agreed to admit to the Missouri killings in exchange for a sentence of life in prison without parole, Swingle said.

It is possible Krajcir could face the death penalty elsewhere, Swingle said.

An attorney for Krajcir could not be located Monday in either Missouri or Illinois. Efforts to reach Patricia Gross, at one time a public defender for Krajcir in Jackson County, Ill., were unsuccessful, and a number for her office did not accept messages.

Krajcir has spent most of his adult life behind bars. He has been in prison in Illinois since 1988, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections said. He was originally sentenced to prison in Illinois for rape in 1963. He was paroled, then convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

He was also arrested in Pennsylvania in 1982 on sexual assault charges and served time in prison there, records show.

Deborah Sheppard was a 23-year-old senior at Southern Illinois when her naked body was found in her Carbondale, Ill., apartment on April 8, 1982. The telephone line had been cut.

Three of the killings in Cape Girardeau occurred in 1977. The other two happened in 1982. One of the victims, 21-year-old Sheila Cole, was also a college student. She attended Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, about 40 miles southwest of Carbondale.

Carbondale Police Lt. Paul Echols used DNA evidence to connect Krajcir to the Sheppard killing. Smith then sought DNA evidence to see if it linked Krajcir to the Cape Girardeau cases.

Krajcir confessed to Smith and Echols, police said.

"His description of himself is that he's twisted," Smith said.

The first victims in Cape Girardeau were Mary Parsh, 58, and her 27-year-old daughter, Brenda. Both were found shot to death inside their home on Aug. 12, 1977. They were facedown on a bed beside each other with their hands bound behind their back.

Cole was kidnapped from a Wal-Mart parking lot on Nov. 16, 1977, and found dead a day later at a rest area near McClure, Ill. She had been shot twice in the head.

In 1982, police suspected the same man killed two women after sneaking into their homes through the bathroom window. Margie Call, 57, was found strangled inside her home on Jan. 27; Mildred Wallace, 65, was found shot to death inside her home on June 21.

Call's son, Don Call, 58, said he saw Krajcir for the first time when he traveled to Illinois to watch him plead guilty in the Sheppard case. After a quarter-century of frustration and anguish, he was thrilled to see his mother's killer in shackles.

"Any thought of revenge — it's not worth it," Call said. "This guy, he's in his own hell somewhere."