Mass. serial killer pleads guilty to 8th murder

A serial killer from western Massachusetts added an eighth murder to his record Tuesday, admitting that a woman he strangled in 1995 was his first killing.

Alfred Gaynor's guilty plea Tuesday to another murder places the 43-year-old among the most prolific serial killers in recent Massachusetts history, according to prosecutors.

Vera Hallums, a 45-year-old mother of four, was tied with electrical cords, beaten and strangled in her Springfield apartment in April 1995. She was the first of several women killed in Springfield over the next few years, many of whom met Gaynor in their mutual quest for crack cocaine.

Prosecutors and police say he robbed other women for drug money, raped most of his victims and often posed their bodies grotesquely to shock whoever found them. In several cases, they were discovered by the victims' young children.

Gaynor was convicted in 2000 of four murders. He pleaded guilty last month to three more.

The details he gave prosecutors about the killings left some victims' family members in tears.

"That's all I have left to give, is the truth," Gaynor said Tuesday in court as he was sentenced to an eighth life term. "Without my truth, they have nothing."

Oletha Wells, 40, one of Hallums' daughters, called her mother's death and the aftermath, including Gaynor's confession about the details, "nothing but a nightmare."

"If anything, it made things worse," Wells said Tuesday. "We really don't have any understanding of why he did it. ... This is not nowhere near closure."

Gaynor's new admissions come as part of a plea deal for his nephew.

The nephew, Paul Fickling, is serving time on a manslaughter conviction — reduced from a murder charge — for his role in the 1996 deaths of his ex-girlfriend, Amy Smith, and her toddler, who was left to die alone with her mother's body in their sweltering apartment.

Gaynor has confessed to killing Smith, but he has not been indicted in that case.

Police and Assistant District Attorney Carmen Picknally said Tuesday they cannot comment on the status of the case, though District Attorney William Bennett said last month they expect to be "taking further action" on it.

Picknally said Gaynor's eight convictions are the most murders known to be committed by one person in Springfield history, and among the most they know of statewide.

"It's a sad occasion for the family to have to relive the torment of 15 years ago," he said Tuesday. "However, we felt it's important that the lives of these women be vindicated by the harshest sentence that the commonwealth allows to be applied in each of their cases."

Gaynor was convicted in 2000 for the murders of JoAnn Thomas, Loretta Daniels, Rosemary Downs and Joyce Dickerson-Peay. In addition to Hallums, this fall's guilty pleas came in the murders of Yvette Torres, Jill Ermellini and Robin Atkins.