NIAGARA FALLS, New York — As she looked past yellow police tape to a vacant house where the partial remains of a woman were discovered, Amanda Gates said Thursday she was convinced the killer was the same person who murdered and dismembered her sister three years earlier.
"I just want him to get caught," Gates said as police worked to determine whether the two unsolved cases were connected.
The body of 46-year-old Terri Lynn Bills, minus the head, feet and hands, was discovered late Tuesday by a passer-by who went inside the dilapidated house to investigate a strong smell.
Bills had been involved in prostitution and drugs, those who knew her said, just as Loretta Jo Gates, 30, had been three years ago, when parts of her body were found in the Niagara River and a city park.
And there is a family connection. Gates considered Bills to be her aunt because of Bills' long-term relationship with Gates' uncle, her sister said.
"As crazy as it sounds, I'm taking this as a good thing," said Gates, who was at the recent crime scene to check on the progress of the investigation, "because if it's the same person, there might be something they left behind."
In a trash-strewn nearby lot, several candles burned in front of a knee-high blue cross and stuffed bear assembled to memorialize Bills. Kahla Narehood, 32, stopped by with her mother, Kimberly Rauber, to say a prayer for the woman Narehood knew from her own years as a drug-using prostitute.
"The people who are in this life, I wish I could pull them in and help them," said Narehood, who said she left the streets four years ago, helped by her mother's determination to save her.
"This was my worst nightmare," Rauber said. "It's horrifying."
Police said Bills' body apparently was placed in the house after she was killed and she may have been dead for a week.
While Rauber believes the same person — "a monster preying on women" — killed both Bills and Gates, her daughter is not as certain.
"In my head, I want to say yes," Narehood said. "But in my gut, you never know."