Strip malls are a mundane part of suburban life, often filled with generic and uninspiring restaurants and shops. However, sometimes the banal can become brutal when these malls are transformed into battlefields or hunting grounds by criminals intent upon harming others. From a Houston lawyer who went on a shooting spree while decorated in Nazi paraphernalia to a serial killer who dumped the bodies of seven of his victims behind a nondescript shopping center in Connecticut, strip malls and shopping centers have attracted some incredibly depraved and dangerous criminals intent on robbery, rape, and murder.
On December 6, 1991, officials arrived at a strip mall in Austin, Texas, to put out a fire; however, after extinguishing the flames, the authorities found the bodies of four teenage girls in a I Can't Believe It's Yogurt! store. The girls, ranging in age from 13 to 17, had all been forced to remove their clothes, and at least one of them had been raped. The killer or killers had used the teenagers' own clothing to tie them up before shooting each girl in the head. Then, the murderer or murderers stacked three of the girls' corpses on top of each other before setting the fire and fleeing the scene.
Eight years later, in 1989, four men were arrested for the murders, but only Robert Springsteen and Michael Scott were tried for the killings. Springsteen and Scott allegedly admitted to murdering Amy Ayers, sisters Jennifer and Sarah Harbison, and Eliza Thomas, and they were convicted of the killings, However, a DNA sample recovered from Ayers was tested in 2009: it didn't match either of the men, so Springsteen and Scott were both released from prison, leaving the "Yogurt Shop Murders" unsolved.
On September 26, 2016, 46-year-old Houston lawyer Nathan DeSai donned a Nazi uniformed, armed himself with two guns and more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition, and drove to a strip mall. Then he started shooting at people who were visiting the shopping center, ultimately wounding nine victims.
Thankfully, police quickly arrived upon the scene, and after exchanging shots with DeSai for nearly 30 minutes, officials killed the 46-year-old attorney, putting an end to the brutal rampage. Incredibly, none of the people shot by DeSai died from their injuries, leaving the shooter the only casualty of the disturbing event. Following DeSai's death, people close to the middle-aged man theorized that the shooting spree was caused by mental health issues, financial challenges, and professional problems.
On January 12, 2012, police arrested Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo, a 23-year-old former Marine, on suspicious of stabbing a homeless man to death behind a strip mall in Orange County, California, after they saw the Iraq vet running from the scene of the crime. After apprehending Ocampo, law enforcement tied him to several other murders, including the stabbing deaths of three other homeless men, as well as a woman and her son.
The police uncovered evidence that Ocampo intended to kill additional people, and he had actually been stalking multiple potential victims at the time of his arrest. While incarcerated, he confessed to his crimes, telling investigators he stabbed homeless people to death as a way of cleaning up his community.
While he was in prison awaiting trial for multiple counts of murder, Ocampo died on November 28, 2013, at the age of 25, after intentionally drinking a toxic cleaning product.
In 2007, the skeletal remains of three women were found behind a strip mall in New Britain, Connecticut, and eight years later in April 2015, four more victims were discovered nearby, leading the police to suspect the area had been the dumping ground of a serial killer. Officials identified one of the victims as 33-year-old Nilsa Arizmendi, and they realized William Devin Howell, 45, had already been convicted of her murder, causing him to become the prime suspect in the other killings.
In September 2015, Howell (who was in prison at the time for Arizmendi's killing) was charged with six additional counts of murder. According to Howell's cellmate, the 45-year-old convicted killer confessed to taking the lives of seven people in 2003 in Connecticut, and he claimed to have kept one woman captive for two weeks in a his van which he referred to as the "murder mobile."
Howell is currently in a Connecticut prison awaiting trial for murdering six women.