DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A Bethune-Cookman University graduate was charged Monday with first-degree murder in a Palm Beach woman's killing but Volusia County officials say DNA evidence connects him to a series of Daytona Beach slayings from 2005 to 2006.
On Monday, Daytona Beach police Chief Craig Capri, alongside Volusia County and state law enforcement officials, said investigators used genetic genealogy investigators to link Robert Tyrone Hayes, 37, to the deaths of two women killed between 2005 and 2006 in Daytona Beach.
"We had nothing as to what a suspect was, and to be able to come from nothing and be able to have a DNA and get the actual guy in custody, that's huge," Capri said.
There are at least two more cases Capri said detectives are actively working and believe are also connected.
Laquetta Gunter, Julie Green and Iwana Patton were shot and killed between 2005 and 2006 in Daytona Beach, and investigators back then believed their deaths were connected. All three got into a car with a stranger and their bodies were dumped in a secluded area.
In 2008, investigators found the remains of Stacey Gage, who Daytona Beach police believe was shot and killed in December 2007. Capri said detectives do not yet know if that case is connected to the others and are working to eliminate or confirm Gage as an additional victim.
On Monday, Hayes was arrested in Palm Beach County for the 2016 slaying of Rachel Elizabeth Bey, 32. The victim was strangled, severely beaten and sexually battered, according to the arrest report. A passerby found her body along a road three years ago.
Hayes was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail Monday on first-degree murder charges. A judge denied bail for Hayes during a brief court hearing.
The 37-year-old has not yet been charged with the Daytona Beach cases, said State Attorney RJ Larizza.
"We are going to be cautious and careful, and we're going to be right when we make the decision in this case," Larizza said.
On Sept. 13, using genetic genealogy technology, investigators were able to link Bey's death to Gunther and Green's murders in Daytona Beach, Capri said.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office detectives used a cigarette butt discarded by Hayes to get a sample of his DNA, according to the arrest report. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Genetic Genealogy Team connected DNA from the cigarette to evidence found at the scene of Bey's death, as well as two Daytona Beach homicide victims, detectives said.
Larizza said two of the women's murders were also linked from the Palm Beach County homicide to Hayes through ballistic evidence.
According to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office investigation, Hayes lived in Daytona Beach when Gunter, Green and Patton were found slain. Capri said Hayes was a student at B-CU during that time.
B-CU officials said Hayes was a student between 2000 and 2006 and graduated with a degree in criminal justice.
"While the B-CU community is relieved to know that law enforcement has made an arrest in this matter, we are surprised to learn that the suspect attended our University," a statement from the university said.
Hayes was questioned twice in the Daytona Beach cases because he owned a .40-caliber firearm. Detectives recovered .40-caliber casings from two of the Daytona Beach slayings, according to the arrest report.
"His name did pop up earlier in the investigation, but we didn't have enough evidence to link him to it," Capri said. "We interviewed hundreds of people, and he was one of them."
Hayes told investigators in March 2006 he gave the firearm to his mother who lives in West Palm Beach but in December 2006 he reported a .40-caliber firearm was stolen from his car in Riviera Beach.
Palm Beach County investigators said Hayes lived in West Palm Beach, approximately 1 mile from where Bey's body was found in 2016.
When the women were found slain in Daytona Beach, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood was the chief of the Daytona Beach Police Department. On Monday, Capri said the investigation would not be where it is without Chitwood acting as the "guiding force" to bring the new DNA technology methods to Florida.
"Had Sheriff Chitwood not come here, I don't know if we would be where we are," Capri said. "Without that type of forward thinking."
Chitwood said these cases were the only ones he felt he left "unfilled" during his time as police chief. He credited the work of police, sheriff's office investigators and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"The fact that they were relentless, somebody has brought the justice down for these murders," Chitwood said. "The victims' families didn't think they would be alive to see the arrest."
Gov. Ron DeSantis applauded the FDLE Genetic Genealogy Team, which was created almost 1 year ago, that oversaw the genetic analysis leading to an arrest.
"I commend FDLE's Genetic Genealogy Team for their efforts to support law enforcement investigations to get this suspected serial killer off the streets and out of our communities," DeSantis said.
Florida is the only state with a statewide genetic genealogy team, which includes experts in genetic genealogy, analytical research and forensics.
"The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is a national leader in using the power of genetic genealogy to solve cases and deliver justice to victims and their families," DeSantis said. "We will continue to support and grow this program, which is helping law enforcement solve cold case homicides and sexual assaults."
Friends and family of the victims said they are looking forward to seeing justice for the women.
Gunther's friend Stacey Dittmer said when her best friend was killed it was like losing part of herself. Monday's arrest brought her joy and relief, she said.
"We got him," Dittmer said. "This morning when I found out, I walked outside and looked up in the sky and said, 'We got him baby. We got him.'"