William Devin Howell, born February 11, 1970, is an American serial killer who was convicted of murdering seven people in 2003. He is believed to have been the most prolific serial killer in Connecticut history. In November 2017, while already serving a 15-year prison sentence for manslaughter, he was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.
The victims were identified as 7 women. Their bodies were discovered behind a shopping plaza on Hartford Road in New Britain, beginning in 2007. The person who discovered the bodies had been looking for hunting ground. The area is wooded and marshy and is inaccessible by car, which delayed the investigation and recovery of the victims.
Melanie Ruth Camilini
29-year-old Melanie Ruth Camilini, a mother of two from Seymour, went missing on January 1, 2003. She had recently been living in Waterbury and was last seen in that area with two men. Camilini was known to have a substance abuse problem and would regularly disappear for long periods of time. Her body was discovered buried behind a New Britain shopping center and was identified in 2015.
Janice Roberts, also known as Danny Lee Whistnant, a 44-year-old transgender woman from New Britain, was last seen on June 18, 2003, when she was seen getting into Howell’s blue van at a Stop & Shop in Wethersfield. She was reported missing on June 24. Howell later told an informant that he tried to engage Whistnant in a sexual act and, when realizing that she was transgender, he strangled her.
Diane Cusack, a 55-year-old New Britain resident, disappeared in mid-2003. Police last had contact with her on July 9, during a landlord-tenant dispute. Her remains were found behind the New Britain shopping plaza in 2007, and she was identified in 2011. Cusack, who had had a substance abuse problem, had been out of contact with her family for years and had never been reported missing.
On July 31, 2003, a woman told police that her sister, 33-year-old Nilsa Arizmendi, had not been heard from for 7 days. Arizmendi’s boyfriend, a convicted drug dealer, was immediately a suspect in her disappearance but was ultimately cleared after passing a polygraph test. The sister told police that Arizmendi was a heroin user and a sex worker who was living in motel in Wethersfield along with her boyfriend. He told investigators that he and Arizmendi had allowed Howell to stay overnight in their room and that he last saw Arizmendi at 2:30 a.m. on July 25, when she got into Howell’s van. Arizmendi’s body was found on April 28, 2015, along with the bodies of three other women.
Marilyn Gonzalez, a 26-year-old woman and the mother of two children, went missing in 2003 afters she left her home in Waterbury. Her body was found behind the West Farms shopping mall in New Britain on April 28, 2015.
Joyvaline “Joy” Martinez, 23, went missing on October 10, 2003, but was not reported missing until March 29, 2004. Suspicion arose when she did not show up for her birthday party. She was last spotted in her hometown of East Hartford, where she lived with her mother. In high school, she had been a track star and, at the time of her disappearance, was unemployed. Her remains were some of the first to be recovered from the shopping plaza area in 2007, and she was identified in 2013.
Mary Jane Menard
Mary Jane Menard, a 40-year-old substance abuse counselor from Waterbury, went missing from New Britain in October 2003 while her daughter was serving overseas in the military. Her remains were found at the shopping plaza in 2007.
All seven victims disappeared in 2003 and the cases remained unsolved for months, until Howell became a suspect in Arizmendi’s disappearance in April 2004. Police seized his van from his home in Windsor and discovered that several of the seat cushions had been removed, but blood from two people was found underneath some carpet. DNA taken from Arizmendi’s relatives determined that one of the blood samples was 99 percent certain to have come from Arizmendi. They also found 6 videotapes of Howell having “bizarre” sex with women, but the videos were shot in a way to ensure that their faces were not clearly visible.
Because Arizmendi’s body had not yet been found at that time, Howell was charged with first-degree manslaughter. He was later also charged with witness tampering after threatening another inmate. In January 2007, shortly after the trial began, Howell entered an Alford plea to first-degree manslaughter, meaning that he did not admit to the crime but conceded that the prosecution had enough evidence to get a conviction.
At sentencing, Howell continued to insist that he did not kill Arizmendi, arguing that the blood stains were from a physical fight that Arizmendi had in the van with her boyfriend. He also tried to get his Alford plea thrown out, claiming that he had only entered the plea because his public defender pressured him. Howell was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Just weeks later, a hunter found human bones behind the West Farms shopping mall in New Britain. They were later identified as Cusack, Martinez, and Menard. More remains were discovered on April 28, 2015 and they were identified as Arizmendi, Gonzalez, Camilini, and Whistnant.
Howell later told a cellmate that there was a monster inside of him and described himself as a “sick ripper,” which led to Howell being referred to as the Sick Ripper by some media outlets. He also told the inmate that he kept one of the women’s bodies in his van for two weeks because it was too cold outside to bury her. He slept next to her and called the victim his “baby.” Howell later cut off the tips of her fingers, dismantled her bottom jaw and disposed of the body parts in Virginia.
On November 17, 2017, Howell was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty to the murders of Cusack, Martinez, Menard, Gonzalez, Camilini, and Whistnant. He cried and apologized to the families of the victims during sentencing, calling his actions “monstrous, cowardly and selfish.” He told the court that he deserved the death penalty, which was abolished by the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2015.
His Garden: The True Story of a Serial Killer
His Garden: The True Story of a Serial Killer is an autobiographical and biographical true crime novel by true crime author Anne K Howard that probes the complicated and conflicted mind of William Devin Howell- Connecticut’s most prolific serial killer.
A practicing attorney, Howard first contacted Howell in July 2015, when he was serving a fifteen-year sentence for the murder of Nilsa Arizmendi. He was about to be charged for the remaining six murders. After pleading guilty to the remaining six murder charges on September 8, 2017, he exclusively gave detailed confessions to Howard in letters and recorded phone calls.
Howard also has a blog, “Serial Murders in Connecticut” in which she writes about Howell’s crimes and other solved and unsolved murders in Connecticut.
Serial Murders in Connecticut Blog: https://rte8murders.blogspot.com/
Interview with the author, NBC News CT https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/troubleshooters/As-Sentencing-Approaches-Author-Shares-Calls-With-New-England-Serial-Killer-456271073.html
Interview with the author, PLR 99.1 https://audioboom.com/posts/6506148-anne-k-howard-on-the-new-britain-serial-killer
Interview with the author, Forensic Talk with Jim Campbell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_5xNFYhMh8