A 53-year-old man with a long history of beating and raping women was charged this week with a 1998 Central District murder.
John Ray Stearns was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Crystall Lavelle Williams, 33, whose body was found on Jan. 14, 1998, in Dr. Blanche Lavizzo Park at 2100 South Jackson Street.
According to charging documents, Williams suffered blunt-force injuries to her face and head and was also strangled.
DNA was taken from her body and stored and then, in 2001, was submitted to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory, where a male profile was identified. There was no matching profile in the nation’s DNA database at that time, according to court documents.
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In 2005, when Stearns was in prison for another offense against a woman, his DNA was matched to that taken off Williams’ body. It was not immediately clear, however, why he wasn’t charged in Williams’ death until this week.
According to documents detailing Stearns’ history of attacking women, all within a small area in the Central District, it was 1981 when Stearns knocked on the door of a home on 25th Avenue South. A 20-year-old female resident recognized Stearns as a friend of her brother and opened the door. Once in, the court documents say, Stearns hit the woman in the head, overpowered her and raped her. He served five years in prison for that assault and was released in 1987.
In 1989, he was convicted of attempted rape and robbery for attacking a woman after she got off a bus in the 800 block of 24th Avenue South. According to court records, he ran up behind his victim, struck her in the head, grabbed her hair, threw her to the ground and choked her while attempting to rape her. A passerby intervened, the victim ran to a store and called police and Stearns was subsequently arrested a short time later with some of the victim’s possessions, the record shows.
In 1998, Williams’ body was found in the park.
The next year, Stearns attacked two more women, court records indicate.
In April 1999, he broke into the 24th Avenue South home of an 81-year-old woman who lived very near the site of his 1989 attack, police and prosecutors said in charging documents. Stearns raped and robbed her and left her in her bloody bed and pajamas, documents say.
In July 1999, court documents say he was convicted of unlawful imprisonment, theft, assault and malicious mischief after he attacked a female clerk at a mini mart in the 700 block of 23rd Avenue South with a box cutter. Court records indicate he slashed the woman’s face, beat her with his fists, took money from the till, took the woman’s clothes off and attempted to rape her.
When police responded to the mini mart, officers found him “straddling the bloody and unconscious victim in the back room of the store.” While the victim was rushed to the hospital, Stearns told police “he was innocent and named another person as the “real” assailant,” charging papers say.
Stearns has been in prison since then and has told Seattle police homicide investigators that he did not have anything to do with Williams’ death.